[QODLink]
Empire
Transcript: The new Ottomans?
Read the full transcript of The new Ottomans?
Last Modified: 29 Jun 2011 09:41

This is the transcript for the Empire episode The new Ottomans (Thursday, June 16, 2011)

Narrator:

As successful elections bring it more stability, Turkey is reasserting itself under AK Party rule. East will have a voice, West will have a voice, North and South will have a voice.

Richer, bolder and with global ambitions. Balancing a western outlook with eastern interests. Yet with Europe in economic crisis, and the Arabs facing political upheaval, what role for the new Ottomans in a rapidly changing region?

Marwan Bishara:

This is Empire.

Marwan Bishara:

Hello and welcome to Empire, coming to you from the shores of the Bosphorus. Here in Istanbul at the crossroads of history and geography, where Europe meets Asia.  It's a fitting symbol for a country straddling both worlds East and West, and the reason I'm here during election season is because a decade after the Justice and Development Party see the country from a stagnant backwater to an economic dynamo with global ambitions. Today's Turks, like their country, are also at a crossroads that go beyond politics and clichés.  

Narrator:

This is what a political mandate looks like, an overwhelming endorsement of a government, its leadership and its policies.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan (translation):

This government will govern not only those who voted for AK Party, but it will be the government for all 74 million of us.

Narrator:

But these election results contain a paradox. The success of this modernisation isn't taking place the way the country's founders had planned.

Many believe it's the exact opposite. It's difficult to overestimate the geo-political influence Turkey holds nowadays.

On the world stage, Turkey was a founder member of the United Nations and has been a member of NATO since 1952, longer than that consequential power, Germany.

Turkey straddles two seemingly incompatible worlds, negotiating for membership of the European Union and sharing the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

But within the Arab world, Turkey's culture, diplomatic and economic policies have transformed it into one of the most important players in the region.

From 1299 to 1922, the Ottoman Empire was the dominant force in the region. But by the 20th Century the once mighty empire was reduced to a fraction of its former glory in the aftermath of World War I as the great powers divided up the spoils.

From the ashes of the First World War, modern Turkey was born under the auspices of Mustafa Kemal who earned the title Ataturk - the father of the Turks.

His reforms began dramatically, shifting the capital city away from Constantinople, a city seen by many Turks as too compliant with the West, and moved to Ankara, a military power base and seat of the resistance movement.

He sought to redefine how Turks dressed and in one of the most ambitious national projects ever undertaken, he replaced the written Arab letters with an adapted Roman alphabet.

But his attempts to rebuild the country came with new problems. Within the past half century the military has intervened on four major occasions, removing governments who weren't compliant enough.

Marwan Bishara:

The conventional interpretations of these events has been one in which the forces of democratic secularism backed by military might have been pitted against a more overt Islamic style of governing.  Yet this interpretation is perhaps simplistic.

Narrator:

The real battle has been over power. Grass roots movements and business classes on the one hand, entrenched state institutions on the other.

But even as the elite held onto power, they were running the country into the ground.

Those changes began at exactly the time when Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged into the national spotlight.

This seeming traditionalist didn't take power in conservative Ankara, but here in Istanbul where he won distinction as a highly popular mayor. His domestic agenda of banning alcohol in Istanbul cafes and encouraging religious dress resonated with many of Turkey's voters, while deepening the cultural divide.

The under pinning idea of Erdogan and his AK Party has been to spread the wealth, to complement rather than confront one another, in a distinctly modern and distinctly Turkish way. 

Marwan Bishara:

This week's election has been as much about the cultural identity of the country as about the economic performance of the government and its pursuit of regional and global influence. If Turkey's dreams of becoming a world power are to come true it will need economic might to sustain its global ambitions.

Fadi Hakura:

There is no doubt that the impressive growth rates that Turkey enjoyed have added to Turkey's foreign policy capacity and has added to its ambitions to play a more assertive role.

Narrator:

Indeed one reason for the AK Party's popularity is its management of the economy. Turkey has left behind its rickety state managed capitalist system and is now a thriving entrepreneurial society.

Erdogan's aim is to be a top ten economy by 2020. But the data is already impressive. It's the fastest growing G20 country. After China the Turkish economy is now the 16th biggest in the world and not a single Turkish bank failed after the credit crunch.

Marwan Bishara:

Many credit free market reforms for firing the country's run-away growth.  But the government has used its foreign policy to advance its economic agenda and vice versa.

Narrator:

And nowhere has benefited from new trade deals as much as the central Anatolia region which has boomed.
This is the heartland of that other Turkey, no more religious, the Turkey that makes seculars in coastal cities worry. 

Fadi Hakura:

What made Anatolians, the so-called Anatolians, very interesting is that the fact they combined social conservatism and piety with capitalism and the desire to exploit opportunities from globalisation.

