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Cablegate: Turkish Youth: Attitudes Toward the U.S., Eu, And

VZCZCXRO5955
RR RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ
DE RUEHAK #3654/01 1721117
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 211117Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6740
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES
RUCNNAF/NORTH AF NEA AND SOUTH ASIAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0672
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA 0897
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0843
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASUY WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 003654

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON SCUL SOCI TU
SUBJECT: TURKISH YOUTH: ATTITUDES TOWARD THE U.S., EU, AND
TURKEY'S WORLD ROLE

REF: (A) ANKARA 3652 (B) ANKARA 3651

ANKARA 00003654 001.2 OF 003


THIS IS THE THIRD IN A SERIES OF THREE CABLES ABOUT TURKISH
YOUTH COMPILED BY FIRST- AND SECOND-TOUR OFFICERS THROUGHOUT
MISSION TURKEY.

1. (SBU) Summary: Accounting for an overwhelming majority of
the population, the under-35 cohort will play a major role in
shaping Turkey's political future. We met with young people
from throughout Turkey to gauge their opinions on the United
States, Turkey's bid to join the European Union, and Turkey's
role in the Middle East. Turkish youth view the U.S. in much
the same way as the rest of the Turkish public. Overall, our
outreach has found that young Turks are divided on the topic
of EU membership but support an activist role for Turkey in
the Middle East. Youth opinions of the U.S. are increasingly
unfavorable. End Summary.

--------------------------------------
Youth Anti-Americanism on the Increase
--------------------------------------

2. (SBU) According to an April 2006 Infakto opinion poll,
Turkish youth have a slightly more "positive opinion about
Americans" than Turkish citizens at large (53% vs. 47%).
When asked, however, whether they have a "positive opinion
about the U.S.," these numbers fall to 29% for youth, and 28%
for voters at large. This reflects a more positive attitude
toward Americans as people than toward U.S. government policy.

3. (SBU) Both Infakto polling and our own interactions with
Turkish youth suggest that those who have been to the U.S.
criticize the country and its politics, but have warm
feelings for Americans themselves. Those who have not been
to the U.S. perceive the country negatively, and also have
misgivings, though to a lesser extent, about its people. We
found that the line most repeated in meetings and casual
encounters alike is, "we really like Americans, but we don't
like the American government." This disjuncture between how
youth perceive the U.S. as a country, and how they perceive
U.S. citizens as people, constantly resurfaced in our
meetings with youth in both Istanbul and Ankara, and tracks
with Turkish public opinion overall.

4. (SBU) These negative views are not only found in large
cities. An English Language Fellow (ELF) working in the
Black Sea city of Trabzon told us that ten years ago, her
students equated America with "Hollywood," "freedom," "a
place full of opportunity," and "a place to make dreams come
true." Today, however, their view of America has shifted,
bringing to mind "war," "death," "racial profiling,"
"oppressive government," and "lack of religious freedom." An
ELF working in the Central Anatolian city of Eskisehir told
us that her students, who have actually interacted with
Americans, had favorable opinions, but also believed there
were "bad" Americans.

5. (SBU) This poor perception of the U.S. as a country is a
reflection of young Turks, generally pessimistic assessment
of current and future relations between the U.S. and Turkey.
85% believe that "relations with the U.S. will worsen," and
81% believe that "the U.S. is unfair towards Turkey." Most
disconcertingly, 45% of young Turks believe that "Turkey and
the U.S. are gradually going towards a war," versus 40% of
voters at large.

6. (SBU) Despite these negative views of the U.S. and the
bilateral relationship, the ELFs were quick to point out that
many of their students hope to pursue educational
opportunities in the U.S. Ankara and Istanbul's student visa
and student-work-travel applicant numbers confirm this. From
January 1, 2006 through May 15, 2006, 5,903 students applied
to participate in the student-work-travel program. From June
1, 2005 through June 1, 2006, 3,144 students applied for F-1
visas in Ankara, and 3,975 students applied for J-1 visas in
Ankara.

