Friday, February 16, 2007

Turkey needs confidence, not fear

Friday, February 16, 2007

Istanbul cannot be renamed Constantinople anymore: Istanbul is already a brand name

Is Turkey acting responsibly in the international scene? Looking at it from the point of view of an independent communication manager, I would say “no,” at least “not always.” Turkey wants to be loved very much and as everyone knows, if you are desperately seeking love, you won't get it.

Actually, Turkey is facing hot issues these days, mainly unsolved problems of the past. Problems which became ghosts haunting Turkish identity: the alleged Armenian genocide (or shall we call it, for a change, democide) and Cyprus. There is also the ongoing hostility with some of Turkey's neighbors, like Armenia, Greece (still) and Iraq. But to make these things clear, Turkey must withhold its traditional way of reacting in order to become a serious and rational sparring and business partner. International statesmen and diplomats always appear rational and employ PR agents to guide them and make them understandable. Why not in Turkey? Since when is nationalism more important than the prosperity and health of a nation and its citizens? Nationalism becomes more and more an empty word these days.

What to do in a colorful world:

Is Turkey reliable for peace and security in the region? For sure, most Turks believe that they protected Europe from communism. They have a point, but the international arena has changed dramatically. The current situation in the Middle East is in fact a perfect chance for Turkey to show its negotiating skills since its has good relations with all countries in this region. But somehow, its image as a former conqueror doesn't help. Turkey has done a terrible job in convincing the world that its intentions since Atatürk are sincere; that it can bring mediation to the region and can be a stabilizer of importance. None of the Muslim Arabic countries can fulfill this duty or has the intention to do so.

For a regional superpower, Turkey is acting static, like the Bosporus Bridge: but Turkey is both East and West.

Unfortunately for Turkey, the world today is colorblind and you need several glasses to understand what's really going on: the Republicans in the United States are using the color red as their national symbol. The European socialists promote themselves with red roses. The U.S. left Democrats are using blue as their party color while the Dutch and German right wing liberals associate themselves with blue. The Greens in Europe are on the left while the Green money of the Middle East is considered in Turkey as Islamic. How ironic... How confusing...

So how can Turkey position itself in this colorful world? A Red Flag is obviously inadequate; one must show it has more to offer. To be a reliable partner you cannot be changing course all the time, but more important: you have to send consistent and coherent signals and stick to your course set by Atatürk.

Turkey has to follow the modern trends, but does not need to blindly follow the “West.” In reputation management this means: work from your own strengths and stop trying to cover your weaknesses - in short, improve yourself.

Enough with militarism:

The fact that most Turks trust the military more than their government gives the impression of a non-democratic and aggressive country, despite being involved in peace keeping operations for the last 50 years in Korea, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and recently Lebanon. Did anyone notice this in the EU? Yes, but nobody is really aware of this and it seems that Turkey doesn't get any credits for it. Or is the EU suspicious of Turkey's peacekeeping efforts since its significance is lessened by the influence the military still exerts in Turkish politics?

A country must be governed by its institutions, not by its mighty military presence. Take a look at Israel and you understand what I mean. Israel is - as Turkey should be - ruled by elected politicians, not by generals. The several coupes d'etats in Turkey harmed the country's image more than the movie Midnight Express, which dehumanized the Turkish population at large.

Turkey and Israel share something in common: both are states surrounded by those who in many aspects don't accept them. And both capitals are still under threat, for different reasons. But Istanbul cannot be renamed Constantinople anymore: Istanbul is already a brand name! Istanbul will be the European cultural capital of 2010. The European cultural capital?! What more can be said…

Hans A.H.C. de Wit is an international communication manager based in Istanbul and Amsterdam. (

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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