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OIC meeting puts Turkey centre stage

As foreign ministers from around the Islamic world exited Istanbul at the close of

Last Modified: 16 Jun 2004 17:14 GMT
Turkish FM Abdullah Gul (centre) presents his country as model of progress

As foreign ministers from around the Islamic world exited Istanbul at the close of a three-day summit, host country Turkey was left looking particularly pleased with itself.

Its candidate had been elected secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), the world's largest Islamic organisation, while the summit's closing statement had improved the official status of Ankara's protégés, the Turkish Cypriots.

 

It also seemed like a triumph for the "Turkish model", an example of democratic reform in a predominantly Muslim society that is currently being much touted by the West, and the US in particular.

 

"This was a success for Turkish diplomacy and reflects the growing weight of Turkey in the affairs of the Islamic world," top Turkish columnist Cengiz Candar told Aljazeera.net after the conference on Wednesday.

 

The summit also saw a group of six countries neighbouring Iraq, and Egypt, meet Baghdad's Washington-appointed foreign minister Hushiar Zibari on the sidelines to discuss the latest UN-backed US plan for the country.

 

Sovereignty

 

The group urged full transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government on 30 June, and called for the UN to take a central role in the transition from occupation to Iraqi self-rule. Zibari characterized this as a full statement of support for the interim government.

 

Iraqi minister Zibari had one-to-
one meetings with the others

But it was the summit's call for change within the Islamic world that took centre stage. In a blistering opening speech, outgoing OIC Secretary General Dr Abd al-Wahid Belkeziz characterised that world as having been "degraded, our rights downtrodden, our sanctities defiled, and our just causes defeated".

 

In consequence, "the Islamic world today stands unquestionably at a crossroads where it must embark upon a civilisational self-examination," he said.

 

Turkish leaders and others argued that this meant unavoidable political and economic change.

 

"It is clear that there should be a consensus on the inevitability of reforms," said Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in his opening remarks on Monday. "This process has started and it is not possible to stop it."

 

"The whole theme of Turkey's foreign minister at the conference was that you must change or others will force you to change," said Professor Iltar Turan of Istanbul's Bilgi University.

 

"This is because Turkey is very concerned about what it sees as a recent polarisation in the world along religious lines. By encouraging change, Turkey is hoping to defuse this tendency, and the intensification of conflicts that are going on all around it."

 

Reform

 

Ihsanoglu (R) won despite stiff
competition

Turkey has also placed Washington's call for reform onto the agenda of the OIC.

 

"What became the blueprint at the G-8 summit last week is now on the agenda of the Islamic world," said Candar, referring to Turkey's participation at the summit of G-8, the association of the world's richest nations, in the US last week.

 

"Turkey was one of the few countries invited to G-8, and now, by hosting the summit and getting its candidate elected secretary general for the first time it showed its ability to coordinate between the West and the Islamic world."

 

Yet, historically, Turkey has had little interest in the OIC. Ankara had long rejected the organisation's Islamic label, as the country sought to define itself entirely along secular lines.

 

All that has now changed, with Ankara making a strong effort this time to take a leading role in the organisation. Its candidate, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, fought off challenges from Malaysia and Bangladesh to take the post of secretary-general.

 

 

"What became the blueprint at the G-8 summit last week is now on the agenda of the Islamic world"

 

Cengiz Candar,

columnist

Broader effort

 

"This is part of a much broader effort by Turkey to improve its relations with other regional countries," said Turan. "In the past, the OIC has been dominated by the Arab states and the feeling here is that if it is to become representative of a broader community, then it has to incorporate other countries. From that perspective, Turkey is a natural candidate."

 

Turkey also used the summit to fight its corner over the divided island of Cyprus. After a referendum late April saw Turkish Cypriots approve a UN plan to reunify the country which Greek Cypriots rejected, the international community has been warming to the Turkish Cypriots.

 

Until now, they have not been recognised diplomatically and subjected to economic sanctions, aimed at punishing Turkey for its invasion of the island in 1974 and subsequent military occupation of its northern third.

 

At the OIC, the Turkish Cypriots have long had observer status, yet have always been described as the "Turkish Cypriot community". In Istanbul though, the conference decided to upgrade their status, defining them as the "Turkish Cypriot state".

 

This is being widely seen as a green light for OIC member states to begin open economic relations with the Turkish Cypriots in the future.

Source:
Aljazeera
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