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The Shape and Sustainability of Turkey’s Booming Humanitarian Assistance

La structure et la durabilité du système d’aide humanitaire actuel de la Turquie
La forma y la sostenibilidad del modelo de asistencia humanitaria vigente en Turquía
Andrea Binder

Abstracts

With several rising powers emerging as new actors on the humanitarian scene, viewing all ‘emerging donors’ as a homogenous group inevitably undermines efforts to constructively engage with them. With Turkey’s widely recognized engagement in Somalia and Syria, the country merits a nuanced analysis. How does it conceptualize humanitarian assistance? What norms and interests shape its humanitarian engagement? How is such an engagement financed and organized? Thoroughly evaluating how foreign and domestic agendas shape Turkey’s humanitarian engagement, the paper details how Ankara designs and implements its humanitarian assistance. The collaborative relationship between the government, faith-based businesses, and the religious segment of a generally deeply divided civil society emerges as a unique feature of Turkey’s humanitarian assistance. This set-up calls for an informed approach towards working with specific Turkish actors. It also questions the sustainability and scalability of current aid levels.

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Author's notes

This article has been published in a longer version as a conference paper: Binder and Erten (2013) – From Dwarf to Giant — Turkey’s Contemporary Humanitarian Assistance. Paper Presented at the World Conference on Humanitarian Studies: Human Security - Humanitarian Perspectives, Istanbul, 24-27 October 2013, http://www.gppi.net/fileadmin/media/pub/2013/binder-erten_2013_event_turkey-humanitarian-perspectives.pdf (last accessed: 14 January 2014).

Full text

The author thanks the two peer reviewers for their helpful and constructive feedback; Ceyda Erten and Andras Horvath for their excellent research support; Gülistan Gürbey of the Free University, Berlin for her important insights into Turkish politics and society at an early stage of the research, and Ronald Ofteringer of the ICRC for his helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

1. Introduction

1Turkey’s speedy evolution into the world’s fourth largest humanitarian donor in 2012 (Malerba, Jump et al., 2013, 36) has been accompanied by admiration and awe among international policy-makers, humanitarian practitioners, and journalists. The country’s number one humanitarian feat has been its humanitarian engagement in Somalia. Ever since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Mogadishu in August 2011 — at a time when most international actors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and governments were avoiding it — Turkey’s daring assistance to the East African country has been keeping the international aid community on its toes, for the country continued its aid, steadfastly, even after the loss of six Turkish embassy employees in an attack by the terrorist group Al-Shabab in July 2013.1 Truth be told, in Somalia the Turkish stay and deliver.2 Turkey’s humanitarian engagement in Somalia has been, however, dwarfed by its response to the Syrian crisis. As a neighbouring country, Turkey pursues an open-door policy towards Syrian refugees.To date, the country hosts about 201,000 registered refugees across 21 camps, and another estimated 350,000 Syrians are residing in various Turkish cities.3 Other humanitarian donors and agencies applaud the camps as professionally managed and up to international standards.4 As part of the response to the Syrian crisis, Turkey also developed the so-called “zero point delivery”. That is, Türk Kizilayi, the Turkish Red Crescent (TRC), hands over all aid at a zero point at the Turkish-Syrian border to local NGOs or local councils. Other humanitarian donors can contact the Turkish government to transfer their humanitarian goods at the zero point to a Syrian humanitarian actor of their choice. Within the humanitarian community, there are mixed opinions as to this innovation. While some laud the efficient coordination of aid by the Turkish government and Kizilay, others voice concern that there is no control over where the goods go once they are handed over. The approach cannot guarantee that the goods reach the population in need and that they do not end up in the hands of the parties to the conflict.5

  • 6  “UN General Assembly: Turkey announced as host of 2016 World Humanitarian Summit”, UN OCHA, 26 Sep (...)

2In parallel to the responses to the Somali and Syrian crises, Turkey also puts energy and resources into humanitarian assistance to Pakistan and Myanmar. Recognizing that Turkey has thus become a prominent humanitarian donor in recent years, the United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has announced Turkey to be the host of the first World Humanitarian Summit, which will take place in 2016.6 Yet, so far, we know little about Turkey’s rapidly increasing humanitarian engagement. Which are the norms and interests that inform its humanitarian approach? Who are the key actors? How does Turkey position itself towards humanitarian principles, needs-based assistance, and humanitarian coordination? Can we expect Turkey to sustain its current level of humanitarian engagement in the years to come?

3Following Robert Putnam’s assessment that domestic and international imperatives simultaneously shape a country’s foreign policy (Putnam, 1988),this article first analyses the most important foreign and domestic policy issues and actors influencing Turkish humanitarian assistance. In a second step, it compares the resulting conception and scope of current Turkish humanitarianism with international standards. The conclusion then looks at the sustainability of the Turkish engagement.

4The paper builds mainly on primary resources. This includes 15 interviews and informal conversations in Turkey with representatives of the government, academics, NGOs, parliamentarians, and international humanitarian actors. The interviewees were mainly selected on the basis of who can knowledgably speak about Turkish humanitarian assistance in the political context of Turkey, and it is important to note that the number of experts on the issue in Turkey is limited. The selection included critical as well as supportive voices regarding Turkey’s humanitarian policies. The paper also relies on thorough analyses of newspaper articles in Turkish and English, international organizations’ commentaries, and on governmental and NGOs’ annual reports. Finally, the paper builds on other existing research into Turkey’s humanitarian assistance.

2. Turkish Humanitarian Donorship in the Context of Foreign and Domestic Politics

  • 7  Cf. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 46/182, dated 19.12.1991, for download at http://ww (...)
  • 8  Interview with government staff responsible for OECD/DAC reporting, Ankara, October 2012.

