“Our President’s diplomatic activities constitute the most successful form of public diplomacy, as they yield quick results and convey our message in the most accurate manner.” Director of Communications Fahrettin Altun said, regarding the impact of political leadership on public diplomacy.
Altun answered the questions of Sabah daily about Turkey’s public diplomacy activities and the tasks assumed by the Directorate of Communications in this context.
The Directorate of Communications is a new institution that has not even yet reached its second anniversary. What is the mission assumed by your institution?
Within the framework drawn up by our President, we have set out to strengthen the Turkey brand by further enhancing the relationship between state and nation, contributing to the media sector on behalf of the public, establishing the institutional identity of our state as well as the unity of discourse between state institutions. In addition, the Directorate of Communications also plays a role in countering unfair allegations and black propaganda targeting Turkey. To that end, we are benefiting from the experience of the public and private sector and coordinating the processes. Our focus is on day-to-day crises, problems, developments, strategic communication activities for the short, medium and long term and, lastly, investment in strategic activities.
The Directorate of Communications did not exist before 2018. What were the needs that necessitated its establishment?
Turkey has a political assertion. Our country has become a strong regional actor since 2002. It is also making rapid progress on the path of becoming a global actor. The efforts of those who are disturbed by Turkey’s growth rate and their black propaganda have increased in direct proportion to the growth of our country. The creation of our Directorate is the result of this need.
Can we say that Turkey will no longer be a mere spectator to these methods of propaganda?
Our President has been thinking for a long time that foreign actors have been unfair towards Turkey and deprived the country of its deserved means and has been using the power vested in him by the people to regain their usurped rights. Therefore, he intervenes rather than being a mere spectator to regional developments, also in line with the historical role of Turkey. Our President is striving to increase Turkey’s regional power and make Turkey stronger while also exerting efforts to avoid threats emanating from the region. Every step he takes for our country’s good causes a chain of black propaganda.
Is it Turkey’s free and independent foreign policy lying at the bottom of all this black propaganda?
Our President’s policies reveal an effort to gain independence in two spheres. Unfortunately, Turkey has for many years been compelled to adopt a policy of dependence in the fields of economy and foreign policy. The politics of our President is focused on fighting such dependence. He believes that a free and independent foreign policy and independent economic policy must always be pursued.
What do you think about the focus on President Erdoğan in attacks targeting Turkey?
Within and outside Turkey, they have proposed our President formulas to make Turkey dependent. He rejected all of them. He set a target for the actors in his party and his fellow workers. He endeavored to achieve full foreign policy and economic independence. Turkey can now voice its own truth in foreign policy on all platforms without following suggestions from other countries. Turkey, as a country is waging a great struggle on the path to independence. We had martyrs and veterans. Our nation paid the cost of trying to protect its own will and, amid all economic and political assaults, has patiently supported this fight. Our President, as the leader pursuing these policies, has also incurred significant costs for achieving independence. Both our President and his family were targeted during the Gezi incidents, economic attacks, judicial coup attempt of December 17/25 and, most recently, the treachery of July 15.
What kind of contributions do the duties and activities of the Directorate of Communications make to the healthy functioning of democracy, the institutional language of the state and coordination between institutions?
Communication processes now lie at the heart of politics from a global perspective. At the center of democratic politics lies public opinion. Informing the public opinion accurately is a requirement of democracy. Our President has also attached considerable importance to this matter. During his term as the Mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, our President launched the White Desk as an example of participatory democracy. Bimer and CIMER were later created. These are mechanisms that directly convey society’s problems and suggestions to the government. This Directorate was created to ensure that these mechanisms make stronger accomplishments and the public relations function is more effectively incorporated into the public sector. All of these played a role in the establishment of the Directorate of Communications.
How do you proceed in your communication with the media?
We have a significant relationship with the media. Across the world, mass communication tools are regulated by governments according to certain rules, principles and laws. In addition, in terms of information and logistics, the media sector benefits from the public. We are working to ensure that the media field complies with the law and contributes to democratic politics and participatory democracy, on the one hand, thus becoming really the fourth power, and on the other, to make contributions on behalf of the public to the media sector.
You place a lot of emphasis on the unity of discourse in the State. Could you explain this a little?
One of the most important elements was the establishment of the unity of discourse within the State. If different actors in the State put forward different discourses on an issue, it delivers a negative message to foreign countries. This does not only portray an image of chaos but makes the state vulnerable to foreign interventions. We are trying to prevent this as well. In addition to this, expressing the global leap we have made since 2002, our positive story and our growth story is one of the main tasks of the Directorate of Communications set up with the directive of our President.
Achieving this coordination within the State is a difficult process. Were you able to make progress?
First of all, this structure was established because it was believed that we needed coordination. A very serious adoption and a very positive atmosphere emerged in all of our institutions and organizations regarding this structure. In this sense, while working with all our ministries, directorates and all other related institutions and organizations, we have always encountered the same thoughts. They all think it is fortunate that our President has initiated such a structure. Because when you look at the general framework, everyone is focused on their job, they do their work, they struggle with challenges from abroad, all the while they have to tell the public opinion about their work and shape their work in line with the demands and suggestions coming from the public opinion. This is where the Directorate of Communications comes into play. We have received some serious support and we attach great importance to this support.
Turkey has made great leaps in expressing itself abroad. As the Director of Communications, do you think that we are where we deserve to be?
