A Nightmare on the 51st Street

In an earlier post, I tried to write about my reaction to CAN’s decision to use Turkish Flag on a 9/11 documentary, and Turkey’s close association with Islam. My main point for the former issue was that 9/11 should be seen as a tragedy that deeply affected the humankind and we should all learn what extremism is capable of doing. The latter issue was dealing with Turkey’s image and the recent shift in the country’s image. Well, after receiving thousands of angry mails, CAN decided to change the poster and the cover of DVD……and right now we have the flags of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

In a very ‘noble’ crisis communication attempt, CAN explained why Turkey was chosen at first: “the presence of the Islamic star and crescent on the flag”. They might have overlooked the fact that the aforementioned Islamic star and crescent are a little bit different than the contemporary Turkish flag. Ottoman Empire, indeed, used a flag very similar to that of Turkish Republic – and there you are able to see the Islamic symbols. But even if you find a symbol that perfectly reflects ‘Islam’, do you want to put it on the cover of an anti-terrorism DVD? Or is the documentary anti-Islam? anti-Islamic countries? anti-anything that resonates with Islam? (PS: For instance, Al-Qaeda has a flag)

After their decision to put several more random flags to the poster, it is very difficult to take CAN seriously, and argue rationally. Therefore, I’ll just talk about the impact of ‘crazy’ organizations on nations’ images and their ability to raise hatred among people. CAN made headlines in several newspapers in a couple of countries. In other words, CAN managed to create an image where the collapsed building are associated with Turkey, Islam, and right now with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, and Syria (by the way seriously why not Iraq? I mean the pre-liberated Iraq.). Classical crisis communication strategies advise policy makers to take corrective actions. In other words, Turkish authorities (in this specific case Turkish people who feel responsible for their country’s image) should warn CAN, tell what is wrong about the imagery, and ask for an apology. Most of the time, these strategies reach a settlement point. However, if you are dealing with a crazy organization, what can you do?

One path of action would be to ignore the situation. But as CAN gained publicity, it is a mistake to ignore them. Another strategy is to create a grassroots movement that target CAN’s target audience. So, we can take CAN out of the equation and tell about CAN’s mistake to the people who are going to see or who are interested in seeing the movie.

Lastly, humor or humorous critic might be an effective way of counter-arguing. As I said, it is very difficult to rationally argue with an organization that apologizes for “the use of only the Turkish flag on the cover of the film”. For instance, next time you want to feel like calling some a ‘crazy-ignorant-xenophobic idiot’, you can ask them whether they support CAN or not. Anyway, before ending this post, I would like to suggest some other symbols that should be included: Baklava, Humus, Kebab, Egyptian Pyramids, Republic of Balkavia from American Dad

Long story short, there is a problem with the Turkish image and this documentary is exacerbating the issue. Moreover, CAN is encouraging hatred among American people. This sounds like a perfect opportunity to become active citizens in our societies.

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Sacrificed Survivors: Recreated Xenophobia

There is a new documentary coming up, “Sacrificed Survivors: the Untold Story of the ground Zero Mosque”. October 28th will be the premiere of this documentary but it already created some controversy. I want to raise two points here, first one about the approach of the documentary, and the second one about the Turkish flag used in the cover and posters. Quick disclaimer, I did not have the opportunity to see the documentary in its entirety. This is why my comments are based on the trailer, comments, and other descriptions. The project director describes, for instance, the documentary as “a 45-minute film that is fueled by the testimony of the survivors and the families of the victims of the attacks of September 11, 2001. It is about how they feel about the mosque being built on the site where their loved ones lost their lives”. In order to “protect America’s religious and moral heritage”, an ‘undercover’ team goes to the mosque, then creates a collage with the footage from the mosque, interviews with the survivors and the families of the victims who don’t like the Islamic Center, and a Turkish flag.

