This is part of POMEPS Studies 36: Youth Politics in the Middle East and North Africa. Download the full PDF here.
Begum Uzun, University of Toronto
The image of contemporary youth in Turkey as ‘apolitical and apathetic’ dramatically changed when young people from different walks of life took to the streets during the 2013 Gezi Park protests. But young Gezi participants returned home after two weeks of street politics, and this grassroots mobilization has so far not turned into a more organized form of oppositional youth politics. Anti-government youth, in general, returned to political quiescence in the aftermath of the Gezi uprising. But young supporters of the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) became further politicized. As party activists and members of pro-government non-governmental organizations, these youth sectors organized various academic and social events that promoted the ruling party’s policies and ideology.
This paper examines the trajectory of youth politics in Turkey in the period from 2010 to 2016. Why and how did the ruling AKP in Turkey encounter youth contention and largely manage to contain it while promoting pro-government youth mobilization? The changing dynamics of elite politics in the post-2010 period led the ruling AKP to reorganize its linkages with social forces and, in particular, with different youth sectors, which played a salient role in shaping youth’s relations with politics and political activism. While the AKP aimed to moderate and control the demands of oppositional youth for political participation in ways that ultimately restricted the channels for youth activism, the ruling party elites themselves participated in the mobilization of pro-government youth sectors in ways that enhanced the spaces for conservative youth to engage with politics.
Looking at demobilization of oppositional youth and pro-AKP Turkish youth offers an important corrective to existing studies of the dynamics of recent youth contention in the Middle East. Most of such work exclusively focuses on revolutionary youth activism and pays scant attention to disengaged youths or pro-regime youth mobilization. This creates an uneven explanation on the processes of youth mobilization and demobilization. It is also essential to incorporate the role of elite politics and macro-political dynamics in the trajectory of youth participation in the Middle East. Youth participation has been shaped by and has simultaneously altered the established political systems, state-society relations, and interactions among influential elites.
Drawing upon elite studies, social movement theory, and the studies of political incorporation, this paper investigates the role of political elite-youth linkages on the processes of youth mobilization and demobilization in contemporary Turkey. I define elite-youth linkages as the attempts of the power-holder elites at regulating youth political participation in accordance with their particular interests, and the ways young people benefit from, maneuver through, or challenge elite claims to exert control over youth political agency. The dominant elites establish linkages with youth through the process of “political incorporation” referring to “institutional arrangements, public policies, and legitimating discourses” in integrating youth into the political and economic structures.
Turkish elites have so far undertaken three paths of youth incorporation: partisan incorporation, incorporation as depoliticization and control, and hybrid incorporation. Partisan incorporation entails attempts at politically activating particular sectors of youth conceived as potential societal allies or facilitating the mobilization of already politicized youth sectors. The elites undertake partisan youth incorporation to increase their bargaining power vis-à-vis rival elites or to secure their incumbency. Incorporation as depoliticization and control refers to elite actions of fostering political disengagement among youth with the ultimate goal of preventing the emergence/recurrence of youth dissent against the state. Hybrid incorporation is when these two forms of youth incorporation unfold simultaneously. In implementing youth incorporation, the political elites alternate between various instruments: pluralist and limited-pluralist policies, various political discourses targeting youth, material incentives, and corporatizing initiatives may function as the primary means of youth incorporation. However, even though the process of youth incorporation primarily relies on non-coercive and formally or informally institutionalized mechanisms, it also includes selective repression of youth sectors that are left outside the incorporating process.
It is the changing dynamics of elite politics that shaped in part the trajectory of youth politics in post-2010 Turkey. During a period of intense elite polarization, the ruling AKP strategically opted for democratizing reforms, which provided the civil society at large with more opportunities for mobilization and organization, in order to weaken the political legitimacy of secularist tutelary elites. However, when the AKP established political hegemony in the post-2010 period, albeit a fragile one, it re-shaped its linkages with youth that ultimately presented threats, obstacles, and opportunities to youth mobilization. When the AKP perceived threats to its emerging hegemony in the political arena, it adopted hybrid incorporation towards youth. On the one hand, the ruling AKP sought to foster political disengagement among oppositional youth. On the other hand, it pursued to politically activate youth sectors with conservative backgrounds in order to benefit from youth activism in consolidating its hegemony.
This study adopts the method of process-tracing to analyze qualitative data as diverse as secondary sources on contemporary Turkish politics, newspaper reports, policy documents, and semi-structured in-depth interviews with the young participants of the Gezi Park protests and with the youth wings members of the ruling AKP. I carried out interviews in Istanbul and the capital city of Ankara during 12 months of field research in total (June 2013-December 2013 and October 2014-April 2015).
