Mücahit Küçükyılmaz, head of corporate communications at the Turkish Presidency, said that Turkey's perception in the Western world has turned negative in recent years due to the country's independent foreign policy and he added that Turkey is made a target by Western decision makers who cannot be manipulated through communications.
Underlining the role of the diasporas for terrorist organizations such as the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), PKK and DHKP-C, to carry out strong anti-Turkey lobbies, Küçükyılmaz said that Turkey's fight against these anti-Turkey lobbies would be more effective if the country had a ministry of communications that could coordinate the country's communications.
Regarding the discussions on authoritarianism and dictatorship, Küçükyılmaz said that this is Western propaganda which only they believe in, while emphasizing that the Turkish people's opinion is their priority and this is the only thing that matters in this issue.
Responding to the question of why this negative perception of Turkey is being shaped over President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's person, Küçükyılmaz said the West believes that if they can control Erdoğan, they will control Turkey.
Daily Sabah: Turkey was perceived as a rising star both regionally and globally up until 2013, however, this has shifted in the recent years to become a negative perception. How do you evaluate this process?
Communications usually operate within the grey areas. We divide the audience into three categories. The first consists of people who don't want to be persuaded; they aren't the priority of communications. However, those are the ones who create the negative perception; they are usually prejudiced and have ulterior motives. The second category consists of your supporters and these divide into two groups: sympathizers who support conditionally and followers who support unconditionally.
Similar to the people who fall in the first category, the followers supporting you unconditionally are also not the priority target of communications; the priority target is the people who are indecisive and whose minds can be swayed. We need to analyze these indecisive masses and work on their perceptions about Turkey.
As the Corporate Communications Department, we handle the communications of the presidency; however, at the macro level, we are actually handling Turkey's communications. In this respect, I can say that Turkey lacks a ministry of communications which could coordinate the country's communications. We have to consider communications as an autonomous field; yet, communicative activities are distributed to various bureaucratic divisions at different institutions and ministries.
Therefore, the establishment of a ministry focusing on communications could resolve Turkey's certain structural issues.
In political communications, there are two essential principles. Firstly, communications must be handled from a singular center to have a coherent message; we only realize its importance during crises. Secondly, political communications must be conducted with a political decision. If you let the conduct to bureaucrats, they won't be able to take the initiative, as it is the elected officials who will be held accountable. Therefore, elected officials must make decisions and coordinate the political communications.
DS: What has caused this shift of perception?
Turkey has been under attack for some years now; we have seen this attack materialize during the Gezi Park protests in 2013. It was revealed that certain people who were seemingly oppositional were actually co-conspirators of the forces that are attacking Turkey; a majority these people have fled Turkey.
The Dec. 17-25, 2013 events, the Oct. 6-8, 2014 Kobane incidents and the process that brought us to July 15, 2016 are all perceived as attacks on Turkey by the majority of the people living in the country. Turkey became a target when it started to voice its own opinion within the region and the world. The new Turkish foreign policy which started to emerge in 2003 advocated that only the countries of the region can resolve regional issues.
Foreign interventions originating out of the region have never resolved any issues; look at Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Moreover, instead of resolving the issues, these foreign interventions have exacerbated the issues.
For this reason, Turkey is arguing that the countries of the region should resolve the issues, if there is an issue in the Middle East. This doesn't sit well with the global powers which have made a habit out of intervening in countries halfway across the world. This is the most basic explanation why Turkey is being attacked.
Another factor was uttered by the former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey, "Tayyip Erdoğan rubs our nose in it, that's why the West doesn't like Erdoğan."
It is an auto critique and a confession combined.
All of these actually show that Turkey is made a target by the Western decision makers whose minds cannot be swayed with communication. This isn't an argument for the perpetuation of the government or the existing executive. This region suffered through the attacks of foreign forces throughout 1914-1922.
Now, after a century, Turkey is under a similar attack from the West. Claiming that Turkey was badly governed and there weren't any cohesive policies actually means to disregard the attacks towards Turkey, both from within and out of the country, along with the concern for countries survival. We are not in a protected and stable region like Canada or Sweden. When you try to play your own game, countries which have the power to manipulate your image according to their will just don't sit idle.
DS: Why is this negative perception of Turkey being shaped over President Erdoğan's person and discourse?
President Erdoğan is the force behind Turkey's transformation. Since 2002, the party he founded is the government and since 2003, he has been the head of the executive either as the prime minister or the president.