5The following section analyses central themes of Turkish foreign and domestic policy and how they relate to the country’s humanitarian assistance. To see how international and internal politics shape humanitarianism, it is crucial to consider how the Turkish people and government conceive of such assistance. Generally, the Turkish conception of humanitarian assistance is much broader than that which most international actors would see as the confines of humanitarianism: saving lives and alleviating suffering of crisis-affected populations.7 The Turkish public considers all internal and external aid that is motivated by a sense of human sympathy as “humanitarian aid.” Humanitarian and development assistance are therefore often discussed in conjunction with each other. Even peace-building is seen as part of the humanitarian “portfolio” (cf. Amar, 2012; Atalay, 2013). Nonetheless, the Turkish elite that designs and executes official humanitarian assistance is aware of the difference between the domestic and the international mainstream definition of humanitarian assistance. For example, the government duly reports development and humanitarian aid flows separately to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and has two separately mandated government agencies for development and humanitarian aid (section 3).8The remainder of the paper focuses exclusively on Turkey’s humanitarian assistance in the narrower, internationally used sense.

Turkey in the International Arena

6Since the end of the Cold War, Turkey’s foreign policy has undergone a massive shift. Originally cautious and almost exclusively directed at Western allies, it evolved into an expansionist approach. Growing confidence in the country’s strategically important geographical location between Europe, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, and a re-emerging emphasis on Turkey’s Ottoman past, facilitated this development. The expansionist agenda is driven by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has held power in Turkey since 2002. Breaking with the traditional inward-looking approach of “peace at home, peace in the world”, a phrase coined by Kemal Atatürk,9 the AKP’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, is striving to establish Turkey as an influential regional and global player (Ozkececi Taner, 2012).

7As a result, Turkey’s growing foreign policy ambitions stretch beyond its immediate neighbourhood. The country’s expansion into Central Asia started in the 1980s, when then-president Turgut Ozal attempted to form a “Turkic Union”, the cultural and political unification of all Turkic-speaking people. While this aspiration failed, Turkey continues its engagement with the region through development assistance and conflict mediation (Ozkececi Taner, 2012). In some ways, the old ethnic idea of a pan-Turkic unity found its religious equivalent in the concept of ummah that guides the AKP’s foreign policy these days. Ummah is the Arabic word for nation and is used to describe the entire community of Muslims, bound together by their shared belief (Atalay, 2013, 167). The idea of ummah comprises all different branches of Islam. Accordingly, Erdogan expresses a responsibility towards all Muslim peoples around the world:

“The AKP is not just Turkey's party, but a world party. […] From Mogadishu to Sarajevo, from Damascus to Skopje, from Sanaa to Bishkek, from Abu Dhabi to Islamabad, from Gaza to Benghazi, from Pristina to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - wherever there is a victim in the world, the AKP is at its side. […] This is the kind of party we are.”10

8The AKP’s ideational expansionism is reflected and sustained by Turkey’s steady economic growth. Between 2002 and 2012, per capita income rose from USD 8,630 to USD 18,19011 and gross domestic product (GDP) from USD 232 billion to USD 789 billion.12 This remarkable increase makes Turkey the largest economy in the Middle East in terms of total GDP, surpassing even the Gulf States including Saudi Arabia.13 In combination, the ideational and economic expansions are the backbone of Turkey’s growing influence in regional and global affairs. Whether its rise is met abroad with cheers or with fears depends on the historical and cultural legacy of Turkey in the respective country in question. After all, Turkey can look back on a long history of regional rivalry and centuries-long rule as the Ottoman Empire in south-eastern Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. Strategically, the AKP shapes its expansion by opening up the country towards the world while invoking cultural, ethnic, and religious motifs (Ozkececi Taner, 2012). This intentional ambiguity aims to reconcile the demands of different domestic audiences and to soften the growing scepticism towards Turkish aspirations in Europe, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and — most recently — Africa.

9The approach to positioning the country amidst two fronts is a delicate balancing act, as it becomes difficult for partners to anticipate the country’s foreign policy behaviour. For instance, in past years Turkey pushed for a closer relationship with Iran, while claiming to uphold its close ties with the United States, causing irritation in Washington. Furthermore, Turkey has by no means become the most influential player in any of the regions it engages in. Russia maintains a strong influence over the South Caucasus, while Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel are crucial powers in the political gamble in the Middle East. In Africa, different European powers and China retain important influence. Moreover, the volatile post-Arab Spring situations in Syria, Egypt, and Libya made Turkey’s previously so promising “zero problems with neighbours” philosophy fail (Hounshell, 2010). In other words, despite the country’s growing economic and political weight, there remains a considerable gap between Turkey’s ambitions and its actual global influence.

Domestic Dynamics Affecting Turkey’s Humanitarianism

10As in foreign affairs, Turkey’s domestic politics are shaped by the rule of the AKP, a party with close connections to Sunni Islam. The AKP’s rise to power in 2002 signalled a shift and new thinking in formerly strongly secular Turkish politics. For example, the above described ummah approach would have been unthinkable in Turkey before the AKP came to power. Since its first victory in the polls, the AKP has obtained an absolute majority in the Turkish parliament at three consecutive elections. Erdogan’s rise to power was possible because the AKP joined forces with Fettullah Gülen a writer, preacher, former imam, and member of Turkey’s wealthy elite and his followers. The so-called ‘Gülen Movement’ is an independent, domestically and internationally active movement promoting the idea of hizmet, or social service.14 Operating from the United States, the structure of this massive network has not been formalized, or at least remains unknown to the public. AKP and the Gülenists joined forces to push back, often by means defying the rule of law, the influence of the military and secular forces on state affairs, thereby collectively consolidating the AKP’s power (Rodrik, 2014).15 The opposition in Turkey is made up of the Kemalist, centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP); the nationalist, centre-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP); and the Kurdish-nationalist, leftist Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The political divergence between these three parties further diminishes the opposition’s influence in the government-dominated legislative system.

