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  • Sabri Ciftci

This paper focuses on the relationship between social identity based on national, religious, or international affiliations and attitudes toward foreign policy in the Turkish context. Evidence is drawn from an original survey conducted among university students in Turkey. The results show that students' social identity has a significant correlation with their perceptions of foreign policy. Most Turkish university students provide conditional support for the new directions in Turkey's foreign policy, but those with an Islamic identity appear to be more supportive of the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi's (Justice and Development Party) policies. Most university students believe that Turkey's future lies in the European Union and the Central Asian Turkic republics rather than in the Middle East. Overall, the perceptions of educated youth toward foreign policy are shaped by both social identity and their conceptions of national interest.

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Sabri Ciftci is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kans.; e-mail:
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Author's note: The author gratefully thanks Fatih Ertugay, Ercan Güzelce, Güven Delice, Mehmet Ali Alan, Kürşad Özkaynar, and Sami Seker; all colleagues, administrators, and students at Cumhuriyet University; and Beth Baron, Sara Pursley, and the anonymous IJMES reviewers for their help and comments in the researching and writing of this paper. This work is supported by the Scientific Research Project Fund of Cumhuriyet University under the project number IKT78.

1 The term “activism” refers to Turkey's assertive and proactive foreign policy approach in a changing global world in the post-Cold War era and particularly under AKP rule since 2002. See Öniş, Ziya, “Multiple Faces of the ‘New’ Turkish Foreign Policy: Underlying Dynamics and a Critique,” Insight Turkey 13 (2011): 4765.

2 Oğuzlu, Tarık, “Middle Easternization of Turkey's Foreign Policy: Does Turkey Dissociate from the West?,” Turkish Studies 9 (2008): 320.

3 Michael Rubin, “Shifting Sides? The Problems of Neo-Ottomanism,” National Review Online, 10 August 2004, (accessed 25 December 2010).

4 Stephen Larrabee, F., “Turkey's New Geopolitics,” Survival 52 (2010): 157–80; Kardaş, Şaban, “Turkey: Redrawing the Middle East Map or Building Sandcastles?,” Middle East Policy 17 (2010): 115–36; Barkey, Henri J., “Turkish Foreign Policy in the Middle East,” CERI Strategy Papers 10 (2011), (accessed 20 December 2011).

5 Cook, Steven A., “Turkey's War at Home,” Survival 51 (2009): 105–20.

6 Öniş, Ziya and Yılmaz, Şuhnaz, “Between Europeanization and Euro-Asianism: Foreign Policy Activism in Turkey during the JDP Era,” Turkish Studies 10 (2009): 724; Öniş, “Multiple Faces of the ‘New’ Turkish Foreign Policy.”

7 Barkey, Henri J., “Turkey and the Great Powers,” in Turkey's Engagement with Modernity: Conflict and Change in the Twentieth Century, ed. Kerslake, Celia, Öktem, Kerem, and Robins, Philip (Oxford: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 239–57.

8 Öniş, “Multiple Faces of the ‘New’ Turkish Foreign Policy”; Aras, Bülent and Görener, Aylin, “National Role Conceptions and Foreign Policy Orientation: The Ideational Bases of The Justice and Development Party's Foreign Policy Activism in The Middle East,” Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies 12 (2010): 7392; Oğuzlu, “Middle Easternization of Turkey's Foreign Policy.”

9 Sözen, Ahmet, “A Paradigm Shift in Turkish Foreign Policy: Transition and Challenges,” Turkish Studies 11 (2010): 103–23; Kirişci, Kemal, “Transformation of Turkish Foreign Policy: The Rise of the Trading State,” New Perspectives on Turkey 40 (2009): 2957; Oğuzlu, “Middle Easternization of Turkey's Foreign Policy.”

10 Herrera, Linda, “Youth and Generational Renewal in the Middle East,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 41 (2009): 368–71.

11 Brewer, Marilynn B., “The Many Faces of Social Identity: Implications for Political Psychology,” Political Psychology 22 (2001): 115–25; Carey, Sean, “Undivided Loyalties: Is National Identity an Obstacle to European Integration?,” European Union Politics 3 (2002): 387413.

