IN DEPTH – Volume 17 Issue 5 – September 2020
MA International Relations, University of Nicosia
Coordinator of the Secretariat of International Relations and EU, New Democracy
HAGIA SOPHIA: TURKISH BRAND RECONSIDERED
A very persuasive as well as convenient argument that Greece and Cyprus have posed to both the EU and NATO for years is the age-old premise that they are the border between the West and the East. Persuasive because it is now more relevant than ever and convenient on the grounds that they render their Western allies partly responsible for their survival, not only striking a psychological chord but -more importantly- making them draw the line to an ever-imposing East, whose advance towards the West Samuel Huntington predicted in 1996 with his ‘Clash of Civilizations’, an iconic book by all standards.
People’s cultural and religious identities will be the main source of conflict for Huntington and the emergence of non-Western actors renders western survival precarious, depending mostly on the realization of its uniqueness and its capacity to stick together. Huntington did get it wrong, however, in not considering Greeks an integral part of Western civilization since Greece had never really envisaged itself away from the West. Since the 1820s, both Greece and Cyprus have one way or another made it clear that their choice is Western style liberal democracy.
Huntington would have felt great disappointment had he been a member of Erdogan’s congregation during Hagia Sophia mosque celebrations last July (2020). For Huntington, Turkey would lean on the West. Sadly, this is no longer the case and the days of Kemalist hegemony are a thing of the past, so is civilizational compatibility. The journey that has been unfolding in Turkey over the last four decades is a rejection of military secularization and forced, top-down westernization, islamizing domestic policies and abolishing the right to the age-old claim of being misunderstood. Just as declaring Hagia Sophia a museum in 1935 symbolized a rupture with Turkey’s Ottoman past and an affirmation of the rise of western paradigm, its reinstatement as a mosque signifies a reclaiming of the country’s past and an abandonment of a dual identity. An overdue responsibility of AKP intellectuals to establish the superiority of their religion over the westernized, modernized world. Islam is now indispensable to Turkish identity and Turks have a privileged role in the spread of the religion as well as advocating for the Sunni Muslim world’s leadership.
Of course “nobody goes to war for a church nowadays”, people might say, but that Turkey has become NATO’s “elephant in the room” is a fact that is indeed enhanced by a Taliban flag in Hagia Sophia and the symbolism is iconic. “Allahu Akbar” cries reportedly heard in Hagia Sophia during its inaugural multi-lingual ceremony bring home a lot more to Western policy makers than the hordes of immigrants transported to the Greek borders in Evros some months ago. In western eyes the image of Islamists chanting “Allahu Akbar” and Erdogan’s meeting with two Hamas leaders on August 22nd this year, are far more disturbing than the one of the brutal murder of Tassos Isaak in 1996. This is closer to their experience, this is what ensures their emotional attachment. It is the picture that moves them. It is also the picture we are obliged to show them. This is called “intelligent listening”, and we must listen to them. They would, for instance, find Cavusoglu’s comments on the football match between PAOK and Besiktas odd. Politically incorrect piece of news should be made widely known. We must approach and influence. This is a long-lasting process, one that will not bear fruit so quickly and requires careful planning, and something Greeks are not so good at. It is called public diplomacy.
Public diplomacy deals with the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies. It encompasses dimensions of international relations beyond traditional diplomacy; the cultivation by governments of public opinion in other countries; the interaction of private groups and interests in one country with another; the reporting of foreign affairs and its impact on policy; communication between professional communicators like diplomats and foreign correspondents; and the process of intercultural communications.
Public diplomacy encompasses a wide spectrum of activity. Consciously and publicly listening to others is a public diplomacy act in itself, since you show that consideration is given to their perspectives, while also helping you modify your own approach. Facilitation involves providing others with the means of achieving their goals and can allow a public diplomacy organization to change the way the target audience acts. Building networks or long-term relationships is essential. However, without clear evidence of success in the short term, this work will need a great deal of vision. Cultural diplomacy is used to transmit a positive aura and in our case it should not be strictly limited to the ancient Greek civilization but also focus on modern achievements. Religious diplomacy should be deployed as well, given the nature the cultural rift with Turkey takes.
