Turkish Public Diplomacy: Study and Practice

Recently, I was invited to be a panelist at a public diplomacy panel at Galatasaray University. Together with Phil Seib of USC, Asli Sancar and Dilruba Catalbas Urper of Galatarasay University, we discussed the state of Turkish public diplomacy. My talk focused on the gap between the study and practice of public diplomacy in the country. Below you can find a summary of my talk.

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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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My two cents on Turkish Public Diplomacy

Around two years ago, (and I cannot believe it has been two years already!), I tried to outline the obstacles and challenges for Turkish public diplomacy. During the last two years, several think-tanks, non-government organizations, as well a governmental institutions started working on understanding, discussing, and implementing the concept of public diplomacy in the Turkish political scene. Based on what I learned during my own public diplomacy practice, and my studies, I have a couple of recommendations to ensure Turkish public diplomacy is built on strong grounds.

Short term visitors from Egypt (Picture from @BasbakanlikKDK)


 

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Theory and Practice in Public Diplomacy: Diplomatic dish-washing

For the last couple of months, I have been working on the latest project of Turkayfe.org – our online coffeehouse project. The website, which started out as an online “social diplomacy” / place branding project is going offline, and meeting people on the street with “Mobile Turkish Coffee House” project.

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Mobile Turkish Coffee House in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC

Turkayfe.orgstarted out as an idea in May 2009, and the website went live in May 2010. From our very early days, we did our best to learn from our mistakes, and to improve our project. As a doctoral candidate studying public diplomacy, and a dilettante practitioner; I tried to use my practical experience in my academic studies and vice-versa.

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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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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.