Polls in 2017 indicate that a gradual growth of anti-NATO sentiment and disfavor of United States get further away as Turkey Russia alignment gains momentum. It shows us the reshuffle of the Turkey’s friends and enemies list. These trends and more about Turkey’s perceptions in many issues were reflected in the opinion polls conducted by the research company İstanbul Ekonomi Araştırma (IEA), in early November 2017 and Kadir Has University in July 2017.
The survey results by the Center of Turkish Studies (CTRS) of Kadir Has university were released in a report under the title of KHAS Public Perceptions on Turkish Foreign Policy Research 2017. 1
Poll were conducted in 26 cities, with 1000 people over 18 years old were asked on several questions about Turkey and Turkish Foreign policy. The interview was conducted face to face. It was supervised by the Rector, Prof. Mustafa Aydin, a well-known scholar on Turkish foreign policy and Turkey studies.
Polls results received many critics and extensive media attention. Needless to say there are almost no independent research institutes in Turkey today to assist policy makers with qualitative and quantitative polls and research constructively. Hopefully there will be more research like this in future.
The poll reveals a mixed perception and assessment on many issues by Turkish public especially on Turkish Foreign Policy. Turkish Foreign Policy has been dealing with many difficult issues for a couple of years. Respondents’ perception demonstrated that Turkey Foreign policy (TRFP) is shifting according to political and economic relationships of the Turkish Government with other countries.
Despite the fact that many issues remain relatively same, this comparative finding help us to understand where Turkish foreign policy is heading to. Whom Turks perceive friends and foes?
The main question from the survey asked about the most crucial problems of Turkish foreign policy. Respondent’s answers topped as terrorism on the list by 44.2 %, which relatively increased by 13 percent this year, followed by 24.1% Syria and 8.3% Israel. For the second main question was that who are the Turkey’s enemies and friends formed the list of enemy’s longer than friend list. Turks believe that United States is the number one country poses a threat to Turkey by 81 % with historical peak in all time, respectively 22.4 percent higher. The second country that poses threat the most according to polls for Turkey is Israel with 37, 4 percent, the third and the most surprisingly came EU by 24 percent with 10.4 higher compared to 2016. Survey reveals an interesting perception about Russia that it was at fourth in the list of threat country last year which was by 38 percent, is no longer constitutes a threat as only 18 percent of respondent see Russia as threat. Over the half of respondents, 71.3 percent say Azerbaijan is the best friend of Turkey. 17.2 percent believe that Turkey has no friend at all, compared to 23, 1 percent last year.
Perception about Israel though, after a diplomatic stand- off between the two countries after the Gaza flotilla incident dwindled down by half compared to last year.
To decipher the data, despite the Russian sanction, Russia became friendlier, after the jet down crisis, relationship worsened, and Russian sanction aimed to cripple Turkey’s economy as an action of retaliation. Turkey suffered the sanctions for a while but Erdogan made amends along with an official apology tone down to restore relationship. Relationship is repaired however tomatoes export crisis is yet to be solved and today the arbiter Russia, Turkey and Iran rolled their sleeves to solve Syrian crisis. They have been holding talks of negotiations. Turkey and Russian relations fluctuates over the armed groups in Iraq and in Syria.
The shift from negative perception to positive on Russia may be read as a resentment to the United States. Vatandas (2018) in his article The Anti-Americanism in Politurco underlines that anti-Americanism is historically rooted mainly due to the the United States’ Turkey policies. 2
2017 survey public negative perception about USA emanates from some issues under Trump Administration that public opposed to the USA arming Kurdish People’s Protection (YPG) in Syria and Iraq for its effective and successful fighting against ISIS. USA doesn’t think YPG is a terrorist group despite Turkey opposition, in comparison to a poll by Turkey’s International Strategic Research Organization (ISRO) in 2004. The United States ranked as the number one state posing a threat to Turkey, followed by Greece, Armenia, and Israel. Russia ranked seventh and Iran was ninth. However, as a potential long-term partner for Turkey, the EU ranked number one, followed by US as 5th and Islamic world next, interestingly, US ranked number one as Turkey has to count on for aid and support during natural calamities (e.g. Earthquake, flood).
