Dr. Burak Akçapar 30.11.2011
Keynote Speech by His Excellency Associate Prof. Dr. Burak Akçapar,
Turkey’s Ambassador to India at the National Seminar on Contemporary Turkey: Politics, Development and Foreign Policy

Center for West Asian Studies, Jamia Millia Islamiya

Chancellor Mr. Jung,
Prof. Alam,
Mr. Ünalan,
Distinguished Faculty and Students,
Friends, Brothers, Sisters,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

For every individual there are places of refuge from daily strains where one feels particularly comfortable and rewarded. One is of course home with the family. For me the other such shelter is the university environment.

I feel particularly honored to be invited to address this distinguished audience at this august center of excellence in the renowned central Indian university of Jamia Milliya Islamiya. Having been here before I did not think twice when asked I to address the University for the second time in the four months that I have been serving in Delhi.

Serving as the Turkish Ambassador in India at this point of time is particularly exhilarating as the two nations are rediscovering each other and intensifying their relationship. Turkish-Indian relationship is in the process of being built up and even, I dare say, redefined.

I am much pleased with the very warm reception I have been accorded in India, which has been strengthening my hand as an emissary between the two globally rising powers.

Since I arrived I have been putting a particular emphasis on the need for both nations to better know and understand each other.

There is much that binds us and we simply don’t always know or realize it. But, we are not short of visionary leaders who direct our relationship. It became a media interest in Turkey when my Minister instructed me openly to be driven by the understanding that I’m dispatched as “an Ambassador to a whole continent” with a strong mandate to give momentum to Turkish-Indian relations.

Talking about vision, allow me also to quote from a very notable Indian gentleman, the Honorable Vice President of India, H.E. Hamid Ansari. In October this year he graced us by visiting four different cities in Turkey. In a keynote speech at the Mevlana University in Konya Vice President Ansari remarked that Turkey and India:

“… do not share physical borders, but we do have a vast common extended neighbourhood – in Central Asia, West Asia and the Persian Gulf. I am convinced that enhanced engagement between India and Turkey is in the interests of our peoples and regions, global peace and cooperation, and tolerance and peaceful co-existence among nations. Our joint efforts can result in a more balanced, inclusive and sustainable development for the benefit of vast sections of humanity.”

These words capture the promise of Turkish-Indian relations, or as I like to call it, the Turkish-Indian anchor in international relations.

India and China are rising in the East and Turkey is rising in the West of the East or the East of the West. The area that lies between the subcontinent and Turkey must be an area for common peace, stability, prosperity and cooperation for all the nations that reside on it.

The potential of our bilateral and multilateral cooperation however has yet to be turned into reality and awareness in all segments of the society on both sides has yet to be developed fully. I have been touring the country and spreading the news. But the role of the academia and the intellectuals as well as the media is critical in this regard. The seminar organized by this University, JMI, will help address this need on the Indian side and I look forward to the presentations and discussions to ensue. I thank all those who have contributed to the organization of this important event.

For the purposes of the seminar I will hazard a few thoughts on the overall philosophy of Turkish foreign policy at a time of profound change in regional and global politics.

Of course Turkey is now one of the most talked about countries currently on the face of the world. There are debates in all quarters about the multi-dimensional renaissance of this nation.

This week two of Turkish leaders Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have been cited among top 100 thinkers in the world by the Foreign Policy journal. I would very easily add President Abdullah Gül to the list as well.

For the academics, and I humbly count myself as one, the relationship between theory and practice has always been intriguing. Only a handful scholars have indeed been able to test their scholarship through practicing them. The case of Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu merits separate analysis in terms of theory-policy convergence. The author of the doctrine of ‘Turkey‘s Strategic Depth’, eponymous with his acclaimed best-selling book, Dr. Davutoğlu has also had the opportunity to implement his theory, first as Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Turkey, then as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Dr. Davutoğlu summarized his approach as follows:

In terms of geography, Turkey occupies a unique space. As a large country in the midst of Afro-Eurasia‘s vast landmass, it may be defined as a central country with multiple regional identities that cannot be reduced to one unified character. Like Russia, Germany, Iran, and Egypt, Turkey cannot be explained geographically or culturally by associating it with one single region. Turkey‘s diverse regional composition lends it the capability of maneuvering in several regions simultaneously; in this sense, it controls an area of influence in its immediate environs.[1]

Prof. Bülent Aras in turn comments that the new foreign policy took form under the impact of Ahmet Davutoğlu‘s re-definition of Turkey‘s role in the neighboring regions and in international politics, namely its strategic depth, with frontiers that have expanded beyond the homeland in the cognitive map of policymaker‘s minds. The territorial limits to Turkish involvement in neighboring countries has disappeared in this new mindset.[2]

This doctrine engenders in the policy of seeking zero problem with neighbors and a multi thronged near global Turkish engagement while not challenging, and arguably reinforcing, Turkey‘s NATO and EU vocations. This is one case where theory has been turning into practice by none other than the intellectual architect himself.