I have an Israeli friend who shared his military experience with me. As part of their training, they visited some of the concentration camps in Europe. While my take on the issue was based on nationalism, his was very universal. I thought about strengthening the nationalism in Israel. He said, if Israeli youth can see what extreme nationalism is capable of doing, the world would be a better place. Here again, we witnessed an atrocious event. 9/11 deeply affected everyone, it changed the way we looked at the world. Now, we have two options again. We can draw lessons from 9/11, we can see what fundamentalism is capable of doing. Or, we can start the blame game. Apparently, Christian Action Network, decided to do the latter.

The trailer, together with Christian Action Network’s name and motto, creates an us vs. them based on religion. Decorated by news pieces from Fox News, several messages point to Islamic take over of the United States. Shortly, no – this attack was not only on Americans. Just like any other terrorist attack, this one was also on humanity. 9/11 could and should be used as a case to see what fundamentalist religious (not only Islamic) thoughts can lead to… If you are curious about what extreme nationalism based on hatred towards a group can lead up to, take a long historical journey back to Third Reich.

My second point, Turkish flag on the cover, also shows us how close Turkish brand is to Islam. As far as I know, Turkey had nothing to do with 9/11. Turkish national flag is unique. The older Ottoman flags were closely associated with Islam and were sometimes used as religious symbols. But Turkish flag does not have such a function. Then again, Christian Action Network did not mind using Turkish flag to represent (what I would say) the Islamic ‘conquest’ of Ground Zero. The mere fact that an action network can confuse the flag with a religious symbol is alarming (well, Christian Action Network seems to be a ‘fair & balanced’ organization but still, this seems to be a problem)

Long story short, let’s stop playing the blame game and pointing fingers. 9/11 should be seen as a tragedy uniting humankind, not as a tool to legitimize xenophobia and discrimination. Also, a lesson for Turkish brand – we need to come up with a country image. I am not claiming that we should ignore religion but we should have an image that is not so closely associated with it.

Oh, here is Peter Griffin’s take on Ground Zero… Now, I can understand him better.


PS: Also, knowing more about the symbols we are using in our projects….won’t hurt.

Social Diplomacy: This time on the streets…

As you might already know, I am working as the political communication consultant for Turkayfe.org project. Turkayfe is a Web 2.0 based online platform that invites people to share their experiences about Turkey with the community. Our main is to brand Turkey through people’s perspectives. Instead of using mass media and mass persuasion methods, we aim to reach a brand image through telling stories about the country. We label our attempt as a social diplomacy project. Even though, Turkayfe.org mainly utilizes online communication methods, it is important not to forget that social diplomacy is inherently a ‘social’ understanding of public diplomacy, and requires face-time with the target audiences.
Last Sunday, we were at the Turkish Festival in Washington, DC. We set up a table for Turkayfe, and made our first contact with the community in Washington, DC. The Turkish expats and students in the United States, as well as American citizens interested in Turkey are two of our main target audiences. Therefore, the festival was a great opportunity for us to connect with the community. You can read more about our impressions here and here.


Shortly speaking, social diplomacy projects taking place at a grassroots level cannot survive through solely online communication technologies. The projects need to ‘solidify’, in other words, the projects should focus on creating a real community around the idea who will eventually contribute to the online communication attempts.

The people in the post photo are (from left to right) Forest and Karalyn (alumni of Bilkent University), Gizem (our founder), and me.

Here are some of my observations after spending one day at the festival and engaging with the community:
– Communication is an important aspect of project management, especially if we are running public/social diplomacy or nation/place branding projects.
– Face-to-face communication enables us to get direct feedback from people about the project.
– Giving a face to the project increases your credibility. You are no longer only a website, you are the people who are running the website.
– Meeting people who are interested in the project, who love to talk about your project definitely increases the motivation of the team members.

This blog post is also posted on http://placebranding.ning.com/

The Story of Turkey and Public Diplomacy

According to some sources, Turkish government has been on a public diplomacy offense since 2008. There have been some changes in Turkish understanding of diplomacy, and some attempts to launch public diplomacy efforts. Public Diplomacy Agency, likely to be directed by Ibrahim Kalin – Erdogan’s chief foreign affairs advisor, a Georgetown alum – is being established. MFA and the President have their Twitter/Facebook accounts (in Turkish and no, they don’t reply to anything)…This is a promising start but we need to overcome several obstacles to be succeed in our public diplomacy efforts.

