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May 25, 2012, Friday

Are Russian tourists being discouraged from visiting Turkey?

Is somebody trying to change the perception of Turkey and the Turks within the Russian Federation? Are positive relations between the two countries being hindered?

On May 12 Turkey and Turks were the subjects of negative jokes on the RTR-Platena television channel of the Russia Federation. Turks were caricaturized as barbaric people; and Turkish men were depicted as wearing the fez and women the chador. Throughout the TV program it was pointed out that Turkey should not be preferred as a vacation destination but that the Black Sea coasts of the Russian Federation or Crimea should be considered instead. While a song with the lyrics “I’d rather go to Crimea and to Sochi than the coasts of Turkey” played, they danced.

The same issue was discussed in the Duma (the Russian Parliament’s lower house) last week. It was emphasized that “tourists” should avoid spending their money on the coasts of Turkey. These are just two examples. Similar examples are increasing. As seen, within the Russian Federation some groups have started spreading propaganda against Turkey and Turks. Their main concern has become Russian tourists choosing to vacation in Turkey. Both Moscow and Ankara should be careful about this issue. It is one which is liable to provoke tension. Some groups who experienced the Cold War era in the Russian Federation have started to use those events as a means of opposition against Turkey and Turks.

As for Turkey, a positive perception of “the Russian Federation,” “Russia” and “Putin” is on the rise. A positive relationship is being established between Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin. The Russian Federation is trusted. Turkey is quite pleased with the number of Russian tourists who visit, which exceeds 3 million a year; having Russian daughters-in-law (Turkish men marrying Russian women); and trading with the Russians.

Following pressure from Russian citizens living in Turkey, the 30-day visa exemption that started on April 16, 2011, was extended to 60 days by Ankara unilaterally. But it seems 60 days will not be enough either. This is because before April 2011 Russians could get a 90-day visa easily at the border. Now, 60 days seems to be a reduction not an extension. Therefore, a transition is desired, first to a 90-day visa exemption and then to a 180-day visa exemption.

Erdoğan, Putin and Dmitry Medvedev have a very broad vision. Turks have already forgotten about the Cold War. They are just focused on the future. As for the Russians, they are having trouble changing their perceptions. The local bureaucracy and Russian intellectuals are finding it hard to keep up with Russian leaders. Even Turks’ crossing customs gates, except for the customs gates in Moscow and St. Petersburg, without a visa don’t find it very easy. Although it seems as if a 30-day visa exemption between the two countries is in place, Turks have to register at a police station after a three-day stay in Russia.

Cold War era tension and lobbyists

Why did the situation in the north suddenly turn against Turkey and the Turks? The first reason for this is that the remnants of the Cold War era and those who are trying to base Russian nationalism on an opposition to Turks and Turkey are taking advantage of the gradual differentiation between Russian and Turkish Middle East policy. This differentiation is not only about Syria. The inclination towards different policies covers all of the Arab world and Iran. Moreover, the Jewish lobby is more influential in Moscow than in Washington, D.C. They have more power in terms of affecting sanctions and policies. Therefore, the tension between Turkey and Israel causes a standoff and invisible cracks in the relationship between Ankara and Moscow. Israel wants Damascus to be ruled by a “wounded lion.” As for Turkey, it seems to be favoring a change in Damascus’ rulers while maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria. The differentiation between Turkey and Israel in terms of Syria’s future increases the tension between Ankara and Moscow.

Moscow silently punished Turkey for Turkey’s assistance to Georgia in the South Ossetia War in 2008. Moscow significantly hindered Turkey’s selling of fresh fruits and vegetables to the Russian Federation. Will the differences between the two countries in terms of Middle East-oriented policies mean that Moscow may be inclined towards policies that aim at discouraging Russian tourists from coming to Turkey on holiday? Let it just be a question to consider…

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