Dr. Burak Akçapar 15.09.2011



Distinguished Faculty,

Distinguished Students,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Friends,

It is indeed a distinct honor to address this distinct gathering today at the Jamia Millia Islamiya.

JMI is one of the finest educational institutions in South Asia. Its motto “Allammal Insaana Maalam Yalam (Taught man that which he knew not)” reminds us of the timeless journey from darkness to light through knowledge.

The University has at its very conception in 1920 had a certain connection to Turkey. Ninety years hence the Khilafat movement is long gone and India and Turkey have established themselves as global rising stars. Nonetheless, Jamia’s core values and devotion to excellence in science, research and education continues. And the connection to Turkey endures and in fact is set to grow even more concrete.

A Turkish professor has made JMI home forming a bridge to Turkey. He will stay on for another year. And, the Vice Chancellor and I have discussed today the possibility of

 upgrading our cooperation to a full fledged Turkish Studies program as early as next year.

In fact the entire range of Turkish-Indian relations are at a momentous and auspicious tipping point.

Heir to two ancient civilizations and polities, the modern Republics of India and Turkey are bound by an oath of friendship that will mark its 60

th anniversary on December 14 this year.

Since I arrived around six weeks ago, I have been much pleased and honored by the very warm reception that I have been accorded in India from all quarters.

Tremendous potential exists in our bilateral ties in almost every field. Our bilateral ties have achieved an upwardly trend in all areas. But the intensity of interaction must be bolstered. And I am confident that it will be given the goodwill and increasing interest that exists on both sides.

Dear Friends,

You have kindly invited me to share my views on the topic of Turkey and the Arab Spring.

The unfolding Arab Spring is of course of direct interest to Turkey. Turkey is of course a part of this neighborhood. If you have seen the television footage of the visit by the Turkish Prime Minister H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdo

ğan to Egypt and other visits by Turkish leaders you would note the massive interest and sympathy towards Turkey and Turkish experience throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

The region was looking for an inspiration and it seems to have found it in a country that spends zero dollars on democracy promotion programs but instead helps by example. A noted Turkish professor has likened it to Samuel Huntington’s concept of demonstrative effect. Turkish democracy, Turkish economic boom, and Turkish

foreign policy is creating a certain effect for the masses that yearn and rightly believe they deserve the same.

I will not discuss whether Turkey is a model or not.

I will however try to expound on our perceptions that shape our vantage point with regard to the historic events unfolding in the region.

To ease you into this vantage point, let me ask you to empathize, as we do, with the youthful demands for change and dignity that has been driving the Arab Spring.

Just imagine you were born late in 1980’s or early 1990’s when people, say, in Poland had been transforming their governance from an ideological dictatorship to a participatory democracy. They are liberalizing their economy, opening it up to the globalized workplace, redrawing the lines and limits of national security, human security and human development including individual freedoms.

However, you are not born in Warsaw or Prague, Bucharest or Budapest or Riga, but rather in beautiful Sidi Bouzid close to the southern shores of the marvelous Mediterranean Sea. Your parents would have been watching these events unfold with a huge distance as if these were not taking shape only a few thousand kilometers away. The waves of democratization had to a large extent by-passed you when they transformed governance in most of South America and East Asia in the 1980s and Eastern Europe and some of Central Asia as of late 1980s. You belong to a place strangely and even pejoratively called the Middle East; middle of what, east to whom? You are, of course, a grand child of the likes of Ibn Khaldoun, or Ibn Sina, or Abu Rayyan al Biruni, Mohammad ibn Maruf, or Al Farabi. You are a heir to a great civilization, in a region where any major city is no less than 2000 years old.

By the time you reach secondary school age, the picture of your region would have looked like this:

“There is a substantial lag between Arab countries and other regions in terms of participatory governance

This freedom deficit undermines human development and is one of the most painful manifestations of lagging political development. While de jure acceptance of democracy and human rights is enshrined in constitutions, legal codes and government pronouncements, de facto implementation is often neglected and, in some cases, deliberately disregarded.

In most cases, the governance pattern is characterized by a powerful executive branch that exerts significant control over all other branches of the state, being in some cases free from institutional checks and balances. Representative democracy is not always genuine and sometimes absent. Freedoms of expression and association are frequently curtailed. Obsolete norms of legitimacy prevail.”

(UNDP Arab Human Development Report 2002)

Time passes and by the time you reach university age, the picture is not any different.

“In the Arab region, human insecurity—pervasive, often intense and with consequences affecting large numbers of people—inhibits human development. It is revealed in the impacts of military occupation and armed conflict in Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Occupied Palestinian Territory. It is found in countries that enjoy relative stability where the authoritarian state, buttressed by flawed constitutions and unjust laws, often denies citizens their rights. Human insecurity is heightened by swift climatic changes, which threaten the livelihoods, income and access to food and water of millions of Arabs in future. It is reflected in the economic vulnerability of one-fifth of the people in some Arab states, and more than half in others, whose lives are impoverished and cut short by hunger and want. Human insecurity is palpable and present in the alienation of the region’s rising cohort of unemployed youth and in the predicaments of its subordinated women, and dispossessed refugees.”