Narrator:

These Anatolian tigers are an important element of the go everywhere foreign policy that has seen Turkey establish pragmatic, mainly economic, relations with countries from Angola to Mongolia.

As Ankara opens consulates and embassies around the world, trade becomes the new diplomacy. But not all doors are open to Turkey. For decades the EU has been tantalising the country with the prospects of membership, but every time Turkey fulfills the requirements, the EU reinterprets the rules. 

Angela Merkel (translation):

The common position is a privileged partnership for Turkey, but not full membership.

Narrator: 

It appears the EU wants access to Turkish market, but won't tolerate a relationship of equals. So whilst the EU still represents 60 per cent of its foreign trade, Turks are growing tired of the game. 

Professor Sevket Pamuk:

Polls suggests that those favouring membership have declined say from 70 per cent, more than 70 percent, to about 50 per cent.  

Narrator: 

All the more reason to pursue other options. Cue Erdogan's zero problems with our neighbor strategy, which means signing business deals, establishing free trade zones and easing visa restrictions in the region.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan (translation):

We have agreed to elevate the cooperation between our countries.  The private Turkish sector is ready to suggest proposals. I came with more than 200 businessmen.

Professor Sevket Pamuk:

Turkish foreign policy is a lot more active in the positive sense, a lot more constructive trying to mend the fences. Whether it's relations with Armenia, and the relations with Syria, Russia, Iran.

Narrator:  

The results are palpable. Turkey's exports to the Arab world has grown seven fold to $32 billion. And it's not just carpets any more. Turkey is particularly active in the whole economies of Central Asia, building 70 per cent of Kazakhstan's new capital, Astana and countless other projects.

Security however is Turkey's Achilles heel, forcing Turkey to take a pragmatic approach to all its oil producing neighbours. But as the prime minister likes to say, money has no colour. Other problems with Turkey's economy are a rising inequality and the looming needs of a young population.

Fadi Hakura:

Turkey enjoyed impressive growth rates in the last ten years or so, but now following the economic crisis 2009, sustaining those growth rates is going to be quite challenging.  

Narrator:

Turkey once found itself on the periphery of the West. Fast forward ten years and it's now at the center of a regional opportunity. 

Marwan Bishara:

Joining me are Binnaz Toprak, newly elected opposition member of parliament, former chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Batachia University. Also author of Islam And Political Development In Turkey.

Marwan Bishara:

Suat Kiniklioglu, deputy chair of External Affairs for the AK Party and until this week, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament. And last but not least, Soli Ozel, professor of International Relations and Political Science at Istanbul Bilgi University, a frequent columnist and former editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, the Turkish edition.

Marwan Bishara:

Binnaz, Soli, Suat, welcome to Empire.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Thank you.  

Suat Kiniklioglu:

Thank you.

Marwan Bishara:

You had a very exciting month, elections, so on, so forth, the elections are out, the results are out, what do these elections mean to you?

Marwan Bishara:
What did the voters send as a message?

Professor Soli Ozel:

The electorate heeded the colour of the ruling party.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

That's right, ha ha.

Professor Soli Ozel:

With their campaign slogan was 'let stability continue, let Turkey grow'.
 
I mean this is a country that had 8.9 per cent growth last year and you really cannot beat that with just democracy, I mean talks about democracy, human rights and violation of this or violation of that. At the end of the day, like all other electorates, the Turks vote with their pocket books.

Marwan Bishara:

So it wasn't just a question of politics, at the end of the day people liked what they saw, the liked the idea of their GDP or incomes tripling within a decade, it was a referendum on this government's policies.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

And I think the Turkish electorate told the country that it still was not ready for a government change, that it appreciated the prosperity of the last eight, nine years. I think there is good news for everyone in this outcome. And I think basically it is stability and more of what we saw in the last eight years.

Marwan Bishara:

The idea ... 

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

But I think ... 

Marwan Bishara:

... yes.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

... the fact that the seats are not what the prime minister wanted, because he wanted 367 to be able to change the constitution alone I suppose without recourse to a referendum. Or at least 330 with a referendum. He got less, less than 330, about which I'm happy because I think if we're going to have a civilian constitution, it has to be with the participation of various groups. Not only opposition groups in the parliament, but also civil society associations and other, there are lots of citizen platforms for example who have been working for a long time on the new constitution. Yes.

Marwan Bishara:

And that's what he said there Soli, he said right after the elections victory he said we got our mandate but to work within a consensus.

Professor Soli Ozel:

He said that he will knock on other party's doors and he would be happy to work with them. We'll see how this is going to happen, because the thing is you can knock on their door but you may still want them to accept what you have in mind. There is no reason to be pessimistic, but we'll see.

Marwan Bishara:

What do you think about what Suat said about the idea of stability? I mean it's interesting that Turkey now thinks of stability as being government by the AK Party.

