Turkey (not) in Eurovision: Symbolic Actions and Branding

Last Saturday, countries from across the European continent came together for the 58th time, for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden….but not Turkey!

Turkey explicitly expressed its concerns about the fairness of the contest – a concern that has not been voiced by any other country before. Therefore, Turkish decision is indeed a symbolic action that has implications for its reputation (or brand) as part of the European society.

As seen in the video above, it is quite difficult to take Eurovision seriously and discuss its fairness. But Turkey did it. What was Turkey thinking?

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Bridge No More? Turkish Public Diplomacy and Branding under the AKP Government

With its geographic location between Asia and Europe, and with its identity as a predominantly Muslim yet secular-democratic country, Turkey has established its role as a bridge between the East and the West for years. Changes in the domestic political landscape in the last decade have put Turkey in an even more prominent position in the international arena. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the country is an aspiring power in the greater Middle East region. With the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, Justice and Development Party) government, Turkey has seen unprecedented institutional changes done in the name of democracy, witnessed the decreasing influence of the military over civilian politics, and enjoyed impressive economic growth. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s introduction of a well-devised “zero-problem with neighbors” policy, has aimed to strengthen relations with neighboring countries and to increase Turkish presence in parts of the world that has been long ignored by previous administrations.

This article is cross-posted from e-IR Journal. The original article can be accessed here.

 

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“New” May 19th and the Turkish brand

After the Turkish government’s most recent attempts to redesign national commemoration day celebrations, and some encouragements from several colleagues, I decided to revisit an article I wrote on the ethics of place branding last year, entitled  “Thinking about Place Branding: Ethics of Concept“. I did so conceptually in Place Management and Branding blog.

I want to expand on the Turkish experience and my concerns about the “ethics” (as well as viability) of Turkey’s brand in this post.

Erdogan with his party's youth branch (From HDN)

Erdogan with his party’s youth branch (From HDN)

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Somalia, you’re welcome!

I, as a research, do not study Turkey. I even don’t do case studies. My current research is more at a conceptual level, where I try to map the current actors and subject in international relations. But thanks to my current government’s perfect understanding of aid diplomacy, public diplomacy, and nation branding; I find myself writing about Turkey quite often. When my PM decided to visit Somalia during Ramadan and take his mustache, family, friends, several businessmen, members of the parliaments, and Turkish celebrities – in short everything the Somalians wanted to see -, I had to write…

Is he really shaking hands with the kid?

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Happy Birthday to AKP and to the New Turkish Identity

I am well aware of the fact that my ‘career’ as a scholar is too short to start re-visiting some of my earlier works. Yet, Erdogan’s speech – which marked the 10th anniversary of AKP (Justice and Development Party) – made me go back to a short rhetorical analysis I carried out three years ago about Erdogan. A blog post is definitely not the place to visit this research. Here, I simply want to discuss my conclusions, state the fundamental rhetorical threats coming from AKP to Turkish identity directly and Turkish soft power indirectly, and take a closer look at Erdogan’s celebratory speech.

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Turkayfe.org on the Road: Events in New York and DC

Last year, after the Turkish festival in DC, I wrote about the importance of “creating a real community” for online social diplomacy projects. There is, indeed, an undeniable need for ‘real’ people and connections to support online communication attempts. Therefore, as the Turkayfe.org team, we are doing our best to reach out to as many people as possible.

This summer, we are hosting two events, one in New York (June 11th) and another in Washington, DC (June 15th) to discuss the past, present, and future of Turkish coffee. So, if you are in town – stop by one of our events, grab a cup of coffee and join the conversation! Looking forward to seeing you all!

New York, Schedule, June 11th

Address: Turkish House, 821 United Nations 8th floor New York City, NY 10017
RSVP Link: http://turkishcoffeeculturenewyork.eventbrite.com
7:00 PM Event start time
7:15 PM Opening remarks
7:30 PM Ercüment Ackman, Capstone Advisor, Georgetown University Real Estate Graduate School – ‘Once Upon a time Turkish Coffee’
7:45 PM Göknur Akçadağ, History Expert Assistant Professor – ‘The American Perspective: Turks in the 19th – 20th centuries’
8:00 PM Gizem Salcigil White and Efe Sevin, Founders of Turkayfe.org – ‘Digitalizing Coffee Houses – Social Diplomacy Web 2.0 and Turkey’s International Digital Coffee House’
8:30 – 9:30 PM Reception

