Pianezza Belediyesi'nde düzenlenen Türk Dış Politikası konferansı: Understanding Turkey

Aylin Sekizkök 03.02.2012
Dear Mayor, Mr. Castello,
Dear Professor
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be in Pianezza. Thank you for your invitation and gracious hospitality. I would like to thank in particular the Mayor and Le Scuole dell’Arca for organizing this meeting and giving me the opportunity to get together with you.

I am the new Turkish Consul General. I started my duties as of October 2011. Our Consulate is based in Milano, but covers all the regions of north Italy, including Piemonte. Our primary mission is to increase social, commercial and cultural ties between Turkey and Italy.

I feel very lucky and privileged to be in Italy.

We have deep rooted historical ties with Italy… so old that one can trace it back to the times of the Roman Empire. It was as early as the forth century AD when the Roman Emperor Constantin the first declared Constantinopolis (today’s Istanbul) as the capitol of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Ottomans rented ships from Genoese in 1380’s to pass through Dardanelles to set foot on the European side. This was the first commercial contact between the Turks and Italians, which continued uninterrupted until the modern ages.

We allied with Venetians against Genoese and with Genoese against Venetians…We traded with you... The Galata district of Istanbul was built by Genoese and largely inhabited by Italian bankers, traders until very recently.

Today, Italy is the second trade partner of Turkey, following Germany. Last year, our trade volume has reached 18 billion Euros. Considering the deep economic crisis affecting the whole Euro-zone, this is a remarkable figure.

Big Turkish companies have strong and deep-rooted business ties with their Italian partners. Fiat has been in the Turkish market for decades. Pirelli has huge production plants in Turkey. UniCredit co-owns one of the largest banks in Turkey.

I personally believe that this intense business relationship has something to do with our cultural affinities, as well as close political ties:

To start with the culture: Turks and Italians have so much in common. Both peoples are influenced by the warm Mediterranean climate!! We are out warded, ready to share our good times and bad times with our families and friends… We still care about extended families: grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles... As a matter of fact, when I brought my children to their new school in Milano on the first day of September, I was amazed and pleased to see so many elderly Italian ladies and men holding hands with their grandchildren supporting them in a fashion similar to Turkish way, indicating the existence of a tradition thought to be outdated in this age of modernity.

Our political relations are excellent. Regardless of the changes in government, Italy has always been an active supporter of Turkey’s EU membership. Our foreign policies in the greater Mediterranean region are based on the same perceptions and support each other. The first official visit of the new Italian Foreign Minister was to Istanbul, in November.

Dear guests,

Up till now, I tried to summarize the basics, which bring Turkey and Italy closer to each other: History, economic relations, similar cultures, and problem-free diplomatic relations.

Despite all these commonalities, there is one thing that does not seem fit to the greater picture: It is the unfortunate fact that Italian society in general do not know much about modern Turkey. We still face questions such as whether we speak Arabic, whether Turkey is governed by sheriah, whether it is dangerous to travel to Turkey…

This may be partly due to our own failure to promote Turkey efficiently, and partly due to Turkey’s inherent diversity and to its unique position of being part of different geographies simultaneously. In short, I have to admit that it is a difficult task to fully comprehend Turkey.

Good news is that, recently we notice an ever-growing interest in Italy to know better about Turkey. Your invitation extended to me to talk about Turkey is yet another indication of this very positive trend.

As a matter of fact, Turkey is now one of the most talked about countries currently all around the world. There are debates in all quarters about our nation:

Two Turkish leaders Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have been cited among top 100 thinkers in the world by the Foreign Policy magazine.

In a recent study, the Stanley Foundation concluded that ten countries will form the top layer of the global major powers in the coming decades. Turkey is among them.
I am here today to what Turkey is, and the reasons of its rising star in our region and beyond :

In terms of geography, Turkey occupies a unique space. As a large country in the midst of European, Asian and African landmass, Turkey is an actor with multiple regional identities that cannot be reduced to one unified character. It cannot be explained geographically or culturally by associating it with one single region. Turkey is European and Asian. It is Middle Eastern and Eurasian; a Balkan country and a Caucasian one.

Our history further enhances our multi-regional identity: We are heirs of Ottoman empire, an entity which once controlled territories spreading from Belgrade to Mecca, from Crimea to Tunisia. We have still strong cultural bonds with the peoples of this massive geography. Arabs and Turks and Bosnians and Albanians lived together for hundreds of years, creating a unique sense of shared identity and ethnic diversity. There are still Turkish communities more in than 30 states; it is hard to find a person in Turkey whose family tree does not reach out to a Circasian or Arab or a Balkan linage.

This may be the reason why Turkish TV series have become so popular simultaneously in Jordan and Greece, in Tunisia and Croatia!!

