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Turkey’s Humanitarianism: Crafting a Nation Brand

By: Senem B. Cevik (Ankara University)







Nation brands are distinct qualities of nations that are crafted through a meticulous analysis of their identity drawn from their history, culture, politics and values. Competitive nation brands help foster a nation’s soft power by communicating and cultivating the essence of that nation brand. Public diplomacy provides a set of tools to communicate nation brands.

Turkey’s nation brand in its traditional sense has been loosely interpreted from an identity perspective that focused on the cultural, religious and ethnic fault lines. Early nation branding efforts were aimed towards conveying a Western image and were largely communicated to Western audiences. Despite the type of political discourse that is palatable to the conservative grassroots Turkey today is precisely building on the same identity with complimentary characteristics, however to a more diverse and larger audience. Turkey’s process of social rapprochement with its history –at times problematic due to over confidence and selective glorification of history- has introduced a new narrative to its traditional nation brand. This new nation brand narrative reflects Turkey’s strong ties as a Western ally while propositioning almost an underdog status. Within these lines Turkey, a cultural bridge between East and West, a predominantly Muslim and modern country has been able to reposition itself globally through various degrees of political engagement and wielding soft power. Turkey is acclaimed as a rising power that is at the same time eager to project a certain message about its reinvigorated nation brand. Public diplomacy has been a tool in transmitting Turkey’s nation brand to international audiences. The following is an analysis of the humanitarian positioning of Turkey’s nation brand and its modes of engagement.

In recent years, Turkey became increasingly visible in the global political scene as an emerging middle power. Turkey’s booming economy along with its political and social advancements within the last decade substantially facilitated its rise as an emerging power. Soft power has been a main principle in Turkish foreign policy and its progress has been noted in numerous indexes. There are several variables that play a role in Turkey’s soft power such as its cultural, political and social values. These tenants constitute Turkey’s projected brand. Although Turkey’s nation brand is still underdeveloped, attributes such as goodwill, moral values, diversity, rich history and compassion are highlighted to represent what the country stands for. Turkish policy makers over decades have frequently stressed on these qualities through narratives pertaining to the Jewish expulsion from Spain and the migration wave to the Ottoman Empire, Jewish refugees seeking asylum during World War II and Bulgarian refugees escaping from prosecution in the 1980’s. Ottoman and Republican era both have been defined as tolerant, yet in the last few years Ankara has been rigorously focusing on the humanitarian elements in crafting Turkey’s nation brand. Public diplomacy has been employed as a communications approach to reach new audiences and narrate Turkey’s message on its nation brand on a global scale.

Turkey has been pursuing a strategy of multiple engagements with various audiences in asserting its new global positioning. The first mode deals with Turkey’s engagement with international organizations while challenging the international system within in fostering a new framework of global governance. In fact, Turkey is involved in numerous international organizations such as the NATO, The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and Alliance of Civilizations. However, Turkey is ensuring that its participation in these institutions encourage a new vision of global governance. In doing so, Turkey has been vocal about a new framework in the international setting promoting inclusiveness that incorporates rising powers and developing countries. As a result of its many efforts to engage new audiences through public diplomacy and its role in promoting stability in the region Turkey held a non-permanent membership in the United Nations General Assembly Security Council from 2009 to 2010. Within this framework Turkey has been contributing to UN peacekeeping operations. Turkey is engaged in numerous other partnerships and has assumed the G20 presidency for 2015. Overall, Turkey’s humanitarian approach in asserting new frameworks for global governance through its active involvement in international organizations further promotes its global positioning.