Professor Soli Ozel:

No. Turks believe that stability is no coalition governments. And since the AKP is the only party that can actually pull a single party government, then stability is equated in transition with the AKP, because we had a very unfortunate experience with coalition governments in the 1990s, one of the most unstable decades in Turkish political history. Therefore the collective memory of the country is whatever we have, we don't want coalition government. I mean I think it mixes cause and effect, but that is really what's in our ... I mean we have two fixations, one; no coalition governments.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Huh.

Professor Soli Ozel:

And the second fixation is currency rates. So long as these two things are under control, Turks are happy.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Ha ha.

Marwan Bishara:

I want to get to the economy by the way ...

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

I want to ... OK.

Marwan Bishara:

... but just before we do that, they got enough votes not to have to enter into a coalition, but not enough votes as Binnaz said Suat, in order to change the constitution.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

Yes that's true and I think the constitution needs to have a societal consensus. And I think the Turkish electorate calibrated in such a way that it gave a plus and support to continuity in government, predictability, but on the other hand also commanded the government and all the other parties that they should reach a consensus which I think is in the end very healthy for the government, for the country.  

But as much as the economy is important, I don't think we can relegate the outcome only to the economy, I think this country by this election also has confirmed that there is no going back to a regime where the military or some other forces in the country will gain dominance. I think the last year's referendum and this outcome of the election has confirmed that whatever will happen from now on is going to be a new Turkey with new players, new dynamics that signifies no going back to a semi authoritarian Turkey that was sort of a democracy with many deficiencies.

Professor Soli Ozel:

In my judgement in that referendum, Turkey closed the books on what I would consider to be our second republic, whereby a civil and military bureaucratic tutelage over the democratic process was ingrained and was institutionalised in the constitution. So we are actually in the process of building the third republic and it appears that the major force in building the third republic is this new elites represented in the AKP.

Professor Binnaz Toprak: 

However ... 

Suat Kiniklioglu:

I agree.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

... I would have qualms about it in the following sense, that the dominance of one party and what it imposes on the rest of society as the only alternative, I’m afraid that in the last few years we have had the tutelage of this one party.

Professor Soli Ozel:

But ... you now have a single party dominant political system.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Right.

Professor Soli Ozel:

And overwhelming monopolisation of power, all the institutions are…

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Exactly.

Professor Soli Ozel:

... controlled by the ruling party.

Professor Soli Ozel:

But that still doesn't take away from the fact that we are building the third republic …

Marwan Bishara:

Still the Turks are not comfortable with too much movement towards this new Turkey and that's why they didn't give the AK Party the possibility to change the constitution on its own.

Professor Soli Ozel:

Yeah but you know this is not the scale, I mean they are only four seats short.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Yes.

Professor Soli Ozel:

They got 50 per cent of the vote, what more do you want?

Marwan Bishara:

You don't think with almost what some would like to call the economic miracle, that it could have easily got them extra points, Suat?

Suat Kiniklioglu:

You know I agree with Soli that 50 per cent, I don't think the electorate could have foreseen you know the exact numbers of seats.

Professor Soli Ozel:

Of seats.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

I think what has happened, the outcome, is what the electorate overall would have desired. The next task for this country is to draft a new social contract which we call the constitution and the division, the polarisation of this country can only be overcome if we all together, not only the parliament, but also civil society, media, big business etc, agree on a social contract. For this purpose I think the outcome of the election’s perfect, cos on the one hand it provides predictability and continuity in government, probably no shake up in the economy so predictability for everyone. But also a need for consensus.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

The problem is not the AK Party, the dominance of the AK Party. There was an imbalance in the system which is now being slowly remedied it appears and if this continues, this will probably end up in a more healthy political system.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Well if not, I feel that it might or it might not. 

I mean it's not the first time we’re hearing him to call for consensus and opening to all groups who even did not vote for him and so on. But when you look at this past performance, more and more and especially I think after he got 47 per cent in 2007, and even more, more recently, he has been less and less conciliatory.

Professor Soli Ozel: 

That's true, OK.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

So I hope he keeps his word this time, but there is very little reason to expect ...

Professor Soli Ozel:

There are plenty of people who share your concern.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Uhuh.

Professor Soli Ozel:

There is a very dangerous degree of monopolisation of power.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Of power, incredible.

Professor Soli Ozel:

In the country and we are not known for the autonomy of our institutions. And I think the judiciary is going to be more and more controlled by the executive through the partliament whereby he ...

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Which already happened.

Professor Soli Ozel:

... the thing is our parliamentarians have been selected by the party leaders and we just voted for appointees if you will.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

That's right.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

But ... 

Marwan Bishara:

So you think the presidential system is out. The whole idea of the possibility of a presidential system is a lot more difficult.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

No it's not more difficult.

