Despite a year of political instability, Turkey has broken back into The Soft Power 30 after falling out in 2016. Turkish soft power is reflected through its geography, culture, and history but these assets have taken a backseat to recent volatility. An attempted coup against President Recep Erdoğan resulted in widespread rioting in Istanbul and Ankara that left 256 people dead and many more injured. The government’s subsequent decision to detain more than 70,000 citizens, including military officials, judges, journalists, and university professors was widely condemned internationally. Turkey’s political volatility – combined with ongoing security issues surrounding Islamic State and Kurdish separatists – has seen tourism decline and the country’s reputation as a peaceful bridge between the East and West shattered. Despite international concerns around President Erdogan’s style of leadership, Turkey puts in a solid performance in the Engagement sub-index. Turkey’s impressive diplomatic network is more important than ever as it navigates current challenges. But as we saw in the case of the Netherlands’ decision to refuse entry to one of Turkey’s ministers, maintaining relations may prove increasingly difficult.
Turkey performs relatively well in our Digital sub-index thanks to President Erdogan’s strong international following. More emphasis on its digital infrastructure – including increasing the number of mobile users, improving internet servers, and scoring better in the e-participation index – would help Turkey climb higher in this sub-index.
Turkey sits at the very bottom of our international polling data this year, perhaps unsurprisingly given heightened international media coverage around the country’s press freedom, civil liberties, and style of government. Improving these perceptions will take time but is a worthy endeavour.
The government would benefit from spending more time engaging with its citizens, who are growing increasingly disillusioned by state policies. A more democratic approach to policy making will not only help President Erdogan’s domestically, but will also assist in rebuilding some of the international relationships damaged over the last year.