The Roots of Anti-Americanism in Turkey


(Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Last week, I referred to the remarkably high level of anti-Americanism in Turkey in the context of H.R. 252 – the House Resolution accusing Turkey of committing genocide against Armenians in 1915 that passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee last Thursday.
The widespread distrust of the United States (14% of Turks view the U.S. favorably according to the latest Pew Global Attitudes Survey) in Turkey is somewhat surprising given the strategic alliance that has bound the two states together since President Truman’s pledge in 1947 to protect Greece and Turkey from communist subversion.
The roots of this phenomenon are multifarious, but a new paper by Ioannis Grigoriadis in The Middle East Journal offers some insight into why Turks view the United States so negatively.
Grigoriadas distinguishes among several types of anti-Americanism and concludes that anti-Americanism in Turkey is best understood as the “sovereign-nationalist” variety. This means essentially that Turks disapprove of the United States because of “what we do” in the region rather than the values that make us “who we are.”
In other words, Turks object to our foreign policy in the Middle East. More specifically, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was immensely unpopular in Turkey because of its destabilizing impact on the Turkish-Iraqi border and the perception that the invasion exacerbated Turkey’s “Kurdish problem.” The importance of the Iraq war is underscored by this graph, which shows that the United States’ unfavorable numbers rose dramatically from 54% to 83% from 2002-2003 and remain at 69% as of the 2009 survey.
In addition to the unpopularity of American foreign policy, there is a more nuanced but no less important aspect of this phenomenon.
The division in Turkish politics and society between the secular elite composed of the military, judiciary, and bureaucracy and the more religiously-inclined, conservative majority personified by the ruling, “moderately Islamist” Justice and Development Party (AKP) is the defining feature of Turkish politics.
Unfortunately, many Turks on both sides of this divide seem to believe that we are supporting their political rivals. While these claims are exaggerated, the perceptions have real consequences.
On the one hand, the United States’ support for Turkey’s European Union membership is perceived by many secular Turks as support for political Islam in Turkey and as legitimizing the AKP government. More importantly, circumscribing the military’s role in politics is a key element of the European Union accession criteria. Therefore, many secular Turks blame Washington and Brussels for providing political cover for the arrests of scores of high-level military officials over the last several years.
At the same time, many supporters of the ruling AKP government are suspicious of the United States’ long-standing ties to the Turkish military. As Grigoriadis points out in his paper, these suspicious were underscored – after the Turkish Parliament voted on March 1, 2003 not to allow the United States to open a northern front along the Turkish-Iraqi border – by this ironic statement from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who ostensibly supported the invasion of Iraq in order to bring democracy to that country:

Many of the institutions in Turkey that we think of as the traditional strong support…were not as forceful in leading in that direction…particularly the military. I think for whatever reason they did not play the strong leadership role on that issue that we would have expected.

This not-at-all-subtle call for the military to meddle in Turkey’s politics was widely perceived as hypocritical and was resented by the government and many of its supporters.
To be fair, managing the internal conflict within the Turkish political system is a supremely difficult task and a dilemma for which there is no quick and easy solution.
However, what Washington can do is refrain from taking steps that will exacerbate the problem. Last week’s Foreign Affairs Committee vote on H.R. 252 will likely strengthen anti-American sentiment across the Turkish political spectrum.
— Ben Katcher


25 comments on “The Roots of Anti-Americanism in Turkey

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  4. WigWag says:

    “If you are going to cut and paste from Bellaigue’s Rebel Land, WigWag, at least cite your source.” (Dan Kervick)
    While I didn’t mention it in this particular comment, Dan, I have cited the source. In fact I wrote a whole essay on his new book last week. I mentioned that I had read about 25 percent of it (I have now completed it) and I referred people to the book review that appeared in the New York Times.
    In fact, perhaps you first learned about the book from me or maybe you heard about it elsewhere.
    Either way, everyone should read the book.
    Here for the second time is the link to the book review that appeared in the Times,


  5. Mr.Murder says:

    Study the Roots of Anti-Turkish sentiment in the lobby bracket. *greenberg traurig*


  6. Don Bacon says:

    Well, if Turks disapprove of the United States because of “what we do” in the region rather than the values that make us “who we are,” then they shouldn’t have any problem with the Armenian genocide resolution, should they, and last week’s Foreign Affairs Committee vote on H.R. 252 shouldn’t be a problem.
    So the ayes have it, case closed.


