What is diplomacy? Why is it pursued? To be sure, multiple answers can be given to this question: representing one's country to the world, opening up more economic opportunities for it, forming alliances to address shared concerns and advance national interests.
If you are of the contemporary idealistic persuasion, then it is also about advancing democracy, human rights, and rule of law across the world. If you are more cynical, it is an interesting job you hold with a good payment scheme, a hefty dose of self worth and glamour (though only when posted abroad, not at the ministry back home in a windowless small office and small desk they found to put you.)
No matter what, ultimately it boils down to one key word: influence. Whether your diplomacy is driven by advancement of human rights and good governance, or by good old naked national interests, diplomacy is ultimately about getting another country to share and take your interests, agendas and desired outcomes seriously.
The bureaucratic humdrum that dominates practice of diplomacy often hides that truth. One lapses into seeing engagement with other countries merely through its formal channels, while forgetting that the two subjects that are alive and present at both ends. When this happens, diplomacy becomes a self-fulfilling theatre performance with very little real life impact, full of sound and fury signifying.. well, not nothing.. but press releases, tweets, outbursts..
If the underlying aim of your diplomatic reach to Turkey is influence, please continue to read the rest of this brief post. Some of the following will be no surprise to seasoned Turkophiles, and most of it actually applies to most countries in the world.
Never Assume You Just Figured it All Out: Turkey is a complex country that often tricks its visitors to think that they have all sorted it out within a few months. Social and political layers go beyond seeming simple boxes. The simpler you think things are, the more likely that you are simply sitting in a room reading a newspaper from the country you came from. Realise the limited social networks you are in and outside of diplomatic representations in Turkey. Never take some twenty Twitter accounts you follow on Turkey to be the guiding framework of what is going on. Express humility and caution in your cables, listen to everybody (and make sure to go and find voices you do not hear in English), mind your own biases and limitations. Never fall into the trap of reducing complex developments down to a handful of political actors and their magical powers. That is so tempting, but for op-eds and not for informing policy makers back home and responding to developments in Turkey.
No Tabula Rasa Posting: For you, Turkey might be a brand new posting, full of excitement, free from a baggage.You might have been doing language immersion and just counting days till you arrive in Ankara, and, if you are luckier, in Istanbul. Yet, you are entering into a long story, not only into your representation's current and recent legacy, but a profound sense of history. You might find it confusing to be given 'history lessons' by Turkish officials you meet, or some obscure historical thing thrown at you in a conversation as if it mattered now. But it does for your counterparts. It shapes their perceptions of you, at times for good and at times fuelling suspicion.
Do not enter into deep domestic social and political tensions: Turkey is a highly polarised society, and its politics thrive in poking deep fault lines. Some of these are very real tangible problems, some are superficial culture wars. While you should continue your stand on basis of universal human rights norms, make sure to be consistent and not selective with them, and do not enter quick sand politics and social tensions while feeling like you should be saying something.
Personal Trust and Relationships Matter: Transactional attitudes, 'getting down to the business' in first minutes of a meeting, and requests and criticisms within that framework often backfires in the long run. Turks value good relationships and trust in you and your trust in them, no matter what a mighty office you hold. They cherish sincerity and warmth in addition to your professionalism, agreements with your state and your diplomatic ranking. Without that personal rapport, you will soon realise how little leverage you have and what little legacy you will leave behind. Trust building will require a few litres of strong brew Turkish tea (and do not let anyone to fool you that Apple Tea is actually a traditional drink), and any attempt you make to speak Turkish would be warmly welcomed, no matter if you confuse Turkish words for man with bread (just don't go into a bakery asking for 'sicak erkek', rather than 'sicak ekmek'. This did happen!)
Shame and Honour: Do realise, not just in Turkey, but in Africa, Middle East and Asia too, honour is important. How you express a concern, grievance, request, reaction and demand is as important as you being right. Handle social codes wrongly, your rightful statements will quickly turn into a harmful conversations spent on denying what you meant and how it has been understood. In such settings, harshest reactions and most direct conversations are best done in quiet meetings, not in public. In fact, if people believe in your sincerity, understanding and fairness, you will be surprised with how much they will be willing to listen to you and accommodate your points. Make sure you frame your negative points within substantial positive grounding.
Culture, religion and values matter: If you had read far too many realist literature on international relations, the fluffy things like values, religion, traditions, symbolism might not matter much. True, realpolitik often kicks in, Turkish foreign policy takes sudden U-turns. Yet, such factors, their impact on decision making, relationships and public statements should not be ignored. There is a spectrum between essentialisation of a culture thus seeing an ontology in it and completely ignoring values that impact it. What might seem 'rational' conclusion to you might not be one that is seen 'rational' from where they stand.
Mistrust to the World: All studies have shown that Turkey is among the low-trust societies of the world. There is a deep mistrust and suspicion, not just to foreign countries and international institutions, but even domestically. Often, people read intentions and grandeur theories behind a simple act or unrelated developments. Some of it is due to a history of politics and state structures that fuelled and maintained this, some due to very real historical events. Thus, not only you need to be careful with you say and do, but also with what you did not say or did not do. If you are consistent and genuine, sooner or later you will be loved much more warmly than you feel comfortable with. Because really, Turks are also some of the warmest, friendliest and loyal people.
Speak and Act as Partners: Nothing rubs off Turks (citizens and officials alike) the wrong way than being patronised, being preached at, being scolded and treated as an inferior. They want to engage with you as a partner, as an equal, as someone who understands their reality and wants to work with them. Any hint of arrogance, holier than thou attitude will backfire. Really.
Show Commitment in Moments of Crisis: This cannot be emphasised enough. Turkey produces more news items in a single month than couple of years for many other countries. It has gone through substantial changes last decade, and impact of its own steps and developments in its immediate region have put it into a truly precarious position. Continual terror attacks, political crises, mass protests, political pressure, over-use of power and even a coup attempt (what the heck), have brought the country to a truly strained moment. What they want from you more than anything is your partnership, commitment and firm knowledge that you care, and that you have genuine sympathy for the country (not merely for one political group or another). They pay attention to your responses (or lack of them) in moment's of crises more than you are likely to realise.In fact, such moments are not the time for taking the high ground, but superb opportunity for you to have direct influence.
Interests and Calculations Differ: Just like you have certain policy priorities, calculations of risks and returns, interests on specific issues, Turkey too have them. Being an ally does not automatically mean Turkey will or could or should bypass them. When you don't get what it is you want, don't lapse into sending confusing messages of 'troubled relations' but reflect on alignment of interests and a good bargain strategy. I mean, if one goes with cliches, haven't you bought a carpet at the Grand Bazaar yet?
Could more to be added to this list of tips? Yes. If you follow these, would you have cracked the Turkish Code? No. But at least you can be assured that you have more chances of having an input in the present and future of a vitally important country and opening a hard to close door for good relationships with your country.