Professor Soli Ozel:

It's a lot less likely now yes.

Marwan Bishara:

The people are worried about authoritarianism in the country.

Professor Soli Ozel:

Yes.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Yes.

Professor Soli Ozel:

In a country where checks and balances will not really work, and thankfully we are rid of the check and balance provided by the judiciary and the military. It is important that in the parliament a limit has been set and the parliament is going to be where the action is going to take place.

Professor Soli Ozel:

To constitute ourselves in a more balanced fashion.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

Everyone knows after the 2007 election, the party was faced with a closure case, the whole tension around the election of the president you know, which precipitated the early election of 2007 etc that is I think a different setting. Turkey today and also Justice and Development is much more comfortable and has more self confidence to reach out and seek the consensus, provided that there is no extraordinary event again in any form or fashion of military intervention etc, which is unlikely at all. But you know I think I agree that more than words, an action needs to be the proof of what will happen.

Marwan Bishara:

The country I get the sense as an outsider, is divided.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

It's incredibly divided.

Marwan Bishara:

It's divided ...

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Ha ha.

Marwan Bishara:

... on cultural lines.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Incredibly divided mmm.

Marwan Bishara:

Do you think the AK Party assures you or assures the opposition about its cultural agenda?

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

I don't know about the cultural agenda, but it doesn't assure me about this democratic agenda. Because when you look at what the party has been doing, AKP has been doing in the last few years, it has become more and more difficult for any opposition group or person, individual persons, to oppose anything that the pime minister says.  

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Look Turkey is among the, I think is number one in the world right now, correct me if I’m wrong, even worse than China. China has the bad record ...

Marwan Bishara:

In terms of what?

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

... in terms of imprisonment of journalists for example.

Marwan Bishara:

But that does have to do with a very particular case.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

And other intellectuals. No no, not all of them, and there is more than 1400 cases waiting. People in this country in the last years whether paranoia or not, have been afraid to talk even on their phones.

Marwan Bishara:

I told you I doubt it's the first, this is the worst, I’m sure there are many many worse countries.

Professor Soli Ozel:

Oh we may be behind China, but cultural divide is important but in daily life we may actually be getting over it. The real divide is on how we define our citizenship, I mean we talked a lot about constitution, democracy and stuff ...

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Mmm.

Professor Soli Ozel:

... but our most pressing issue, really most pressing issue is the Kurdish issue. And in that sense the presence of Turkey's six deputies who were brought in in a coalition that included the Kurdish Nationalist Party, the Peace & Democracy Party, will make that party actually a key party.

Professor Soli Ozel:

Because behind them is the PKK which has guns.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

The key function of this new parliament will be to draft in a consensus through a process that involves citizens, NGOs etc, a constitution process that will address A the Kurdish issue, B how do we accommodate visibility and worship in public life of religion? How do we redefine secularism? And how do we live together, a woman with a mini skirt and the one that covers her hijab together without fighting? And that is a major task.
I think Prime Minister Erdogan understands that this, you know, he has announced that this will be his last consecutive term in parliament, I think he feels a sense of historic mission about this. I think he will, contrary to expectations, he will be seeking the consensus but one should not put all of the responsibility of a consensus on the governing party. 

Marwan Bishara:

They certainly have the full responsibility for foreign affairs. And that we need to discuss after we come back from a news break.

Marwan Bishara:

Welcome back.  

For decades Turkey looked towards the West and Europe for its future. But times have changed. The Turkish government prides itself on promoting a foreign policy as unique as the country's geography. Because Turkey straddles both East and West, it tries to maintain diplomatic relations with all sides, extending the hands of friendship in order to diffuse regional conflict.

Narrator:

But events may soon overtake policy. Ankara appears on the brink of facing its biggest foreign policy challenge of all, Syria. the two nations share much more than a border, cultural and ethnic ties have linked them together for centuries. Like it or not, the spotlight is firmly on the Turkish government and what it can do. 

If it gets it wrong, Ankara could stand accused of enabling a discredited regime and turning a blind eye to atrocity.

Marwan Bishara:

If Turkey can find a way to navigate this diplomatic crisis, it will do so with a foreign policy that often makes the West uncomfortable and at times furious.

Shimon Peres: 

We won't have security.  

Narrator: 

On the afternoon of the 29th of January 2009, Turkey's prime minister had heard enough.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan (translation):

Because he don't let me speak. The president spoke for 25 minutes; I have only spoken for half of that.

Narrator:

Erdogan then stormed out of the discussion, much to the embarrassment of the other panelists. He was given a hero's welcome upon his return and he offered no apology. 

Relations between the two nations deteriorated significantly in May the following year when Israeli forces stormed the Turkish aid vessel, Mavi Marmara, as it tried to break the blockade of Gaza, to deliver food and humanitarian aid.

Eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish American were killed in the attack. Turkey's government was furious.