Of course zero problem is an aspiration rather than a reality and it sets out the objective and the intention without disregard for facts especially in Turkey’s still volatile neighborhood. If you forgive my analogy, this geography’s dance is not even a tango requiring two parties but a full ballroom dance requiring the positive contributions of many.

Turkey’s vision is to ensure a benign belt of security, stability and prosperity around Turkey and beyond. This vision is the expand the stability anchor that is provided by democratic and free marketing Turkey by incorporating more and more countries into the belt. We envisage a world in 2023 of Peace at Home and Peace in the World where our broad neighborhood were liberated of the long standing problems that have been strangling and holding them back or have in cooperation with Turkey taken irreversible strides to that effect.

This objective is reinforced by another target for the Centennial Anniversary of the Turkish Republic, which is to join the first ten biggest economies of the world. Others have realized this status via a continental scale of economy either within own territories such as India, China or the United States or within the European Union. Turkey also needs to find a formula for such a continental economic expanse. While we will continue to pursue membership to the EU and wait the EU to wake up to the Turkey of the 21st Century, we will also pursue economic cooperation and even integration with countries in our very broadly defined vicinity. In other words, our economic frontiers must go well beyond our political borders in the heart of a vast geography ranging from Africa to entire Eurasia.

I encourage you to go beyond platitudes about Turkey’s shifting orientation and conceptualize Turkish foreign policy in the aforementioned context.[3]

In our world everyone and everything is interconnected. Interests and perceptions are being redefined and reconstructed. We now know for sure that old thinking, old challenges and old policies as well as old institutions and established powers co-exist with emerging ones. This is thus a period of transition and systemic shift in world affairs.[4]

An overbearing unpredictability defines our day and age. To navigate in such a world “zero-sum game” mentality must be overcome. Rather than fixating on the immutability of unresolved problems and threat perceptions, the trick is to be able to see the opportunities and make take forward steps by promoting cooperation and injecting a sense of interdependence to our relationships.

Turkey is increasingly a so-called trading state but with an enduring moral and geopolitical sense. Economics is important for any country. For a country that wields one of the top 16 top national economies in the world, the link and interaction between economy and foreign policy has to be a mainstay.

Foreign policy has to take into consideration a great variety of factors impacting on peace, security and, above all, hardcore national interests which can undergo redefinition as circumstances change. And for a trading state economy ranks among the top determinants of policy and national interest.

A close look at Turkey’s foreign policy would reveal appreciation of the inevitable interaction between economy and foreign policy. The interaction works both ways. Turkey’s strong economy, which is currently the 16th in the world, has been creating space and giving confidence to our foreign policy.

It is hard not to see that strong economic performance gives Turkey an additional clout in bilateral and multilateral relations. Turkey’s growing capabilities and means allow Turkish diplomacy to deploy more assets and expand the scope and reach of our cooperation with a great variety of actors across the globe.

With a vibrant and outward looking economy Turkey has been able to energize its multifaceted diplomacy in issues and geographies that were hitherto not considered part of Turkish reach.

For example, Turkey was on the receiving end of foreign assistance until 15 years ago. Now, Turkey is an active donor providing more than $1 billion dollars of official aid annually. This allows us to conduct diplomacy in favour of global development.

You would remember that Istanbul hosted the UN Summit for Least Developed Countries (LDC) in May 2011. At the Summit Turkey declared an “Economic and Technical Cooperation Package” allocating nearly $200 million dollars annually to LDCs for utilization in concrete cooperation projects or programs as well as scholarships.

However, Turkish role was not limited to providing a venue for the conference. Rather Turkish diplomacy took active part in its deliberations and contributed substantively to the road map for the next decade. Our commitment to follow Istanbul pledges makes us a desired and reliable partner for over 50 countries that are counted within the so-called LDCs.

If peace, security and prosperity are essential ingredients of stability and are ultimately indivisible, then one can simply not anticipate a better world when 13 % of global population benefits from solely 1 % of the global wealth.

Turkish entrepreneurs have been influencing Turkey’s geographic reach as well. Turkey’s trade volume with Africa and Latin America, not conventional areas of Turkish diplomatic activity, has increased three and six fold respectively in the last decade in parallel to a growing political dialogue with the countries of these regions.