Also connected to Turkey’s international role is the second mode of engagement– Turkey has positioned itself as a significant donor state. Turkish policy makers predicate this notion on Turkey’s history, which they define as diverse, compassionate, considerate and benevolent. Within the same lines, Turkish foreign policy pursues a self-advocated value-based approach, a foreign policy outlook that is motivated by morals, ethics and humanitarianism. Various public diplomacy tools are employed in broadcasting the message. Official Development Aid (ODA), humanitarian aid and mediation are public diplomacy tools that consolidate the donor state status. Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), Directorate of Religious Affairs (DİYANET), and faith-based NGOs are the institutions that mediate between the donor and recipient. These institutions have provided emergency humanitarian aid and development aid to Somalia, Palestine, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Philippines and various other countries in Africa and East Asia. Moreover, Turkey hosts over 2 million Syrian refugees and has donated more than $4.5 billion in refugee relief towards the camps. Over the last several months $700 million has been donated towards 160,000 Kurdish refugees from Kobani, Syria seeking refuge in Turkey.

Turkey’s nation brand and public diplomacy efforts within the humanitarian perspective have multiple audiences. One key audience is the recipient countries such as those in Africa and Southeast Asia. Turkey aims to establish a respectable reputation in these regions along the lines of benevolence that drives the value-based political discourse. For instance, by way of humanitarian and development aid Turkey has made itself an active partner in Somalian nation building and conflict resolution in the Philippines. Therefore, mediation has been following humanitarian aid in various regions fostering Turkey’s role amongst rising powers that partake in global governance and consolidating its nation brand. Within the same lines aid to Palestine constitute a key role in the humanitarian discourse through religious and political affiliation.

Another key audience is the non-recipient Western nations, which are indispensable in acknowledging Turkey’s global standing. Turkey’s donor state status is also a message towards Western audiences in positing Turkey amongst developed countries after decades of being an aid recipient country. Also, via its humanitarian stance and corresponding nation brand Turkey is aiming to introduce new frameworks within Western institutions that in fact challenge their function. Overall, Turkey alongside other emerging powers dubbed as BRICS and MINT countries represent the global shifts in power.

Finally Turkey’s domestic audience takes precedent in its image projection. Humanitarian aid mainly to Muslim communities in various parts of the world not only reinforces nationalistic presuppositions of a past and present but also consolidates the electoral base of conservative factions. Humanitarian aid towards Palestine and fellow Muslims elsewhere serve these interests besides the humanitarian cause. Furthermore, Turkey’s humanitarian stance can be closely associated with benevolence in Islamic school of thought, which has undeniable influence over pious masses.

As a result, humanitarian aid and the donor state nation brand have multiple audiences that require multiple messages. A global humanitarian approach may at times pose contradictions by naturally producing an anti-Western discourse against the failures of global governance and injustices. In this regard, besides the contradictory nature of multiple layers of messages Turkey’s domestic engagements and discourse may limit the genuine capacity that could be generated from its global positioning. As such, day-to-day rhetoric related to gender equality, press freedoms minorities and Western entities/nations hamper Turkey’s divergent efforts to project a new global positioning for itself as a humanitarian nation. Within the same lines, multiple audiences in both the domestic and international context protrude contradictions on Turkey’s humanitarian nation brand. As a result Turkey’s global image fluctuates drastically based on its domestic credentials and foreign relations including humanitarian aid.

Nevertheless, Turkey’s role as an emerging power manifests itself in various fronts such as its increased diplomatic presence up from 163 missions to 221 in a decade, its engagement within international organizations in aims to shape global governance along with other rising powers, its global cultural presence via films and drama series and significant changes in its economic relations with previously underexplored regions. More importantly, as the third largest global humanitarian donor state, Turkey is becoming more visible in underdeveloped parts of the world and has been using this status as leverage to introduce new narratives to international organizations. Although in the short-term Turkey’s global positioning could be ostensibly affected by its domestic discourse directly influencing its global image; from a longitudinal perspective it can significantly benefit from its newly crafted nation brand and expand its soft power. A well-rounded strategy followed with a complimentary discourse and actions will compliment Turkey’s global standing and solidify its nation brand. Turkey’s long-term commitment to providing humanitarian aid will have the prospects to galvanize its role in humanitarian diplomacy initiatives, thus coalescing its nation brand efforts to its activities.




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