Who is trying to broker peace in Syria? Turkey. Who is the most active member in the Afghanistan reconstruction process, launching the Istanbul Forum and many other initiatives? Turkey. Who is monitoring Iranian nuclear capabilities in an effort to keep the situation under control? Turkey. Who is playing a key role in bringing various brokers together around the negotiation table toward a peaceful Middle East? If you guessed Turkey, then you are right.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made it clear in his talk, hosted by The NATO Council of Canada last week, that Turkey is at the nexus of some of the most important global issues. Dr. Davutoglu undertook a historical step: it was the first time in fourteen years that a Turkish foreign minister visited Canada. He presented the audience with a frank and honest speech, tackling even the most uncomfortable issues – very refreshing, if not unheard of, from the average politician.
He boldly took on the question of the Armenian genocide, which he pointed out as the number one issue standing in the way of a strategic cooperation between Turkey and Canada. His visit was surely meant to amend this relationship, an important initiative for Turkey given the fact that Canada and Turkey could be strong partners in a complementary relationship. However, as the Foreign Minister mentioned, today Turkey has a much more active and strategic relationship with Brazil than it does with Canada. Why? Because Canada, which has its own troublesome history and current relationship with its indigenous population, openly criticizes Turkey for the way it handles the Armenian issue. Minister Davutoglu emphasized that his government is not denying the terrible events which took place a century ago. Moreover, Dr. Davutoglu stated that they are open for discussion and reconciliation. But Ankara feels that such a process will work only if the international community is open to hear the Turkish side of events – an interpretation that would not deny any wrongdoing, but rather distinguish the Armenian issue from Hitler’s Holocaust or Pol Pot’s brutality.
As long as Canada remains deaf to what the Turks have to say on the issue, no mutual understanding and productive cooperation can be expected.
This is of particular importance given Turkey is a rising star on the international stage. Ever since Prime Minister Erdogan came to power at the helm of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002, he has been turning Turkey into a strong global player. While previous Turkish governments were inward-looking, focusing on their issues with the Kurds or the Greek Cypriots, today Turkey is open to the world. In fact, Dr. Davutoglu shared his vision of a holistic approach to foreign affairs, where no one issue would trump others in significance. Ankara views every issue on the international agenda as equally important.
Since becoming foreign minister two years ago, Dr. Davutoglu has been working tirelessly to make this vision a reality. Historically and geographically, Turkey is inescapably at the center of much more than just Kurdish self-determination and Cypriot unity. He cited several examples of Turkey’s reach beyond its immediate neighbourhood, such as Afghanistan, where his country leads the reconstruction efforts and training of locals. Given Turkey’s historical linkages to many parts of the world, it is often expected to be the first to help the peoples of various countries. For example, during Davutoglu’s visit to Northern Afghanistan, local officials gave him a list of infrastructure needs, which they expected Turkey, ethnically linked to this Uzbek population, to fulfill.
As in this case, Turkey does step up to the occasion – not just in Afghanistan, but elsewhere. Another example is Turkey’s aid to Somalia. It differs from the Western variant, which is usually in the form of monetary donations or scholarly conferences. Instead, Turkey has sent its nationals to Somalia to work on various projects, including building school and hospitals.
Turkish businesses are as dynamic and involved internationally as their government is. In fact, Minister Davutoglu underlined the close connection and cooperation between governmental and entrepreneurial activity. While the government sends its representatives all over the world to establish connections, businesses do the same, providing a bottom-up expansion of soft power. In recent years Turkey has opened 25 embassies in Africa and four new embassies in Latin America. While opening these diplomatic missions comes at a significant cost to the government – five million dollars for the initial set-up and two million each year for maintenance – this expenditure is fully justified when Turkish businesses make profits in those countries. This is a union of the government and corporations toward a mutually-beneficial end.
Minister Davutoglu did not eschew the question of EU membership either. According to him, membership is still desired and actively pursued. Turkey is ready to wait another fifty years, if necessary. Meanwhile, the joke seems to be on the EU. Davutoglu stated that had Turkey been in the EU by now, it would have helped alleviate the financial crisis there. Turkey could have been the country to save Greece. If there were any Greek members of the audience, they would probably have nodded in bitter agreement. While EU members were afraid of Turks providing cheap labour in Europe (among other European fears, euphemistically called “cultural misperceptions” by the frank, yet diplomatic minister), there were actually many European Turks who returned to Turkey in the last several years, given the economic opportunities there. Overall, it must be noted that Turkey created 2 million jobs at a time when the EU lost the equivalent amount.
And job creation is not the only beneficial facet of the rise of Turkey. There are many long-term advantages of having Ankara as part of the EU. By becoming a member and abolishing a visa regime with the EU, Turkey can help turn Balkans into a prosperous region, a commercial hub as it once was many decades ago. Davutoglu stressed that this desire comes not only out of mercantile thinking, but out of a moral obligation. He referred to the Balkan wars of the 1990s and said that “Bosnia and Herzegovina was an ethical test for us.” The international community stood by and did not prevent atrocities such as Srebrenica; now is the time to amend the pain and suffering caused by inaction.
The inclusion of ethics in politics seems to be an initiative Davutoglu strongly believes in. The Foreign Minister stated that, “As long as there is no peace in the Palestine, there is no peace in the Middle East. There is no peace in the Middle East – there is no peace in the world.” Turkey understands Israel’s need for security, but everyone also needs to understand Palestine’s need for dignity.
Overall, during this hour-long talk, Foreign Minister Davutoglu proved to be a frank and proud politician with an astute understanding of global affairs and world history. With politicians such as Dr. Davutoglu, Turkey is on its way to the centre from the fringes. Ankara is active at the heart of all the pressing issues of the day and it is steadily working toward being at the center of many peripheral questions as well. Much can be learned from Turkey’s holistic approach and one definitely hopes that Canada will be able to reconcile its differences in order to gain, both politically and economically, from a truly beneficial relationship with this important country.