Analysis

September 27, 2011

Summary: Several surveys probing Turkish public opinion on foreign relations, threats, and sympathies have found a relatively large reservoir of good will toward the Arab countries and Iran, as well as fear, distrust, and perceived ill will from the United States, EU, and Israel in Turkey. What were the Turkish respondents thinking? One major factor in the sea change of public opinion in Turkey has been the success of the Islamist movement’s capacity to survive in dire circumstances from the 1920s to 1950, and then to regenerate itself into a major political force. The Turkish mindset began to shift toward heavily religious conservatism by the mid-1990s. A resocialization of the Turkish public has created a new mind-set that emphasizes religious identity in defining who the Turkish citizens are and promotes the observation of the world through the prism of religious conflict.

The Middle East and Turkish Public Opinion
by Ersin Kalaycıoğlu

Offices Washington, DC • Berlin • Paris • Brussels BelgraDe • ankara • BuCharest • WarsaW

The GMF 2011 Transatlantic Trends survey found that “…Recent Turkish foreign policy that has promoted positive relationships with the country’s neighbors appeared to be in line with Turkish public opinion. One-in-five Turks (20 percent) thought that on international matters, Turkey should act in closest cooperation with the countries of the Middle East, echoing similar support in 2010.” This shows that a plurality supports the Turkish rapprochement toward the Middle East. Though it is still slightly more dominant than favorability toward Turkey’s relations with either the European Union (EU) or the United States, positive orientation to the Middle East seems to be beyond similar considerations for other neighbors of Turkey, such as Russia (at only 9 percent). Several other surveys that have probed Turkish public opinion on foreign relations, threats, and sympathies have found a relatively large reservoir of good will toward the Arab countries and Iran, as well as fear, distrust, and perceived ill will from the United States, EU, and Israel in Turkey. This is in spite of the fact that Turkey has been a member of NATO, the Council of Europe, and an Associate Member of the EU since 1963 and in the EU Customs Union since 1996. Has the

Turkish public been experiencing a deep state of cognitive dissonance? What were the Turkish respondents thinking? Arabs, Iranians, and Turks: Unity or Discord? Relations between the Arabs and the Turks, whose overwhelming majorities are Sunni Muslims, and the Iranians, who are majority Shi’a Muslim, have been complex, volatile, and often beyond generalizations. There is no evidence that Arabs have anything but ambivalent and wavering feelings toward the Turks. Publically, intellectual Arabs often loath Turks for having kept them backward under the Ottoman yoke for four centuries, and then go on to whisper in private that their grandparents were Turkish! Turks, like the Arabs, erroneously believe that they ruled the Arabs and other nations in the Ottoman Empire. This was far from the truth, for although the Ottoman Sultans spoke a court language of Osmanlı, which was in part Turkish, their ethnic make up was too complex to belong to any one group. Until the rise of Turkish nationalism in the latter half of the 19th century, no Ottoman gentleman seemed to have suffered being called a Turk, for it was a term used for some

Analysis
peasants and nomads of the empire, upon whom those urban gentlemen, even when they were from the same ethnic stock, looked down with condescension, to say the least. The most a “Turk” connoted for the Ottoman ruling elite (ethnic Turks included) was a combination of machine gun fodder, slave laborer, and a source of tax revenue. Once the Turks began to develop nationalism, whatever love that existed between them and the other nationalities of the empire seemed to have perished, and the vacuum was filled with reciprocal distrust, contempt, and ethnic prejudice. There was little love lost between the Iranians and the Turks, for their Persian and Ottoman Empires had been at war for a long time. Many ethnic prejudices have developed over relations of war and trade between the Turks and the Iranians. And then there was World War I. Anatolians, who were mobilized by the Ottoman military to serve in the Arabian lands, including the Palestinian theater of war, seemed to have returned home with a staunch belief in the “the deceitfulness of the backstabbing Arabs.” Until they died out, they continued to narrate their stories of treasonous Arabs who ignored the call of jihad of the Caliph and the Sultan in 1914, and how the Arab leaders sold their souls to the British for a few gold coins. It was, after all, in Palestine that the Ottoman Empire was defeated by General Allenby’s troops for the last time in 1916. Now, amazingly, the grandsons and granddaughters of those soldiers who had served in World War I have demonstrated an unprecedented amount of interest, solidarity, trust, and even love for the Arabs. It is a u-turn of the Turkish public opinion toward the southern neighbors of the country. What explains it? Islamic Movement Meets Modern Technology and Organization One major factor in the sea change of public opinion in Turkey has been the success of the Islamist movement’s (Islamcılık Cereyanı) capacity to survive in dire circumstances from the 1920s to 1950, and then to regenerate itself into a major political force with a deep pocket and a remarkable drive to recruit and support increasing numbers of talented men and women through a variety of social, economic, and cultural organizations. The military coup of 1980 was also very timely in providing the Islamists with enormous momentum by elevating them into a major ally of the military establishment through the ideology of Turkish – Islamic Synthesis and the organization of the Hearth of Intellectuals (Aydınlar Ocağı) in its war against “atheist leftists.” With full support of the military government and socially conservative governments that came to power after 1983, a whole new generation could be educated with the conservative cum Islamic, and ethnic nationalist curricula of the Turkish educational system. The heavyhanded oppression of anyone connected to the left of center also paved the way for a vacuum in the Turkish politics of the 1980s. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 also sent the message to the Turkish voters that socialist ideology was at a dead end. Endowed with the backing of the state elite, efficient organization, and huge financial capabilities, the Islamist movement was able to mold a new and conservative mind-set among the Turkish voters, especially through exploiting the examples of the plight of the Muslims in Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabagh, Iraq, and Palestine from 1990 to 2003.