Direct messaging has an invasive nature and is pursued without reciprocity. This includes nation branding, strategic communication and marketing and aims to leave little space for alternative interpretation. This of course involves close cooperation of governmental and non-governmental agencies and bodies as well as central expert guidance. Broadcasting has to balance perspective and content to maintain the credibility of the broadcaster with the target audience, something lacking, for instance, in AKP Turkey.
Turkey’s holistic diplomatic defeat in the region and something that Greece and Cyprus should not overlook is the fact that the neighboring countries do not want to be led by it. This consists a strategic handicap with far reaching effects in the not so distant future. The effects on Turkish soft power are more than visible in the area, with its former soft power heavyweight, the Turkish serials, facing negative criticism and rejection in the Middle East and elsewhere. Moreover, there have been editorials in quality press around European capitals warning Europe of Turkish aggression. Never has a USA presidential candidate lash out on a NATO ally’s President the way John Biden did on Erdogan. Even the more diplomatic Ibrahim Kalin seems to have lost his composure in a power struggle that Turkey cannot obviously win. It is not so common to witness such a blatant hard power collapse after a soft power catastrophe.
What Greece and Cyprus need to do is take their public diplomacy seriously and exercise it more aggressively. They have both benefited in the past by the picture foreign audiences formed of them. They stand to gain a lot more if this is done professionally. “The picture very often replaces reality. Whoever controls the picture starts to control reality”, in the words of Erdogan adviser Ibrahim Kalin.
Last but not least, our two ministries of foreign affairs need to realize that public diplomacy is not just about promoting “visit us” posters on the London Underground, nor reaching out to our first generation diaspora. It is a lot more than that…
Beaton Roderick. Greece: The biography of a modern nation trans. Menelaos Asteriou. Athens: Patakis, 2019
Ghannoushi Soumaya, “Hagia Sophia & the Fall of Kemalist Secularism”, Kashmir Observer, July 28, 2020.
Huntington Samuel, The Clash of Civilizations. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
Kalin Ibrahim, Islam and the West, trans. Maria Ververidou. Athens: Papazissis, 2012.
Kalyvas Stathis, Modern Greece: What everyone needs to know. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Snow Nancy, “Rethinking Public Diplomacy” in The Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy ed. Snow & Taylor. New York: Routledge, 2009.
The Murrow Center Quote.
Yildirim Kadir, “Triumphalism in Hagia Sophia”, Carnegie, July 29, 2020. https://carnegieendowment.org/sada/82390
Yolacan Serkan, “Why Hagia Sophia move spells trouble for Turkey’s President Erdogan”, South China Morning Post, July 21, 2020. https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/3094037/why-hagia-sophia-move-spells-trouble-turkeys-president-erdogan
 Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 25.
 Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 162.
 Stathis Kalyvas, Modern Greece: What everyone needs to know (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) 34.
 Roderick Beaton. Greece: The biography of a modern nation, trans. Menelaos Asteriou (Athens: Patakis, 2019), 37.
 Soumaya Ghannoushi, “Hagia Sophia & the Fall of Kemalist Secularism”, Kashmir Observer, July 28, 2020. https://kashmirobserver.net/2020/07/28/hagia-sophia-the-fall-of-kemalist-secularism/
 Serkan Yolacan, “Why Hagia Sophia move spells trouble for Turkey’s President Erdogan”, South China Morning Post, July 21, 2020. https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/3094037/why-hagia-sophia-move-spells-trouble-turkeys-president-erdogan
 Kadir Yildirim, “Triumphalism in Hagia Sophia”, Carnegie, July 29, 2020.
 Ortagus Morgan, State Department Spokesperson, August 25, 2020.
 Nancy Snow, “Rethinking Public Diplomacy” in The Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy ed. Snow & Taylor (New York: Routledge, 2009), 4.
 The Murrow Center Quote. https://fletcher.tufts.edu/murrow/publicdiplomacy.html
 Ibrahim Kalin, Islam and the West, trans. Maria Ververidou (Athens: Papazissis, 2012), 37.