12 The Cyprus intervention is an example of a crisis with the Western powers. It would be hard to argue that Turkish foreign policy was completely monotonic during the Cold War. See Findley, Carter, Turkey, Islam, Nationalism, and Modernity: A History, 1789–2007 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010).

13 Barkey, “Turkey and the Great Powers,” 241.

14 Kirişci, Kemal and Kaptanoğlu, Neslihan, “The Politics of Trade and Turkish Foreign Policy,” Middle East Studies 47 (2011): 705–24.

15 Jung, Dietrich, “Turkey and the Arab World: Historical Narratives and New Political Realities,” Mediterranean Politics 10 (2005): 117.

16 Sözen, “A Paradigm Shift.”

17 Öniş, “Multiple Faces of the ‘New’ Turkish Foreign Policy.”

18 Benli Altunışık, Meliha, “Worldviews and Turkish Foreign Policy in the Middle East,” New Perspectives on Turkey 40 (2009): 169–92.

19 Öniş and Yılmaz, “Between Europeanization and Euro-Asianism,” 7–9.

20 Oğuzlu, “Middle Easternization of Turkey's Foreign Policy”; Rubin, “Shifting Sides?”

21 Oğuzlu, “Middle Easternization of Turkey's Foreign Policy,” 7.

22 Larrabee, “Turkey's New Geopolitics,” 158.

23 Barkey, Turkish Foreign Policy,” 9.

24 For an overview see Kirişci, “Transformation of Turkish Foreign Policy”; Sayarı, Sabri, “Turkish Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era,” Journal of International Affairs 54 (2000): 169–83; Karaosmanoğlu, Ali L., “The Evolution of the National Security Culture in Turkey,” Journal of International Affairs 54 (2000): 199216; and Barkey, “Turkey and the Great Powers.”

25 The following discussion draws on Davutoğlu, Ahmet, “Turkey's Foreign Policy Vision: An Assessment of 2007,” Insight Turkey 10 (2008): 7796; and idem, Stratejik Derinlik: Türkiye'nin Uluslararası Konumu, 38th ed. (Istanbul: Küre, 2009).

26 A shifting balance of power in the region, affected by changing U.S. interests, also helps to explain Turkey's increasing activities. The U.S. administration supports Turkey's EU membership bid to create a strong, democratic, pivotal, role-model state that would be an invaluable asset to U.S. interests in the larger Middle East. See Barkey, Henri J., “The Effect of U.S. Policy in the Middle East on EU–Turkey Relations,” International Spectator 43 (2008): 3144.

27 Davutoğlu argues that given Turkey's central position, Turkish foreign policy should be built on five related principles: balance between security and freedom, a zero-problem policy toward neighbors, improving relations with the neighboring countries and beyond, a multidimensional and complementary foreign policy, and rhythmic diplomacy. Davutoğlu, “Turkey's Foreign Policy Vision,” 78–82.

28 Kirişci, “Transformation of Turkish Foreign Policy,” 31–32.

29 Following Israel's offensive on Gaza and the shouting exchange between Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan and Israeli President Peres at the Davos Economic Forum, relations between the two countries became very tense; they deterioriated further after the attack on the aid flotilla and the killing of nine Turkish citizens on the “Mavi Marmara.”

30 Rosenau, James N., The Scientific Study of Foreign Policy (New York: Free Press, 1971).

31 Bozdağlıoğlu, Yücel, Turkish Foreign Policy and Turkish Identity: A Constructivist Approach (New York and London: Routledge, 2003); Cizre, Ümit, “Demythologizing the National Security Concept: The Case of Turkey,” Middle East Journal 57 (2003): 213–29; Aras and Görener, “National Role Conceptions and Foreign Policy Orientation.”

32 Rosenau, James N., Public Opinion and Foreign Policy: An Operational Formulation (New York: Random House, 1961); Holsti, Ole R., Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1996); Risse-Kappen, Thomas, “Public Opinion, Domestic Structure, and Foreign Policy in Liberal Democracies,” World Politics 43 (1991): 479512; Page, Benjamin I. and Shapiro, Robert Y., “Effects of Public Opinion on Policy,” American Political Science Review 77 (1983): 175–90.