Crowd: [CHANTING]

Narrator: 

This moral outrage demonstrated by Ankara encapsulates perfectly this distinctly Turkish world view. Unlike most of its Arab neighbours, Turkey has long been a trading partner with Israel.

Marwan Bishara:

But closer relations do not mean Turkey has given up its declared principles. And when a line is crossed, as in this case, the Turkish government has not shied away from taking a principled stand.

Narrator:

Even if those economic interests are threatened as a result. Turkey's western partners who'd clearly like Ankara to adopt a diplomatic agenda more like their won.

But Ankara's approach blurs the lines between East and West, establishing ties which often anger one side or the other.

Prime Minister Erdogan was caught in a contradictory position as street protests in Libya turned into open rebellion.

Critics say Turkey's open borders policy suggested Erdogan was more interested in protecting his country's jobs and investments than in taking a moral stand.

This is in sharp contrast to Turkey's outspoken position towards Egypt. In that case, Erdogan was one of the first and loudest voices calling for Hosni Mubarak to step aside for the good of the Egyptian people. 

Marwan Bishara:

Binnaz, Soli, Suat, welcome back. The question of the Kurds is interesting for me not just because it's domestic, because it also says a lot about zero problems with the neighbours, even though there isn't much of a zero problem with the Kurds.  

Marwan Bishara:

What's your balance sheet for that zero neighbour problem?

Suat Kiniklioglu:

I think everyone in this country, regardless of what political persuasion, agrees this is the number one issue of the country. The Kurds have become politically so conscious and so organised now that no Turkish party, even the MHP, can ignore the demands of the Kurd. 

Suat Kiniklioglu:

The neighbourhood policy has a very strong Middle Eastern component.

Marwan Bishara:

Mmm.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

Foreign Minister Davatoglu is more in Middle Eastern countries than he is anywhere else. So I think it will take a priority not only from a domestic perspective, I agree with you, that it also has a regional implication now with Syria blowing up, Iraq as we know has been a very fragile state in any case. So I think the Kurdish issue will have a domestic plus foreign policy dimension.

Marwan Bishara:

Soli what do you think about all this Middle East policy of the AK Party, do you think that's all up in the air now?

Professor Soli Ozel:

You cannot totally separate your foreign policy vis a vis Iraqi Kurds and your domestic Kurdish policy.

Marwan Bishara:

Yes.

Professor Soli Ozel:

If you're changing one you've got to adjust the other too. Because throughout the republican history, Turkey's domestic Kurdish policies and international Kurdish policy complement the reform.  

Syria was the mainstay of this government's foreign policy and it blew in its face. Still we have 900 kilometres of borders with Syria, part of that border is inhabited by Syria's Kurds in that's as it will affect us should the country fall apart. But Turkey is going to be there on the primary front, on the front to deal with the Syria issue for the world community by the way.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

Prime Minister Erdogan's discourse has sharpened quite radically towards President Assad. I expect him as of today to take this as a priority, probably talk to him on the phone or even maybe see him, who knows? But what has happened in Syria is a major frustration.

Marwan Bishara:

Prime Minister Erdogan speaks with such confidence Binnaz, he almost called his victory a world victory.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

That's right.

Marwan Bishara:

So with that newly acquired confidence do you think he will be able to have more weight to throw around in the region?

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

From my point of view I would agree with Soli about the relationship between domestic and foreign policy. I'm concerned that democracy gets institutionalised in this country, that basic rights and liberties are strengthened. And in that sense I don't like the idea that Turkey has turned its face to the Middle East rather than to the West.

Marwan Bishara:

Do you think it should still try to acquire a membership in the European Union?

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

I definitely do because I think it's only ... 

Marwan Bishara:

Even though that the European Union doesn't want you to be a member in it?

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

... doesn't matter.

Professor Soli Ozel:

Some do, some don't.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

I think some do, some don't. I think the process helps Turkey to democratise itself. I think what has happened in these last years with Erdogan's policy in the Middle East, which in a way I’m not very critical of, in the following sense that you do have to have good relations ...

Marwan Bishara:

With your neighbours.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

... with neighbours and that's fine. But I don't think that should be at the expense of either the EU or you know breaking up our ...

Marwan Bishara:

You don't want a post-Ottoman Turkey?

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

I'm not sure that at least the leadership of neighbouring countries are so hot about a strong Turkey sort of ruling over them either.

Marwan Bishara:

I guess not, specially not with new democracy.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

What new ... not with the new democracy.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

The relationship is the whole region, Turkey is reintegrating into only these regions, not only the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Balkans, the Black Sea.

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

Yeah yeah which is fine, but I think ...

Suat Kiniklioglu:

This is a natural process and ...