  • 16  For example: “Turkish PM faces EU leaders’ criticism.“ Al Jazeera, 22 January 2014, http://www.alj (...)
  • 17  “Turkey divided more than ever by Erdogan’s Gezi Park crackdown”, The Guardian, 20 June 2013, http (...)
  • 18  “Kommunalwahlen in der Türkei: Ministerpräsident Erdogan als Alleinherrscher?”, Euractive, 02 Apri (...)

11Yet, throughout 2013 and in early 2014 a growing public disapproval of the AKP’s single majority rule came to the fore. A number of public protests and anti-government demonstrations erupted during that period. Erdogan’s government has met the demonstrations with police violence, drawing harsh international criticism.16 The most problematic consequence of the unapologetic government response, however, is the widening rifts in Turkey’s society.17 The fault lines run between a liberal-, laic-, mostly urban- and a nationalist-, religious-conservative elite, whose stronghold is in rural areas. However, since December 2013 the religious-conservative camp has also become divided through a fierce and public power struggle between the former allies Erdogan and Gülen. For a couple of months it looked as if scandal-ridden Erdogan, who reacted to criticism from within the conservative camp as fiercely as he reacted to the protestors, would lose the struggle. However, he again came out of the March 2014 local elections victorious, ending the power struggle within the religious-conservative camp.18

12The divisions within Turkish society are reflected by the landscape of its humanitarian civil society organizations.19 Unlike in most traditional donor countries, business organizations play a large role in Turkish civil society and politics (Atli, 2011) and have also started to influence the country’s humanitarian assistance. The oldest and most prominent of these groups is the laic Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (TUSIAD). With the growing influence of Islam in Turkish society and politics, the Association of Independent Industrialists and Businessmen (MUSIAD) has emerged as an alternative representation of Turkish business interests. MUSIAD supports and lobbies the AKP government regarding foreign economic policy (Yankaya, 2009) and humanitarian assistance. Next to the conservative business community, the powerful Gülen Movement is also a driving force in the humanitarian sector.20 It finances a number of non-profit organizations (see below) (Koc, 2008).

13These three central humanitarian actors — the AKP-led government, the conservative business community, and the Gülen Movement — form a power triangle with the government as the most prominent pole. Although this power triangle has come under strong pressure due to the struggle between Erdoganists and Gülenists, it remains — for the time being at least — the basis of Turkish humanitarian assistance.

3. Actors and Institutions of Turkish Humanitarian Assistance

14The following paragraphs zoom in on the different actors and institutional set-ups of Turkish humanitarian assistance: the government, the Turkish Red Crescent, and civil society organizations and their implementation partners.

The AKP Government

  • 21 Interviews with TIKA and AFAD officials, Ankara, October 2012.

15Within the Turkish government, responsibility for humanitarian assistance is located at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD). To a limited degree, the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) also implements humanitarian projects, although its primary mandate is development assistance. Confusion regarding TIKA and AFAD’s distinct roles prevails among international observers, as the Turkish government at times lumps together humanitarian and development issues in public statements. Nevertheless, TIKA’s mandate focuses distinctly on development work, and AFAD is the responsible institution for humanitarian assistance.21

16The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is concerned with the political aspects of incoming and outgoing humanitarian assistance, such as funding decisions or political coordination with affected governments, other donor governments, and international organizations. For this purpose, the ministry maintains a small department with two full-time equivalent staff that coordinates all incoming and outgoing external humanitarian assistance on the political level. This department delegates external humanitarian assistance to be implemented directly by the government’s line ministries (agriculture, health, public works, etc.) and Turkish Red Crescent. The embassies initiate a humanitarian response by Turkey, giving recommendations on where, how, and when Turkey should become active. They act only on the basis of appeals by the governments of affected states or by international organizations.

  • 22  Interviews with representatives of the Turkish government, Ankara, October 2012.
  • 23 “AKP proposes its version of presidential system“, Hurriyet Daily News, 22 November 2012, http://ww (...)

17AFAD is mainly concerned with internal disaster response but coordinates external humanitarian assistance on the operational level and in close coordination with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. AFAD is a rather young organization. It was established in 2009 when three different departments were merged under the responsibility of three different ministries.22 This effort is likely the result of both efficiency considerations and the AKP’s vision of changing the Turkish political system from parliamentary to presidential rule, which is also reflected in the party’s position on the current constitutional renegotiation process.23 This set-up is prone to power politics. The Turkish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, traditionally and legally a strong political player, might be wary of the growing influence of the Prime Ministry. This could hamper the coordination between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and AFAD. However, since the AKP holds the absolute majority, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister belong to the same party and coordination appears to be smooth. However, this arrangement could change quickly under a coalition government.

The Turkish Red Crescent

  • 24  Interviews with an employee of the Turkish government and with a representative of AFAD. Ankara, O (...)
  • 25  Telephone interview with a field representative of a UN agency, November 2013.
  • 26  Interview with a representative of a western donor government, Ankara, September 2013.
  • 27 Interview with a representative of the Turkish Red Crescent, Ankara, September  2013, and “Turkish (...)