The Elite Structure in the AKP Period: From Fragmentation to Fragile Hegemony
The rise of the AKP to power in 2002 became a watershed moment in Turkish politics, restoring intense elite fragmentation in the political arena. Even though the AKP leadership declared that they had dissociated from their Islamist past, the coalition of secularist elites (top military, high judiciary, presidency, and the Republican People’s Party (CHP)) frequently claimed that the AKP “preserve[d] a secret agenda to replace the secular state with an Islamic one”. Between 2002 and 2010, Turkey thus witnessed a polarized and crisis-driven political arena where the secularist elites used a plethora of strategies to remove the AKP from power and the AKP, through democratizing reforms, aimed to curtail the political influence of the secularist bloc.
The period from 2010 to 2016, however, witnessed an elite transformation from fragmentation to hegemony: the AKP maintained a “dominant party regime” winning nine elections in total from 2002 to 2015; it managed to curb the tutelary powers of the military and the high judiciary; and the AKP created the “fusion of the state and the party” by infiltrating key state institutions with party loyalists. However, a number of past and new crises at the elite and societal levels soon reinforced the AKP’s threat perceptions to its emerging hegemony. First, since the AKP had found itself in a struggle of ‘self-preservation’ vis-à-vis the secularist elites during its first two terms in office, it still carried the fear of being overthrown by a secularist military coup. Second, the split within the ruling elite – the breakdown of the de facto alliance between the AKP and the religious Gülen movement – became unsettling for the party. Finally, growing ‘opposition from below’ challenged the party’s hegemony. Specifically, a large-scale uprising in the summer of 2013 known as the Gezi Park protests reinforced this crisis of hegemony. 
During the period of intense elite polarization (2002-2010), the AKP’s major strategy to counteract the secularist elites was to start a democratization process and to seek membership to the EU. Therefore, the AKP endorsed a series of constitutional amendments, which brought about notable improvements in individual liberties and political rights. While benefitting the civil society at large, these democratizing reforms also enhanced the scope of youth political rights – particularly noteworthy were the amendments that lowered the age for being elected to the parliament and for establishing civic associations. In order to consolidate its nascent hegemony, however, the AKP took an authoritarian turn in its relations with the rival elite factions and the anti-government sectors of society in the post-2010 period. While weakening the parliament and increasing its control over the judiciary, the AKP created a hybrid regime characterized by restrictions on the exercise of political freedoms and by concerted government coercion against dissenting groups. The AKP’s authoritarian turn in state-society relations significantly shaped its linkages with youth, which is the major theme of the next section.
Elite-youth linkages in the post-2010 period: Hybrid Youth Incorporation
As part of its broader attempts to weaken and ultimately silence the societal opposition and to keep its support base overtly politicized, the AKP adopted hybrid youth incorporation. While aiming to depoliticize (potentially) oppositional youth (incorporation as depoliticization and control), it concentrated efforts to politically activate conservative youth to benefit from their political activism in sustaining power (partisan incorporation).
Incorporation as Depoliticization and Control
In the post-2010 period, incorporation as depoliticization and control, which primarily targeted anti-government youth sectors, included three components: the repression of contentious youth groups, distribution of material incentives to educated youth, and a shift from pluralism to limited-pluralism in regulating the arena of youth political rights. First of all, the governing AKP applied concerted coercion against politicized youth that caused serious violations on young people’s freedom of expression, assembly, and association. As Amnesty International (2013) articulately put it, “students have been a special target of Turkish authorities in their broad crackdown on dissent.” Specifically, pro-Kurdish students and organized leftist students faced systematic government repression in the post-2010 period. The major mechanism of repression became the imprisonment of activist students. The number of jailed students significantly increased in the period between 2010 and 2012 reaching a total of 2,824. Activist students also went through disciplinary investigations administered by the universities. While the number of students who went through disciplinary investigations was 2,601 in 2000, 6,001 students and 5,871 students were subject to disciplinary investigations in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Finally, young people attending in- and off-campus anti-government rallies also became the target of the government in the post-2010 period. As the government elites condemned and criminalized protesting youth, the police used unbridled force to disperse the youth protestors.
Second, as part of its neo-populist redistribution schemes, the AKP also provided youth, and specifically better-educated youth, with material incentives, in part to reduce the possibility of grassroots student dissent. Among these material incentives were the removal of tuition fees in public universities, the increase in the number of university dormitories, increased opportunities of employment in the public sector, and the expansion of government bursaries and loans to university students. For example, according to the statistics of the Directorate of Student Loans and Dormitories (2012) while in 2004, the number of university students receiving a bursary was 55,724, in 2012 522,679 students were offered a government bursary. The re-foundation of the Ministry of Youth and Sports in 2011 after 42 years also became pivotal in coordinating the provision of material incentives to educated youth.