(UNDP Arab Human Development Report 2009)

Before you go anywhere else for answers this may well be the background of the explosion of the youth bulge across the Arab world since a young man called

Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in protest after police confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was selling from a street stall December last year.

Bouazizi’s death was as much the true reason for the outbreak of the popular Arab Spring as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo was the true reason of World War I.

What really transpired was that “history” that came to a standstill in the so-called Middle East (or Western Asia and Northern Africa, or Central Afro-Eurasia) has burst open its flood gates. The flow of history has since been returning to its natural river bed.

When I was finishing college as a student the big phrase was “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”, which the US President Reagan uttered in 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate with reference to, well, literally a wall that separated East and West Berlin.

The real symbolism went beyond a mere physical barrier. But the walls and the iron curtains came down by people tearing them down with their own hands.

Recall the timeless words of Victor Hugo: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

Underlying the unrest was an acute awareness by the young people of the situation they are in and the world around them. This awareness was sharpened by the means of globalization and new opportunities of communication facilitated by modern information technologies. People no longer need to come physically together to mobilize and organize. Instead, social platforms in the internet brought them together irrespective of the distance from each other.

However, despite the support it has received from modern day communication technology, the Arab Spring is not an unforeseen anomaly. In 2006, I argued that:

“The transformation of the broader Middle East does not appear to be an idea that will wither away easily... The region is already on the path of reforms, as regional dynamics are set in motion and could be expected to increase in the
time ahead...”

The Middle East and North Africa have reached a defining moment in history. The unfolding developments would most certainly have a seismic impact on the sociopolitical landscape of the region for a long time. Although it is too early to anticipate the final outcome in every distinct country, we can safely predict that change and transformation in the Middle East and North Africa are inevitable and most likely irreversible too.

Dear Faculty,

Dear Students,

Dear Friends,

Turkish Government’s approach towards developments in the Middle East is coherent and infact predictable based on Turkey’s own mental image of itself and of the world around her.

Turks have embarked on a journey towards highest standards of democracy since 1923, starting with entrusting all sovereignty without conditions and limitations on the people. Following a critical turn towards multi-party elections in 1946, we suffered interruptions in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997. The Constitution of the Republic has been changed or amended countless times and would need to be liberalized even further in the time ahead. It has taken a trail of tears to reach the contemporary standards of Turkish democracy and the work is still in progress.

A Turkey as such cannot remain unsympathetic to the youthful, fragile, but equally inevitable spring in the Arab world. We have a common past albeit with at times differing circumstantial recollections and politicized historizations. Turkey and other fellow constituent peoples of the old Ottoman Empire have taken different paths. They are separate sovereign States and will choose for themselves what direction to follow.

But, the 1839 Gulhane Edict or the 1876 Constitution that set off Turkey’s

constitutional journey in fact came into force in almost all the countries touched by the Arab Spring who were part and parcel of the same polity. Thus, it makes no sense to say that the Arab world cannot do what Turkey has achieved.

The momentous events sweeping through the region will be instrumental in refuting the orientalist myth about the incompatibility of democracy and modernity with Islam or with the socio-political fabric of the Middle East. As a country that has nullified this myth through her own historic experience, Turkey welcomes and supports the aspirations of the people of the region for democratic change and transformation.

Each and every country in the region has its own particular characteristics, which make it impossible to develop uniform responses to the unfolding events. However, there are also common denominators in all popular uprisings that may help identify the contours of a road map or plan of action to facilitate an orderly and smooth transition.

A common feature of these mass movements is that they are not ideologicallymotivated. They are mostly reflections of the expectations of the people on the street for better living conditions and greater enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms. This is an important element that we should keep in mind and capitalize on. This process must not be allowed to get diverted or hijacked by ideological or sectarian agendas.

These movements also suggest an abandonment of the long-held view that outside factors were solely responsible for internal grievances. This new approach is indicative of a growing sense of ownership of the problems by the peoples themselves, which is a must for progressive national action.

Obviously genuine democracy cannot happen overnight. It takes an arduous and gradual process of institution-building and trial-and-error. As it stands, there is a huge gap to be filled. In the short term, completion of the legal framework leading to free and fair elections will be needed. In this connection, not only the substance, but also the time-frame and sequencing for Presidential and Parliamentary elections, adoption

of new constitutions as well as electoral and party laws will have an impact on building a functioning democracy.

I stand by my own assessment in this regard which in a study I coauthored with Mensur Akgün, Meliha Altunı

şık, and Ayşe Kadıoğlu, we argued in 2004 that:

“while the democratization needs of every country in the region are different, the common object of any democratization project should be to opt for opening up the channels that would allow people to tailor the projects that are congenial in their particular contexts. To do this a balance or rather a modus vivendi should be maintained between institutionalization and participation.”

