Geography is the main factor shaping foreign policy for Turkey’s PM Erdogan. It still controls his self-perception and position in the world. Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power, Turkey has been adopting a different approach in handling its foreign affairs. A major part of this new foreign policy has focused on the "endowment" and the "Endowment of Children in the Turkish World." This children’s endowment is a form of soft power that strengthens Turkey’s regional and international position. Turkey also uses it as one of the recruitment tools for conscripting future generations in countries belonging to the Turkish world. The Turkish regime believes that those children will be the seed for restoring the Ottoman legacy.
Implications of the Endowment
The "Endowment of Children in the Turkish World," is a form of soft power for Turkey to promote its influence in Turkish-speaking territories in Russia, which are an extension of Turkey’s history and ethnicity. Through this endowment, Turkey provides projects that support the future of Muslim Turkish children living there, as well as other parts of the world. The endowment aims to promote Ottoman culture among children, in accordance with Turkey’s state ambitions and values. The endowment’s management brings 500 children to Turkey every year from different parts of the "Turkish World."
The endowment is one of Turkey’s key tools for strengthening its humanitarian presence around the world. The Turkish government’s establishment of the endowment raises questions about its motives, given its trend of politicizing relations with Turkish-speaking communities and Turkish expats worldwide and utilizing them in service to AKP political objectives.
The children’s endowment has been active over the past three years. This can be seen in the tours organized for children coming from Turkish-speaking communities or other parts of the world to visit Turkey. Turkey’s strategy attaches great importance to these tours, which aim to introduce children and youth to Turkish culture. The endowment organized its annual conference in 2020 in the Turkish capital Ankara, while holding it this year in Khiva, Uzbekistan, declaring it the cultural capital of the Turkic world. Next year, the conference will be organized in Bursa, western Turkey, which will become the cultural capital of the Turkic world for 2022.
The context in which the children’s endowment is being established is a new indicator of Turkish motives. Turkey is adopting a "proactive upbringing" strategy for children living in the "Turkish World" by promoting Turkish values and culture among them. This is especially important as Turkey has succeeded in expanding the membership of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (Turkic Council), which was established in October 2009. The next summit of the Turkic Council will be held in November in Istanbul.
On the other hand, the endowment is part of Turkey’s efforts to consolidate its regional and international presence by engaging Turkish minorities and ethnicities beyond its borders. In this context, the Turkish endowment aims to achieve the following goals:
1. Raise a generation that believes in the "Ottoman Empire Dream": Establishing the children’s endowment is part of Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s project to revive the Ottoman Empire dream by raising religious children who believe in Ottoman culture. To achieve this, Erdogan is reconstructing the Turkish identity in the "Turkic World" and promoting the Ottoman legacy in countries with Turkish nationals. The endowment highlights Erodgan’s favorable view of the old Ottoman world and his efforts to rebrand it in a contemporary way, as opposed to the Western liberal Ataturk model. This model separated religion from public life and abandoned the connections with the Turkish world beyond the Turkish borders. Although this Turkish world does share roots and ties with Turkey historically, culturally, and religiously, the AKP considers it an extension of the Ottoman State.
Through this endowment, Erdogan strives to raise a "new generation" through instilling Ottoman values and ideas within them, whether in Turkish-speaking republics or among Turkish nationals worldwide. This explains why the endowment invites thousands of children every year to visit Turkey, and organizes tours for them in several cities to introduce them to Turkish culture and Islamic ethics.
2. Attract and recruit new generations in their countries: The endowment’s role is not separate from Ankara’s efforts to magnify its influence and presence in the region and the world. This is especially important after the independence of Turkish-speaking republics in the nineties and the increasing volume of Turkish nationals abroad, especially in European countries. Attaching importance to Turkish children everywhere and igniting their curiosity to learn about Turkey and Ottoman history are soft tools used by Turkey to attract and recruit new Turkish generations abroad, who could be future leaders in their countries of residence. Moreover, receiving children and youth through this endowment provides a fertile ground for attracting competencies and new talents as fresh blood in the Turkish economy. Turkey is betting on this children’s endowment and using it as soft power to provide services and facilitations for thousands of children and youth coming from Turkish-speaking countries, as well as Arab and African countries. This is done through free tours to learn about Turkish culture or student visas and scholarships to study in Turkey.
3. Enemy competition and handling Western pressure: Besides the typical role of the children’s endowment, Ankara is trying to harness this project as a strategic arm in fighting enemies or handling Western pressure. Through this endowment, Turkey has succeeded in building beneficial relationships with Turkish-speaking countries. Moreover, it has enabled Turkey to strengthen its relationship with several South and East Asian countries, where there are Turkish ethnic minorities, especially Turkmen.
Ankara believes that the children’s endowment and its activities in these countries are a sure bet for Turkey to brand itself as an Islamic influencer. The children’s endowment could be used by Turkey to handle Western pressure, which helps it enhance its military power in Azerbaijan, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Turkish-speaking countries, Syria and Libya. Great powers who are often against Turkey have intertwined interests in these countries, especially Moscow, Washington, and the EU.
In conclusion, Turkish soft power tools such as the children’s endowment are closely related to regional and international power dynamics in which Turkey acts as a common factor, such as in Central Asia and the Middle East, as well as plays a role in the intertwined relations between Turkey and Western powers. The Turkish endowment for children is one of the AKP’s soft power mechanisms for reviving the "Ottoman Empire" through creating a transnational generation that believes in the Ottoman Caliphate and Islamic political ideologies.