Turkey becoming a prominent international actor, developing relations with non-Western countries, adopting humanitarian diplomacy and clearing its debts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May 2013, right before the Gezi Park protests, caused the person who set off this transformation to be targeted. They believe that if Erdoğan is deposed, Turkey will be under their control, as it was during the Cold War.
Erdoğan who has emphasized the will of the people since his initial election is being targeted. The proposed presidential system is also adding to the attacks. Erdoğan proposing a new model which will defragment the executive in Turkey, while clarifying the boundaries between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, is the main reason why the Western media is targeting and attacking Turkey.
Some are either deliberately or unintentionally talking about a change of regime, instead of a system; the main opposition party in Turkey is doing the same. However, the distinction between regime and system is very clear. Turkey is a democratic republic. Republic, democracy, autocracy, oligarchy and monarchy are models of regime.
On the other hand, presidential, semi-presidential and parliamentary systems are, as the name suggests, systems of governance. Despite this fact, some are trying to revive the infamous notion of "losing the regime."
Moreover, they believe that if they can control Erdoğan, they will control Turkey. The issue here is the strong-arm politics which is trying to force the people of Turkey to surrender Erdoğan.
DS: Can these issues be overcome through communication strategies?
These are issues with numerous variables; thus, it is not possible to overcome these issues only with communication techniques. We don't have a large swath of grey area here; the grey area consists of the ordinary citizens of Western countries, but they don't have the power to make policies. It's not very possible that their persuasion will result in a policy change. We have to understand that the existing world order is looking for a new design.
There is a scuffle among powers in redesigning the Middle East, northern Africa and some parts of Asia. Turkey is right in the middle of these discussions. In this sense, the factors which draw us into these discussions are external. Those who fail to see this will continue to accuse the people, the country and the leader.
The issue is whether we will be a subject or an object in this design. Once we decided to become a subject within this design, we are accused of authoritarianism in a way no communications methods can resolve.
DS: If the ruling party and the president were different, let's say he was from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), would the situation be any different?
Not exactly. We would have similar issues. However, our approach would probably be different. As it was the case in the past, our executives would compromise, be persuaded and agree with the Western argument.
Today, we are telling them that we want to be considered as an equal and because the Western powers weren't demanded in such a way in the last three centuries, they're not able to process this demand.
In short, if things were different, we would become an outpost of certain powers in the Middle East. We would only be an object.
DS: Will the transition to the presidential system shift this paradigm?
It is definitely one of the steps to do so. Seemingly, some have an emotional bond with the parliamentary system and, thus, they can't just leave it aside. Looking at the arguments of those who advocate the parliamentary system, they are praising the Parliament by saying that it has been there for one-and-a-half centuries and that the people have gotten used to it.
They are also claiming that the politics stood against coups. Politics resisted coups only during the AK Party governments. On the other hand, regarding the event transpired in the last decade, it is obvious it is only AK Party which stood against the coups; not the politics as a whole or the Parliament.
The most stable periods of the parliamentary systems are the ones when it resembles the presidential system; thus, periods of one-party governments, not coalitions. The period between 2002 and 2013 is an exemplary period of stability, during which AK Party was the ruling party. Moreover, it is the longest period of stability in the Turkish political history. Despite all attacks, economy remained stable even after 2013. Today, we are facing security issues and some forces are trying to makes us pay for the decade long stability.
Only against the July 15 coup attempt we have seen a rather united Parliament and politics. Still, we can't claim that the politics and the Parliament were unified against the threat. The most important factor in Turkey's resistance against the coup was the existence of an elected president.
Looking at the Republic era parliamentary history, we observe at least seven interventions within 80 years. When politics, the carrier of democracy, is weak, the putschists feel the urge to seize the opportunity. We know that the parliamentary system is fragile against coups, due to the fragmented power of the executive that was caused by the 1961 constitution. Some executive powers were transferred to bureaucrats, while the others to the Parliament. In time, this situation has a degenerative effect on politics.
Deputies are racing to become ministers and are pressuring the executive to satisfy the demands of their constituents, which harms the principle of separation of powers. The main function of the Parliament should be to legislate. In this sense, the presidential system which will be put to vote in a referendum in the months to follow is the most materialized version of the ideal separation of powers. On the other hand, the Parliament continues to exist within the presidential system; therefore, it can be thought as an upgraded version of the parliamentary system.
