A re-entry into this year’s Soft Power 30, Turkey is bouncing back after the economic troubles of 2018. Strong performances in the Engagement and Digital sub-indices have pushed Turkey back into the rankings, despite international criticism of Turkey’s policies in Syria and a domestic political situation that has seen greater centralisation of power at the expense of individual freedoms and liberties. However, this hasn’t put off visitors. Growing tourist numbers from Europe, and notably the GCC, helped push Turkey back inside the top 30 in the Culture sub-index. Improved economic conditions, with inflation back under control and the lira stabilised, should allow Turkey to broaden its appeal to foreign investors. Raising the profile and expertise of Turkey’s education sector should also be a priority, while Turkey’s vast and diverse cultural capital could be leveraged more aggressively.
Erdoğan is a digital asset for Turkey as his international social media following continues to boost the country’s performance in the Digital sub-index. Turkish ministries and embassies across the globe are active on social media and continuing to expand their digital diplomatic network will enhance its score further. A Top ten score in our Engagement sub-index reflects Turkey’s growing diplomatic network that has become a core asset of its soft power.
The Government and Education sub-indices hampered Turkey’s last appearance in The Soft Power 30 and continue to hold the country back. The AK Party’s losses in Ankara, Izmir, and eventually Istanbul in the mayoral elections are a sign of growing disillusionment with the government, which must work on engaging with their own citizens to keep Turkey moving forward. With a poor performance in the international polling, the government might consider how Turkey’s current foreign policies – and the narrative of the country as a whole – is impacting global perceptions of the country.
Whilst the government has decisions to make over its model of governance, Turkey’s rich heritage, culture, and natural beauty is a resource that should be leveraged further. Straddling Europe and the Middle East, with large expat populations world-wide, Turkey is ideally placed to export and welcome visitors. But to really move the needle, the government needs to reaffirm Turkey’s commitment to multilateralism and narrative as a responsible international actor.