Cultural factors are among the main elements influencing European perceptions of Turks, according a recent study conducted by a prominent Turkish university.

 

The research, made public Monday night by the European Studies Center of Bosphorus University, also showed that younger generations in Europe are more supportive of Turkey’s entry to the European Union than are older generations.

The study was based on a poll conducted among 5,000 people in Germany, France, Britain, Spain and Poland between August and September 2009.

The poll’s most striking discovery is the contrast in Europeans’ outlooks toward Turkey as opposed to other candidate countries.

Democracy, human rights, economic development and welfare are the main criteria the five EU countries identify with. The participants also believe the two most important criteria for a candidate country to become an EU member should be its performance on democracy and human rights and its contribution to Europe’s overall welfare.

Yet when it comes to the respondents’ outlook on Turkey’s membership in the EU, only 26.8 percent of those polled said economic factors are important, while 40.4 percent said cultural factors are the main element influencing their opinion.

France comes first among the five countries in judging Turkey’s entry to the EU based on cultural factors.

Islamic Culture

More people said they believe that Turkey’s Islamic culture would be an asset to the European Union than did not share this view, with 59 percent saying they believe that Turkey’s membership would increase the EU’s influence in the Islamic world. However, 54 percent said they do not believe that Turkey’s Islamic culture would contribute to preventing a clash of civilizations.

When it comes to the principle of “pacta sund servanda,” which can be translated in English as “promises must be kept,” a majority of those polled said it would be unfair to avoid following through on promises made to Turkey.

Based on these findings, Professor Hakan Yılmaz, the coordinator of the project, suggested that instead of using religious or cultural arguments, “Turkey should use the principle of upholding the law to make its case to the European public.”

Some journalists and academics at the press conference objected to this, saying that few in Europe know that Turkey has been promised membership by the EU since the 1960s.

Younger generations are more supportive of Turkey’s entry into the group of EU member states, with 57 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 and 51 percent of those between 25 and 39 expressing a positive outlook about Turkey’s EU bid. This support decreases to 35.2 percent for those ages 65 and above.

When it comes to knowledge about Turkey, Istanbul is the most commonly known name, with 91 percent of respondents recognizing it. The archaeological site of Troy in Turkey’s northwest city of Çanakkale follows Istanbul with 70 percent recognition. A full 50 percent of respondents said they know the Turkish football team Galatasaray, while 48.3 percent know the Mediterranean city of Antalya in the country’s southwest.

The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, follows Antalya with 40 percent name recognition; Turkish pop singer Tarkan was recognized by 23 percent of respondents, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by 22 percent, author and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk by 11.5 percent and finally communist poet Nazım Hikmet Ran by 8.2 percent.