So, please let me tell you the story of Turkey and Public Diplomacy, especially the story of the obstacles.

The first and biggest obstacle, from my point of view, is AKP’s recent foreign policy understanding. When AKP came to power in 2002, Ahmet Davutoglu, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, introduced the understanding of Strategic Depth. Basically speaking, the idea was having ‘zero problems’ with the neighbors, becoming a regional and global power by using Turkey’s unique geopolitical and geostrategic position. However, the implications of this understanding seem to take Turkey closer to the Middle East, closer to being an ‘Islamic’ country. Even though AKP, including Ibrahim Kalin, keeps telling us that Turkey is a bridge between the East and the West, the recent developments (and my most recent experiences in Turkey) make this claim very difficult to believe. Long story short, there is a belief that Turkey has been moving towards becoming a more Islamic state. In other words, recent political developments shake the fundamentals of Turkish Republic, and Turkish identity. For several individuals, it is very very difficult to believe AKP’s claims.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey leaves the session, while David Ignatius (FLTR), Associate Editor and Columnist, The Washington Post, USA, Shimon Peres, President of Israel, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, United Nations, New York, Amre Moussa, Secretary-General, League of Arab States, Cairo, look on, during the session 'Gaza: The Case for Middle East Peace' at the Annual Meeting 2009 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 29, 2009. Copyright by World Economic Forum.

Especially demonstrated by Israeli-Turkish relations, AKP seems to be eager to defend the rights of Muslims everywhere. Erdogan’s one-minute tirade in Davos, or the Mavi Marmara disaster and the following events could easily be interpreted as moving away from the Western culture. In other words, AKP does not have credibility for certain audiences, moreover, they are aggressively defending the East (vs. the West). It is not easy to promote Turkey’s role as a cultural bridge through PD when AKP seems to be openly taking sides.

Another problem is the current Turkish foundations and immigrants in Europe. I already discussed the negative role of Turkish immigrants. During the recent years, Turkish foundations contributed to this negative identity. Deniz Feneri and IHH had several problems with local authorities. Deniz Feneri was charged with fraud, whereas IHH was found to have links with Hamas. Fethullah Gulen Foundation, on the other hand, has been actively working in several countries for decades. The foundation owns ‘Turkish’ schools in many countries and organizes Turkish Olympics – yet the Turkish image promoted by Gulen foundation is again not in line with the cultural bridge role.

Moving away from identity politics, it is important to point out that Turkey has several communication obstacles, too. For starters, open communication is a revolutionary understanding for us. As MFA’s and the President’s online social media accounts show, state officials are not willing to engage in a dialogue. Turkey seems to have a one-way communication understanding of public diplomacy.

Lastly, we still lack the necessary knowledge, skills, monetary resources, and political stability to execute long-term public diplomacy projects. As I discussed above, AKP has a different understanding of Turkey, so do other political parties. This is why I cannot foresee a project carried out by several governments, prime ministers, and presidents.

In short, it is very difficult and problematic to promote Turkey, to launch Turkish PD project, and to brand Turkey. Our history includes several conflicts with our neighbors. Recent political developments exacerbated the situation. If Turkey wants to use soft power, we need to define Turkey’s role/identity, establish credibility in the eyes of the audience, and create long-term non-partisan PD strategies.

Altering the Discourse of Conflict in Cyprus

I was trying to find a paper that I wrote about THY (Turkish Airlines) and while googling THY and Efe Sevin, I ran into Yelena’s post about (Armenian) Diasporan public diplomacy. The comments section was maybe even more intriguing than the post itself. The discussion between Yelena and anonymous Turkish guy over the importance of rhetoric, the question of truth, and the political nature of the Armenian-Turkish-Azeri conflict(s) reminded me of a post that I was supposed to write – well – three months ago. My topic is how public diplomacy could and should be used to support the conflict resolution attempts in Cyprus.