However, as side payments to educated youth seemed to make little difference in soothing youth grievances, government repression against youth activists in the period from 2010 to 2013 also backfired. Young people, and specifically university students, became the forerunners of the Gezi Park protests in the summer of 2013. The interviews conducted for this study with the young participants of the Gezi Park protests revealed that youth mobilized against the ruling party to express their accumulated discontents with the AKP’s monopoly over state power, the loss of judicial independence, and with the restrictions on individual liberties and political freedoms. For example, the research participants believed that “there no longer existed a separation of powers” in Turkey and the political system turned almost into a “dictatorship”; law was used “to intimidate people” instead of keeping order and peace, and the ruling party “failed to create a free environment for political expression and public debate.” Besides, a sense of political exclusion and threat perceptions to their secular lifestyles led young people to take contentious action against the government. The research participants underlined that the government discriminated against citizens who voted for oppositional parties; alcohol restrictions had felt like a violation of their personal choices; and the government discourses that interfered with women’s reproductive rights became particularly disturbing.
Finally, grassroots youth mobilization during the Gezi Park protests further led the ruling party to weaken the capacity of youth as an oppositional force. Therefore, after violently putting down the Gezi protests, the AKP more systematically pursued fostering political disengagement among anti-government youth sectors. In order to realize this goal, the ruling party deepened the process of incorporation as depoliticization and control by systematically transforming the pluralist structures of political participation into limited-pluralist ones. Limited pluralism was primarily manifested through the endorsement of new laws that brought significant restrictions on the freedom of expression and assembly. For example, the amendments made to the Internet Law in February 2014 constituted one of the major setbacks in freedom of expression as well as in the protection of privacy. Also, the 2015 Internal Security Package, an omnibus law that introduced amendments to several laws, including the Law on the Duties and Powers of the Police, the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations, and the Anti-Terror Law, imposed serious restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
While the perception of threats to elite hegemony led the ruling AKP to moderate the demands of (potentially) oppositional youth for political participation, they also fostered the ruling party to counter-mobilize its youth supporters in order to benefit from youth activism in countering elite rivals and the broader societal opposition. Unlike its linkages with oppositional youth, the AKP thus adopted ‘partisan incorporation’ towards the young segments of its voter base.
First of all, the recruitment of youth as youth wing members became one of the major channels the AKP leadership used to mobilize youth. Interviews conducted for this study with the youth members of the AKP revealed that by manipulating existing pluralist arrangements to its advantage, the ruling party undertook considerable efforts in the university campuses and local districts to mobilize youth as party activists. In other words, while the ruling party restricted the activities of oppositional parties as well as anti-government youth in university campuses, the AKP activists encountered a highly favorable context and received access to large resources in mobilizing youth into party structures.
The ruling AKP also adopted several informal corporatizing initiatives as part of its partisan incorporation efforts towards youth. For example, the AKP sought to undermine the autonomy of the student councils in the campuses and to render them as state-corporatist institutions by infiltrating the executive council positions with the AKP youth wing members. The AKP also established corporatist linkages with non-governmental organizations and foundations that specifically worked in the area of youth. The Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), established in 2014, is a case in point. The TÜGVA website states that the foundation was established “to contribute to the young generations of this country by supporting their social, physical, mental, psychological and spiritual development, and teach them how to be productive, progressive, innovative and valuable for this country. ” Critics have argued that the ruling party sponsored the activities of the TÜGVA and provided the foundation with state-owned lands for its headquarters and dormitories, and the Ministry of Education encouraged university and high school students to benefit from the services of the foundation.
The changing dynamics of elite politics shaped the ruling party’s linkages with youth. When the AKP perceived threats to its emerging hegemony, it established two types of linkages with young people through the process of hybrid incorporation. What impact did this have on youth political participation? This paper concludes that incorporation as depoliticization and control did not only enable the AKP to prevent the escalation of youth-led protests rapidly and effectively, it also fostered a growing disenchantment among anti-government youth with political activism. The research participants underlined that the ruling party’s frequent violations of the exercise of youth’s political rights constituted a strong motivation for young people to stay out of organized politics.