  7. Dan Kervick says:

    If you are going to cut and paste from Bellaigue’s Rebel Land, WigWag, at least cite your source.


  8. WigWag says:

    Ask an Alevi about the Armenian Genocide and he is apt to respond with a parable about the pepukh, the yellow winged warbler whose mournful call can be heard every spring throughout eastern Anatolia.
    There was a sister and brother whose mother had died and their father married had married again but to a woman who was very wiked. The step mother was particularly cruel to the children who were terribly frightened of her. When spring came and cardoon started to sprout in all the fields, the stepmother gave the children a saddlebag and ordered them to fill it with cardoon.
    When they filled it they set out for home with the little boy carrying the saddlebag over his back. When they were almost home the little girl noticed that the saddlebag was empty and she accused her brother of eating the cardoon. “It’s almost dark, our stepmother will surely beat us she cried.
    Her brother was distraught; “I didn’t eat the cardoon. I only took one stalk and sister, that was with your permission. Cut open my stomach and look and you will find only one stalk inside me.”
    So his sister took the scythe which they had used to cut the cardoon and slit open her brother’s stomach and saw that he had been telling the truth. There was only one stalk inside him.
    But then she was filled with anguish because she knew her brother would never rise again, and after washing him and then burying him she prayed; God turn me into a bird who will forever mourn my brother.
    And God took pity on her and granted her wish and she sang,
    Pepukh! Oh Woe!
    Who slew him? I slew him!
    Who washed him? I washed him!
    Who buried him? I buried him!
    The Alevi will tell you that he and the Armenians were like the brother and sister only he will lament that “we didn’t have the decency to bury him.”
    Of course, the Sunni Turks were the cruel stepmother who to this day doesn’t recognize the depth of her depravity.


  9. chumanist says:

    As for the Turks and their thinking about America, one may note the fact that since the officials in Ankara seem to have revisited the relations with TElAviv by restoring their good relations with Arab-neighbours,there have been certain indications that Washington appeared uncomfortable with Turkey’s departure from its old foreign policy tapestry.If that is true,one may get the answer about the Armenian resolution and its clandestine motives perceived by Washington.


  10. samuelburke says:

    “Former CIA and DIA officer Philip Giraldi discusses the usual
    suspects who are calling for war with Iran, the practical limitations
    on the U.S. military’s ability to fight a third concurrent war, the
    ploy of letting Israel start a war with Iran so the U.S. will be
    obligated to finish it, likely U.S. sponsorship of the terrorist
    organization (and former al Qaeda satellite group) Jundallah, birth
    defects in Iraq linked to depleted uranium and the terrible U.S.
    network news shows exemplified by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell’s
    conflicted reporting.”


  11. chumanist says:

    Mr Samuelburke’s argument- regarding the Arab-Israeli settlement that the international community has accepted Israel with its border extension of the post 1967 war- does question the very supremacy of the international law within the parameters of the UN resolutions/conventions.


  12. Don Bacon says:

    “However, what Washington can do is refrain from taking steps that will exacerbate the problem”
    Washington, via executive privilege, has been exacerbating problems around the world, to say the least, so isn’t it refreshing to see the Congress acting independently in foreign policy for once. Power to the people.
    Sure, Turkey’s feelings are hurt, but that’s nothing new in the world, particularly lately with the SecState criticizing major world players including Israel, Iran, China and Russia.