I presented a paper entitled “Altering the Discourse of Conflict in Cyprus: Recognition and Resolution through Public Diplomacy” at the 9th METU Conference on International Relations in TRNC. Basically, I examine the dominant rhetorical strategies employed by official Greek, Turkish, Greek Cypriot, and Turkish Cypriot sources. I discuss the outcomes of negative discourses – with an aim to prove that the Cyprus conflict cannot be resolved as long as the competing narratives of different nations continue their existence. I argue that public diplomacy can be used “as a feasible political communication tool to alter the negativity of the discourses with the ultimate aim of resolving the conflict.”

Rhetorical strategies: All parties involved in the conflict have some common rhetorical strategies. In other words, when parties want to ‘encode’ certain kind of messages, they usually employ one of the two following strategies.

Self-victimization:

Parties try to show themselves as the victims and the other party/parties as aggressors. This strategy is mainly used when parties ‘frame’ the conflict.

Provocation:

When there is a need to justify a certain action, parties usually claim that the other party/parties’ ‘former act caused the subsequent act’*.

Negative discourses: These rhetorical strategies support the growth of negative discourses within the conflict. There are four important (meaning constructing an obstacle in the conflict resolution process) outcomes:

Multiple mediated realities:

There is no one truth or history. There are several different accounts of what has happened in Cyprus, and what constitutes the Cyprus Conflict. Parties believe their account is the ‘right’ one, while other accounts are pure propaganda products.

Constructed national identities:

Negative discourse is part of the national identity. Cyprus conflict has a fundamental place in Turkish/Greek Cypriot, Turkish and Greek national identities. The memories of the conflict are still being reproduced to support the national identities.

Rigid negotiation positions:

Given the multiple mediated realities, and the essential part of the conflict in national identities, it is not surprising to find out that parties have very rigid negotiation positions which leaves little or no space for bargaining.

International organizations:

As we don’t know what the conflict is, cannot clearly name ‘victims’ or ‘aggressors’, and cannot foresee a resolution; the role of the IOs in the island is not clear.

What can public diplomacy do?
Practically, public diplomacy is not a magical wand (- even though sometimes it is mistaken for one). Public diplomacy, and grassroots movements on the island and among the involved parties will put an end to the reproduction of negative discourses. The dialogue between parties might consolidate the competitive conflict narratives. PD might help the parties to re-write the history of the island based on facts rather than on victimization and provocation.

In short, let’s know the limits of public diplomacy – let’s not expect to reach perpetual peace just by executing pd projects. But, when there are multiple accounts of reality in a conflict, any resolution attempt without PD is very unlikely to succeed.

*In my paper, I used Benoit’s Image Restoration theory. Please see Benoit, W. (1995). Accounts, excuses, and apologies : a theory of image restoration strategies. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

This blog post is also posted on http://placebranding.ning.com/

Social Media, Political Communication, and Turkey Vol.2: Turkayfe.org

Welcome to Turkey’s first online coffehouse:Turkayfe.org!

As part of my social media and political communication in Turkey posts, I decided to introduce a project that I have been working on for quite some time. We started the Turkayfe project in May 2009. After spending six months on the conceptualization, we recently launched our website,http://www.turkayfe.org/. Practically, the project is a place branding through storytelling attempt for Turkey. We aim to support Turkey’s branding attempts by using Web 2.0 technologies and by initiating a virtual grassroots movements. Together with the founder of Turkayfe, Gizem Salcigil White, we will be presenting a critical research paper about Turkayfe, the role of Web 2.0 in citizen’s diplomacy, and branding through sharing experiences at the 2nd Place Branding Conference in Bogota. I wanted to introduce the project to the blogosphere before getting ‘too academic’.

The image above is our front page image. We invite people to grab a coffee, sit down, and start sharing their experiences about Turkey. As our main strategy is creating a brand through people, we placed several people sitting (well some standing, singing, dancing, and playing instruments) at a cafe. The images stand for our seven main categories. For further information, feel free to contact me or pay a visit to Turkayfe.org. I will introduce two dilemmas, pros, and cons of starting a Web 2.0 place branding project.

