Turkey seeking status through compassion in COVID-19 crisis

Turkey has been busy sending medical supplies to several countries, despite having its own shortages of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

While Ankara may be trying to boost its manufacturing sector and its economy during the pandemic, it is also seeking to boost its status through compassion, an analyst writing for The Conversation said.  

Turkey has sent out medical supplies prepared by its Defence Ministry to nearly 30 countries across the globe, including to Britain, Italy, and Spain.

But the Turkish Medical Association has warned of problems around the availability of PPE, and the opposition Good Party has criticised Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for sending aid abroad at a time when the Turkish government was asking for donations from its own citizens to help combat the coronavirus at home.

But Yaprak Gürsoy, a lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Aston University, said that the pandemic has presented an opportunity to Erdoğan to promote strength at home and repair Turkey’s standing abroad - which had been undermined in recent years by economic crisis, human rights abuses, and foreign policy controversies. 

“The idea of mercy is important in Turkey’s collective identity - and the way the country thinks about itself. Epitomised in the words “peace at home, peace in the world” by the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, benevolence sporadically surfaces in Turkey’s relations with other countries as a benign way to restore self-worth,” Gürsoy said.

Although Erdoğan’s presidential logo was attached to the boxes of the aid, some packages also came with a quote from the 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi – linking the aid to a long tradition of compassion and charity in Islam, that can also be practised in international relations to gain respect, Gürsoy said.

Under Erdoğan’s rule over the past two decades, Turkey has often relied on using global aid as part of extending its soft power in the Muslim world and beyond. Under the coronavirus pandemic, extending this aid to European countries boosts Turkey’s status further.

“Countries like Turkey may find they now have a chance to reinvent themselves in cooperation with the West. Using peaceful means to gain respect on the global stage would not only be beneficial for them but would also give hope for a brighter future in global politics,” Gürsoy said.