In contrast, as partisan incorporation of pro-government youth enabled the ruling party to mobilize a considerable number of youth with conservative backgrounds into party politics and pro-government civic activism, it also triggered the pursuit of militant street politics amongst pro-government youth. According to the AKP Youth Wings’ official website, the ruling party had a total of two million members between the ages 18 and 30 in 2015, and in Istanbul alone, the AKP recruited 400,000 youth members.. Similarly, the quasi-corporatist youth organization TÜGVA soon recruited 51,000 youth volunteers, reached out to over 480,000 youth through its services, and established branches in all the cities of Turkey. Finally, the interviews with the AKP youth wing members revealed that the AKP leadership managed to counter-mobilize youth as a political force ready to confront anti-government mobilization in the future. The narratives of the youth wing members manifested that young members of the AKP developed a strong attachment to and identification with the party leader Erdoğan. During the interviews, most of the research participants specifically emphasized that they would not hesitate to take contentious action to prevent the overthrow of the AKP and Erdoğan from power.
 Leyla Neyzi, “Object or Subject? The Paradox of ‘Youth’ in Turkey”. International Journal of Middle East Studies 33, 2001: 411-32 ; Gülden Demet Lüküslü, Türkiye’de “Gençlik Miti” 1980 Sonrası TürkiyeGençliği. İstanbul:İletişim Yayınları, 2009.
 The prominent role played by youth activists during the Arab uprisings has created a resurgence of interest in youth political participation in the Middle East. When explaining the sources of youth mobilization, existing studies emphasize common socioeconomic and political conditions experienced by Middle Eastern youth that have led them to develop a particular form of political consciousness and activism as a distinct political generation. See, for example, Emma C. Murphy, “Problematizing Arab Youth: Generational Narratives of Systemic Failure”. Mediterranean Politics, vol. 17(1),2012, 5-22; Tierry Desrues, “Moroccan Youth and the Forming of a New Generation: Social Change, Collective Action and Political Activism”, Mediterranean Politics, Vol. 17, No. 1, 2012, 23–40; Sarah Anne Rennick, Politics and revolution in Egypt [electronic resource]: rise and fall of the youth activists, London;New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2018. Alternatively, some studies focus on the significance of new social movements initiated prior to the Arab uprisings such as the Youth for Change and the April 6th Movement in Egypt that transformed into wider youth activism. See, Nadine Sika, “Youth Political Engagement in Egypt: From Abstention to Uprising”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 39(2), August 2012,181–199. Finally, the role of new media and communication technologies in triggering youth revolt has also become an area of interest. See, for example, Linda Herrera, “Youth and citizenship in the digital age: A view from Egypt”, Harvard Educational Review, vol. 82 issue 3, 2012, 333-352.
 Recent political science research on youth politics in the Middle East addresses some of the understudied dynamics of youth mobilization in the region. For example, Sika’s recent book titled Youth Activism and Contentious Politics in Egypt (2017) shows how “authoritarian regimes present opportunities, obstacles, and threats to the development of movements and their networks”(p.12). Sika (2017) argues that while the cooptation of the opposition by Egypt’s authoritarian regime functioned as an obstacle to youth mobilization (p.33), political exclusion experienced by non-coopted oppositional groups (p.34) and the crisis of regime legitimacy (p.38) provided political activists with opportunities in challenging the established system. See, Nadina Sika, Youth Activism and Contentious Politics in Egypt, Cambridge University Press (online), August 2017. Alternatively, drawing upon historical institutionalism, Bray-Collins’ work on youth politics in post-war Lebanon (2016) shows that “the young partisans of Lebanon’s political parties contribute to the reproduction and rejuvenation of sectarian political dynamics ‘from below’’(p.3) through their networking, strategies, and activities that “constitute a ‘feedback’ mechanism operat[ing] at the grassroots”(pp.3-4). See, Elinor Bray-Collins, Sectarianism from Below: Youth Politics in Post-war Lebanon. (PhD Diss.), University of Toronto, Toronto, 2016.
 See, for example, G. Lowell Field and John Higley, Elitism, London: Routledge and K. Paul, 1980; Michael Burton and John Higley,“Elite Settlements”, American Sociological Review, vol. 52(3), 1987, 295-307; Michael Burton and John Higley,“The Study of Political Elite Transformations”. International Review of Sociology, vol. 11(2), 2001, 181-199.
