In the past two decades, Turkish foreign policy underwent substantial changes. The "zero problems" with neighbors has become the motto of a distant past. And the "Operation Peace Spring" further revealed Turkey has no friends left in the region.
Turkey's relationship with the US has reached an all-time low with the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CATSAA) and Halkbank sanctions on the way. Added to that was the US Congress' recognition of the "Armenian Genocide" that contributed in fueling the anti-Western rhetoric.
On the EU front, accesion talks had already come to a de facto stop as high-level talks between the European Council and Ankara were suspended during the summer. In the meantime, there is Russia with whom Turkey seemingly has grown very close to though the two states' interests come into conflict on a number of issues.
The perpetually shifting state of Turkey's foreign relations sends the public through a roller-coaster of emotions. The Turkish public is greatly disappointed with the West at large. Quite rightly so. The collaboration of the US with the YPG in Syria as well as the Pastor Brunson episode over the summer of 2018 are just two sources of resentment. The poor handling of the S400/F35 crises further worsened NATO's image and contributed to the positive perception of Russia emerging as a new ally. On the European Union front issues are manifold. The rise of the populist right-wing leaders across Europe and their anti-Turkey and xenophobic discourse during election campaigns periods did not go unnoticed by the Turkish public.
However, amidst this chaos, the difference between short and long term perceptions of the Turkish public towards foreign countries provides a glimmer of light. The table below shows the answers to the question “Out of 10, how close do you feel to following countries?”. Japan scores the highest due to the fact that it is an unknown country and to the common belief that Turks and Japanese are very similar. While England, France and the US fare poorly, the only western country that seems to score high is Germany. Germany has always been different. High trade volume and around 4 million Turkish origin citizen living in Germany explains this positive perception.
The distance from Western countries is echoed by feelings towards NATO. 44.1% of the population feel that Turkey does not need NATO to ensure its security. Only 30% feel that NATO is necessary for Turkey’s security and finally 66.2% consider NATO’s contribution to global security as negative.
At the same time 47.9% of the population thinks Turkey should enter a long-term political alliance with Russia. Looking at the numbers presented above, one would reach the conclusion that the Turkish public is almost done with the West. But that is not the case. Our research shows that, 30% of the population would send their children to universities abroad if they had the opportunity. Of this 30%, only 2.1% report that Russia would be their choice of country. An overwhelming part of the population reported their preference to be Western Europe or North America. On the other hand, public support for Turkey’s EU membership is consistently above 50% (52% in September, 2019).
How should we interpret this? The Turkish public is angry at the West. Day-to-day events and inconsistent messages that have been coming from Turkey's traditional Western partners over the past decade have fostered negative sentiments. And while Turkey's deteriorated ties with the West is also partly attributable to mistakes made by Ankara itself, those are irrelevant for the public. Still, the majority of the Turkish public values a long-term partnership with the West. Democratic values, personal freedoms and liberties as well as a flourishing economy entrenched in Western institutions transcend short-term transactional interactions.