Turkey’s diverse regional composition lends it the capability of maneuvering in several regions simultaneously.

This geography of critical importance for the whole globe as the course of developments here will have a direct impact on the nature of the new world order. Therefore, Turkey’s policies and choices will to be of particular significance.

Economic situation:

Turkey’s emerging power status is certainly related as much to its geopolitical location as to its economic growth, which is quite impressive.

Needless to say, global economy today is substantially volatile. Debt sustainability concerns and weak growth prospects of the advanced economies stand out as the most urgent problems.

Against this pessimistic global economic picture, Turkey’s economic performance deserves a strong applaud:

-Having suffered deep economic crises in early 2000’s, Turkey managed to conclude a giant economic transformation, through structural reforms in all key areas: the banking sector; social security and health-care; the public finance; fiscal adjustment. Our central government budget deficit declined dramatically.

-Today’s Turkey is a country that has managed to triple its gross national income in just 10 years.

-Per capita income increased from 3.500 US Dollars in 2002 to 10.600 dollars in 2011.

- In 2010 Turkish economy grew by 9.0 percent. Third quarter growth rate of 2011 is 8.2 percent, occupying the first place, to be followed by China.

-Our annual export volume was just about 35 billion dollars in 2002. This year we have exported 135 billion dollars worth of goods all over the world.

-There is a similar growth pattern in the labor market. Since 2009, the peak of the crisis we were able to generate 3.5 million additional jobs, bringing down the unemployment rate to 9.2 percent.

-Turkey is currently the 16th largest economy in the world. It is the sixth largest economy in Europe and projected to be the second in 2050.

-Turkey which has been a recipient of foreign assistance until mid-1990s has now become a donor country itself with 1,5 billion USD assistance per year.

Political and social change

Economic success is not the only factor in Turkey’s rising international credibility. Turkey has gone through a tremendous transformation in political and social life, as well. Turkey of 2011 is not comparable to 80’s and 90’s. We have been experiencing a full force change that covers politics and economics; that penetrates deep into our cultural and social infrastructures and our core references:

-Uninterrupted and revolutionary reform process to raise the human rights standards: New codes (penal, civic law completely amended); training of security and public officials;

- Process of democratization: new political parties law; new associations law;

-Grand reformation of the constitution which was put into referendum last year. Now, all legislation is reviewed in conformity with these amendments;

- Civilian control over armed forces. The control of the expenses of the military, changing role of the State National Security Council;

-Emergence of a dynamic nongovernmental society;

-Lively public discourse on very subject pertaining important political issues;

-Development of the press (hundreds of private TV channels belonging to different political and social causes);

- Empowerment of women in the public and private sector: Banking; universities, media, Foreign Ministry.

Political stability:

Since 2002, governed by a highly popular political party. 2011 elections, 50 percent of voters opted for AK Party. Elections were democratic and uncontested. I think such a result is the dream of all European politicians!!!

Despite the continuation of certain important problems, such as the PKK terrorism, still unmet aspirations of our people in the field of education, justice, and economic disparity between poor and rich, the Turkish system now provides the necessary democratic channels for their resolution.

Foreign Policy:

What makes Turkey a truly emerging power is its ever growing economic, cultural and political ties with countries in all four directions.

What guides us in our new foreign policy is our vision to ensure a benign belt of security, stability and prosperity around Turkey and beyond. This vision is to expand the stability anchor that is provided by democratic and free marketing Turkey by incorporating more and more countries into the belt.

We envisage a world in 2023 of Peace at Home and Peace in the World where our broad neighborhood are liberated of the long standing problems that have holding them back, or have taken irreversible strides to that effect.

The underlying logic is very simple, yet sensible: We believe that Turkey is directly affected by every development in its neighborhood and that an environment of regional stability and cooperation will provide Turkey the best means to realize its potential as an emerging power.

In other words, Turkey’s vision for itself is very much tied to that of the region and this is also why Turkey is increasingly active in its policies towards the region.

This objective is reinforced by another target for the 100 years Anniversary of the Turkish Republic, which is to join the first ten biggest economies of the world. Others have realized this status via a continental scale of economy either within own territories such as India, China or the United States or within the European Union. Turkey also needs to find a formula for such a continental economic expanse. While we will continue to pursue membership to the EU, we will also pursue economic cooperation and even integration with countries in our very broadly defined vicinity.

Turkey is increasingly a so-called trading state. Economics is important for any country. For a country such as Turkey that is one of the top 16 national economies in the world, the link and interaction between economy and foreign policy is a requirement.

The interaction works 3 ways:

a)Turkey’s strong economy has been creating space and giving confidence to our foreign policy. Turkey’s growing capabilities and means allow Turkish diplomacy to deploy more assets and expand the scope and reach of our cooperation with a great variety of actors across the globe.