Professor Binnaz Toprak:

... I wish it would be more on the EU.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

... supported by trade, by visa lifting regimes and by more interaction between, deepening political dialogue. So it's ... people only see the southern component, but go to the Balkans, go to Macedonia, to Albania, to Romania, you'll see the same trend there. You go to the Caucasus you see the same trend there. And it's not supported only by ideological, it's supported primarily by trade, by more interaction for people to people. And thirdly the visa regime, the freedom of movement by businessmen, intellectuals, by students, is re-weaving this region as it was for a long time.

Marwan Bishara:

So if it's all about pragmatism, is that how you explain the fact that sometimes Turkey seems like it wants to have its cake and eat it too? Why is Turkey still a member of NATO?

Professor Soli Ozel:

Turkey is a capitalist secular democracy with a Muslim population, which happens to be institutionally a member of the Atlantic Alliance or the Western System. And NATO happens to be the single most important institution so it is a way of actually balancing its Western and Eastern orientation so to say.

We're sitting here in Istanbul that used to be Constantinople. And a historian of the Ottoman Empire wrote the following, he said, 'whoever sits here and rules this peninsula called Anatolia, has to be janus faced, it cannot just look West or it cannot just look East'. In that sense to ask Turkey to drop its institutional affiliations with the West is not doing a service either to Turkey or to the general region.

Whether you call it post Ottoman, post Byzantine, whatever you do, the regions that have been now divided for the last 80 to 100 years by nations, the logical nation states are now recovering their natural zones of economic and social interaction. So this is more a post nation state environment than it is a post Ottoman or post whatever else environment.

Marwan Bishara:

I guess that also explains ... 

Professor Soli Ozel:

And this is the kind of thing we need to think about. As we need to think about the Mediterranean now as an economic and social entity rather than as a separation barrier if you will between its north and south and east and west.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

And on top of that I agree with the nation state and also the post Cold War framework being totally out of the game. And I think, I don’t think this is only, although the AK Party has been very forceful in pushing this, let's assume tomorrow the AK Party is out of government. I think the process is going to continue.

Professor Soli Ozel:

Yeah it's going to.

Suat Kiniklioglu:

And whoever is going to run Turkey will have to deal and face with it, and probably will see Turkish interests in continuing to support this. So I don't think this policy is neither a choice nor a luxury any more, it’s a necessity and it’s a reality of this region.  

Suat Kiniklioglu:

Turkey looks both East, West, North and South.

Marwan Bishara:

... we need to wrap up. Binnaz, gentlemen, thank you for joining Empire.

Marwan Bishara:

The one thing we know with certainty about the Arab awakening, is that its outcome remains largely unpredictable. One man responsible for threading his way through this diplomatic minefield is Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. We caught up with him here in Istanbul to talk about Turkey's Arab policy and its overall strategy in the region and beyond.

Marwan Bishara:

Foreign Minister welcome to Empire.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Thank you, welcome to the capital of the Empire.

Marwan Bishara:

Oh ha ha that's right.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Ha ha.

Marwan Bishara:

Foreign Minister you've said that there are three kinds of readers in the regions. Those who understand change is coming and are leading it, those who understand change is coming, are indifferent to it and those who understand change is coming but are resisting it.  

Ahmet Davutoglu:

That's right.

Marwan Bishara:

Come the new government, are you going to make a new policy doctrine of sort towards the Arab world?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

First of all we will continue the same principles. Change is necessary, and it must be through a peaceful transformation because we cannot make a paradox between stability and change.  

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Then of course our focus will be Egypt. Why? Because we want Egyptian process as a success. If there is a success in Egyptian process of transition, I am sure that will be a good example for other countries. All everybody, global powers, regional powers, must help Egypt and Tunisia to make this transition a success.

Marwan Bishara:

You've received Omar Bashir of Sudan twice here. Have you, is that the same message goes to Sudan as well?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Of course, of course and in each case we tried and we will continue to try to give our very frank opinion to all the leaders and countries around us.

Marwan Bishara:

And you've been giving your frank opinion to Israel.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Yes.

Marwan Bishara:

With its situation there.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Yes.

Marwan Bishara:

The Turkish flotilla, Mavi Marmara, is going once again at the end of this month at the end of June, and the Israelis are saying they're going to do the same thing, they are going to confront it with their navy. What will Turkey do then?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

It is not a Turkish Israeli issue, it's a convoy issue. Because there are participations from ...

Marwan Bishara:

International yes.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

... the two countries. I hope Israel has already understood that international waters does not belong to Israel.

Marwan Bishara:

But it says it wants to confront the same way.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Oh, then they will see the consequences. We cannot tolerate Israel to claim that Eastern Mediterranean belongs to them and they can do any operation in open seas or territory, in international waters. This cannot, this will not be happening again.

Marwan Bishara:

Israel is just an example of where the so called zero problem policy as having a problem.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Mmm.

