Turkish people are afraid and want the West

Turkish people are afraid and want the West

The Turkish public does not feel safe and secure. This is what the results of the “Survey of Social-Political Tendencies in Turkey” tell us indirectly. This annual survey has been conducted every year for four years by the Kadir Has University, in order to reflect the changes in public opinion in Turkey. The results of 2014 were presented last week by Rector Prof. Mustafa Aydın.

According to the survey, there has been a 20 percent rise in the number of people who support European Union membership, a rise from 51.8 percent in 2013 to 71.4 percent this year. Those who say “Turkey’s NATO membership should continue” have risen from 72 percent to 76.2 percent.

There is also a sharp increase in the number of people who consider the U.S. to be Turkey’s ally, rising from 14.4 percent in 2013 to 30.8 percent in 2014.

The most significant increase is with the number of people who support cooperation with U.S., which has tripled since last year. Even more interestingly, cooperation with the U.S. is much more preferred than with Muslim countries. The U.S. is therefore seen as Turkey’s closest partner today. In addition, the total number of respondents who see the U.S. as a threat fell by half, from 68 percent last year down to 36 percent in 2014.

What is the reason for this sudden inclination toward the West? The main motivation seems to be related to increasing security concerns.

One foot of this security concern is located outside - with the problems in Turkey’s neighborhood of non-European countries. The more the security threat rises in the region, the more the Turkish public looks for assurance. This is why it sees the Western alliance as a lifesaver.

Washington-based research institute the German Marshall Fund conducts a similar annual survey called “Transatlantic Trends.” The results of its most recent survey, published on Sept. 10, 2014, confirm the rising security concern among the Turkish public. Accordingly, in 2010, when the government’s “zero problems with neighbors" policy was still applicable and the spirit of the “Arab Spring” dominated the region, only one-third of the respondents said “NATO membership is essential for Turkey’s security.”

This year, however, with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terror peaking in the region, this number rose to 49 percent. In other words, half of the Turkish public seeks security within the Western alliance.

The other foot of this security concern is internal. The ISIL threat has leaked into the country. In addition, the recent violence in Cizre, a province in southeastern Turkey close to Turkey-Syria border, has demonstrated once more that the Kurdish question has still not been de-militarized yet. The Kadir Has University’s survey also revealed that the Turkish public sees terror as Turkey’s second-most important problem, with 13.9 percent of respondents seeing terror as the most important problem. This number was only 4.7 percent in 2013.

Furthermore, military methods are unfortunately seen as the most effective way to solve the terror issue, with a rate rising to 39.2 percent in this year’s survey. There is also a simultaneous decrease in the number of respondents who see political and economic methods as the most effective way to counter terrorism.

Similarly, there is a rise in the number of respondents who find the government’s policies on counter-terrorism and the Kurdish question unsuccessful, and a drop in the number who find them successful. Some 24.7 percent of respondents said they don’t expect any result from the ongoing peace process, while about the same number of people said “more effort should be made.” Only 19.4 percent found the peace process "successful."

The only way to overcome this security dilemma and not to revert to the language and culture of violence is to immediately accelerate the peace process. The key factor to do that is the strong will of the players involved in this process.

I had the chance to witness the strong will of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) first hand last week when we, a small group of journalists, held a long conversation with the co-chairs of the party, Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ. They both mostly emphasized the message that they will strongly embrace the peace process regardless of whether or not they pass the 10-percent threshold in the upcoming parliamentary elections set to take place on June 7.

However, they also underlined that the peace process is, at the moment, is composed only of "dialogue" and that meaningful negotiations need to start as soon as possible. “There is a political slippage at the moment. There needs to be a big leap to overcome this,” they said.

This leap has to take place most urgently. The increasing tendency among the public towards military means and the fading confidence in the peace process constitute a red alarm. It is time to come to full alert.