With Russian-Turkish tensions mounting, a recent poll finds that the Turkish people see Russia as their greatest threat.
The annual survey on Turkish attitudes carried out by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University shows Russia displacing Israel in the No. 1 spot.
The findings are not surprising, says international relations expert Soli Ozel of Kadir Has, as Turkey’s nationalist and pro-government media continue to target Moscow with accusations of conspiracies against Turkey – the expulsion of a Turkish diplomat from Bulgaria just last month was blamed on Moscow.
“This is a public that gets 85 percent of its news from TVs,” Ozel said. “Given the fact that most TVs repeat the allegations, assertions and thoughts of the government, so long as the government does present the Russians as certainly very inimical to Turkey, and given the fact they did down a plane. Russia would probably take pride of place in terms of Turkey threats.”
Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet operating from a Syrian airbase in November plunged the two countries into crisis. Until then, there had been two decades of deepening relations in trade and tourism, as well as growing numbers of inter-marriages.
‘Good old nasty feeling’
But the historical rivalries always remained, says historian Ayhan Aktar of Istanbul’s Bilgi University.
“There is a good old nasty feeling between those two countries,” Aktar said. “And there have been several military encounters, which Turkey lost all of them. … Then we have the cold war. For ordinary Turks, there was no difference between Russia Empire and the Soviets, it was always Russia. Therefore, there is a basis for this enmity. ”
Aktar argues that historical suspicions by Turkey are not confined to Russia. The current crisis with Moscow, he says, is part of a wider pattern of national insecurity, both within society and the state.
“In any ceremonies, commemorations in schools, you are always hearing that Turkey is surrounded with enemies,” he said. “It could be Greeks, Armenians, Russians, Iranians, whatever you can imagine.”
Moscow’s recent deployment of fighters and bombers in Armenia, Turkey’s neighbor, can only add to Turkey’s unease — something well-known to Moscow, observers say. And considering Turkey’s strained or non-existent diplomatic relations with all its southern neighbors, historical insecurities are likely to intensify.