18The government implements its humanitarian aid partially through the staff of its line ministries, as is the case for agriculture or health, and partially through a close collaboration with the Turkish Red Crescent.24 The Turkish Red Crescent has a good operational reputation,25 but is also said to be very close to the government. An interviewee who wished to remain anonymous noted that “if the international community were to give financial support to the Turkish Red Crescent’s efforts in the Syrian crisis, it would be no different to providing this money directly to the Turkish government.”26 Besides its extensive domestic mandate, the organization’s global reach has been steadily expanding in recent years. Between 2007 and 2012, the Turkish Red Crescent provided humanitarian aid to 70 countries. In 2012, the organization delivered USD 2.5 billion of humanitarian aid.27 Implementing through its own employees and maintaining close ties with the Turkish Red Crescent gives the government first-hand information about developments and operational challenges in the respective crises. At a time in which humanitarian assistance is marked by ever longer supply chains, the direct exposure of Turkish experts to field realities is certainly a comparative advantage.

Non-governmental Organisations

19The conservative business community finances like-minded humanitarian NGOs, such as the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH). IHH is, internationally, the best known Turkish humanitarian NGO. However, it has an ambiguous reputation, which makes it difficult to grasp the organization’s true normative basis. For example, IHH was involved in the Gaza Flotilla incident and is leading the effort to develop a code of conduct for Islamic humanitarian organizations on behalf of the International Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The draft texts of an OIC “Charter of Islamic Charitable Action” are informed by religious principles, but these are more often than not comparable to and compatible with the mainstream principles of humanitarian action as covered for example in the Red Cross NGO Code of Conduct of 1994 (Ofteringer, 2013). Equally, the Gülen Movement has its own like-minded charities. Kimse Yok Mu, meaning “Does anybody care?” stands out as one of the internationally better known organizations. It has a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Both IHH and Kimse Yok Mu are strongly involved in the Syrian cross-border response (Bahad Dincer, Federici et al., 2013).28

  • 29  Telephone interview with a field representative of a UN agency, November 2013.

20Whether funded by and aligned with the conservative business community or the Gülen Movement, the majority of Turkish humanitarian NGOs are faith-based. That is, they are “formal organizations whose identity and mission are self-consciously derived from the teachings of one or more religious or spiritual traditions, [operating] on a nonprofit, independent, voluntary basis to promote and realize collectively articulated ideas about the public good at the national or international level” (Berger, 2003, 1). Starting in the mid-1990s and increasing their scope during AKP rule, pro-Islamic civil society organizations are on the rise in Turkey. Especially since 2002, Turkish faith-based organizations have adopted globally-oriented policies (Atalay, 2013, 165). The strong role of faith-based organizations in Turkish humanitarianism can thus be seen as “a reflection of Turkey’s domestic NGO texture, which has become part of the texture of humanitarian efforts.”29

  • 30  Informal conversation with a representative of secular NGOs, Istanbul, October 2013; telephone int (...)

21In combination, the AKP, the conservative business community, and the Gülen Movement, together with their respective operational partners, are knit into a conservative triangle that finances and implements Turkish humanitarian assistance. It is this triangle that shaped and pushed Turkey’s official humanitarian assistance and thus saw the country become the fourth largest humanitarian donor worldwide. The few laic humanitarian organizations, such as Support to Life (STL), Mavi Kalem, and Mahalle Afet Gonulluleri Vakfi, as well as parliamentarians from the opposition and laic businesses, have difficulties accessing this triangle.30 As a result, Turkish humanitarian assistance from civil society organizations lacks plurality.

4. The Turkish Conception and Scope of Humanitarian Assistance: A Comparative Analysis

22This final paragraph analyzes the conception and scope of Turkish humanitarian assistance in comparison to internationally propagated standards. It looks at Turkey’s position vis-à-vis the humanitarian principles, the scope and modalities of Turkey’s operations, and the notion of needs-based humanitarianism, as well as the country’s position with regards to coordination and cooperation.

The Humanitarian Principles

23The Turkish government does not have an official policy outlining priorities and principles for humanitarian assistance. Nonetheless, various official sources emphasize that Turkish humanitarian assistance is impartial, needs-driven, and internationally coordinated.31 In the words of deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag:

  • 32  “Yozgat’a Gider Gibi Somali’ye Gidiyorum”, Milliyet, Fikret Bila, 02 August 2013, http://siyaset.m (...)

“Turkey’s efforts [in Somalia] are thoroughly humanitarian. […]. I am concerned with humanitarian concerns of Somalis as much as with those of the people of my hometown Yozgat. This attention is not at all political. We are neither close to, nor far from any sides in Somalia. While holding equal distance to all, we deal with Somalia’s hunger, health, education issues as a humanitarian duty and a responsibility driven by our conscience.”32

  • 33  Interview with a government employee, Ankara, October 2012.
  • 34  Interview with a government representative, Ankara, October 2012.
  • 35  Interview with a government representative, Ankara, October 2012.

24Despite this kind of rhetoric, the AKP government avoids formally supporting the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, independence, and neutrality. “No one will tell you this officially, but our scepticism towards humanitarian principles is primarily influenced by the conflict with the Kurds,” a Turkish employee of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs confided to the author in an off-the-record conversation.33 Over decades, Ankara refused to consider the armed conflict with the Kurdish Workers’ Party, Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK), as a situation to which the rules of international humanitarian law would apply. This has complicated its relations with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and undermined an unconstrained stance towards the principle of “impartiality”. At the same time, the Turkish Red Crescent denied, in an interview, any government scepticism regarding impartiality.34 In any case, bar the affirmation of General Assembly Resolution 46/182 the UN’s founding humanitarian document the AKP consciously avoids any further international commitment to humanitarian principles.35 Typically, the AKP government handles humanitarian principles by alluding to them in public statements while avoiding direct reference to them in any official document. This attitude reflects the intentional ambiguity that characterizes the country’s foreign policy. That is, while scepticism towards humanitarian principles is prevalent among most emerging donors (Binder and Meier, 2011), the underlying reason, in Turkey, is markedly different due to the conflict with the Kurds. The question of humanitarian principles is, for Turkey, much more political than it is, say, for Brazil or India (cf. Meier and Murthy, 2011; Stuenkel and Mello, forthcoming).

