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Recent Study Shows Turkey Turning Away from West

  • Derek Henkle

On the fifth anniversary of Turkey's original negotiations to become a member of the European Union, there are newfound concerns that the country may be drifting away from the West. In addition, some just-released numbers also show a marked decline in popularity for both the United States and President Barack Obama.

The country that sits at the intersection where the East meets the West has vastly changed its view of Western countries - and institutions - in the past year. This according to the "Transatlantic Trends" survey released last month.

According to the study, conducted by the German Marshall Fund, just 17 percent of Turks have a favorable opinion of the United States.

This despite U.S. President Barack Obama's attempts to reach out to the predominately Muslim country - telling the Turkish Parliament on his first overseas trip, just over a year ago, that the U.S. seeks stronger ties with the Middle East.

Since that time, Obama has seen a 22 per cent decline in his popularity among Turks - reaching an all-time low of just 28 percent who approve of the job he's doing as president.

Ian Lesser is the senior policy analyst who conducted the survey.

"Opinion of the U.S. leadership, positive views of U.S. leadership has really plummeted, plummeted," he said. "We are in single digits when it comes to positive views of the United States in Turkey."

In addition to declining public support for the U.S., the mainly Muslim, but secular, nation seems to be dissatisfied with other Western institutions as well.

Support for NATO, the Western security organization, has dropped nearly 20 points since 2004 - with only 30 percent of Turks now believing the alliance to be essential to their security.

And just 38 per cent of the Turkish public believe that EU membership would be beneficial to the country - a 35-percent decline over the same period.

Michelle Egan teaches European studies at American University's School of International Service.

"People are a little bit concerned about its shift away from the West, away from the EU It's been very active, in terms of, with its Middle East neighbors, and it has independently, with Brazil, made an initiative vis-a-vis Iran, which the United States has not supported," she said.

Alignment with Iran is another trend seen in the survey, with only 14 per cent of Turkish respondents believing military action should be taken to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

It's cultural festivities like this one, just two blocks away from the White House, that organizers say present a unique opportunity for culture from the East and the West to come together, at a time when relationships between those two entities are so imperative.

In addition to the traditional dancing and food, people attending this year's Turkish Festival in Washington received an extra helping of discussion about Turkey's role in the West. Festival organizer Demet Cabbar:

"We are trying to improve, trying to rebuild, cultural understanding and bridges of friendship between the U.S. and Turkey," she said. " And that's why I think bringing culture into the place is very important, because it's so universal."

Even some Turks living in America acknowledge growing disappointment with the West.

"Turkish people is not happy to go to European Union, because we are in good position in Turkey right now," said Hatice Shermat, a Turkish immigrant. "They have a lot of young population, they are in a very good position right now."

"I came here for college, and I heard a lot of people say that they are disappointed about Obama's promises and that he cannot keep his promises," said Fulya Gorer, a Turkish student in the U.S.

And it's that perception among Turks, regarding what they consider broken promises from the West, that's especially noteworthy to the German Marshall Fund survey's authors.

"There is some risk of the de-coupling of Turkey, Turkey's estrangement from the West," said Ian Lesser. "Turkey isn't going to withdraw from NATO, we will still have a relationship that functions with Turkey - on some important issues. But that trajectory may not be the same as it was, and that could cause problems in the future."

Even though Turkey has passed major constitutional reforms spurred by the EU admission talks, most acknowledge it would be impossible for Turkey to enter the EU without first normalizing relations with the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot government.

"I do think the United States, though, is quietly putting pressure on the EU, but bearing in mind that this is an important foreign policy goal for the United States, but for Europe it's not just a foreign policy goal, it has much bigger domestic implications," said Professor at the American University, Michelle Eagan.

An increasingly skeptical Turkey, and an uncertain Europe, both creating questions as to what the future holds for an important U.S. ally.