DS: As you know, discussions about the presidential system are going hand in hand with the discussions on authoritarianism and dictatorship. How do you evaluate this situation?
The main issue is the recent emergence of an anti-Turkey lobby. We had been complaining about having a weak lobby in the Armenian and PKK issues; now, all of these problems have converged, creating an issue which is more than the sum of its parts. This is due to the lobbies of FETÖ, PKK, DHKP-C diasporas.
Especially FETÖ, which is well-organized abroad with the capital and manpower they acquired in Turkey, all of which they are using against Turkey. As they believe Turkey and Erdoğan are synonymous, working against the people of Turkey is not an issue for them. They are officially our citizens, but they are working against us.
Regarding the discussions on authoritarianism and dictatorship, the West knows well that what you are able to define will belong to you. In this sense, once they define a certain issue, they believe everyone will follow their lead; however, in reality, it is a propaganda that only they believe in. The Turkish people's opinion matters in this issue, it's our priority. The people must be in solidarity with each other and stand united, if we're to stop the perception management operations. We are talking about a parallel state structure within the Turkish state. Unless this parallel structure is eliminated, we won't be able to focus our efforts, as the said structure wants to move in an opposite direction. Considering that they were also part of the institutions which create and shape your image, it is absolutely essential to resolve these issues.
DS: Then, Turkey has to resolve its issues in order to have a positive image abroad?
Definitely. Think about the threats Turkey is facing today. FETÖ and PKK are terrorist organizations which emerged from Turkey and have diasporas abroad. Daesh, on the other hand, is a terrorist organization which was founded in our region and is a threat that Turkey faces. We're observing that Daesh is trying to become a threat within the Turkish demographic structure, which is the reason why we have ongoing operations in Syria. Once a visible national unity is achieved against these threats, these issues will be doomed to a resolution.
DS: What can be achieved through communications strategies and is there more that can be done?
For instance, we have publications which familiarize readers with Turkey and the events that have transpired. We have these publications in 10 languages, both in print and in digital. We have sent these publications to the politicians of the leading countries of the world, like the U.S. Congress.
We have numerous publications on the July 15 coup attempt. "July 15 Coup Attempt and the Parallel Structure," "Gülenist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) in 10 Questions," "July 15 Coup Attempt and the Triumph of the People," are just some of these publications.
On the other hand, we have published around 20 films in English, two websites and created many social media accounts.
The languages we published in are Turkish, English, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Albanian, Bosnian, Russian and Chinese. Moreover, we also have publications introducing the Presidential Palace Complex, which we present to the counterparts of President Erdoğan and to their delegacy.
DS: Lastly what is corporate communications and what does the Presidential Department of Corporate Communications do?
With the emergence of social media and the spread of internet newspapers, the communications at state institutions and private enterprises become multidimensional. Today, the masses consisting of individuals who all have social media accounts can communicate with institutions via different channels, rendering the press advisers inefficient.
Moreover, all institutions have web pages and social media accounts, which are used to communicate with individuals and other institutions. Corporate communications emerged as a comprehensive concept in the early 2000s to address inter-institutional and intra-institutional communications, along with the citizens.
The Department of Corporate Communications works to create an institutional identity, to instill an institutional culture and to represent the institution. The important point here is to share a message and data visually and interactively with other institutions and the masses via traditional and new channels.
There is a need to determine a strategy which is approved by the institutional hierarchy and all acts of communication should be done according to this strategy. The expectations, complaints and reactions of the people have become more varied with the increase in the number of social media outlets.
Back in the day, there was a help desk and a public relations official, who would collect your petition and relay it to their supervisors. This kind of mechanism is cumbersome and inefficient nowadays, as there are countless channels to reach an institution. Through cooperated efforts with information technologies, public relations and human resources departments, the corporate communications department tries to conduct communications with a coherent and consistent strategy.
Moreover, our department is also involved in visuals like presidential arms and logos. We take part in the meetings and convey the messages of the president to the masses via social media.
DS: For instance, through which channels does the Presidency receive criticisms and requests? Moreover, how are these processed?
We receive them through our web pages and social media accounts. Currently, the web page of the Presidency is online in Turkish, English and Arabic; we are preparing it in French, as well. These are channels which are regularly updated like news portals and have intense data input. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram accounts are being handled by the Internet Publishing Division of our department.
On the other hand, social responsibility projects which are supported by the president are another channel that we process significant amounts of applications; these are processed by the Project Management Division.