Scope and Aid Modalities

25The most significant activity of any humanitarian donor is providing resources. The volume and modalities cash or in-kind; unilateral, bilateral, or multilateral; non-earmarked or earmarked of these resources say a great deal about the nature of a donor. Yet, financial data on humanitarian assistance is chronically unreliable. The following discussion of official Turkish humanitarian assistance therefore focuses only on the grand trends.

  • 36  AidFlows data by the OECD, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Inter-American Deve (...)
  • 37  This is in contrast to internal humanitarian assistance and development aid, both of which have de (...)
  • 38  Interview with a Turkish government representative, Ankara, September, 2012.

26Turkey became the fourth largest international humanitarian donor in 2012 with much fanfare. Yet, a closer look at the data suggests that it would be premature to extrapolate continuous growth of Turkey’s humanitarian engagement, and this for three reasons. First, Turkish aid developed in an erratic rather than in a linear way. It peaked with the 2005 Kashmir earthquake at USD 179 million and hovered between USD 30 million and USD 50 million in the years 20072009. From 2010 onwards it rose again from USD 148 million to reach USD 1.04 billion in 2012.36 This fluctuation reflects the fact that there is no dedicated government budget line37 for humanitarian assistance and that “limited humanitarian capacities necessitate the focus on one, maximum two, international crises per year.”38

27Second, Turkey’s massive assistance to Syrian refugees on its own territory drives up the numbers for 2012 and 2013. According to OECD/DAC criteria, however, countries receiving refugees may only report assistance to refugees as humanitarian assistance during the first 12 months of the refugees’ stay.39 Depending on the development of the Syrian refugee crisis over the years to come, Turkey’s reported humanitarian assistance volume might drop or increase.

28Third, the government’s own resources are regularly supplemented with private cash contributions. That is, the Turkish public donates money to the government for humanitarian purposes. These private contributions are collected through government-organized TV shows, so called telethons, and public announcements inviting donations, both of which measures are always remarkably successful.40 While it may appear odd to tax payers in the West that the citizens of Turkey contribute cash donations to state-led humanitarian assistance, telethons are a common practice not only in Turkey, but all over the Middle East (Al-Yahya and Fustier, 2011). Moreover, Turkish socio-political culture historically favours a large public sector over civil society engagement.41 The latest telethon, launched in December 2012, aimed to support Syrian refugees in Turkey.As Figure 3.2.1 shows, the share of humanitarian resources generated through telethons regularly surpasses allocations from the government budget. Therefore, whether the Turkish government can sustain or further increase its current aid levels depends to a significant degree on the willingness of the Turkish people to donate.

Fig. 1 – Share of government budget and telephons 2015-2012 in current USD

Year assistance provided

Crisis

Budgetary allocation

Telethons

Total

2005

Indian Ocean tsunami

USD 7 million

USD 44 million

USD 51 million

2005

Kashmir earthquake

USD 100 million

USD 75 million

USD 175 million

2010

Pakistan floods

USD 31 million

USD 130 million

USD 161 million

2011

Somalia

USD 49 million

USD 360 million

USD 409 million

2012

Syrian refugee crisis

n/a

n/a

USD 550 million

Source: Own compilation from MFA/TIKA/AFAD annual reports, FTS, official statements, open source articles

  • 42  Interview with a Turkish academic, Ankara, October, 2012.

29The larger part of official Turkish humanitarian assistance is unilateral and in-kind. Despite this strong focus on unilateral aid, Turkey also gives multilaterally. The main share of multilateral aid goes to the World Food Program (WFP), the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), and the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). WFP and UNHCR have a long-time presence in Turkey. According to an interviewee, WFP also purchases five percent of its food products in Turkey.42

Needs-based Humanitarian Assistance

  • 43  Interview with a Turkish government official, Ankara, October, 2012. See also: “Turkish internatio (...)
  • 44  “Press Release Regarding The Humanitarian Aid To Pakistan”, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 08 June (...)

30When it comes to needs-based humanitarian assistance, Turkey is frank about the influence of foreign policy considerations on resource allocation: “Turkey helps where need arises, but need is not enough to determine an allocation, the donation must also further Turkey’s relations with the specific country in line with our foreign policy interests.”43 That is, the government consciously uses humanitarian assistance to strengthen bilateral relations with governments of affected states. For example, it considers humanitarian aid to Pakistan a “natural manifestation of our excellent bilateral relations with friendly and brotherly Pakistan.”44 It is also used to living up to expectations of international solidarity and problem solving initiatives that come with the status of being a “rising power.” The Turkish government welcomes being called an “emerging donor”, a term that other rising powers, such as India, reject as dismissive (cf. Meier and Murthy, 2011). The status of being emerging, and thus increasingly significant and influential, plays a decisive role in Turkey’s identity as a self-confident international actor (Gül, 2008; Binder, Meier et al., 2010).

  • 45  Interview with a representative of the Turkish Red Crescent, Ankara, August 2013.