-------------------------------------------
Rooting Out the Cause of Negative Attitudes
-------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) When we asked young Turks about the roots of their
misgivings about the U.S., the overwhelming majority pointed
to the war in Iraq. The ELF in Eskisehir noted that her
students placed the blame for the Iraq war entirely on the

ANKARA 00003654 002.2 OF 003


U.S., never mentioning Saddam or the other coalition forces
involved. Members of the executive board of the Anatolian
Young Leaders, a political movement with over 4,000 members
spread throughout Turkey, suggested to us that long-standing
hostility to the war has been reinforced by several factors,
including the Turkish movie, "Valley of the Wolves," which
depicts atrocious behavior by the U.S. military in Iraq; the
Abu Graib prisoner-abuse scandal; the incident in Suleymaniye
where U.S. soldiers placed hoods over Turkish soldiers,
heads; and finally, a sense that the U.S. does not do enough
to curtail the PKK in northern Iraq.

8. (SBU) On the flip side, one factor that had led to
positive feelings about the U.S. in the past - the 1999
capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, widely attributed to
the U.S. - has largely faded. While some youth are aware of
other areas of cooperation, including U.S. support for
Turkey's EU membership, U.S. military and economic
assistance, and U.S. support after the 1999 Kocaeli
earthquake, these have not been sufficient to offset the
negatives stemming from Iraq.

9. (SBU) According to the Infakto poll, young Turks,
opinions on these issues generally do not diverge
significantly from the opinion of voters at large, with two
exceptions. First, only 20% of young Turks see Turkey's
military role in NATO as helping relations, in contrast to
25% of voters at large. Second, 40% of young Turks see U.S.
support for EU accession as significant, in contrast to only
33% of voters at large. EU accession is therefore one of the
principal differences in foreign policy views between
different age groups within Turkey, and deserves particular
attention.

---------------------------------
EU Accession: Shifting Goal Posts
---------------------------------

10. (SBU) In general, we found that Turkish youth are more
enthusiastic about EU membership than Turkish voters at
large. According to the Infakto poll, Turkish youth are more
likely than Turkish voters to favor full membership, are more
likely to believe that membership will bring personal
advantages, and are more likely to describe EU membership as
"something good." Many of the young Turks we met with were
quick to point out that, even if Turkey does not achieve full
membership, the country will still benefit from the
EU-mandated reform package now underway. As one Istanbul
student put it, "the EU is a tool for development, and Turkey
will benefit even if it does not become a member."

11. (SBU) Despite positive feelings about possible benefits
of EU reforms, Turkish youth also fear that EU membership
would mean losing part of their country's tradition and
culture. Several students in Istanbul and the southwestern
city of Mugla expressed frustration over the EU process,
saying that they felt that Europeans would not accept Muslims
and that EU members feared that too many Turks would move to
their countries. Youth suspicion of the EU also may arise
from a sense that the EU has been moving the goal posts of
accession in its negotiations with Turkey. One member of the
Anatolian Young Leaders commented that "the EU is not
sincere, and is adding requirements like solving Cyprus to
the Copenhagen criteria." Youth have been one of the key
support blocks within Turkish society for EU membership. If
its most vocal supporters lose enthusiasm, this could erode
the national conviction sustaining what will be a lengthy
process.

--------------------------
Turkey's Geopolitical Role
--------------------------

12. (SBU) Turkish youth also express the belief that Turkey
can play an important role in advancing the democratic agenda
in the Middle East. In this vein, young Turks proudly talk
about Turkey's co-leadership (with Spain) of the
U.N.-initiated "Alliance of Civilizations." They see this
initiative as acknowledging the central regional and
geo-political role that Turkey can play as a bridge-building
gateway between the east and the west.

-------
Comment
-------

ANKARA 00003654 003.2 OF 003

13. (SBU) With deep-rooted public hostility to the Iraq war,
we face an uphill public relations challenge with Turkish
youth, as with other parts of the population. As one woman
in her early twenties put it in conversation, "in two years,
we have lost the trust between Turkey and the U.S. that was
accumulated over many years." Finding the tools to reverse
this trend and stress the broad scope of the U.S.-Turkey
relationship remains the mission's priority. It is likely,
however, that only stability in Iraq and addressing the issue
of the PKK presence there will bring the sea change in
attitudes we seek.

Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/ankara/

WILSON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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