Marwan Bishara:

So what happens with that in reality?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Let me clarify one position. When I said zero problems with our neighbours in 2003, I knew as a student of history and who taught history, it is not possible zero problems, you will know, between brothers.

Marwan Bishara:

Yes.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

But what did I try is to change the mentality. At that time. Until that time there was a foreign policy paradigm in Turkey having problems with the neighbours. We changed that paradigm and zero, our policy, zero problems with neighbours, has been a success.

Marwan Bishara:

Mmm.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

For example our relations with Greece, our relations with Russia. Our relations with Georgia, our relations with Bulgaria, Iran, not only, don't look at only Syria and Iraq. Even in Syria and Iraq and Lebanon and Jordan and Egypt it has been a success.

Marwan Bishara:

And then came the Arab awakening and Turkey has been criticised as flip flopping on the question of transition. So while for example you called for earlier retirement of President Mubarak, you certainly took your time on Libya and you're still taking your time on Syria.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

No it's not correct. We established two principles. One is now it is time for change in our region and the Cold War politics, as it has ended in Eastern Europe, there is a need of a new politics in our region. Second the method of this change should be peaceful transformation or orderly transformation.

Marwan Bishara:

So so ...

Ahmet Davutoglu:

In the case of Egypt for example ...

Marwan Bishara:

Yes.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

... Prime Minister made this call when the position of army was clear.

Marwan Bishara:

Mmm.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

And when there was widespread demonstrations in almost all cities, regardless of their religious backgrounds, Muslims, Christians, all of them ...

Marwan Bishara:

Yes.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

.
.. were in the streets. So in this case we had a projection that ... there is a possibility of peaceful change. But in the case of Libya, there we made another analysis and we said this could continue longer. So we need to use all of our cards in our hand to make this transformation possible in a peaceful manner. When Gadaffi didn't listen us, we made our position clear and we said now you must go because you don't listen. Same in Syria, we are using our best effort to encourage Syrian administration for reforms and when the loss of civilians continues we criticise. So our policy is absolutely consistent but of course we have to implement the same principles in different consequences in a different way.

Marwan Bishara:

So when I take a look at your balance sheet of your last ten years, what do I see? You've tried to resolve the question of Israel Palestine, Israel Syria, you've tried to tackle the question of Iran nuclear. You've tried to tackle the question of Cyprus. You've tried to tackle your own question of membership of the European Union. It hasn't been working has it?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

No no, totally. I think it was a success, a very successful process. Let me tell you, if you do the same criteria, all the American administrations were failed, all the international community failed. So it is not ...

Marwan Bishara:

So you accept that you have the same failure like Washington?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

No no, no the opposite, the opposite. This is not the way of analysing a process, a period. I can give you another picture.

Marwan Bishara:

Mmm.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

The Suni [INAUDIBLE] to Iraqi politics in 2005, a success. The solution for the presidential success in Lebanon together with Qatar in 2008 a success. Starting indirect talks between Syria and Israel despite of a long almost ten years there was no even contact and we succeeded to start the process and we succeeded even an end. But who failed because of Israeli politics, not because of Turkish mediation, it's a success.

Marwan Bishara:

But look nowhere ...

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Starting Turkish EU negotiations is a success.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

It is, it depends ...

Marwan Bishara:

I want to confirm about that ...

Ahmet Davutoglu:

... from which perspective you are approaching. I think this has been a success story.

Marwan Bishara:

One of the questions of prominence has been that it's looking more and more like a schizophrenic foreign policy. You speak like a brick, you talk like a brick, brick country.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Mmm.

Marwan Bishara:

Like Brazil, Russia, India and China and South Africa today. But you're a member of NATO.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Mmm.

Marwan Bishara:

And you want to enter the European Union.  

Marwan Bishara:

How do you resolve exactly that?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Yes we are a member of NATO but in NATO and even in EU negotiations our connections with Asia with Middle East, with Africa even, with Balkans, with [INAUDIBLE] is an asset. In fact it’s an asset for global peace, it's an asset for everybody. Our relation in the Middle East, now in all issues in the Middle East, in EU foreign or NATO, everybody is asking Turkish opinion.

Marwan Bishara:

But but ...

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Because they know very well that we are ...

Marwan Bishara:

... but Foreign Minister you ...

Ahmet Davutoglu:

... we are influential in this region.

Marwan Bishara:

... but you do not correspond, you do not agree with most of the core powers of NATO alliance.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

That's right, it doesn’t mean NATO does not mean that everybody must have one policy. This is wrong. Again another orientation. NATO is a Western power, Turkey is a dependent country and Turkey will accept what the main powers of NATO will decide. This is wrong.

Marwan Bishara:

But I still don't understand Foreign Minister, why should some of the most powerful countries in the world with nuclear powered countries, still maintain an alliance that was supposed to keep the Germans down and the Russians out? This is over.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

But the existing instability, security instability in Europe and around Europe, and in trans Atlantic, need to had a mission for all the ...