Short Summary of Turkayfe Project

Dilemmas
1-Government/Non-government: Now, one of the most important decision we had to make was about government support. On one hand, the financial support from the Turkish government and state agencies can solve all our budgetary problems. But we started the project with an aim to project a candid story of Turkey. How candid can you be when you are supported by the state? On the other hand, if we continue as four young professionals without state support, do we have the legitimacy to create a branding platform for Turkey? We decided to keep Turkayfe as a non-governmental project as our goal is to present people stories – these stories also constitute the basis for our legitimacy claims.
2-New portal/Existing portal: One option for us was to use existing portals, such as Facebook, or existing framework, such as Ning and WordPress, to start Turkayfe. This option is cost-efficient. Moreover, it is easier to reach the audience. The second option was to build up a new website based on a new framework. We chose the second option to create a stronger sense of community and belonging among our users.

Pros
1-Avoiding clichés: A Web 2.0 project enables you to avoid several clichés in nation branding. As you (meaning the project team and contributors) aim to write about their daily life and experiences, the end product is usually an interesting story (rather than a misleading slogan on a glossy poster).
2-Young audience:Younger generations are more likely to use technologically advanced products. Apart from being an online project, Turkayfe.org also tries to present the newer web technologies to its users. Hopefully, this approach will make us popular among younger generations.

Cons
1-Language problem: The website is entirely in English. We currently do not accept submissions in Turkish… If a user posts an article in Turkish, it will not be published on the website. Even though choosing English as the only language on the website ensures open communication and interaction, it also limits our audience.
2-Inclusiveness: We want stories about people’s daily lives. We want all kinds of stories. Yet, in order to post on Turkayfe.org, you should have basic linguistic and technical capabilities. Our online coffeehouse unfortunately is only accessible if you have internet connection and can speak English.

In short, social media in Turkey, especially with regard to political communication, should not be seen as a paradigm shift. Social media has not replaced (and is not likely to replace) traditional media in the upcoming years. Yet, if you want to reach younger and more education people – go online, go viral! In order to look attractive and professional in social media, you need to invest – social media is not 100% free! Last but not the least, legitimacy in online nation/place branding campaigns is a huge problem. You need to make sure you have (at least you can claim) legitimacy on a few grounds before unveiling your project!

Diplomacy from the Block: J.Lo Not Performing in Cyprus

Jennifer Lopez was supposed to perform in Cyprus (TRNC) on July 24th to celebrate the grand opening of a hotel…also the 36th anniversary of Turkish Peace Operation on the island (also known as Turkish invasion of the island – Please click here for a historical introduction). Recently, she canceled her trip with a statement* on her official website. The statement was not welcomed by the Turkish audience. As of today, she also posted another statement**, apologizing from people that she might have offended. We will see if she is going to apologize once again from people who will be offended by her apology. (This sounds like a ‘welcome to the world of diplomacy’ party for J.Lo).

I will just try to summarize four important points with regard to J.Lo (not) performing in Cyprus from my own perspective:

The Cyprus conflict is a part of daily life. Especially in online media, we managed to see how deeply embedded the conflict is to our daily lives. One blog post had “Cyprus, Diaspora, Greece, turkey” as tags; there were reports about the event all over the media – talking about 1974 operation, Greek diaspora, lobbies in Washington DC, even a senator was named as a party to the cancellation. Turkish media presented one side of the story, and the Greek media the other. Turks tried to host the event, Greeks tried to get it canceled. It was no longer a J.Lo concert, it was a question of legitimacy. Can a singer perform in an ‘occupied’ territory? Is TRNC an ‘occupied’ territory? Even a concert of a famous (and not really that political) singer became part of the conflict.

