The importance of public diplomacy for countries is increasing even though it is relatively a new area in international relations in Turkey. Turkey is among countries that realized its importance and has recently established relevant institutions. Daily Sabah sat with public diplomacy expert Dr. Senem Çevik, a Tobis Research fellow at the University of California Irvine Center on Ethics and Morality, and discussed Turkey's performance in making use of public diplomacy tools, Turkey's soft power and nation branding issues.
Çevik, the co-editor of the recently published book "Turkey's Public Diplomacy," says Turkey is currently trying to make good use of multiple tools in its international communication efforts, but there is not enough research and evaluation to assess the actual outcome of public diplomacy efforts.
Explaining that Turkey's image has been weakening in the last two years for multiple reasons, Çevik said Turkey has also made significant progress in terms of the grand scheme of developments.
Underlining that advancing the democratization process is incredibly important for Turkey's economic and social prosperity as well as soft power, she said that practicing proactive public diplomacy will help Turkey establish long-term relationships with the desired audiences.
Public diplomacy is a fairly new concept in Turkey, what are the reasons for Turkey just realizing its significance?
Turkey wants to be more assertive in its global presence and has been incredibly active across its geographical proximity and in other regions. This perspective requires communicating and building bridges with new audiences and thus growing interest in public diplomacy. For instance, the number of embassies in Latin America and Africa increased exponentially in recent years. But embassies are not enough to acquire a global presence and reputation. So Turkey has been working on crafting a more holistic approach in is foreign policy that is more inclusive of other state and non-state institutions. Institutions like the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) are now more actively involved in the foreign policy apparatus. Other countries among emerging powers turn to public diplomacy as well, so it's also a global trend at the moment.
How do you evaluate Turkey's performance in making use of public diplomacy tools?
The establishment of the Office of Public Diplomacy has been a turning point in introducing debates on soft power and public diplomacy in the Turkish foreign policy apparatus. It's now more mainstream to use these concepts. Aside from this office Turkey is utilizing numerous tool and actors such as AFAD, TİKA and the Presidency of Religious Affairs (DİB) to harness a favorable image from foreign publics. Given the early stages of Turkey's public diplomacy, I think there is room for progress. For instance, stronger institutionalization of the public diplomacy structure will ensure the continuity of public diplomacy activities regardless of the changes in daily politics. Improving communication between institutions will also help reduce redundancy in public diplomacy practice. Evaluation of its public diplomacy practice could provide a framework where Turkey can actually communicate more effectively with foreign audiences. When we don't know what is working we can't have effective strategies. For instance, does Turkey follow up with the students participating in the Türkiye Bursları (Turkey Scholarships) program and where they end up? If not, the investment put into the program may not meet the desired positive outcomes for Turkey. Having said that, of course, Turkey is currently trying to make good use of multiple tools in its international communication efforts, but there is not enough research and evaluation to assess the actual outcome of public diplomacy efforts. Also, there is a huge opportunity for Turkey to use new digital technologies and tools in its public diplomacy practice. E-diplomacy is the new trend in public diplomacy practice and it can't be ignored much longer by Turkish diplomatic corps. Most importantly, clear distinctions between public diplomacy and public affairs would help Turkey do public diplomacy more effectively. Sometimes Turkey uses these communication methods interchangeably thinking they're the same. What I mean is public diplomacy should address foreign audiences while public affairs is geared toward domestic audiences. Recognizing this difference and crafting a public diplomacy grand strategy will be incredibly helpful in increasing Turkey's public diplomacy performance.
Especially in the last two years there has been a disruption of the perception of Turkey. In your opinion, what should be done in order to regain a positive perception?
Nations turn to public diplomacy when they face problems thinking it's the immediate cure, but don't tend to look at the root of the problem. It's never that simple, as shifts in perception can be rooted in both domestic and international causes. The domestic issues should certainly be addressed because policy and a country's image is incredibly interconnected and it's important to maintain a policy that is in in touch with global trends. This applies to Turkey as well and, yes, Turkey's image has been weakening in the last two years for multiple reasons. Practicing proactive public diplomacy will certainly help Turkey in establishing long-term relationships with desired audiences. Ideally, building long-term relationships even between publics of adversarial states will eventually be advantageous. This requires continuous communication before a crisis takes place so that crises don't disrupt people-to-people communication. One thing to remember is that global reputation is contingent on domestic policies. Turkey is not an exception. Because of that, reinstating efforts for democratization will enhance Turkey's soft power and global reputation. Much of the global perception will be based on what Turkey does on the ground in terms of its policy. Progress in minority rights, prosecution of hate speech, reducing violence against women, the Armenian opening and the Kurdish reconciliation process should continue as state policies. I strongly believe advancing the democratization process is incredibly important for Turkey's economic and social prosperity as well as soft power.
Turkey has accepted the most refugees in the world and has spent nearly $8 billion dollars for it. Do you think that Turkey's humanitarian contributions positively and adequately reflect the country's image?