For example, Turkey was on the receiving end of foreign assistance until 15 years ago. Now, Turkey is an active donor providing more than $1 billion dollars of official aid annually. This allows us to conduct diplomacy in favour of global development.

You would remember that Istanbul hosted the UN Summit for Least Developed Countries (LDC) in May 2011. At the Summit Turkey declared an “Economic and Technical Cooperation Package” allocating nearly $200 million dollars annually to LDCs for utilization in concrete development projects. Our commitment makes us a desired and reliable partner for over 50 countries that are counted within the LDCs.
b) Turkish entrepreneurs have been influencing Turkey’s diplomatic reach as well. Turkey’s trade volume with Africa and Latin America, not conventional areas of Turkish diplomatic activity, has increased three and six fold respectively in the last decade, in parallel to a growing political dialogue with the countries of these regions.

c) Turkey’s foreign policy in the last ten years has created a new and much more positive perception of Turkey all over the world.

Turkey is no longer an observing bystander but an active participant in the efforts to resolve just about all major issues affecting global peace and security. Turkey is now a strong voice in defense of the rights of the Palestinians; the initiator of numerous mediation and facilitation initiatives in Lebanon, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Kirgizstan, Iraq, in the peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue.

That creates an awareness and interest in Turkey which translates itself, among others, to economic cooperation and more opportunities for our business communities.

We in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs try our best to further facilitate those economic opportunities by taking away all possible obstacles in the way of the mobility of people, ideas and capital.

This is why we work extensively

-to abolish visa regimes,
-further consolidate the legal infrastructure of economic relationships,
-encourage Turkish Airlines to fly everywhere where there is a Turkish businessman,
-and open up new Embassies in various parts of the world to help our business communities in their endeavors. For instance in Africa alone, we have increased the number of our Embassies from 12 to 33 within three years.

Again in the last ten years we have been able to lift visa requirements with more than 15 countries from Brazil to Russia, Ukraine to Yemen. We have also concluded 18 Free Trade Agreements to help our businessmen enjoy a more investment and trade friendly environment in these countries.

The cumulative result of all this is that Turkey’s “soft power” has been growing by leaps and bounds.

Turkish scholar Fuat Keyman notes that:

“The global attraction to the country has stemmed not only from the geopolitical identity of Turkey, as a strong state with the capacity to function as a geopolitical security hinge in the intersection of the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasian regions, but also from its cultural identity as a modern national formation with parliamentary democratic governance, a secular constitutional structure, and a predominantly Muslim population.”

Demonstrative effect

One good example can be found in the context of the Arab Spring. Prominent figures in the showers of Arab Spring, such as the Tunisian leader Rashid al-Ganouchi and others, have highlighted the importance of Turkey as a model or example for the transformation of the Arab world.

This is what Samuel Huntington once termed as “demonstrative effect.” Turkey’s demonstrative effect is a function of three developments:

-the rise of the “trading state”, making Turkey visible through commerce, investment and trade;

-the diffusion of Turkey’s democratization experience as a “work in progress”; and

-the positive image of Turkey’s “new” foreign policy, including the introduction of policies encouraging peace, cooperation and moderation in its broad vicinity
Democratization, moderation and cooperation is what we wish for our neighbours but of course Turkey does not have an official democracy promotion program comparable to those in several other Western countries. Turkey’s effect is through leading by example. Turkey has stood as a success story that is inspiring for the people of the region.

We think that the process of democratization is inevitable and irreversible for the entire region that compels us to facilitate it in the best way we can. Turkey responds by assisting our neighborhood in their efforts to institutionalize democracy by sharing our own experience and providing practical assistance. In those countries whose leaders continue to resist their own people we are partaking in efforts to promote peaceful change.

It is in everyone’s best interest that change takes place in a peaceful manner without leading to violence and new divisions along ethnic or sectarian lines. It is incumbent on all those who want to help to heed this aspect; and to remain always mindful of the overarching imperative to listen to the democratic aspirations of the people.

Turkey’s vision for 2023

The notion of power can be described in many ways, but the one I like is the one that defines it as the combination of capabilities and vision.

Indeed, without capabilities no vision can come to fruition, and without vision capabilities do not take you far. And this is precisely why Turkey is and should be considered as an emerging power in the new world. Because, not only we have diverse and growing assets of economic and social nature, we have a clear and bold vision to use them for positive ends.