In this sense, we have covered a lot of ground, but there is more to be done. Since Turkey is a great country, our objectives in this sense are very high. The black propaganda against Turkey is a process that almost all of the great powers seek to create and carry out. This is an element of the siege and the war of attrition against Turkey. We have to struggle constantly and strongly. On the one hand, we are watching and on the other, we are classifying, setting targets and trying to explain ourselves to these targets. Our capacity is increasing day by day. We are striving to create an image befitting Turkey’s reputation. We are struggling domestically to build trust in our nation towards the State, and for Turkey's reputation to reach the place it deserves abroad. This is how we perceive our basic function.
How would you describe Turkey, then?
We are doing whatever is required of us, and we will continue to do so. We use conventional elements of the media, produce films, publish books, and publish articles in different languages. We conduct cultural and art studies in many parts of the world, open exhibitions and organize fashion shows with the asylum seekers’ designs. We are trying to reach the world public opinion with newspaper interviews, digital elements and by using all the potential of social media. However, we certainly do not neglect face-to-face communication. We try to use every traditional and innovative method of communication in order to explain our country’s fight against terrorism in the most accurate way. We are coordinating the works in our country and abroad to ensure that our July 15 resistance remains where it deserves in our collective memory. As the country that hosts the world’s largest number of refugees, we put this issue on the agenda of all internationally respected organizations. We are informing the world public opinion in order for Turkey to receive the respect it deserves in humanitarian aid policy. We are making efforts to counter the narrative about the events of 1915, which are constantly brought up against Turkey. We are trying to use public diplomacy effectively with foreign exchange programs. We are creating a reflex to protect our country from international crises such as the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. With regard to all operations that we undertake to protect our national interests, such as the Peace Spring Operation, we provide the world press with the necessary accurate information and technical infrastructure needed to ensure fair coverage. We carry out many studies with minorities in Turkey and support all feasible projects related to building national unity. We support Parliamentary diplomacy efforts. From nonviolent communication in sports to every element in our daily lives as well as in foreign policy, we try to work with the vision of our President to achieve the position our country deserves.
Mr. President presents the participants with books about Turkey’s perspective on the relevant issue at critical meetings, as we have seen at the Libya summit as well. Do these books achieve their objectives?
Our President, as the highest-ranking head of state, considers those books to reflect “our perspective on the issue,” and thus presents his counterparts with them. So what do we achieve by this? We declare the other side that these are our red lines. We explain our own argument with the right concepts. They don't have to adopt this. But we want our policies and expectations in Syria and Libya to be understood correctly. We do not want some others’ propaganda to be presented as Turkey's argument. Moreover, as an actor who has done his homework and who has a good grasp of the issue in all its dimensions, we face the counterparts with videos and books. This is a very important element.
You often use the concept of leader diplomacy in your speeches. What exactly do you mean? How does this leader diplomacy work?
If you asked me what the most important issue was in public diplomacy, I would say it was the diplomatic activities carried out by our President. I am saying this as the person who has witnessed that himself. Our President’s diplomatic activities constitute the most successful form of public diplomacy, as they yield quick results and convey our message in the most accurate manner. This is leader-to-leader diplomacy. Turkey could have been discussing many other issues today unless he has conducted this leader-to-leader diplomacy with Mr. Trump. Likewise, the results of similar leader-to-leader diplomacy with Mr. Putin are evident. Our President is giving the world almost a lesson of leader-to-leader diplomacy. Let me not give names, but one of the most prominent leaders of the world said to our President the following: “We move forward very quickly with you. You have promised and we have completed many projects with you. We continue to discuss the same issue with some European leaders. This is what strong political leadership means.
How important is strong political leadership in public diplomacy? For example, how is the situation in Europe?
There is a leader crisis, especially in Europe. We see this crisis in decision-making mechanisms. We have seen and continue to see in Turkey what a powerful leader means. We occasionally may not be aware of this opportunity while living in the process. If Turkey had not had a strong leader like Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the turbulence that began in 2010 would have swallowed us up. Despite all these storms, we were able to tip the scales in Turkey’s favor, and it has happened thanks to our President’s leadership. The Operation Peace Spring has been ordered by this strong leadership. It was possible to take a step, which has been opposed by the whole world, but in which our President acted with the "Unless I give this order, I will have to give away some land" approach, and as a result, destroyed that terror corridor. A strong political leader is a leader, who sees what is against his nation and who can take a step to change that without any hesitation, no matter what they say. For example, if our President had not explained the FETO betrayal in the process of December 17/25, Turkey might not have given such an extensive reaction on July 15. This is what leadership means.
Do you see the positive effects of this strong leadership in meetings you attend?
What I'm trying to learn from our President is the following: In any case, no concessions should be made in a situation that would be against our country, and that position should be maintained, whatever it may cost. If you insist on that position, you can see that the other party would be in the same position after a while.
The first comment that is made by journalists traveling with Mr. President would be "We could not keep up with his speed, where does he get his energy from?" Have you ever witnessed that characteristic of him while working together?
As a person who works closely with him, I can clearly say that our President’s supplement and food only consist of his dedication and faith. His result-obtaining leadership leads to his focus on the next step. He deals with very bitter problems. While struggling with attacks on our country, he exerts great efforts in order not to miss the fields of opportunity. On the other hand, he is very happy to be in contact and to come together with his people. Chatting with citizens and greeting them while passing through a place is like a food supplement to our President. We have a leader running and bustling around all the time. There is no need to look for another charm. This is nothing but devotion and faith.