There are obviously no quick fixes to the inevitable tremors of change that have besieged the region. Democracy is a long and winding process. On the other hand, people would want to positive results of government or regime change. Therefore, accommodation of people’s demands in a sound and sustainable manner is the crux of the matter.

Much will depend on the ability of the interim or democratically elected governments to address the grievances of the people in an expedited manner, while moving towards greater democracy and the rule of law at the same time.

Thus, political, economic and social reforms must go hand in hand. This is a formidable task that those countries can hardly tackle if they are left to their own devices. It will take a comprehensive, concerted, sustained and long-term international effort to assist them. In this connection, establishment of a regional fund or a bank for development and reconstruction could be envisaged as a means to provide economic assistance and financial support for required structural reforms and infrastructure projects.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would be remiss if I don’t touch on the role of Israel in the context of the Arab Spring. We hope that all countries will grasp the true meaning of the direct messages c

oming from the people in the region. Israel must not misread the meaning of the seismic changes in the political landscape occurring around it. It is high time for Israel to seize this opportunity to take constructive steps in the peace process and come to terms with the reality that the two-state solution can no longer be delayed. It goes without saying that the more Israel keeps its intransigence regarding a genuine, viable and comprehensive peace and disrespects international law, the more it will become isolated in its neighborhood and beyond.

Dear Faculty and Students of Jamia Millia Islamiya,

Turkey has deep-rooted historic relations with the countries in the Middle East and North Africa. We cannot think of our own security, stability and welfare in isolation from our neighbors in the immediate vicinity and beyond. Therefore, in accordance with a policy that Minister Davutoglu has coined as “zero problems with neighbors”, we have been trying to maximize cooperation and minimize problems with these countries. While doing so, we have also been emphasizing the importance of owningup of the problems of the region by the regional countries themselves, and the need for reform and democratic transformation.

Turkey has long been emphasizing the need for change and transformation in the region. Reforms, good-governance, rule of law, transparency, accountability, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms and sustainable development have been the key words in our thinking and discourse. Please do remember that already in 2003, it was President Gül, in his former capacity as Foreign Minister, called on all OIC member states to put their houses in order as a matter of utmost priority. Recent developments proved us right.

In this framework, from the very beginning, we adopted a principled stance with respect to the unfolding developments in the Middle East and North Africa. We were among the first countries to call on the respective Governments to heed the outcries of their peoples and be responsive to their legitimate aspirations. We also called on the protestors to express themselves through peaceful means.

Turkey has also been consistently vocal against violence and use of force against innocent civilians. We advocate that change must come from within, not from without, and home-grown dynamics of change must be encouraged and facilitated. As such, foreign intervention should be categorically ruled out and the international community should not be carried away by interventionist tendencies which might eventually prove counter-productive.

In this connection, establishment of no-fly zones that inevitably involves armed engagement should be considered as an absolute last resort and executed under strong UN mandate and with regional involvement.

To summarize the Turkish points of view:

  • The region has arrived at a defining, irreversible turning point.

  • Change and democratic transformation are inevitable for all regional countries in one way or another.

  • Turkey applies a principled stance regarding the popular movements in the MENA region. In order to ensure that the process of change takes place in an orderly manner we believe that:

    a) Sustainable security and stability is only possible through meeting the legitimate aspirations of the people.

    b) Thus, we strongly encourage our regional partners to announce and implement comprehensive reforms in due course.

    c) We are ready to extend all necessary support towards this end.

    d) Violence and disproportionate use of force is unacceptable.

    e) Sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and political unity of each country have to be preserved and respected.

    f) Transformation should be led and owned up by the respective peoples themselves.

    g) We should not let these processes be hijacked by radicals who seek fomenting sectarian, ethnic or ideological strife across the region.

Obviously, Turkey would continue to be engaged positively in her neighborhood as Middle East and North Africa moves forward on the path towards joining rather than being left behind in the globalized world.

I should like to conclude by the words of Prime Minister Erdo

ğan at a speech he made as early as 2004, which was published in several Arab media:

“Democracy is not particular to a specific group of societies. Democracy is universal and a modern day requirement.”

The Turkish Prime Minister also pleaded the Western world to listen to the voices of the Muslim world with an open heart and support change by setting a good example. He asserted that the greatest strength of those societies that represent modern values is the attraction they create. Prime Minister Erdogan reminded the Western world of its “particular responsibility to establish a more just global order and seek harmony among civilizations.”

Elsewhere, he also underscored that Muslims should not fear a secular regime but instead should promote it.

As such he has imparted the Turkish political self image as described in Article 1 of the Turkish Constitutional order: “The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular, social state that is governed by the rule of law.” This is what Turks have wanted and achieved for themselves and Arab brothers and sisters deserve and would accept nothing less.

Thank you for your attention.

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