AKP Diaspora Diplomacy jeopardises Turkish Public Diplomacy
The Turkish diaspora in Europe, once again, came into spotlight in the run up to the Turkish constitutional referendum. This blog attempts to analyse Turkish diaspora engagement through elections and its impact on their PD. While the constitutional changes that concentrate power on the presidency themselves, the announced introduction of the death penalty and other worrying developments (125.000 sacked civil servants , among them 2700 judges and over 40.000 arrests as well as a world-wide record of arrested journalists (Beise, 2016)) in Turkey have significantly influenced public perception abroad, this blog deals specifically with the impact of the country’s diaspora engagement on its broader PD strategy.
With 51 % voting in favour of the constitutional reform, votes from the European diaspora may have tipped the balanced. There are more than 4 million Euro-Turks living in the EU of which approximately 2,6 were eligible to vote (400.000 in Germany alone, making it the 4th biggest Turkish voting district)(Aydin, 2014). Turkey, in contrast to most other European states allows and encourages dual-citizenship. Since the 2013 presidential elections voting from abroad is allowed, which has further politicised the Turkish diaspora, fuelling rifts between Turks of different backgrounds as well as with the host society.
Picture: (Chase, 2017)
Turkey is an influential and multifaceted international actor. Since the AKP came into powers it has officially adapted a ‘zero problem policy’. Due to its Ottoman history and its geopolitical location the country plays a unique role as a hub between Europe and the Middle East. Even though an accession to the EU is unlikely, Turkey continuous to be a member of NATO, a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights and a close ally of Europe. However, as Kalin (2011), first press secretary of Erdogan stresses negative perceptions of the country drawing from the Armenian Genocide, the Kurdish civil war or the Cyprus conflict pose a risk to the success of its foreign policy which must be supported by a comprehensive public diplomacy strategy. Despite, the rhetoric of ‘zero problems’, democracy and human rights in the official PD it often fails to meet its slogans and with the focus diaspora the country’s PD is further undermined. Overall its PD strategy is rather hollow as it does not meet what it proclaims (Cevik S., 2015; Huijgh E & Warlick, 2016). However, it is concrete in advertising tourism as well as maintaining an extensive and multi-actor diaspora diplomacy that according to former foreign minister Davutolgu targets at “not only Turks, but everybody who has migrated from these lands are our Diaspora” (Öktem, 2014).
The Turkish diaspora is not only interesting due to its size, but also because of its diversity. Many Euro-Turks have come to Europe as ‘guestworkers’ and were thought to work in Germany, send remittances and return to Turkey. However, many have remained in Europe while retaining strong connections to Turkey. After the coup d’etat and due to the ongoing Kurdish civil war there were also many seeking asylum in Europe, who have a very different relationships with their ‘home state’. Some retain close connections with Turkey even in the second or third generation, others do not. Cases like the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by European states, the capture of PKK leader Öcalan or the the recent attempted coup d’etat have sparked demonstrations by both supporters and critical Turkish diaspora organisations.
Engagement with Turks abroad predate the official diaspora diplomacy and has always played an integral part of the country’s public diplomacy. Since 1980 the Presidency of Religious Affairs has established and runs over 1000 mosques in Europe though several subsidiaries like the DTTIB in Germany or the ATTIB in Austria. However since the AKP came to power and especially since relationships with the Hizmet movement by Fettah Gülen – once the primary promoter of Turkish culture and education abroad – cracked, the country is pursuing a pro-active diaspora diplomacy (Balci, 2014).
In 2010 the ‘Office for Public Diplomacy’ has been set up to coordinate various organisations under the auspices of the Prime Ministry to systematically oppose demonstrations against the government and to support their foreign policy. The Yunus Emre Foundation promotes Turkish culture and language abroad though educational programme, targeted at diasporas (Baser, 2017b). The focus on its diaspora has been further been amplified by the creation of the Office for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) that strengthen ties with everyone that has roots in Turkey. The motto of the “Wherever we have a citizen, kin or relative, there we are” emphasises a broad understanding of their target audience. Through a broad definition of diaspora, their target groups is around 200 million people including anyone with historic connections to the country. While the rhetoric is inclusive of a broad target group, they exclusively sponsor sunni-muslim socio-conservative pro-AKP groups abroad(Baser, 2017b).
My last blog dealt with the opportunities diasporas pose to a country’s public diplomacy strategy but noted that political engagement with diasporas is to be treated with caution (Rana, 2013). Especially when policies by the ‘home’ state are in stark contrast to the host country’s policies, diplomatic rifts can be expected. The YTB for example supports expatiates against “discrimination, assimilation, and xenophobia [that] have recently been on the rise across the world “(Yurtnac, 2012). Erdogan in a speech in Cologne in 2011 has called assimilation a “crime against humanity” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2010). while for European states integration is a central policy towards immigrants. In its quarterly magazine the YTB asks critical and important questions, but does not miss a chance to point towards German discrimination of Turks (Öktem, 2014).
In response to the prohibition of public rallies in the run up to the conceptional referendum Erdogan criticised Germany of “continuous Nazi practises“ (Jones, 2017). Although prohibited by Turkish law , all parties were eager to rally for votes from abroad resulting in deep rifts between Turkey and European governments. The Netherlands, themselves in the run up to a national election and afraid of a landslide win by far right Gert Wilders, prohibited the landing of foreign minister and escorted family minister Fatma Kaya back to Germany where she has entered the Netherlands. In Germany municipalities cancelled their due to the fire exit regulations.
Dual-citizenship and voting abroad are key transnational political instruments o keep diaspora political active in their home country. Since the presidential election in 2014 voting is allowed not only at the border but also at ballot boxes across Europe. Participation rates have increased but remain rather low, which indicates a ‘loud minority’ that continues to politically engage with Turkey.
Even though a greater majority than in Turkey voted for ‘Yes’, results have been varying across country’s, mainly due to their background. While in the UK and Sweden there is a Kurdish majority, in the Netherlands and Germany most Turks decedents of guest workers from Andalusia, an AKP stronghold in Turkey.
from (Baser, 2017a)
Overall the election was shaped by a intermestic election campaign. Through the diplomatic show off with the Netherlands and Germany the election on on the one hand was portrayed as a question of Turkish sovereignty, and on the other mobilised voters in the diaspora. However, considering the rather small turn out in Europe, majority voting ‘Yes’, it should be questioned whether it has been worth the diplomatic rift as it has severely harmed bilateral relations and the public perception of Turkey by most Europeans. Furthermore it has severely harmed the image of the whole Turkish diaspora.
The prohibitive response by the Netherlands and Europe has been said have “played into Erdogans hands” (Weise, 2017), which also shows that European politicians should rather engage with transnational political discussion rather than trying to prohibit them. Although the intermestic dimension of the campaign had an impact on votes ‘at home’, it is evident that it has severely harmed the public perception of Turkey by the broader public. Therefore Turkeys PD- that aims to influence and inform foreign audience to achieve foreign policy objectives – has been significantly harmed by the AKP ideology led diaspora diplomacy.
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