Turkophobia is a recurrent theme if you live in a "melting pot" of cultures such as the U.K. and the U.S. I remember having been severely punched by a Leeds United F.C. fan in a pub in Leeds, the U.K. in 2010 when I was a student at the University of Leeds. In 2005, two Leeds fans were stabbed to death by Galatasaray fans, and there is still bountiful anti-Turkish sentiment here in the city.
In 2016, I was refused entry into a Kurdish restaurant run by Iraqi Kurds just because I was wearing a Turkish football shirt after the football match between England and Turkey in Manchester.
Then, one unavoidably bumps into Greek, Serbian, Hungarian and Bulgarian societies fostering discrimination against Turks with reminiscence of Ottoman rule in the regions.
Right-wing Arabs are also there blaming modern Turkey for neo-Ottomanism. In December 2017, the United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan shared a tweet that claimed an Ottoman general had robbed Medina during Ottoman rule.
The Armenian diaspora along with Western counterparts who utilize the Armenian issue as a political weapon targeting Turkey flex their muscles to commemorate the Armenian remembrance day on April 24.
Actually, the roots of anti-Turkism can be traced back to the arrival of the Huns in Europe. The fall of Constantinople and the Ottoman wars in Europe helped fuel the development of anti-Turkism. The famous Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus stated, "Turks are indeed human beings, but human existence as such is inferior to Christian existence, just as animalistic existence is inherently inferior to human existence" in his essay "On Turks, Jews and Indigenous" in 1518.
In his book "Orientalism" (1978), academic, political activist and literary critic Edward Said noted, "Until the end of the 17th century the 'Ottoman peril' lurked alongside Europe to represent for the whole of Christian civilization a constant danger, and in time European civilization incorporated that peril and its lore, its great events, figures, virtues, and vices, as something woven into the fabric of life."
Well, Turkophobia hasn’t vanished into the thin air and is still lingering in Europe. According to the European Network Against Racism, an international organization supported by the European Commission, half of all Turks in the Netherlands report having experienced racial discrimination. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently called the sincerity of the European Union into question, asserting that the EU has to prove that "it is not an Islamophobic Christian union by providing Turkey with full EU membership."
Today, Turkey’s attempts to project itself as a humanitarian power amid the coronavirus pandemic and its meaningful altruism is a very significant step in terms of both revealing solidarity and gaining appreciation. "So far, we have delivered medical equipment to 34 countries," Erdoğan said during a news conference in Istanbul following a Cabinet meeting. "We will continue our support (to other countries) in the upcoming days as well," he said.
Nowadays, British newspapers are dotted with articles expressing gratitude to Turkey for its medical aid to the U.K. where the calamity is ongoing. British Ambassador to Ankara Sir Dominick Chilcott posted a video message on Twitter on Saturday, thanking the country for its support.
Erdoğan's spokesman İbrahim Kalın was quick to point out that "Turkey is the first country in NATO to send help to Spain and Italy," adding that Israel has asked Turkey for assistance in the fight against the coronavirus. "We didn’t differentiate between countries or regions, and we won’t. This is independent from our political relations,” Kalın said, stressing that the COVID-19 pandemic is an emergency.
While U.S. President Donald Trump brags about blocking the sale and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, gloves and ventilators to Venezuela and intensifying sanctions on Iran during the COVID-19 crisis, Turkey has recently approved the sale of medicine to Armenia and also will be sending medical equipment and medicines.
Despite the criticism both from within Turkey and some Western media outlets claiming that Turkey is using humanitarian aid as part of a soft power play to extend its international influence during the COVID-19 outbreak, this is actually a notable chance for Turkey for numerous reasons. Firstly, unlike Ankara's usual interventions, Turkey is now also helping developed countries – which are more used to helping than being helped. This is highly prestigious and a solidifying proof of Turkey’s strength and importance as an ally in NATO and a prospective EU nominee. The crisis generated by COVID-19 has also offered Turkey an opportunity to extend an olive branch to countries with which it has had frosty relations for many years. Besides, it is also an opportunity to combat Turkophobia, which is an immense challenge for Turkish foreign policy and Turks abroad.
*An Independent journalist and a lecturer