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October 22, 2021 9:50 pm

Turkish Soft Power: Kashmir, Politics and Perceptions

Hoardings calling for investment in Turkey came up in Srinagar earlier this year.

By Suhail Ahmad Khan 

IN the past couple of years, Turkish soft power has weaved its magic in the Kashmir Valley. Turkey has become a dream place for Kashmiris, and they are eager to visit it for higher education and recreational purposes. Turkish influence is yet to reach its full potential in the valley, but perceptions and perspectives have already emerged about it. For Kashmiris, Turkey is now the saviour of the Muslim world, while security agencies are ringing alarm bells that Turkey’s influence will create problems in the conflict-ridden zone. Neither of these perspectives is entirely justified.

A Cultural Threat?

The popularity of the Turkish series, Dirilis: Ertugrul, strengthened Turkey’s influence in the valley. The series reconstructs the life history of Ertugrul Ghazi, father of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, Osman Bey. The series’ narrative has immensely impacted the psyche of Kashmiris, and they can easily relate to its themes such as “Sufism and spirituality,” which “ are the common features found in both Turks and Kashmiris.” Moreover, its depiction of Muslims in a positive light, unlike terrorist portrayals of Hollywood and Bollywood movies, has appealed to the people of the Muslim majority region. Such is the popularity of the series in Kashmir that parents have named their newborns after its protagonists. Also, in 2021, the valley’s first Dirilis: Ertugrul based theme restaurant was opened in the Downtown area of Srinagar.

However, Dirilis: Ertugrul’s influence has raised concerns for security agencies, who have called itpropaganda and a source of radicalization for the Kashmiri youth. It may be true that the series channelizes a particular political narrative but it cannot lead Kashmiri people to adopt violent methods. Its popularity is not restricted to Kashmir only as it has gained world-scale popularity, to be exact, in 71 countries including in non-Muslim nations.

There is no evidence that the series has led to extremism elsewhere in the world, and if that’s the case, its radicalizing impact in Kashmir seems dubious. Besides, the series gained popularity in the valley at a time when there was an incommunicado after the abrogation of Article 370, and in such circumstances, it offered people a respite from the daily violence. In sum, it is the attractive content of the series and the political atmosphere of the valley which started the Turkish craze among Kashmiris.

Politics and Perceptions

With the rise of China in 2016, a new international order has emerged. In this order, there is a realignment of relations in the Muslim world. Pakistan, which claims to be a party to the Kashmir issue, has found a new ally in the shape of Turkey and the bilateral relations of the two nations have strengthened ever since. Thus, as a sign of solidarity, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan backed Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir issue at the 74th and 75th UN General Assemblies.

Turkey’s close relationship with Pakistan and its persistent efforts to raise the Kashmir issue has prompted India to securitize the country’s actions in the valley. Several claims regarding Turkey’s political clout in Kashmir are already in place. Now, there is a claim that Turkey is pumping money into the valley to promote anti-national activities. However, there is little evidence to back such a claim. Moreover, based on a Greek journalist’s report, another set of arguments claim that Turkey is sending its mercenaries to Kashmir to fight against the Indian establishment. There is little reason that such a report should be accepted uncritically, given that Turkey and Greece share a history of hostility. Thus, it is too early to argue that Turkish influence can lead to disturbances in the valley and making such claims without clear evidence is a sheer overstatement.

Erdogan—The Saviour?

Due to Erdogan’s consistent efforts to raise the Kashmir and the Palestinian issues, many in the Muslim world, including Kashmiris, perceive him as the saviour of Muslims. Their perception, however, is far from the truth. After the 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey, Erdogan has pitched himself as the new “Khalifa” or leader of the Muslim world and to attain this purpose, he is reaching out to the global Muslim population. It seems that his efforts have paid off as his international popularity has grown. Moreover, his popularity in the international sphere will help him to regain influence in Turkey’s domestic sphere, which has been on a decline due to his poor handling of the country’s economy. As such, Erdogan’s support for Muslim causes is just another trick to gain popularity and to point it out, many of his critics have rightly argued that if he was the saviour of the Muslim Ummah, then why is he silent over Uyghur atrocities in China, and why has Turkey fostered economic and intelligence ties with Israel. These propositions can only be answered when one works within a realist framework and accentuates that Erdogan’s every action is a calculated one aimed to strengthen his position both in the domestic and international spheres, rather than to serve Muslim interests globally.

Both the Indian establishment and Kashmiris have not been able to capture the essence of the Turkish soft power in the valley and have often drawn wrong inferences about it. To fully understand its outcomes and impact, a balanced viewpoint that can reach the core of this phenomenon is required.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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