Once again, it’s ‘directionless’ Turkey

Once again, it’s ‘directionless’ Turkey

Turks can be fun when they collectively express their foreign policy perceptions, perspectives and passions. The findings of research in this field often produce the typology of the teenage-minded big angry Turk who has not yet finished half his soul searching: Who am I? Who are my friends? And my enemies? Which people pose a threat to me? Who can I evolve better with and advance my personal interests? These – and more – can be annoying questions for a passionate teenager whose most recent life is hardly a success story.  

The findings of the most recent survey by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, measuring Turks’ foreign policy perceptions, depict little meaningful deviation from the most previous findings.  

For instance, among the Turks who think their country will become a full member of the European Union, the average anticipation for full accession is 8.1 years (meaning membership in summer 2024), denoting quite a big deviation from British Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Year 3000” forecast – a divergence of just 976 years.  

It was a simple twist of fate in confirming Mr. Cameron’s pessimism that the first public speech of the new EU minister noted that “the EU is not Turkey’s sole option.” Maybe. But what are the options? 

In the past year, the percentage of Turks who support EU membership rose from 42.4 percent (2015) to 61.8 percent (2016). Great news! Or it could have been so. According to the same research, 66.7 percent of Turks do not believe their country will ever become a member of the rich club. That pessimism was shared by 47.6 percent in 2015. So, more Turks want EU membership and much fewer think it will ever happen.  

What, then, should Turkey do? Which bloc should it align its foreign policy with? A total of 18.8 percent cited NATO-United States, the highest. Reasonable. But then 44.1 percent of Turks cited the U.S. as a threat to their country, making the Americans the second highest. Interesting mix of sentiments: More Turks want their foreign policy to be aligned with the second biggest threat to their country. But there is more.

The best foreign policy alternative to the EU, after NATO-US, is the Organization for Islamic Conference (OIC) – probably because its name contains the word “Islamic” – at 17.6 percent. But then 69.6 percent of Turks think that the biggest threat to their country is the Middle East, home to scores of OIC members. Again, aligning foreign policy with a major threat? How would that be possible?  

But the Turks’ third best option looks more amusing than the first two. In the same survey, Turks cited Russia as the third best option in terms of aligning their country’s foreign policy at 14.8 percent, while simultaneously citing the country as the third biggest threat to their country at 34.9 percent.  

Customarily, one of the most difficult questions in similar surveys is the one that asks Turks which foreign country is their country’s best friend. In the 1970s, most Turks would cite Pakistan and Libya – Pakistan is still an option. Then some politician coined the term “one nation, two states” in reference to Turkey and Azerbaijan. This one is still very popular. In this year’s survey, 59.3 percent of Turks cited Azerbaijan as Turkey’s best friend.  

It is intriguing why they did not cite the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), an independent state recognized by Turkey only. Do Turks not recognize the TRNC as an independent state? If they do, have they ever been curious about why their country’s best friend, Azerbaijan, has meticulously avoided recognizing the Turkish statelet of the bitter-lemon island?  

Perhaps that may be too much to ask for when they cite the top three threats in their list of best foreign policy options.  

Once again, the Turks are confused. They privately feel alienated and directionless. The centuries-old proverb that “the only friend of a Turk is a Turk” must be tormenting their souls. Fortunately, there is Azerbaijan: one nation, two states! But it remains a mystery as to why the Turks would not want their country to align its foreign policy with Azerbaijan.