Endowed with the backing of the state elite, efficient organization, and huge financial capabilities, the Islamist movement was able to mold a new and conservative mind-set among the Turkish voters.
The military government had been effective in cultivating a feeling that there is “no friend of a Turk but another Turk” in the 1980s. A media blitz that started to show the callousness of the United States and the EU member countries to the plight of the Muslims and how they discriminated against Turkey as they supposedly supported terror networks that wreaked havoc in the country fanned the flames of anti-Western attitudes. Formal education and state and Islamist media became very effective in creating the image of lonely Turk, who was a morally upright but poor

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Analysis
Muslim exploited by the West. The Turkish mindset began to shift toward heavily religious conservatism by the mid1990s. Such a shift helped to produce conservative governments, whose rule further reinforced the might of religious identity, on one hand, and the image of being subject to unjust treatment by the West just because of who Muslim Turks are, on the other. A resocialization of the Turkish public has created a new mind-set that emphasizes religious identity in defining who the Turkish citizens are and promotes the observation of the world through the prism of religious conflict. Conclusion The communication power of the Islamist/conservative media, post-Cold War developments in the domestic and international politics of Turkey, organizational capabilities of the Islamic Movement, and financial prowess of the Islamist nongovernmental organizations all produced a sea change in the mindset of the Turkish public. Turkey has almost become the living example of late Samuel Huntington’s prophecy of clash of civilizations (or should we say, clash of religions). Large swaths of the Turkish population seem to believe in an almost medieval image of the world where Muslims, Christians, and Jews are at war with each other, and that they should protect Islam from the attacks of the Christian missionaries and their Jewish allies in the Middle East and at home. In consequence, widespread support for Islamic solidarity with the Arabs and Iranians in Turkey has emerged out of the post-Cold War evolution of world and from Turkish politics. The Islamist movement and its politicians in Turkey have most astutely exploited this to their advantage.

About the Author
Dr. Ersin Kalaycıoğlu is a full professor of political science at Sabancı University Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. He co-edited Turkey: Political, Social and Economic Challenges in the 1990s, authored Turkish Dynamics: A Bridge Across Troubled Lands, co-authored Turkish Democracy Today: Elections, Protest and Stability in an Islamic Society and Rising Tide of Conservatism in Turkey with Ali Carkoglu of Sabanci University, as well as editing and writing other publications in Turkish. Currently, Prof. Kalaycioglu is carrying out studies of sociopolitical orientations and attitudes toward politics and voting behavior in Turkey in collaboration with Ali Carkoglu of Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey, and conducting annual national social surveys as part of the International Social Survey Program.

About GMF
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is a non-partisan American public policy and grantmaking institution dedicated to promoting better understanding and cooperation between North America and Europe on transatlantic and global issues. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has seven offices in Europe: Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, and Warsaw. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.

About the On Turkey Series
GMF’s On Turkey is an ongoing series of analysis briefs about Turkey’s current political situation and its future. GMF provides regular analysis briefs by leading Turkish, European, and American writers and intellectuals, with a focus on dispatches from on-the-ground Turkish observers. To access the latest briefs, please visit our web site at www. gmfus.org/turkey or subscribe to our mailing list at http://database. gmfus.org/reaction.

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