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Turkey’s Erdogan Fans Flames Of Anti-American Resentment

By Kristina Jovanovski | The Media Line

August 30, 2018

(Photo by Stringer/Getty Images)
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As tensions heat up, Erdogan has called on Turkish citizens to boycott U.S. products and exchange their dollars for Turkish liras

As Turkey’s currency nosedived on August 10 amid a crisis with the United States, accountant Emir Elfi looked at his phone and opened his banking app to check his savings. He could see the numbers changing constantly as the lira lost 18 percent of its value at one point and wondered what that would mean for him.

Elfi said it was when the Americans added tariffs to Turkish metal imports after imposing sanctions on Turkey that people in his country really got angry at the U.S. and President Donald Trump.

“There was a distaste before. Now, it’s more about hatred,” Elfi told The Media Line. “It felt like kicking us when we were down.” He added that he struggles to save any money and knows he has to limit his spending now.

“When the rates changed you can’t buy, let’s say, a new phone or new computer. You can’t buy any electronics.”

The lira went into freefall this month after tensions between Washington and Ankara heightened over Turkey’s detention of American Evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson faces up to 35 years in prison on terrorism charges but Washington claims there is no evidence against the pastor and has called for his release. Ankara insists the case must be left to the judiciary and the government cannot therefore intervene—a retort that mirrors the U.S. rationale for not extraditing cleric-in-exile Fethullah Gulen at Turkey’s request. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the cleric of orchestrating an unsuccessful coup d’état.

As tensions heat up, Erdogan has called on Turkish citizens to boycott U.S. electronics and exchange their U.S. dollars for liras, accusing Washington starting an economic war.

“Together with our people, we will stand decisively against the dollar, forex prices, inflation and interest rates. We will protect our economic independence by being united,” Erdogan said earlier this week in a speech to members of his party.

Shortly after, Turks posted videos on social media showing angry citizens destroying their iPhones and ripping up U.S. dollar bills. One video showed a man with a sledgehammer smashing several iPhones lined up on the floor while his companions kneeled down in front of the Turkish flag. Another showed a man in an apron with a large knife cutting up one dollar bills.

But the biggest cause for concern was the recent shooting at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. Authorities confirmed that six shots were fired at the facility, but no one was hurt and the building was closed for holiday.

“There has always been high levels of anti-Americanism in Turkey and across the political spectrum but then there’s those moments when there’s a spike in anti-American sentiment,” Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a former member of Turkish parliamentarian, told The Media Line.

He explained that Turkey’s economic concerns go far beyond the current crisis. The currency had decreased by 20% since the June election and has now lost a total of 40% this year. Analysts are fearful that the central bank will not remain independent of government control, especially after Erdogan appointed his son-in-law as finance minister.

Erdemir said that blaming the U.S. for Turkey’s economic woes takes the blame off of Erdogan as citizens struggle with rising prices. He added that the rift between the two countries could grow deeper because a severe economic downturn in Turkey will mean a longer recovery. In the meantime, the government will need scapegoats to deflect criticisms.

Can Selcuki, a pollster and general manager with Istanbul Economics Research, a public affairs consultancy agency, told The Media Line that negative feelings towards the U.S. go far beyond the recent sanctions and tariffs.

Selcuki added that “Turkish public sentiment towards the West is growing increasingly negative while positive attitudes towards Russia and China have been evident.

He explained that resentment towards the U.S. is also partly due to its support for Kurdish forces in Syria, which Ankara says are connected to a militant group within Turkey called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union classify the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Selcuki concluded that “while it is hard to speculate over how long the crisis will last, it could linger if an embattled Trump decides to exploit the issue of the pastor in an appeal to his Christian conservative base.

“It’s reasonable to expect that Trump will be looking for outside distractions given his difficult situation at home,” Selcuki said. “And considering the mid-term elections, it makes resolution of the Turkish/U.S. split more difficult.”

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