Celebrity spectacle increases relevancy. Well, Cyprus is an important place for Turks, Greeks, and Brits. IR scholars are all aware of the situation, but at the end of the day, we are talking about an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It might be difficult for several people to even point out the island on a map. But, as the J.Lo incident showed us once again, when a celebrity gets involved in a conflict, the issue becomes relevant, especially to young people all around the world. It might be possible to (ab)use this awareness in communication campaigns.

Grassroots movements are crucially important. J.Lo, supposedly canceled her concert after receiving a few thousand e-mails from her fans. After seeing several comments on her website, she removed her initial statement and apologized from people. Internet seems to continue empowering individuals. It also facilitates the process of becoming an active citizen.

Do we still not care what the newspapers say about us as long as they spell our names right? Turkey, and to an extent TRNC, have been explicitly and implicitly accused of violating human rights and being invaders during the last few days by J.Lo and the media. I am pretty sure this image is not desirable for the aforementioned countries. Then again, it is true that several people heard TRNC, and maybe Turkey, for the first time in their lives. It is important to get media coverage, but there seems to be a need for a communication strategy to benefit from the coverage.

In short, appearance of celebrities means ‘news’, moreover celebrities attract the attention of young people. With a solid communication strategy, parties can use these short spans of time to ameliorate the situation and to resolve their conflicts. Unfortunately, in the case of J.Lo and Cyprus, the main motive of the parties was to present their sides of the stories and to exacerbate the situation.

* Jennifer Lopez would never knowingly support any state, country, institution or regime that was associated with any form of human rights abuse. After a full review of the relevant circumstances in Cyprus, it was the decision of her advisors to withdraw from the appearance. This was a team decision that reflects our sensitivity to the political realities of the region.
(Small note about the first statement. Lopez decided to remove it from her website after the initial reaction. I am pretty sure she has a very very large PR budget, and still the action to communicate with negative comments was to simply remove them. Are we going to pretend that the first statement was never made? what about those comments? They are all over the internet, so I guess one should face negative comments rather than hide them.)

** This whole situation makes me so sad. The statement that was issued by my representatives was done without my knowledge or consent. It is my personal policy not to comment on political issues between countries. I love my fans all over the world. I want to sincerely apologize if anyone was hurt or offended in any way. Again, I am truly sorry.
(Another small note: Statement issued without knowledge or consent? Blaming the ‘other’ guy?…J.Lo, if the PR agency bills you for this communication attempt, you should not pay them even a penny.)

Social Media, Political Communication, and Turkey

For the past few weeks, I have been working with my friends on a couple of social media projects. Long story short, we are trying to create online communication strategies for politicians. I was shocked to see the extreme gap between research and practice, as well as the impact of culture on social media habits. (Alright, I was expecting to see some differences between research and practice – also between American and Turkish social media habits… But I always thought as online communication studies were practice based, and globalization was bridging cultural gaps, the difference would not be this shocking).

Let me try to summarize my findings after my limited experience with social media and political communication in Turkey:

1- Social media is social in Turkey. The language used is very colloquial. I was trying to make a list of commonly used words on Twitter. For around a week, “lan” (mate, dude) was at the top of my list. Several words are misspelled, including names of politicians and political parties. Cursing is not very uncommon. Users are not afraid to use curses and tag celebrities in their tweets.
2- Social media is limited in Turkey. We LOVE Facebook, apparently Turks cannot live without Facebook. ( 1/3 of the population, including my mom and dad, is on Facebook. We are the leading producer of Farmville products, and the most dangerous mob in Mafia Wars. Twitter is gaining momentum. It is possible to find several people on LinkedIn and MySpace. But apart from these four platforms, social media does not exist.
3- Celebrities are important in Turkey. We have several Justin Biebers. We are more interested in what Demet Akalin (it is better if you don’t know who she is) has to say about her ex-boyfriend than in what politicians have to say. A widely know journalist, Ahmet Hakan, in fact gives everyone a lesson about how to use Twitter in Turkey. He is followed by over 35,000 users and he, himself, follows over 1,000. There is a constant dialogue between him and his followers. (There are also several pseudo dialogue tweets between him and other celebrities – including our president). Facebook is densely populated with fan pages and official fan pages.
4- Social media is blocked in Turkey. As you might all know, YouTube is blocked by a court order. Apart from that, several companies restrict access to social media websites at workplaces. I recently talked with a friend who works at the Corporate Communications department of a bank that wants to reach out to young people and restricts all social media and mail servers at the workplace.
5- We don’t know what tagging is. We use as many tags as possible, some of which are related and some of which are confusing. I realized that problem when I was trying to find Eurovision songs on Turkish video websites. All the video clips had the names of all the countries (and the years) as tags. So, there is no difference between Eurovision 2010 Germany Lena and Eurovision as search key words, they both yield the same results.
6- We translate strategies and data. There are several online communication consulting companies that translate American articles and data into Turkish and try to provide recommendations to the clients. Unfortunately, there is not enough data to build a substantive communication strategy.

