Anti-Americanism is on the rise in Turkey and, fueled by pop conspiracy theories and hypocritical American policies, now threatens relations with the United States, said Hudson Institute scholar Zeyno Baran to a group of journalists in Istanbul.
This troubling trend is at odds with the two countries’ history of cooperation that dates to the 1947 Truman Doctrine, Baran said. Turkey once gladly served as NATO’s eastern bulwark against communism, but now only 12% of its population views the United States positively.
Baran says that the rest are making blockbuster successes of militantly anti-American pop-culture products.
Baran pointed to the best-selling novel Metal Storm (2005), which was popular even among Turkish leaders, that told of American troops fighting to “liberate” Istanbul from the Turks and to re-establish it as a Christian capitol. And the hit movie Valley of the Wolves: Iraq (2006) showed American troops massacring Iraqi families at a wedding and executing captured civilians in the back of a truck.
Movie trailer for Valley of the Wolves: Iraq
“Although these objectives would appear sensational and unrealistic to Americans, there is very real fear among some Turks that the United States and the EU are in fact actively plotting such campaigns,” said Baran.
But Baran insists that Turks’ negative opinions of the U.S. reflect substantive differences in the way Turkey and the U.S. view the world in a post-September-11 world. The U.S. is motivated by the transnational threat of terrorism, she said, while Turkey is concerned about its own internal threats of Kurdish separatism and Islamist political gains.
Pointed disagreements have arisen as the U.S. has courted “moderate” Islamist partners in order to reassure critics that the war on terror is not a war on Islam, Baran said. One such partner is Turkey’s current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who rose to power despite charges of corruption and ties to Turkey’s Islamist right.
Baran argues that for many supporters of Turkey’s secular democratic tradition—the same group that has historically allied with the U.S.—Erdogan personifies the “existential threat” of Islamism and the intrusion of religion into politics. These secularists decry U.S. hypocrisy in siding with Islamists like Erdogan in Turkey in order to get its way elsewhere.
But Baran says that by far the biggest source of anti-American anger is the U.S.’ (and other Western powers’) refusal to address the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK),** the violence-prone vanguard of the Kurdish separatist movement, which Turks consider an imminent threat to the nation. Many Turks see this refusal to act as making a mockery of the West’s rhetoric about terrorism.
“The phrase ‘allies against terrorism’ has become completely meaningless for many Turks,” Baran said, “as for them it is clear that the U.S. treats as ‘terrorist’ only those groups that attack Americans and American interests—regardless of the official State Department designation.”
As a result, Baran says that for the first time, a majority of Turks see the U.S. as the primary threat to global stability. She added that Turks worry the U.S. might decide to “mess with” Turkey’s region, upsetting its delicate balance of power. This has prompted calls within Turkey to “contain” the U.S. by drawing closer to Russia and Iran.
Baran predicts that U.S.-Turkey relations will continue to decline as the U.S. continues ignoring Turkey’s grievances. In the meantime, she says, anti-American sentiment will only get more pervasive.
“Until the West fully understands the nature of these complaints and adopts policies that will not be perceived as hypocritical and betraying the West’s own principles,” Baran concluded, “there is little hope for an improvement in relations with Turkey—no matter who is in charge in Ankara.”
**Editor’s note: In December of 2007, the U.S. did begin to cooperate with Turkey against the PKK.