33 Wittkopf, Eugene R., Faces of Internationalism: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990); Jentleson, Force Bruce W., “The Pretty Prudent Public: Post Post-Vietnam American Opinion on the Use of Military Force,” International Studies Quarterly 36 (1992): 4973; Holsti, Ole R, American Public Opinion on the Iraq War (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2011).

34 Kirişçi's account of Turkish foreign policy employs Rosecrance's trading state and Putnam's two-level game analogy. See Kirişci “Transformation of Turkish Foreign Policy,” 41; Rosecrance, Richard, The Rise of the Trading State: Commerce and Conquest in the Modern World (New York: Basic Books, 1986); and Putnam, Robert D., “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,” International Organization 42 (1988): 427–60.

35 On the rise of the Anatolian tigers, see Kösebalaban, Hasan, “The Rise of Anatolian Cities and the Failure of the Modernization Paradigm,” Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies 16 (2007): 229–40; and Gümüşçü, Şebnem and Sert, Deniz, “The Power of the Devout Bourgeoisie: The Case of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey,” Middle Eastern Studies 45 (2009): 953–68.

36 Kirişci, “Transformation of Turkish Foreign Policy,” 40–43.

37 For similar approaches, see Kirişci and Kaptanoğlu, “The Politics of Trade”; Öniş, “Multiple Faces of the ‘New’ Turkish Foreign Policy”; and Barkey, “Turkish Foreign Policy.”

38 Öniş and Yılmaz, “Between Europeanization and Euro-Asianism,” 15–16; Müftüler-Baç, Meltem, “Turkish Foreign Policy, Its Domestic Determinants and the Role of the European Union,” South European Society and Politics 16 (2011): 279–91.

39 Öniş, “Multiple Faces of the ‘New’ Turkish Foreign Policy,” 9.

40 Altunışık, “Worldviews and Turkish Foreign Policy,” 169.

41 Müftüler-Baç, “Turkish Foreign Policy,” 280.

42 Kirişci and Kaptanoğlu, “The Politics of Trade,” 714.

43 Oğuzlu, “Middle Easternization of Turkey's Foreign Policy,” 5–13. The visit by Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, the cancellation of a military exercise with Israel, and Turkey's pro-Palestine position on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict are frequently invoked as examples of the Islamization of foreign policy.

44 Cook, “Turkey's War at Home,” 111.

45 Çarkoğlu, Ali and Kalaycıoğlu, Ersin, The Rising Tide of Conservatism in Turkey (New York: Palgrave–Macmillan, 2009).

46 Kardaş, “Turkey: Redrawing the Middle East Map,” 126.

47 Aydın, Mustafa, “Twenty Years Before, Twenty Years After: Turkish Foreign Policy at the Threshold of the 21st Century,” in Turkey's Foreign Policy in the 21st Century: A Changing Role in World Politics, ed. Ismael, Tareq Y. and Aydın, Mustafa (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2003), 327.

48 Telhami, Shibley and Barnett, Michael, “Introduction: Identity and Foreign Policy in the Middle East,” in Identity and Foreign Policy in the Middle East, ed. Telhami, Shibley and Barnett, Michael (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002), 125.

49 Altunışık, “Worldviews and Turkish Foreign Policy,” 169–70.

50 Risse, Thomas, “A European Identity? Europeanization and the Evolution of Nation–State Identities,” in Europeanization and Domestic Change, ed. Cowles, M. G., Caporaso, J., and Risse, T. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000); Katzenstein, Peter J., The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics (New York: Columbia University, 1996); Telhami and Barnett, “Introduction: Identity and Foreign Policy.”

51 Bozdağlıoğlu, Turkish Foreign Policy and Turkish Identity; Ümit Cizre, “Demythologizing the National Security Concept.”