31While this approach, which is shared more or less overtly by most government donors, may lead Turkey to privilege one country over another in the donation of aid, it says little about a potential discrimination against certain population groups within a given crisis. Incidentally, recipient countries of Turkish humanitarian aid are predominantly Muslim. The central Turkish humanitarian actors the AKP, the Muslim business community, the Gülen Movement, and faith-based humanitarian organizations feel strongly connected to Islam. Does this lead to a partiality towards Muslim victims or towards a specific branch of Islam within a given crisis? There is no evidence that would support such a suspicion, and the Turkish government clearly states that it does not provide aid on the basis of religious affiliation. However, it is worth noting that the key crises that exemplify Turkish humanitarian assistance Bosnia, the Kashmir earthquake, the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, Somalia, and Syria all are crisis situations that were and are marked by limited Western efforts to find effective political solutions or sufficient humanitarian assistance to predominantly Muslim populations. This lacking Western attention thus provides a credible justification for the Turkish government to fill the gap and focus on Muslim populations affected by war and disaster.45

International Cooperation and Coordination

  • 46  Interview with a Turkish government official, Ankara, October, 2012.
  • 47 See for example: “Cooperation protocol has been signed with the Turkish Red Crescent for the joint (...)
  • 48  “Suriye Insani Yardim Operasyonu”, Turkish Red Crescent, http://www.kizilay.org.tr/dosyalar/138493 (...)
  • 49  Interview with a Turkish academic, Ankara, October, 2012.

32With regards to coordination, the dominant leitmotif of Turkish foreign policy and humanitarian assistance intentional ambiguity comes to the fore again. On the one hand, the Turkish government repeatedly commits to humanitarian coordination. It values coordination in terms of efficiency, the avoidance of duplication, and mutual learning.46 On the other hand, longstanding humanitarian donors and actors report having problems to coordinate and cooperate with Turkey. The humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis is a case in point. The UN, particularly the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)47 and the World Food Programme (WFP), report smooth cooperation with the Turkish government and Turkish Red Crescent. For instance, WFP and the Turkish Red Crescent piloted an e-voucher system. The e-vouchers allow refugees to buy their own food ingredients to cook their meals, instead of receiving cooked meals several times a day. The e-voucher system is expected to reach 300,000 refugees. WFP covers the costs and the Turkish Red Crescent implements the program.48 There is also anecdotal evidence indicating that international humanitarian coordination with the Turkish government works most smoothly when Turkish diplomats are in key positions in international organizations. For example, coordination was successful in Somalia with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which is headed by Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, and in Pakistan with the UN Special Envoy for Assistance to Pakistan, Rauf Engin Soysal.49

  • 50  Informal conversation with a Turkish government official, Istanbul, October 2013.
  • 51  Informal conversation with a Turkish government official, Istanbul, October 2013.
  • 52  Interview with a representative of an established donor country, Ankara, September, 2013.
  • 53  Interview with a Turkish government representative, Ankara, October, 2012.
  • 54  “Turkey is on the way of OECD DAC membership“, UNDP, 01 May 2012, http://www.tr.undp.org/content/t (...)

33From another standpoint, there are a number of examples that show that coordination and cooperation with Turkey can be difficult. In Somalia, Turkey shrugs its shoulders when it comes to coordination: “We would love to coordinate, but the international community is coordinating in Kenya and we are in Mogadishu. So we cannot attend the meetings.”50 In the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, coordination means: “We are doing everything that is necessary and where there are gaps we ask international actors to step in.”51 From the perspective of one representative of an established donor country, the same approach is described quite differently: “The Turkish government and Türk Kizilayi want to run the show alone.”52 In interviews, Turkish officials usually give three explanations for Turkey’s limited coordination practice. To begin with, the government lacks the capacity to simultaneously deliver and deliberate aid. “Here at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, we can either respond to the Syrian refugee crisis or discuss with other donors on how to engage more closely.”53 Next, Turkey insists on a clear cost-benefit analysis when it comes to coordination it only coordinates if this means that it does not cost additional money (e.g. annual contributions) or that coordination increases Turkey’s ability to shape international policies. Turkey, for instance, does not intend to become a full member of OECD/DAC although it meets all necessary criteria and was offered membership in 2012.54 As a full member, the country would lose its status as beneficiary country and thereby lose access to concessional loans, which are granted at lower costs than market alternatives. Finally, many Turkish humanitarian actors on the ground do not speak English, which is the language of most international coordination meetings.

5. Conclusion — How Sustainable is Turkey’s Humanitarian Assistance?

34It is beyond doubt that the Turkish humanitarian engagement in recent years has been impressive. The size and weight of Turkish humanitarian assistance, however, foreshadows more than it reflects the country’s global role. Although joining the ranks of the United States, Europe, and the United Kingdom in humanitarian donorship, Turkey remains a regional middle power. The discrepancy between Turkish humanitarian engagement and the country’s actual international weight calls into question the sustainability and scalability of Turkey’s current engagement in the long term. This is not to belittle what Turkey has achieved, but rather to put expectations of Turkey and its aspirations into perspective.

35The development of Turkey’s humanitarian engagement in the years to come depends on three central points the availability of resources, the development of the Syrian refugee crisis, and the distribution of political power within Turkish society. The resource question is straightforward and easy to grasp. As with most other emerging economies, Turkey’s economic growth is not yet sustained and is vulnerable to global economic developments. Given the current level of development within Turkey, it is safe to assume that an economic decline would immediately affect the scope of Turkish humanitarian donorship. However, we have also seen that the Turkish public provides a significant proportion of Turkish official humanitarian assistance. The government’s standing in international humanitarian affairs therefore depends to a considerable degree on the willingness of the Turkish public to pay for any humanitarian engagement.

36The development of the Syrian refugee crisis has a strong impact on the future level of Turkish humanitarian aid. It is unlikely that the Turkish government and society will put in a comparable effort with regards to a humanitarian crisis that is geographically and politically more distant. So should the crisis cease in the coming years, the level of Turkish humanitarian assistance will most likely sink considerably.  

