Public view on foreign policy
While Turkey is in the grasp of election frenzy over presidential and parliamentary elections, the Center for Turkish Studies at Kadir Has University released the findings of its annual survey on “Public Perceptions on Turkish Foreign Policy.” The survey was conducted in 26 cities across Turkey with 1000 face-to-face interviews during 15-25 May. The results once again show that political discourse, government rhetoric and regional developments have almost immediate impacts on the public’s perception.
This time, Turkey’s successive operations in Syria, where the latest “Operation Olive Branch” ended in late March, dominates public’s perception as we see the “Syrian conflict” emerging at the top of the list of the most important issues for Turkish foreign policy. Syria has been constantly rising in the list since 2015, reaching 26 percent this year. Similarly, increased tension in Gaza and Israel as the result of the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing it as the capital of Israel, also reflected in the survey with “relations with Israel,” ranking as the second most important issue in Turkey’s foreign policy and propelling from last year’s 8.3 percent to 24.2 percent.
The third most important issue in the list is “fighting with terrorism,” which saw a substantial decrease from last year’s 30 percent to 14.1 percent. Reading this along with the perception of success of Turkey’s cross-border operations provides us a clear insight as to why there is such a significant drop on the public’s ranking of counterterrorism. As the Turkish public considers both Operation Euphrates Shield and “Operation Olive Branch” successfully conducted by 53.5 percent and 56 percent respectively, and thus effectively dealt with cross-border terror threats, it relegates fighting with terrorism down the list.
Another key area that the survey questions every year is the Turkish public’s identification of friends and foes. It has long been clear that the Turkish public believes that Turkey has “no friends but Azerbaijan” in the world. This year Azerbaijan again tops the list of Turkey’s closest friends with 59 percent public conviction. While 22.5 percent of the respondents state that “Turkey has no friends,” increased from last year’s 17.2 percent, 4.1 percent coming out of nowhere in previous surveys claim second place for Russia in the list.
On the other side of the equation, the usual suspects, i.e. the U.S. and Israel, have again topped the list of countries that pose threats to Turkey with 60.2 and 54.5 percent respectively. It seems that Israel’s excessive use of force against protesting Palestinians in Gaza was immediately reflected in the survey with a sharp increase (around 15 percent) in the public’s perception of Israel as a threat. The recent tit-for-tat between Greece and Turkey after years of quiet has also affected public threat perception, moving Greece up in the list to sixth place with 16.2 percent, increasing from last year’s 10.2 percent.
Other questions related to Greece confirm the impact of the prevailing security discourse on public’s view. While 67 percent of the Turkish public, increased from 53.7 percent, think that there exist problems between Turkey and Greece, the militarization of the Aegean islands and border issues are reported to be the most problematic issues between them with 41.5 and 26.6 percent respectively. These are important indicators as the Cyprus dispute, which has been dominating the bilateral agenda for some years, was demoted in the list as a result of recent tensions in the Aegean and over asylum seeking Turkish soldiers in Greece and arrested Greek soldiers in Turkey for trespassing the border.
Finally, findings on Turkey’s relations with the U.S. and Russia are in tandem with the government’s policies as well as the recent developments in bilateral relations. While 46.5 percent of the Turkish public thinks that there is cooperation between Turkey and Russia in the areas of energy, tourism and trade, the overwhelming majority of the respondents (79.3 percent) believe that there are problems between Turkey and the U.S. mainly as a result of U.S. policies towards Kurds.
The survey offers insights about several other aspects of Turkish foreign policy and public’s approach to Turkey’s international relations. It should contribute to the understanding of Turkey by foreign diplomats based in Turkey, as well as to parties and presidential candidates running for office in the forthcoming elections.