52 On social identity theory, see Tajfel, H., Human Groups and Social Categories (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); and Tajfel, H. and Turner, J. C., “The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior,” in Psychology of Intergroup Relations, ed. Worchel, S. and Austin, W. (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1986), 724. For applications of social identity theory in foreign policy analysis, see Risse, Tomas, Ropp, S. C., and Sikkink, K., eds., The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); and Hopf, Ted, Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002).

53 Tajfel, Human Groups and Social Categories, 251.

54 Tajfel and Turner, “The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior.”

55 Telhami and Barnett, “Introduction: Identity and Foreign Policy,” 8.

56 Brewer, “The Many Faces of Social Identity”; Carey, “Undivided Loyalties.”

57 Thoits, P. A. and Virshup, L. V., “Me's and We's: Forms and Functions of Social Identities,” in Self and Identity: Fundamental Issues, ed. Ashmore, R. and Jussim, L. (New York: Oxford University Press), 1:106–33.

58 Scholarship on the Middle Easternization or Islamization of Turkish foreign policy builds on a similar logic by implying that the AKP's foreign policy goals are tailored to gain support of the religiously conservative public, which is presumed to be more likely to perceive the Middle East or Islamic world as part of the in-group.

59 Altunışık, “Worldviews and Turkish Foreign Policy.”

60 To the best of my knowledge, the only systematic surveys of foreign policy attitudes are those conducted by the International Strategic Research Institute (Turkish acronym USAK). Since 2004, USAK has conducted four such surveys; the last one can be found at (accessed 21 December 2010).

61 Eleven percent of the students attended vocational colleges, 9 percent studied science and literature, 9 percent attended the college of engineering, 4 percent studied the arts, and 3 percent attended the medical school and other departments.

62 The distribution was as follows: East (11%), Southeast (3%), Central (15%), Mediterranean (11%), Black Sea (21%), Marmara (6%), and Aegean (3%). I also cross-tabulated socioeconomic status and region, socioeconomic status and province, gender and region, and so forth, and the distribution of the responses shows that the sample is generally representative along all of these lines. These tables and more detailed results about the representativeness of the sample are available from the author upon request.

63 I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for pointing to this fact and inspiring the following discussion.

64 See Telhami and Barnett, “Introduction: Identity and Foreign Policy,” for a review of the literature on national identity and foreign policy in the Middle East.

65 The original survey also included a question about Alevi identity as an alternative to a Sunni-Muslim identity, but this category was removed due to some administrative difficulties. Many colleagues and students also voiced concerns about the inclusion of the category. However, since the survey included “other” as a category, I believe the preferences of this group are captured in the analysis.

66 The chi-squared test based on the cross-tabulation of the two variables measuring national and social identity shows that the distinction between the two concepts is justified. Chi-squared statistics is a common statistical tool that tests the difference between the actual observations and hypothetical observations that could be expected by chance. A statistically significant statistic (p < 0.05) shows that the existing distribution of responses is not obtained by chance.

67 The high percentage of support for foreign policy among those who identify as Kurd and Muslim may be due to the electoral support the AKP has in Southeastern Turkey, where the Kurdish minority is concentrated. Since the 2002 elections, the AKP has emerged as the main contender to the ethnic Kurdish parties in this region. It is known that religious segments of Kurds as well Turks mainly vote for the AKP; thus it is likely that religiously identified Kurdish students support the AKP's foreign policy choices.

68 Chi-squared statistic is statistically significant.

69 Once again the chi-squared statistic is statistically significant beyond the 0.05 level.

70 This finding is in line with Telhami and Barnett's argument that state identity is widely defined in nationalistic terms. Telhami and Barnett, “Introduction: Identity and Foreign Policy.”

71 Larrabee, “Turkey's New Geopolitics”; Barkey, “Turkish Foreign Policy in the Middle East”; Kirişci, “Transformation of Turkish Foreign Policy.”

72 Oğuzlu, “Middle Easternization of Turkey's Foreign Policy”; Rubin, “Shifting Sides?”

73 See Checkel, Jeffrey T., “Social Constructivisms in Global and European Politics: A Review Essay,” Review of International Studies 30 (2004): 229–44; and Telhami and Barnett, “Introduction: Identity and Foreign Policy.”

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