37The question of the distribution of power within Turkish society is a trickier one, however. Current Turkish humanitarian assistance is in a limbo between being institutionalized and remaining dependent on individual actors and their relationships. The falling out between Erdogan and Gülen has thus far not had an effect on the level of aid, but may strain effective coordination and collaboration between the different poles of the humanitarian power triangle described above. Pressure on the humanitarian triangle is also to be expected should the AKP lose its absolute majority in the next national elections. Although this scenario seems unlikely given Erdogan’s success in the recent local elections, it is worth considering that the close collaboration of AFAD (under the Prime Minister) and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs might be put to the test, and a hard test at that, if the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister come from different parties, as it would make collaboration between the two offices more politically loaded. Finally, since most of Turkey’s humanitarian assistance beginning with the role of AFAD to the absence of a dedicated budget-line for humanitarian aid is not institutionalized, a change in government might lead to an even more fundamental change in the scope and conception of Turkish humanitarian assistance.

  • 55  Informal conversation with representatives of DG ECHO and the German government, Brussels and Berl (...)

38More established humanitarian actors the United Nations, international humanitarian NGOs, and other donors are therefore well advised to start understanding the intricacies of Turkish domestic and foreign politics. Without an intimate knowledge of the country, it will be difficult to engage with Turkish humanitarian actors effectively. Yet, in many ways this knowledge is simply not out there. Two areas in particular are in need of further research. First, the quality and results of Turkey’s actual operations on the ground whether in Somalia and Syria or the less visible activities in Pakistan and Myanmar remain anecdotal. Yet, the operational realities determine good cooperation and coordination between different humanitarian actors. Second, there is little differentiated knowledge out there regarding the nature of Turkish, faith-based organizations. There is a tendency among traditional donors to regard them with suspicion. For example, DG ECHO and the German government are reluctant to accept Turkish NGOs as operational partners, because they are unsure about these NGOs’ relations with political Islam.55 Yet, there is little evidence regarding which Turkish organizations might be more or less controversial than faith-based organizations from any other religious community.

39To date, the drive and enthusiasm towards an active humanitarian engagement is palpable in Turkey’s government and civil society. Yet the window of opportunity to engage with Turkey so as to institutionalize such engagement might close in the foreseeable future. It was therefore a smart move of the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to choose Istanbul as the host city for the May 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. Turkey and Switzerland were the main two countries offering to host the event. By choosing Istanbul over Geneva, the UN Secretary General showed that the UN is taking new humanitarian actors seriously. At the same time, having to host the summit a major international event pushes the Turkish government to keep humanitarian assistance on the political agenda and continue to institutionalize governmental structures that can both fund humanitarian operations and engage with the international humanitarian community. Finally, the World Humanitarian Summit is an opportunity for the international community to see Turkey’s humanitarian engagement in a holistic but differentiated way and to start engaging not only with the actors that make up its current humanitarian triangle, but also with those less visible actors outside of it.

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Notes

1  “Deadly bomb hits Turkish target in Mogadishu”, BBC News Africa, 27 July 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-23478001 (accessed on 19 September 2013).

2  „To stay and deliver“ is a slogan introduced into the international humanitarian discourse by a UN study see

3  UNHCR data from mid-2013, see: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e48e0fa7f.html (accessed on 29 March 2014).

4  UNHCR data from 15 January 2013, see: http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=224(accessed on 15 January 2014); “Supporting Syrian Refugees in Turkey”, U.S. State Department Blogs, 20 June 2013, http://blogs.state.gov/stories/2013/06/20/supporting-syrian-refugees-turkey (accessed on 06 December 2013); telephone interview with a field officer of a UN agency, December 2013.

5  “Disbursement of Aid at Zero Point“, AFAD, https://www.afad.gov.tr/EN/IcerikDetay1.aspx?ID=16&IcerikID=759 (accessed on 06 December, 2013); telephone interview with a field officer of a UN agency, December 2013.

6  “UN General Assembly: Turkey announced as host of 2016 World Humanitarian Summit”, UN OCHA, 26 September 2013, http://www.unocha.org/top-stories/all-stories/un-general-assembly-turkey-announced-host-2016-world-humanitarian-summit (accessed on 24 October 2013).

7  Cf. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 46/182, dated 19.12.1991, for download at http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/46/a46r182.htm (accessed on 14 January 2014).

8  Interview with government staff responsible for OECD/DAC reporting, Ankara, October 2012.

9  Formally, Turkey never adopted this principle; see e.g. http://vasington.be.mfa.gov.tr/MFA.aspx(accessed on 14 January 2014).

10  “Turkey moves ahead with new constitution”, The National, 19 October 2011, http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/europe/turkey-moves-ahead-with-new-constitution (accessed on 07 August 2013).

11  Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), current international dollar.

12  World Bank World Development Indicators August 2013, http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD (accessed on 22 August 2013).

13  CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2001rank.html (accessed on 22 August 2013).

14  BBC profile on Fethullah Gulen, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-13503361 (accessed on 29 March 2014).

15 See also an analysis by journalist Rusen Cakir in Turkish on “Frequently Asked Questions on the Cemaat – Government War”, http://www.rusencakir.com/Cemaat-hukumet-savasi-uzerine-sikca-sorulan-sorular/2397 (accessed on 15 January 2014).

16  For example: “Turkish PM faces EU leaders’ criticism.“ Al Jazeera, 22 January 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2014/01/turkish-pm-faces-eu-leaders-criticism-201412225251993988.html (accessed on 29 March 2014).

17  “Turkey divided more than ever by Erdogan’s Gezi Park crackdown”, The Guardian, 20 June 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/20/turkey-divided-erdogan-protests-crackdown (accessed on 29 March 2014).