  13. samuelburke says:

    Is There a Mideast Solution?
    by William Pfaff, March 10, 2010
    “There nonetheless might be the ingredients of a miracle in the
    second proposal discussed at the Qatar meeting. In 1947,
    Palestine was partitioned and Israel created by the United
    Nations. Israel today is recognized internationally within its
    1967 borders.
    It is conceivable that the Palestinians could petition the UN, or a
    permanent member of the UN Security Council, to lay before the
    council its duty to complete its unfinished work from 1947: to
    set the borders of the state of Palestine that was meant to be
    jointly created with Israel, and to recognize its sovereignty
    within those borders. The United States, of course, has a veto in
    the Security Council.
    However there is a further consideration. The Security Council in
    1947 acted on the recommendation of the General Assembly. It
    is possible that a Special Session of the General Assembly could
    be convened to address the Palestinian petition.
    There is no veto in the General Assembly. John Whitbeck, the
    international lawyer who first raised this possibility in an article
    published in 2001, says that if “a constructive and principled
    General Assembly Resolution were passed on to the Security
    Council,” an American use of its veto against the Palestinians
    would at the minimum “cost it all remaining regional support
    for its war in Afghanistan.”
    It was, after all, the United States in 1950 that found a way, by
    means of a “Uniting for Peace” resolution in the General
    Assembly, to mobilize the UN’s successful intervention against
    North Korean aggression against South Korea, at a moment
    when Security Council action was blocked by a Soviet veto.”
    (c) 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


  14. DakotabornKansan says:

    “The inhuman power of the lie.” – Boris Pasternak
    Deception on a grand scale during Stalin’s genocide during Soviet collectivization and the terror famine in the Ukraine – no famine was taking place; none had in fact taken place…Stalin’s profound understanding of the possibilities of what Adolph Hitler called the Big Lie.
    “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” – Joseph Stalin
    “Where has that life gone?
    And what has become of all that awful torment
    and torture? Can it really be that
    no one will ever answer for
    everything that happened? That it
    will be forgotten without even
    any words to commemorate it? That
    the grass will grow over it?”
    – Vasily Grossman
    There is nostalgia for Stalin in Russia today. Although few Russians are ignorant of Stalin’s crimes, those who respect him offer justification for his deeds. Critics say that this is partly because not nearly enough has been done to turn the sites of Stalin’s crimes into memorials to his victims. There are very few places in Russia today that honor the memory of those killed by Stalin. Russian heirs of those who sent millions of innocent victims to their deaths.
    “O grave keep shut, lest I be shamed.” – John Masefield


  15. Charles Ward says:

    “This means essentially that Turks disapprove of the United States because of ‘what we do’ in the region rather than the values that make us ‘who we are’.” – No shit Sherlock!


  16. ... says:

    the zio-caine addicts do this without considering how their addiction impacts ordinary people….


  17. JohnH says:

    Maybe Wigwag could enlighten us on the “The Roots of Anti-Turkism in America.” Could it have something to do with Turkey’s criticism of the Goldstone Report?
    And what do the likes of Wigwag hope to accomplish by bashing Turkey other than to release their own pent up bile?


  18. Mr.Murder says:

    Apologies on being perhaps redundant in my conclusion above.
    The fact is that it’s an open and shut case, one backed by precedent.
    Reparations is where this leading to.
    Threaten Israel with reparations. True, our tax dollars will pay most of them, but that is the way to underwrite change effectively.
    Besides, done on a scale these things can address other currency challenges and spread our influence once again in the form of dollars.


  19. WigWag says:

    More on what a wonderfully enlightened society the Turks have created; this is from Hurriyet


  20. Linda says:

    Mr. Murder,
    From LA to GA, there always are reminders of genocide. The Trail of Tears surely qualifies as Andrew Jackson went against a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
    Just north and west of Atlanta there is a lot of that history–including the mansion of John Ross. The Cherokees around here were highly educated and developed a written form of their language. Many chose to assimilate and take on European/American ways. John Ross who was the tribal chief had a Cherokee mother and became the Cherokee chief. He was a businessman and had a warehouse and trading business. But most of his wealth came from his farm in TN that was worked by slaves he owned. If anyone is driving around this area, there are lots of historical sites relted to the Cherokee and Trail of Tears.
    Genocide should be exposed, shouted out, etc. whenever and wherever it occurs.