Turkey has over 2 million Syrian refugees and as a neighboring country has experienced one of the most devastating effects of the Syrian civil war. According to the 2015 Global Human Index, Turkey is the third-largest humanitarian donor state all owing to its efforts to aid Syrian refugees. This is incredible. Turkey is really trying to make a difference for displaced Syrians and has become a safe haven for refugees. Just this past week I saw on TV that Turkish rescue teams in the Aegean Sea saved a group of refugees from drowning. This happens almost every day now. But no, Turkey's contributions on this front are not well reflected in global public opinion, and more importantly has not created global awareness of Turkey's efforts as much as it would like. Instead of telling the story of how Turkey is helping refugees, perhaps connecting those stories with a larger cause and global refugee crises could help Turkey in communicating its message. Professor of public diplomacy, Nicholas Cull, often mentions the need to be relevant in public diplomacy practice. In that sense, I think Turkey's efforts would be more meaningful to foreign audiences and could create global awareness if it can show the relevance of the Syrian refugee crisis to other issues that touch the lives of other communities. Today's refugee crisis is not only an issue for Syrians or Muslim communities. Many different nations and communities have experienced being refugees or have abandoned their homelands throughout history for different reasons. Just take a look at world history and how refugees shape societies and global response to crises. The Great Irish Famine resulting in mass migration, Jewish communities escaping religious prosecution in Europe and displaced Palestinians taking refuge in Jordan and Lebanon, for instance, are just a few examples. In more recent times, the Bosnian War and Kosovo War created mass population movements across Europe when major powers failed to take action for a long time just like what's happening with the Syrian crisis. Turkey as a country, too, was established after mass population movements to and from its predecessor, the Ottoman Empire. There is a universality of migration and the refugee crisis. It's just a matter of looking beyond numbers. Yes, there are over 2 million Syrian refugees, but Turkey needs to emphasize the human element back into the refugee discussion. Having conferences is certainly a good way to inform others, but that won't necessarily create awareness and interest. Offering grants and scholarships for researchers in migration studies through university centers in the U.S. and U.K. could produce quality research in this area. Also, there is not enough information for people to actually see how refugees live in the camps. There could be documentaries and short film competition portraying refugee life, say for instance, from a child's perspective. My point is that this issue should be made relevant to everyone not only because Turkey is doing a lot but also because war affects millions of lives on a daily basis and that there should be a solution to the plight of innocent people.
Despite all the negative perceptions, Turkey has been identified as one of the world's soft powers among 20 countries. How do you evaluate this situation?
I don't think perceptions of Turkey are negative for every aspect. I think perceptions rather fluctuate and are diverse depending on how other parties evaluate Turkish politics. If you look at the grand scheme of developments I would say Turkey has made significant progress, but of course has more work to do. The Monocle Soft Power Index and other similar indices have praised Turkey's rising soft power capacity. Turkey is certainly expanding its sphere of presence globally, but I would be cautious in identifying that presence as actual influence. Turkey's grand public diplomacy strategy should definitely focus on enhancing Turkey's soft power capacity by utilizing its soft power assets such as educational institutions, foreign aid apparatus, cultural institutions and so on. This would then require improvement of soft power assets. I mean there is everything that Turkey needs, but it has to learn how to use these assets effectively. Soft power is a vague concept and is very difficult to evaluate. But there are ways to look at where a country stands in comparison to others. For instance, when Turkey has a top-100 higher educational institution that brings in students from the U.S., Europe and China, then Turkey could argue that it has a competitive advantage over other emerging powers. Or when Turkey invests in a certain technology and can export that technology to other countries, even have a universal brand name, then Turkey will expand its soft power. South Korea has K-pop and technology brand names, the Netherlands has developed 3-D printing and is a pioneer in nanotechnology and Italy has its cuisine, culture, history and fashion. If we assess Turkey from this perspective there is a long way to go in consolidating Turkey's growing soft power and actually discovering what those resources would be.
It has been indicated constantly that the Turkish television series are an important factor in Turkey's development of soft power in the region. What are other factors that could further improve Turkey's soft power potential? What would be done in this field?
Turkish television series have become a global television phenomenon. Several years ago they were only popular in the Middle East, but now turn on a television channel in Chile or Argentina and you can come across them. I've seen celebrity gossip shows from Latin America and the Middle East talking about these TV stars like Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, Bergüzar Korel and Halit Ergenç. I was even surprised to see "Magnificent Century" on North American MundoFox and dozens of ads at various Los Angeles bus stops. So these television stars are Turkey's celebrity diplomats in a sense. These personas and shows project certain images about Turkey and help build perceptions. They may not reflect the society as a whole, but we shouldn't expect that from TV programs. Television series are a great soft power resource for Turkey and they can be utilized much better in representing Turkey globally. South Korea is also very famous for its K-pop, but that is a state-based initiative, all strategized by consecutive Korean governments. On the other hand, Turkish television series are independent, business ventures. In a sense, that independence is good because it allows broad freedoms in the scripts and stories. On the other hand, some degree of collaboration between state institutions and production companies could assist Turkey's public diplomacy.
Nation branding, which aims to measure and manage a country's reputation, is also closely related to public diplomacy. What you can say about Turkey's nation brand?
Every country has its own character and should have a competitive advantage over others. But it doesn't mean that you can package and sell a country image. An image is more like an illusion, and is very different from reputation. As in the corporate world reputation speaks for itself. You can't build reputation through publicity if you don't have what it takes to build that reputation. Countries are the same way. You can't simply promote a country, for instance, on the grounds that it's a tourist destination when in reality it doesn't have the infrastructure. If you look at the Nation Brands Index (NBI) and the Good Country Index both developed by a pioneer in the field, Simon Anholt, you can see how Turkey is doing on the ground and how it can improve its current standing to reach those countries ranking higher. The Nation Brand Index also gives us an idea about the necessary ingredients of improving a nation brand.
Who is Senem Çevik?
Dr. Çevik has worked at Ankara University teaching public diplomacy and at Atılım University. She is currently a Tobis Research Fellow at the University of California Irvine Center on Ethics and Morality. Her work focuses on public diplomacy in the cultural context. She is also co-editor of "Turkey's Public Diplomacy" and "Turkey's Foreign Policy and Public Diplomacy."