Washington, DC Schedule, June 15th

Address: Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, 2525 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington D.C., 20008-2826
RSVP Link: http://turkishcoffeeculturewashingtondc.eventbrite.com
7:00 PM Event start time
7:15 PM Opening remarks
7:30 PM Ercüment Ackman, Capstone Advisor, Georgetown University Real Estate Graduate School – ‘Once Upon a time Turkish Coffee’
7:45 PM Göknur Akçadağ, History Expert Assistant Professor – ‘The American Perspective: Turks in the 19th – 20th centuries’
8:00 PM Gizem Salcigil White and Efe Sevin, Founders of Turkayfe.org – ‘Digitalizing Coffee Houses – Social Diplomacy Web 2.0 and Turkey’s International Digital Coffee House’
8:30 – 9:30 PM Reception

Anholt on Turkey

Simon Anholt announced that Turkey should focus on its ‘nation brand’, a couple of weeks ago in an interview with a Turkish daily newspaper. Back then, as the Turkayfe team, we used the news on our newsletter, and put his statements in some of our materials. More recently, Nation-Branding.info picked up the news , and we are running through a second cycle of viral distribution. In the first cycle, I refrained from commenting on Anholt’s views – mostly because we used the interview to support our project – Turkayfe. Yet, I believe I can put my two cents in during the second cycle.

I want this sofa (Image from Nation-Branding.info)

Let me first extract main points from his interview. The points below are directly taken from Hurriyet Daily News article:

Turkish government must develop policies to improve the “brand” of the nation:

Now, on one hand, this is an important statement. It is nothing new, fairly obvious to anyone who has any idea of international arena in the 21st century. But, Anholt used this statement in a national newspaper (actually English version of a Turkish newspaper). On the other hand, he puts the responsibility of brand-making, if you will, to the governments. As we know from his various books and speeches, he supports the idea of all-exclusive, (i.e. public-private partnerships) brand creations. However, it seems like the governments have a leading role in his conceptualization of nation-brand. I assume, it is because he equates nation brand with what a country does. Yet, we should stop and think about moral and ethical implications of making governments the primary responsible party for nations’ brands.

Turkey has to find ways of making itself “indispensable” to other peoples:

Again – pretty obvious but great to read it in a newspaper. This statement (together with his metaphor of the celestial keyboard) raises questions about Anholt’s understanding of international system. Is he talking about a closely-linked global economy? Or about a Global Village? Global politics? I mean, what is indispensable? So, is a good ‘brand’ something that people cannot live without? Is it just this necessity bound? I like to think a brand more in terms of a network of associations – which cannot be reduced to necessity.

Turkey’s best chance to increase its reputation in the world is “to be the bridge between Europe and Asia, between Islam and other religions:

Well, this has failed so many times in the last few decades, I don’t know what to say about it… It has been used by government officials since the very early days of the Republic – never worked. It usually ended up making Europeans suspicious as ‘we are a Muslim country’ and Muslims suspicious as ‘we are a Westernized country’.

“Nation branding”..[is].. not about communication or promotion, but concrete policies:

Well, no. I highly appreciate Braun & Zenker’s* definition of place brand as a “network of associations in the consumers’ mind based on the visual, verbal, and behavioral expression of a place, which is embodied through the aims, communication, values, and the general culture of the place’s stakeholders and the overall place design”. Therefore nation branding is about communication and promotion. Actually, if we are looking at nation branding as an integrated process of creating and disseminating a brand identity; ‘nation branding’ part is predominantly communication. Turkey has to change the expressions of the country, through communication as well as concrete policies (and communicating these policies).

One interesting thing about Anholt’s Nation Brand Index and Turkey is that the country is fairly consistent across the six criteria. For instance, Egypt, which shares similar scores with Turkey, has a higher rank in tourism. However in order to talk about the causes for this consistency, one has to accept that NBI’s methodology is valid and reliable. So, I will just say this is an interesting point that might be used as a conversation starter.

In sum, Anholt’s public interviews, speeches, or even books do not provide readers/listeners with ground-breaking information, however, (i) it is great when the most prominent person in the field says these things, and (ii) it is nice to have them in one book. His comments about Turkey are generic, as this is a newspaper interview. His comments about communication and nation branding is based on an assumption that communication is about false information, spins, and manufacturing identities. Yet, ‘branding’ is an attempt to socially and communicatively adjust to living in today’s brand-era. It is a necessity to negotiate what a place means for target audiences with target audiences. It is not about concrete policies, it is about being a part of the global society.

*Braun, E. and Zenker, S. (2010), “Towards an integrated approach for place brand management”,
paper presented at the 50th European Regional Science Association Congress, Jonkoping.