18  “Kommunalwahlen in der Türkei: Ministerpräsident Erdogan als Alleinherrscher?”, Euractive, 02 April 2014, http://www.euractiv.de/sections/eu-aussenpolitik/kommunalwahlen-der-tuerkei-ministerpraesident-erdogan-als-alleinherrscher (accessed on 07 April 2014).

19  Interview with civil society organization representative, Ankara, October 2013.

20  “Gulen Movement on humanitarian aid“, http://www.gulenmovement.us/gulen-movement/gulen-movement-on-humanitarian-aid (accessed on 29 March 2014).

21 Interviews with TIKA and AFAD officials, Ankara, October 2012.

22  Interviews with representatives of the Turkish government, Ankara, October 2012.

23 “AKP proposes its version of presidential system“, Hurriyet Daily News, 22 November 2012, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/akp-proposes-its-version-of-presidential-system.aspx?pageID=238&nid=35188 (accessed on 29 March 2014).

24  Interviews with an employee of the Turkish government and with a representative of AFAD. Ankara, October 2012.

25  Telephone interview with a field representative of a UN agency, November 2013.

26  Interview with a representative of a western donor government, Ankara, September 2013.

27 Interview with a representative of the Turkish Red Crescent, Ankara, September  2013, and “Turkish Red Crescent delivers USD 2.5 billion of humanitarian aid in 2012“, Anadolu Agency, 22 August 2013, http://www.aa.com.tr/en/rss/218569--aa (accessed on 29 March 2014).

28  See also IHH page entitled “Where and What We Do?”, http://www.ihh.org.tr/en/main/pages/suriye-icin-ne-yapiyoruz/312 (accessed on 06 December 2013).

29  Telephone interview with a field representative of a UN agency, November 2013.

30  Informal conversation with a representative of secular NGOs, Istanbul, October 2013; telephone interview with a representative of STL, November 2012.

31  “Humanitarian Assistance by Turkey”, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, http://www.mfa.gov.tr/humanitarian-assistance-by-turkey.en.mfa (accessed on 04 September 2013).

32  “Yozgat’a Gider Gibi Somali’ye Gidiyorum”, Milliyet, Fikret Bila, 02 August 2013, http://siyaset.milliyet.com.tr/-yozgat-a-gider-gibi-somali-ye/siyaset/ydetay/1744839/default.htm (accessed on 23 October 2013).

33  Interview with a government employee, Ankara, October 2012.

34  Interview with a government representative, Ankara, October 2012.

35  Interview with a government representative, Ankara, October 2012.

36  AidFlows data by the OECD, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank, http://www.aidflows.org (accessed on 23 October 2013).

37  This is in contrast to internal humanitarian assistance and development aid, both of which have dedicated budget lines.

38  Interview with a Turkish government representative, Ankara, September, 2012.

39  “Is it ODA? Factsheet – November 2008”, OECD.DAC,http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/34086975.pdf (accessed on 23 October 2013).

40  See Law of Fund Collection no. 2860, section 6, http://www.dernekler.gov.tr/tr/ebulten/duyurular/5253-sayili-yardim-toplama-kanunu-degisiklik.aspx (accessed on 23 October 2013).

41  Interview with a Turkish academic, Ankara, September, 2012.

42  Interview with a Turkish academic, Ankara, October, 2012.

43  Interview with a Turkish government official, Ankara, October, 2012. See also: “Turkish international aid reaches Vanuatu”, Hurriyet Daily News, 21 May 2013, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-international-aid-reaches-vanuatu.aspx?pageID=238&nID=47266&NewsCatID=359 (accessed on 16 September 2013).

44  “Press Release Regarding The Humanitarian Aid To Pakistan”, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 08 June 2009, http://houston.cg.mfa.gov.tr/ShowAnnouncement.aspx?ID=116363 (accessed on 23 October 2013).

45  Interview with a representative of the Turkish Red Crescent, Ankara, August 2013.

46  Interview with a Turkish government official, Ankara, October, 2012.

47 See for example: “Cooperation protocol has been signed with the Turkish Red Crescent for the joint activities to be carried out within the scope of UNICEF Syria Humanitarian Aid Operation“, UNICEF Press Center, May 2013, http://www.unicef.org.tr/basinmerkezidetay.aspx?id=2326 (accessed on 29 March 2014).

48  “Suriye Insani Yardim Operasyonu”, Turkish Red Crescent, http://www.kizilay.org.tr/dosyalar/1384939276_151113_._Suriye_Insani_Yardim_Operasyonu.pdf (accessed on 06 December 2013).

49  Interview with a Turkish academic, Ankara, October, 2012.

50  Informal conversation with a Turkish government official, Istanbul, October 2013.

51  Informal conversation with a Turkish government official, Istanbul, October 2013.

52  Interview with a representative of an established donor country, Ankara, September, 2013.

53  Interview with a Turkish government representative, Ankara, October, 2012.

54  “Turkey is on the way of OECD DAC membership“, UNDP, 01 May 2012, http://www.tr.undp.org/content/turkey/en/home/presscenter/news-from-new-horizons/2012/05/turkey-is-on-the-way-of-OECD-DAC-membership/ (accessed on 29 March 2014).

55  Informal conversation with representatives of DG ECHO and the German government, Brussels and Berlin, December 2011.

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References

Electronic reference

Andrea Binder, « The Shape and Sustainability of Turkey’s Booming Humanitarian Assistance », International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 5.2 | 2014, Online since 20 May 2014, connection on 20 September 2017. URL : http://poldev.revues.org/1741 ; DOI : 10.4000/poldev.1741

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About the author

Andrea Binder

Andrea Binder is Associate Director of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin. Her areas of expertise include humanitarian assistance with a focus on emerging donors and the political philosophy of humanitarianism, international development, and peace and conflict studies.

By this author

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Copyright

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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