Numbers from 2006-2017 poll demonstrate that perception in the public consciences solidified during Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi in Turkish) has seen USA a major threat to Turkey. Polls bespeak that JD party constructed an independent foreign policy framework detachment from Washington, this may be misleading if the respondents come from JDP party landscape.
Another reliable survey comes from Istanbul research (Istanbul Ekonomi Arastirma (IEA) which regularly conducts surveys about Turkey’s internal and external issues. The survey of 2017 by IEA was conducted in early of November in 12 major cities with 1500 respondents. 3 The poll demonstrates that Turkey’s public perception about NATO is negative, the strong reason can be the perception is fed by political rhetoric for recent years. 67 percent consider that Turkey can maintain its security needs out of the NATO and doesn’t need NATO to guarantee its national security. 33 percent said NATO is an important security umbrella for Turkey. Unlike NATO support decreasing, 57 percent of respondents said they support Turkey EU membership, supporters mainly hail from leftist parties such Republic people’s Party (with Turkish acronym CHP) and People’s Democratic Party (with Turkish acronym HDP) supported by Kurdish majority.
To make sense out of this poll can be elucidated under the political identity discourse shifting over the last couple of years that Turkey and EU relations have taken a different path from membership aspiration talks due to Turkey’s authoritative rules and restricting liberties.
Public reaction is thoroughly shaped by not policies but the words of the Turkish leadership. Due to building a resentment sentiment that can be traced from the words especially after grave repercussions with EU due to some sour relations, for instance, several EU members blocked Erdogan and his cadres holding political rally in their countries before election, EU parliament voted to freeze Turkey’s accession talks.
Germany, Greece and other several countries rejected to hand over Turkish NATO military officers that Turkey accuses them as coup plotter. Turkey extradition requests for Turkish military seniors are not met yet. Moreover, Germany decided to move its troops from Incirlik base to Jordan.
Russian and Turkish leaders oriented rapprochement that Turkey desires to purchase Russian S-400 air defense system. Notwithstanding NATO’s membership and NATO defense system in Turkey, Turkey’s ambitions to acquire S-400 made NATO scrutinize Turkey’s intentions. Such and more other contentious issues made public’s perception a sharp turn against Europe and NATO which Erdogan government seems pleased by so far.
The last brawl was even unprecedented when Erdogan and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founding father of Turkey, were shown as a “chart of Enemies” during a NATO military exercise. It escalated the tension further in a thorny relations road which also led Turkey’s decision to call Turkish soldiers back from NATO exercises in Norway. NATO military alliances dismissed the soldiers who were responsible for the mistake and apologized Erdogan for several times, meanwhile, Erdogan backlashed and said Ankara will not participate in the military drills.
Negative perception about Syrian civil war was expected to be high as public discontent is skyrocketing, news about the fomentation steep in the deep social unrest toward Syrian refugees are well known now, sheltering more than 3 million Syrian ranks Turkey number one in the world taking refugees. However, the concerns about the intention of Turkey using the refugee card as a leverage to EU countries also turning protracted issue on the table, moreover Turkeys financial and military cost in Syrian conflict are unbeknown to public yet and survey shows that public doesn’t want government’s further involvement in Syrian’s conundrum or at least to be neutral. Turkey raises its concern of disillusionment with western countries and international institutions; EU cringes at Turkey that it disengages itself from western directions to align with Russia and Iran, the critics and questions on rule of law and violation of democratic, liberal principals and human rights after failed coup attempt in 2016. Public perception’s quick change about Russia over eight months can be read that Turkey’s active diplomacy toward Russia is working.
Abdulmelik Alkan is a doctoral researcher focusing on Foreign Policy Analysis, South Caucus, diaspora and ethnic minorities.