So now allow me to complement the picture by touching upon the foreign policy elements of our vision 2023.

a) As I already stated, our main aim is to ensure by 2023 a belt of security, stability and prosperity around Turkey and beyond.

b) This is also in line with our objective to become one of the ten biggest economies of the world in 2023.

c) This is why we have come up with the motto of “zero problems with neighbors” which is based on political dialogue, economic interdependence and cultural understanding. Of course it is not that we think we can solve all problems overnight. But we want to create the necessary mechanisms that will help us in doing so. Rather than focusing on unresolved problems and threat perceptions, we try to see the opportunities lying idly therein and make use of them for promoting a sense of interdependence to our relations. We think that this would be the most effective way to resolve problems in the mid to long term.

And although it is heavily criticized for being naïve and unrealistic, our zero problems policy has so far been quite successful in creating a new atmosphere of dialogue, understanding and cooperation with our neighbors and beyond. You can see that with Greece, Russia and even with Armenia to which we are committed to normalize our relations.Of course, it will take some time to see the actual results of this in the form of resolved conflicts and agreements. But we are determined to work towards this end.

d) Another important aspect of our 2023 vision is our goal of becoming a full member to the European Union. This is indeed a strategic objective of Turkish foreign policy for reasons of historical, political, economic and cultural nature.

This is why, despite all the political obstacles thrown in the way of our accession process, Turkey is still committed to its EU vocation and continue its reform process with a view to meeting the membership criteria.

I will not go into the details of these reforms, but suffice me to say that the preparation of a new constitution with the participation of all the political groups in Turkey will be a crowning moment for our reform process. The new Constitution will pave the way for our democracy to take a great leap forward. It will also bring us much closer to meeting the EU membership criteria in all walks of life.

That said, we don’t want to be a member of a Union which is not able to seize the spirit of our time and constantly fall back. And I don’t just mean the economic crisis which is besetting the entire eurozone at the moment.

What EU needs is a strategic vision and a sound leadership. This is why we believe that Turkey’s membership to the EU is as important for our vision as it is for the EU’s future. Turkey will bring in the missing depth and scope to the EU that will make it relevant to the global priorities of our time such as, democracy promotion, intercultural dialogue, energy security and of course conflict prevention and resolution.

Italy has always been an active supporter of Turkey’s EU membership. We are thankful for your support.

However, due to the Cyprus problem, as well as negative stands of France and Germany, accession negotiations have come to a standstill.

Take energy security for instance which is becoming ever more important for every country, but particularly for the EU given the recent economic crisis. And it is a shame that the EU still cannot open the energy chapter with Turkey due to an artificial and politically motivated blocking by the Greek Cypriots, while Turkey continues to play a critically important role in the supply of energy resources to the EU countries.

As a matter of fact, we cannot open any chapter in our negotiation due to the reasons that are not to do with the membership criteria.

Shift of axis?

Whether this active foreign policy represents a shift of axis is a usually asked question. And it is only natural given that for almost half a century Turkey was an implementer rather than a maker of policies in this region.

But Turkey shares the same ultimate objectives with the US and the EU on every matter that is on our common agenda. So the differences may arise on tactics, but the goals remain the same. It is also a fact that Turkey’s influence in its wider neighborhood also emanates from it being a part of the “West”.

What Turkey has to offer for Euro-Atlantic security should be better understood and made use of. For that there is a need for more consultation, coordination and cooperation.

This is the case for the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, on how to manage the challenges and opportunities posed by the Arab Spring, in coping with an equally big potential in the Caucasus and Central Asia, for the peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue, to ensure the security and viability of the energy markets, in dealing with the transnational threats such as terrorism, organized crime, trafficking and etc. In all cases, Turkey presents opportunities rather than challenges.

With the US Administration there is a growing understanding that Turkey is indeed a more active and independent player but that this is not a necessarily negative thing for the US and our common objectives. On the contrary, Turkey can be extremely helpful with the respect it commands in a wide geography in its new capacity and the US is getting used to working with this new Turkey.

Turkey is more ready to engage in such a cooperative relationship with the EU. In most cases it has been Turkey who tried to reach out to its partners in the EU in order to share its analysis and explore possible ways of joint or coordinated action. But there is either a lack of enthusiasm or ability to do so on the other side.

For example, while we closely coordinate our policies with the US vis a vis Syria, we cannot do the same with the EU. It was again the Cyprus veto that blocked the EU to invite Turkey to their meeting on Syria a couple of weeks ago.

There is no doubt a growing resentment and frustration on the side of the Turkish government and people regarding EU’s cold-shouldering and inaction. There are growing voices within Turkey against the desirability of the EU membership. This is what we should avoid becoming a mainstream thought. I will leave it to your sound judgment the impact on the EU of losing Turkey altogether at such a critical juncture.

Let me stop here and enter an interactive dialogue with you. Thank you for your patience and I am more than ready to answer your questions.


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