Turkey’s internet consumption is rising, however, it is very difficult to use social media for targeted marketing purposes. Yet, it is still beneficial for companies and politicians to be active users on popular social media platforms because of the number of active users and the tendency to create unofficial/fake/demeaning accounts.

Thoughts after Eurovision

First of all, congratulations to Germany and Lena for winning Eurovision 2010. I already started to get excited for Eurovision 2011 in Germany. As I said in an earlier post, Eurovision presents a snapshot of European politics in less than three hours. The songs started to get more ‘global’, there are more songs in English and less local instruments. But still, it is possible to see how Eurovision can be a public diplomacy project, how it can get people together – or not. This is why I decided to write about my ideas, especially about Turkey, Greece, and Armenia in Eurovision. I am still amazed by how these nations can be culturally so similar and have so many political problems at the same time.

Let me organize my arguments in three categories: lyrics, similarities in music/culture, and voting politics. Armenia’s song was called ‘Apricot Stone’. Given the political context of Eurovision, Turkey claimed that “the song hinted at 1915 events”. Turco-Armenian relations are already bad enough, we definitely do not need a song, or misinterpretation of a song to aggravate the situation. As the song was mentioning Armenian motherland, many Turks were confused about its intentions. Even the Turkish commentator suggested that Eva should drop her apricots stones in her country, not in someone else’s. Eva’s manager try to explain the main idea beyond the lyrics, but I frankly don’t think he is a credible source for Turkish people.


Manga’s song was ‘We could be the same’. (By the way, also congratulations to Manga – they became 2nd). Their lyrics were also worth mentioning: ‘I can see that this could be fate/I can love you more than they hate/Doesn’t matter who they will blame/We can beat them at their own game’. I am glad that I am not the only one who thought these words had to do something with Turkey – EU relations. I mean, come on! We entered the contest with another rock(ish) band! Manga, as well, claimed that their lyrics did not have political aims – then again, it is very difficult to believe them, given the setting in their official video clip.

When I first listened to Greece’s song, it sounded so familiar. I mean, Turkey pretty much has same instruments but there was something more. Then I remembered, we had a very similar song in 1977 (I am no music expert, but if a rhythm reminded me of a 1977 song, there should be a similarity.). Living under the same authority for centuries and still living in the same region, it is not surprising to find similarities between songs.


I also learned about the importance of apricots for Armenians! Shocking story, apricots are pretty important for Turks, too. We are the leading producer (and I do have an apricot tree in my backyard). I was amazed by the beautiful duduk melodies by Gasparyan – I listened to that part over and over again. And yet another shocking story, we have the same instrument. Gasparyan had (maybe still has) quite a large audience in Turkey, especially after his joint work with Erkan Ogur in 2001.

Voting is the most political part of Eurovision. Turkey gave 12 points to Azerbaijan (one nation, two states), Greece to Cyprus, Cyprus back to Greece (I am sure it was particularly difficult this year for Greece to give 12 points to Cyprus), Armenia to Georgia. No points came to Turkey from Armenia, Greece, or Cyprus.

To summarize my thoughts, we can react to these similarities and differences in two different ways. Firstly, we can take the voting road. We can claim how Greeks steals Turkish rhythms, how Turks portray a fabricated image, how Armenia blames Turkey, etc. etc. We can use Eurovision as a platform to continue nationalist struggles and blame each other for stealing our own symbols.