 Charles Tilly, From Mobilization to Revolution. New York:Random House, 1978; Theda Skocpol, States and social revolutions : a comparative analysis of France, Russia, and China. Cambridge; New York : Cambridge University Press,1979; Michael Burton, “Elites and Collective Protest”. Sociological Quarterly, vol. 25(1),1984, 45-65; Doug McAdam, John D. McCarthy and Mayer N. Zald, “Introduction: Opportunities, mobilizing structures, and framing- toward a synthetic, comparative perspective on social movements”, in D. McAdam, J. D. McCarthy and M. N. Zald(eds). Comparative perspectives on social movements: political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and cultural framings (pp:1-20),New York: Cambridge University Press,1996; Jack A. Goldstone, “Rethinking Revolutions: Integrating Origins, Processes, and Outcomes”. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 29(1), 2009, 18-32; Sidney G. Tarrow, Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics Revised and Updated Third Edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
 See, for example, Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1968; Guillermo A. O’Donnell, Modernization and Bureaucratic Authoritarianism: Studies in South American Politics. Institute of International Studies: University of California Berkley, 1979; David Waldner, State building and late development. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999; Ruth Berins Collier and David Collier , Shaping the political arena : critical junctures, the labor movement, and regime dynamics in Latin America. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002.
 Steven Heydemann, “Social Pacts and the Persistence of Authoritarianism in the Middle East”, in O. Schlumberger (ed) Debating Arab authoritarianism: dynamics and durability in nondemocratic regimes (pp.20-29). Standford, California: Standford University Press, 2007,25.
 Ahmet T. Kuru, “Reinterpretation of Secularism in Turkey: The Case of the Justice and Development Party”, in M. H.Yavuz(ed) The Emergence of a New Turkey: Democracy and the AK Parti (136-159), Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2006,136.
 Berk Esen and Şebnem Gümüşçü, “Rising competitive authoritarianism in Turkey”. Third World Quarterly vol. 37(9), 2016,1584.
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 Karabekir Akkoyunlu and Kerem Öktem, “Existential insecurity and the making of a weak authoritarian regime in Turkey”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies vol. 16(4), 2016, 505-527.
 As Bashirov and Lancaster (2018) articulately put it “occurring in the midst of ongoing revolutions in the Middle East, Gezi [protests] reminded AKP of the fragile nature of its grip on Turkish society and politics”. See: Galib Bashirov and Caroline Lancaster, “End of Moderation:the radicalization of AKP in Turkey”. Democratization, vol. 25(7), 2018,1220.
 William Hale and Ergun Özbudun (2010). Islamism, democracy and liberalism in Turkey: The case of the AKP, Abingdon, New York: Routledge, 2010,58-59.
 For an analysis of Turkey’s transition to a hybrid regime see, for example, İlkim Özdikmenli, and Şevket Ovalı, “A success story of flawed example? The anatomy of the Turkish model for the Middle East”, New Perspectives on Turkey vol. 51, 2014,5-33; Ergun Özbudun, “AKP at the Crossroads: Erdoğan’s Majoritarian Drift”. South European Society and Politics, vol. 19(2), 2014,155-167.
 Amnesty International,“Gezi Park Protests: Brutal Denial of the Right to Peaceful Assembly in Turkey”. London:Amnesty International Ltd., 2013.
 Gökcer Tahincioğlu and Kemal Göktaş, “Bu öğrencilere bu işi mi öğrettiler?” Öğrenci Muhalefeti ve Baskılar. İstanbul:İletişim Yayınları,2013.
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 Benan Molu, Esra Demir Gürsel,Gülsah Kurt, Hülya Dinçer and Zeynep Kıvılcım, Üniversitelerde Disiplin Soruşturmaları:Öğrencilerin İfade ve Örgütlenme Özgürlüğü AİHS Çerçevesinde Bir Değerlendirme. İstanbul: On İki Levha Yayıncılık,2013.
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 Cited by Yörük Kurtaran. “Türkiye Gençlik Alanı İzleme Raporu 2009-2012” In Özerklik ve Özgürlükler açısından Türkiyede Gençlik Politikaları, edited by Laden Yurttagüler, Burcu Oy, Yörük Kurtaran, İstanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayınları: Şebeke Gençlerin Katılımı Projesi Kitapları-No:8. 2014. p.103.
 It is important to note, however, that despite the ruling AKP’s redistributionist agenda in the area of youth policy, the share of public expenditures in the youth sector remained significantly low and largely excluded young people outside the education. See: Kurtaran. “Türkiye Gençlik Alanı İzleme Raporu 2009-2012”. 92-93. Drawing upon TURKSTATS 2015, Yılmaz(2017) documents that “the income poverty rate for young people between the ages of 15 and 29 was 23.4% in 2013, while the poverty rate for those above the age of 30 was 16.9%”(p.47). See: Yılmaz, Volkan. “Youth Welfare Policy in Turkey in comparative perspective: A case of ‘Denied Youth Citizenship’ ”. Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, 17(1), (2017): 41-55.
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