New survey shows how Turks perceive foreign policy

A survey indicates that the Turkish public identifies itself as “Muslim and Middle Eastern” and believes that Turkey is a regional power.

al-monitor TV cameras are set up at the Akcakale border crossing in Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, where Islamic State militants control the Syrian side of the gate, Jan. 29, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Osman Orsal.

Topics covered

turkish politics, turkish policy on syria, turkish foreign relations, turkish foreign policy, poll

May 29, 2015

Istanbul's Kadir Has University published its survey yesterday [May 28] on how the Turkish public perceives Turkey’s foreign policy, based on interviews with 1,000 respondents in 26 provinces.

Foreign policy is not usually a key topic of interest for [people] in any country. People are more concerned with issues concerning them personally.

Same goes for Turkey. The public isn’t interested in learning the background of events. Academic journals are not really interested. As such, people get their information and form their opinions on what they hear from their social circles.

Television is the basic source of news in Turkey. The public, therefore, looks at world events and Turkey’s foreign policy within a framework drawn either by the prime minister or the president. This is very evident in responses to questions regarding the priorities of Turkey’s foreign policy. In 2013, 65.5% of respondents cited Syria as the top priority issue, whereas this ratio sharply went down to 20.3% in 2015. But hadn’t the Syria issue become even more troublesome in last two years? Ankara’s policies were generally seen as failures. The number of refugees grew. [The Islamic State] became Turkey’s neighbor. Kobani clashes and the government’s attitude to it caused problems inside Turkey. In recent times, Turkey became a more direct party to Syria's conflict alongside Saudi Arabia. The decline in peoples’ interest in Syria as a priority issue can only be explained by the prime minister and the president reducing their public utterances on Syria.

The results of the survey indicate confusion. Yes, the Turkish public likes to form opinions on political issues, but they don’t really care if they are consistent. The public may also be unaware of their own contradictions.

For example, Israel is seen as the worst threat to Turkey, followed by 35.3% who see the United States as the real threat. Of those surveyed, 40.7% believe we have problems in our relations with the United States, and 51.9% perceive the United States as undependable, colonialist, hostile and self-serving. But the same public’s support for NATO, of which the United States is the backbone, is 67.1%.

This support for NATO contradicts three fundamental findings of the survey: 38.9% of respondents think "Turkey has no friends;" 45.5% say "Turkey is an Islamic country;" and 20.3% declare Turkey as a Middle East country. Furthermore, 22% advocate unilateral application of foreign policy, even though support for NATO is high. Although the Islamic identity appears to be favored, the alliance most desired is a Turkic union, with 27.7% supporting such a union. Our best friend is Azerbaijan with 37.5%. This shows that Baku has been influential in Turkey, not only with economic investments but also with its public relations efforts.

In short, the public that basically identifies itself as “Muslim and Middle Eastern” and says Turkey is a regional power [38.8%] and a regional leader [21.5%] is not very keen on relations with Middle East countries. Only 4.1% think Turkey’s best friend is from the Middle East. Turks don’t want to get involved in Middle Eastern affairs.

In a nutshell, we have a public that has delusions of grandeur, that doesn’t trust anybody, that think they are the victims but suggest a circumspect approach and that, no matter how angry they may be with the West, still wants to preserve their ties with that camp.

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