Marwan Bishara:

But are you sure this is not having your cake and eating it too? I mean I'm talking about Turkey. Because at the end of the day you want to be part of two processes, you want to be a country of all seasons. You want to be with everyone and please everyone and so on, so forth. But the result in the end of the day is that you're angering the likes of America because you interfere in the question of Iran as far as they're concerned. You're angering the likes of Israel and France because you put pressure on the question of Palestine and Libya and so the process might be going good, but the results ...

Ahmet Davutoglu:

If you want to be ...

Marwan Bishara:

... are controversial.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

... if you want to be liked by everyone you have to be very passive or not do anything.

Marwan Bishara:

Mmm.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Turkey has her own position. Once you have your own position, some of them will like, some others will not like. The important thing is here, you can change everything but you cannot change two things, geography and history. Turkey is in such a geography that we need to develop our own position and in all these cases for example Syria today, who else knows Syria more than us? Or who else can contribute more to a peaceful process in Syria or in Iraq, more than Turkey? Those who are far away they have different of course perspectives. This is our geography.

Marwan Bishara:

But don't you think you will be closer to this geography if you are no longer a member of NATO?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

We will continue to be a member of NATO. We will not question it.

Marwan Bishara:

A lot of people are saying you are reminding them of the Ottoman Empire. You have always said don't say such nonsense, this is not an Ottoman Empire. Some are now advancing a new argument that perhaps this is a post Ottoman, this is a new new Turkey. Do you think this responsibility can be still one of we want to be with the East and we want to be with the West?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

The concepts of East and West is changing. Turkey is not the end point of East and Greece is not for example is not the end point of West. In this global world, these types of terminologies should be changed. Now it is time to end these abnormalities. What is the normality? Normality is economic interdependence. Normality means political dialogue. Normality means ...

Marwan Bishara:

But do you support that among the Arab countries first?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Yes yes of course.

Marwan Bishara:

So you support first and foremost an Arab unity of sort among Arab states, interdependence among Arab countries perhaps a common market?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Why do we need to call these Arab or Turkish or Iranian or others? Call it a region. If Arabs unite, we will be more than happy, that’s what we want.

Marwan Bishara:

I want to end with you Foreign Minister on one note, that you actually mentioned, you said that not only we're going to be a regional power, we want to be a global power.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

That's right.

Marwan Bishara:

Just tell me why does the Republic of Turkey want to be a global power?

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Which country doesn't want to be a global power? Let me, tell me. All the countries want to play an important role. Some European countries they want to play global role, nobody is questioning. When Turkey says we can contribute to global peace, then there is a question do you want to create Ottoman Empire? No.

Marwan Bishara:

Mmm.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Ottoman Empire was past, will continue to, it will be past, it will not come back.

Marwan Bishara:

We're in post Ottoman times.

Ahmet Davutoglu:

Yes. But now what we realise, Turkey is a country where East and West, North and South meets. We ...

Marwan Bishara:

Foreign Minister ...

Ahmet Davutoglu:

... can contribute a lot.

Marwan Bishara:

... on this very positive and confident note, we're going to have to end.

Marwan Bishara:

The biggest question facing the Turks today goes as follows. If Turkey were a city state, would it be Ankara or Istanbul? Ankara has long represented the birth of a new secular militarised and introverted, albeit, West leaning republic, with strong centralised state institutions. Istanbul on the other hand is a diverse open business hub with one foot in the West and another in the East.  A cosmopolitan city that projects Turkey's soft power and ambition for global ascendance.

Now judging from this week's elections and a decade of AK Party rule, the country is increasingly defining itself by Istanbul rather than Ankara. Hopefully, this goes beyond the cliché of bikini versus head-dress to underline the country's commitment to cultural diversity over cultural divide, political plurality over authoritarianism.

And that's the way it goes.

If you have any comments, please write to me. Until next time.

Source:
Al Jazeera
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
The author argues that in the new economy, it's people, not skills or majors, that have lost value.
Colleagues of detained Al Jazeera journalists press demands for their release, 100 days after their arrest in Egypt.
Mehdi Hasan discusses online freedoms and the potential of the web with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
A tight race seems likely as 814 million voters elect leaders in world's largest democracy next week.
Featured
Deadly attacks on anti-mining activists in the Philippines part of a global trend, according to new report.
Activists say 'Honor Diaries' documentary exploits gender-based violence to further an anti-Islamic agenda.
As Syria's civil war escalates along the Turkish border, many in Turkey are questioning the country's involvement.
Treatment for autism in the region has progressed, but lack of awareness and support services remains a challenge.
The past isn't far away for a people exiled from Crimea by Russia and the decades it took to get home.
join our mailing list