  21. Mr.Murder says:

    Try a world leader in the World Court. My favorite would be to do it in abstentia. The statute on murder never ends. Try Andrew jackson for the Trail of Tears.
    That would constitue precedent.
    Suddenly a lot of today’s people suddenly have jurisprudence leveraged against their policies….


  22. DakotabornKansan says:

    Our foreign policy has definitely not been driven by morality.
    From the Armenia genocide forward, the extermination of Jews and non-Jews in German occupied Europe, the Cambodian genocide by Khmer Rouge, Saddam Hussein’s gas attacks on the Kurds, Bosnian Serbs execution of Muslims and Croats in Bosnia, the genocide in Rwanda, U.S. foreign policy never saw genocide as a high priority. Instead the cold bureaucracy dealt with more narrowly defined strategic and political concerns and interests.
    How many critical opportunities to try to deter genocide have been missed by this foreign policy?
    How many genocidal perpetrators look at previous genocides, like Hitler – “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” – prior to embarking on the extermination of a targeted group?
    What are the lessons of impunity?
    More narrowly defined strategic and political concerns? – “What Washington can do is refrain from taking steps that will exacerbate the problem. Last week’s Foreign Affairs Committee vote on H.R. 252 will likely strengthen anti-American sentiment across the Turkish political spectrum.”
    “The U.S. government should not be party to efforts to kill the memory of a historical fact as profound and important as the genocide of the Armenians, which Hitler used as an example in his plan for the Holocaust.” – Gregory Stanton, former U.S. State Department official who drafted the United Nations Security Council resolutions that created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda


  23. Mr.Murder says:

    East St.Louis/Dupo,Ill. and a lot Hastert’s voting/lobby block also has that background.


  24. ... says:

    it didn’t help when in 2003 or thereabouts the usa under bush wanted to buy off turkey with 4 or 5 billion so that it could use it’s air space for its war on iraq… i think it was 90% of turkey voted against that… perhaps someone else can go over the details, but it wasn’t lost on anyone how on the one hand the usa likes to talk of democracy, but on the other is willing to pay whatever price is necessary to go over the will of democracy if necessary…


  25. Linda says:

    While I posted most of this earlier today as about the 35th comment on Katcher’s earlier blog on the Armenian Genocide resolutions, I think it may be worthwhile to look at the politics of it.
    I can shed some light on the political importance of this resoluton. It may have great impact on U.S.-Turkey foreign relations, but first and foremost, this is an example of how “all politics are local.”
    When I first lived in LA in 1963, I was puzzled when almost all the gas stations were closed and draped in black bunting on April 24. A native born Armenian-American co-worker (and now a friend of almost 50 years) explained that this annual event was about the Armenian genocide. Since I was neither a political science nor history major, I either never learned about it in school or had forgotten what I learned.
    In So Cal then, most Armenian-Americans were small business owners, mostly owning gas stations and dry cleaning businesses–have no idea why. Their children went to college and now are lawyers, physicians, etc. They all have and know stories of relatives from the genocide and have wanted the international community and the U.S. government to recognize the genocide.
    Just Wiki “Armenian American” for very interesting statistics on demographics. Democrats in CA House delegation (who now chair many influential committees) know this well. Howard Berman’s 28th Congressional District is right next door to Adam Schiff’s 29th district that is probably has the highest concentration of Armenian-Americans of any Congressional district.
    This resolution undoubtedly has international foreign policy implications, but it was passed because of local politics to keep promises made for decades to Armenian-American constituents.


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