Breakfast at Tiffany’s with the Turkish president

Ceylan Ozbudak

Published: Updated:

New Yorkers got to see Turkish President’s Cadillac on many corners this week up and down Park Avenue and the U.N. complex in Manhattan. One of the guests in New York, which has had exceptionally spry times due to the 68th Session of the U.N. General Assembly held last week, was Abdullah Gül.

President Gül who attended a number of meetings and contacted many leaders in New York, including the U.N. General Assembly meeting, brought three main subjects to the agenda during his visit.

Revise the U.N. or we will establish a new union that works!

The first one of these was an immediate revision for the U.N. to keep the international community functional. Gül who stated that the only way for the U.N. system to have a meaning and remain credible is to take firm steps, said:

President Gül’s regional and international concerns were expressed powerfully at a global meeting like none other. But the question is: Was the world listening?

Ceylan Ozbudak

“In the light of new conditions of our world, a Security Council that is truly democratic, able to represent all, is active and accountable is needed.” If we examine the explanations Gül has made throughout the week, we can see that he supports the idea for a new Middle East peace initiative. Gül, who pointed out that all countries must unite forces in order to build a permanent international order in line with the principles of the U.N. Charter, added “This is the best way to guard and forward our interests for a steady, safe and prosperous world.”

Remember, PM Erdogan expressed a while ago that if the U.N. does not revise itself, an alternative international union that would contribute to regional peace must be established. He explained that the sole purpose of this alternate union would be to prevent conflicts in Middle Eastern countries, contribute the welfare of African countries and ensure more integration with Asia.

Welcome to the real world, Mister President!

Second subject President Gül focused on (due to constant questions over Gezi Park protests) was the state of democracy in Turkey. In his signature politeness, President Gül was surprised about the questioning of the democratic environment in Turkey and the subject of Gezi protests, which has come up several times during his personal meetings including the Council On Foreign Relations meeting (which was supposed to be off the record but ended up to be open to Turkish press). For the first time he came across with people who were questioning Turkey’s commitment to democracy. Surely, Abdullah Gül was not the only one surprised. Despite the fact that water canons and pepper gas are used commonly as a procedure all over the world for crowd control and that Gezi protests were kept open to the world press, scoring this as lack of democracy when Turkey is concerned, makes all of us rightfully ask the question whether there is a racist approach directed at Turkey. In an environment where hundreds of private cars, buses, bus stops, police cars and police stations were vandalized, we all know the severity of the response the USA or the EU countries would have given. Apparently, being a Muslim country causes an alternative scenario that creates its own parallel universe of allegations that “others” don’t face.

“10-15 years ago Turkey’s problems used to be similar to the problems of less-developed countries: Human rights violations, tortures, unemployment, those who throw an empty safe to the street etc. The incidents now (Gezi protests) were not related to the Arab Spring. They were not about basic rights and freedoms. They started with the environmental issues. These are problems you encounter in the most developed countries. We have brought the country from that point to here. I am proud of this” said Abdullah Gül, when he was describing the nature of Gezi protests.

In this environment, it’s a valid question to ask why are people constantly accusing Turkey of slipping from its democratic values while it doesn’t even make the news when England punished its protestors with 1-3 year sentences a few years ago. Are we seeing a kind of racism towards the Muslim Turks? Or is it just a caution against Islam in the Western societies? Same question was asked back in 1997. Today’s foreign minister Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu hinted at this strategy in an article he published. He criticized both the “End of History” thesis proposed by Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” proposal. Both saw Islam as a threat to Western values. In response, Davutoğlu argued that the Muslim world did not have the resources to develop a global strategy as an anti-systemic force. He also argued that the history of civilizations is not only composed of clashes and that a comprehensive civilizational dialogue is needed for globally legitimate international order.

The today, yesterday and tomorrow of Turkey

The third subject President Gül emphasized was Turkey’s new position in her pluralistic foreign policy and becoming a more central player in the region. In New York last week, Gül gave further clues to his thinking by suggesting that rather than acting as a mere bridge between East and West, Turkey should act as a central country breaking away from a static and single parameter policy and becoming a problem solver contributing to global peace. During his speech in the U.N.GA, President Gül also mentioned Turkey’s candidacy for U.N. Security Council non-permanent seats for the term 2015-2016. Gül noted that if selected, Turkey would bring the Security Council a fresh voice that listens to all with the aim to find comprehensive and permanent solutions through dialogue. He also said “We hope for the support of all members for our candidacy.” Are these words of President Abdullah Gül, pushing Turkey in the middle of the world scene coming as a surprise to politically enthusiastic Turks? Not really.

While AKP leaders devoted little attention to foreign policy before 2002, this naturally changed by the bid for EU membership with the aim to win mass support. A remarkable feature of the AK Party’s foreign policy was that despite Islamist origins of most of its leaders, there was little about its strategies that could be regarded as ideological. Turkey’s relations with several Muslim countries were improved, but so were its links with distinctly non-Islamic states including Greece China and Russia. While apparently not problem free, cooperation with Israel was also preserved. Above all, EU accession remained among AKP’s basic goals as the party rejected the Islamist mentality of “us versus them” with Europe.

For all those who accuse Turkey of being undemocratic, as early as 2004, the EU decided that Turkey had fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria on democracy and human rights. The most striking foreign policy decision AK Party made was supporting the Annan Plan for Cyprus issue, which was blocked by Greek Cypriots. It was then understood, policy of zero problems with neighbors could be hard to deliver if the neighbor failed to reciprocate. It was also impossible to eliminate all problems with neighbors if the neighbors had disputes with one another. Conflicts between Russia-Georgia, Israel-Arab states, Azerbaijan – Armenia and now the proxy ground Syrian civil war created serious headaches for Turkish diplomacy.

These policies reflected Turkey’s domestic policy of stability and prosperity. While Turkey attracted billions of dollars worth foreign investment in the last decade, $123 billion of this investment came from the West.

President Gül’s regional and international concerns were expressed powerfully at a global meeting like none other. But the question is: Was the world listening? President Gül was right to repeatedly say Syria is on fire and we Turks feel the heat in a way Americans and Europeans don’t. But will they act to stop further massacres inside Syria? And President Gül had other news from Turkey! We won’t shy away from using our democratic rights to protect our country from vandalism next time our protestors unleash violence on our streets.

Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

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