Or, we can just realized that all these symbols, rhythms, instruments belong to all of us, living in the same region. At least, I hope we will realize this fact. Let’s see what happens in the 56th Eurovision Song Content next year in Germany.

PS: Seriously, Greece – 12 points to that song? Come on!

This blog post is also posted on http://placebranding.ning.com/.

Istanbul 2010 – An Opportunity for Branding

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me what Istanbul 2010 was. She saw Istanbul 2010 ads at Heathrow Airport in London, but didn’t have much idea about what exactly the ads tried to say. Istanbul has been selected as the European Capital of Culture 2010. Hosting international events, and being recognized by international organizations are good opportunities for promoting a place. Given the variety of events and images you can promote under ‘culture’, it is also a good branding opportunity. So how well did Turkey use it?

Okay, first of all, I have to admit one thing. I really didn’t have a clear understanding of European Capital of Culture. I know there were three cities in 2010, and one was Pesc. What was the other one? (I just checked, it was Essen). Although some might be my ignorance, some might be because currently I am not in Europe but still, I am not sure how well the idea of ECOC is promoted.

Istanbul will be hosting several events throughout the year (If you plan to visit Istanbul, 2010 might be the best year to do so). You can find additional information about the event on Istanbul 2010 website. They also had interesting videos (some of which did not even show the subway system!) Although I have no idea why they chose the background music, the video below is quite good – especially the last 45-50 seconds (even the music makes sense). We see Turkish ‘people’ and scenes from daily life as well as important places (i.e. touristic attractions historical places). We have business people, small business owners, people walking, kids, even traffic jam on the video. The scenes pretty much describes both the modern and the historical, the Western and conservative, the serious and fun-having sides of Istanbul.

Though I do have one main question. Recently I started reading, writing, and thinking about authority and legitimacy in branding. When I look at Istanbul 2010 from that point of view, I cannot stop questioning whether they have the authority to claim brand ownership and legitimacy to brand the city. The names on the executive, advisory, and coordination boards (yes, there are three boards, maybe there is a fourth board on boards) are quite well-known people, high-level bureaucrats, and professionals. But where are the people? It seems to be an adequate project with a few shortcomings.

What Went Right
– Although public doesn’t seem to be on any of the boards, everyone had the opportunity to submit a project to Istanbul 2010. In other words, if one wants to be a part of the event, it is possible.
– The domestic and (as far as I can see from my friend’s anecdote) international media presence of the event was great. Everyone knows that there is something called Istanbul 2010 (we are just not so sure what it is).

What Went Wrong
– There doesn’t seem to be an overarching theme. I don’t like “a place where you can do everything” as a brand message and Istanbul 2010 subtly gives this message. Unfortunately can-do-everything messages never give a sense of inclusiveness. Even worse, you end up with a ‘generic’ place which is lost in messages. The website pretty much symbolizes this chaos.
– Project members seem to be very involved with Istanbul 2010 and be living with the idea. This is why the website fails to explain what Istanbul 2010 is. If you look at benefits for Istanbul part, you will see that Istanbul 2010 will make Istanbul the greatest place in Europe, maybe in the world. But there are no substantive explanation about why or how. (A trivia question: Which city was the ECOC 2009? What about ECOC 2011?)
– The communication methods don’t go down to foreign publics. In other words, Istanbul 2010 uses mass media, and tourism fairs to promote. I couldn’t find any people-to-people, Web 2.0, social media communication understanding. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much direct interaction between Istanbul 2010 and target audience.

In short, ECOC is a good regional promotion opportunity. Istanbul 2010 is a successful campaign. It might have been better if more communication/public diplomacy and less advertising techniques were used.

For those who are curious, ECOC 2009 were Vilnius and Linz, ECOC 2011 will be Turku and Tallinn.
This blog post is also posted on http://cc608.blogspot.com/ and http://placebranding.ning.com/.