International Relations/Political Science
02 September 2021

The Provision of Turkish Medical Aid during the Coronavirus Pandemic

What explains the selective distribution of Turkish foreign aid during the pandemic? Bugra Güngör, PhD Researcher in International Relations and Political Science, deciphers the puzzle in his article “Foreign Aid during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence from Turkey” published in Southeast European and Black Sea Studies. He finds that Turkey’s distribution of medical aid during the pandemic reveals an interplay between economic pragmatism and humanitarianism underlying Turkey’s established aid strategy.

What motivated you to write an article on Turkish foreign aid during the COVID-19 pandemic?

While the numbers of cases and patients were increasing rapidly, we have globally observed an immediate need for a variety of medical equipment to curb the pandemic. In this respect, I was following the news and presidential speeches concerning the distribution of Turkish medical aid across countries in need during the first months of the pandemic. To this end, I collected data on Turkish medical aid, relying on the state-owned news agency and a pro-government news outlet. In the light of the dataset I assembled, I found that Turkey has delivered medical aid to a total of 72 countries between 1 February and 31 July 2020. The data led me to ask why some countries have received Turkish aid but not others during an unprecedented global crisis which requires urgent interventions.

Could you briefly tell us about the contributions of your study to the existing literature on Turkish foreign aid?

My article, which constitutes one of my dissertation essays on contemporary Turkey, makes two contributions to the extant literature on the determinants of Turkish foreign aid: (1) it stands out as the first systematic analysis of Turkish medical aid in the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and (2) it benefits from a novel media-based event dataset. Briefly speaking, my paper scrutinises how extensively Turkey’s foreign aid repertoire is in play given the fact that the pandemic has indiscriminately affected every country.

What are the main findings of your research?

To find out why Turkey has been selective in dispatching medical aid during the pandemic, I theoretically looked into Turkey’s foreign aid policy. Therefore, the results of statistical analysis demonstrate that receiving Turkish medical aid is related with the recipients’ historical, cultural and economic relations with Turkey. Especially, belonging partially or fully to the Ottoman Empire in the past is the most substantive reason for benefitting from Turkish aid. In relation to the cultural relations, while ethnic affinity based on Turkishness determines whether the recipient enjoyed Turkish medical aid, Islamic identity does not turn out to be a significant determinant of receiving Turkey’s aid during the pandemic.

Turkey has recently suffered from wildfires in the southern and western parts of the country. Did you observe any instances of support provided by the recipients of Turkish medical aid?

Similar to Turkey’s efforts in attenuating the rapid spread of the pandemic in many countries, various recipients of Turkish medical aid offered operational support to eradicate the wildfires in the first two weeks of August 2021. Among others, Spain, Azerbaijan, Israel, Ukraine and Croatia mobilised their resources such as firefighting aircrafts to end the fires shortly. In this respect, as a researcher of foreign aid, it has been quite interesting to observe the above-mentioned reciprocity that just happened almost within a year. This reciprocity shows that every country can be in need of help or support due to different kinds of humanitarian crises and natural disasters. I think that such cooperation among countries not only further strengthens interstate relations but also facilitates the establishment of friendly relations among the nations.

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Full citation of the article
Güngör, Buğra. “Foreign Aid during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence from Turkey.” Southeast European and Black Sea Studies (2021): 1–16.

The article is also publicly available on this page of the Graduate Institute’s repository.

Banner picture: excerpt from an image by Inspiration GP/
Interview and editing by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.