Economy’s positive impact on our foreign policy is clear but the opposite is also true. Turkey’s active foreign policy creates an awareness and interest in Turkey, which translates itself, among others, to economic cooperation and more opportunities for our business communities. Turkey’s foreign policy in the last ten years have created a new and much more positive perception of Turkey all over the world. Turkey is no longer an observing bystander but an active participant in the efforts to resolve just about all major issues affecting global peace and security.

The cumulative result of all this and more is that Turkey has become not only an object of interest but also a fair degree of attraction in a wide geography. In Joseph Nye’s terminology, Turkey’s “soft power” has been growing by leaps and bounds. Allow me to test two personal theses with you in this distinguished scholarly gathering:

Firstly, this attraction owes to the fact that Turkey has a benign and desirable self-image, namely what she wants for itself, that is being transposed more and more into hard reality through effective policy.

Turkey’s self image is articulated in Turkey’s constitutional order which positions the country as a democratic, secular, and social state governed by the rule of law. One must add to this free market economy and the immutable Turkish doctrine of peace at home, peace in the world. This is what Turkey is, what Turks want for themselves, and arguably what Turks would want also for the other friendly nations. A transparent and robust civil society, businesspersons, parliamentarians, media and of course political leaders and diplomats help articulate and disseminate this self-image not as a matter of calculated policy but by default.

Turkish scholar Fuat Keyman is not too far from this point when he notes that:

“The global attraction to the country has stemmed not only from the geopolitical identity of Turkey, as a strong state with the capacity to function as a geopolititical security hinge in the intersection of the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasian regions, but also from its cultural identity as a modern national formation with parliamentary democratic governance, a secular constitutional structure, and a predominantly Muslim population.”

My second point is that, as such, Turkey has become, if you allow me, what I will call a “consentual power” or a “partner of choice” for a plethora of larger or smaller powers.

Turkey is the partner you would want to have. She is the polity you would look to and even sometimes look up to. She is the power that you can believe would make a positive difference. This is true both in regional and in global settings.

One good example can be found in the context of the Arab Spring. Prominent figures in the showers of Arab Spring showers, such as the Tunisian opposition leader Rashid al-Ganouchi and others, have highlighted the importance of Turkey as a model or example for the transformation of the Arab world.

To be accurate, Turkey has been pinpointed as an example or a model or an inspiration, sometimes to the irritation of even we Turks ourselves, since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. When the Soviet Union disintegrated the Economist magazine prophesized Turkey to be the “Star of Islam” or a model for the fellow Turkish republics in Central Asia. Then, in the context of the Middle East the U.S, argued particularly post 9/11 for a similar role for Turkey as a model for the Muslim world. In turn, among the Arab countries the interest was very much present and real albeit not yet fully articulated. The number of Arab foreign correspondents covering the press conference of the EU decision regarding the launch of accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU in December 2004 was reportedly higher than correspondents from other countries. Arab journalists then started to opine themselves it would be possible to learn from Turkey’s experience and that reforms coming from within a member of the Islamic world would become palatable.

As Kemal Kirişçi notes:

“What sets the current debate on Turkey’s role as a model apart from previous occasions is that unlike in the past this time the debate is occurring against a backdrop of successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia that have raised the genuine prospects of actual reform. This time Turkey is being shown as a model by the very people who are involved in efforts to bring about reform and transformation in the Arab world.”

This is what Samuel Huntington once termed as “demonstrative effect.” Prof. Kirişçi argues Turkey’s demonstrative effect is a function of three developments: the rise of the “trading state”, making Turkey visible through commerce, investment and trade; the diffusion of Turkey’s democratization experience as a “work in progress”; and the positive image of Turkey’s “new” foreign policy, including the introduction of policies encouraging freer movement of people between Turkey and the Middle East.

Admittedly, nowhere has the Turkish vision and diplomacy of zero problems been put to test more so than in Syria. Yet, the demonstrative effect and definitely the Turkish benign intentions and actions vis-à-vis the Syrian people have been vividly demonstrated and vindicated by developments.

Over the years the Turkish government invested immensely in our relationship with Syria, once a very hostile and terrorist supporting country then obliged and cooperated against terrorism. Syria is our neighbor with longest borders. Syrian people are our beloved relatives and friends. The Turkish leadership also hoped that having good relations with Turkey would allow the Esad regime to take bold steps towards reforms.

Not only have we encouraged President Beshar Esad to do good to his own people but we also concretely supported his administration. To this end, we have sent our experts in various fields advising Syrian government, including by helping them draft action plans and timetables for the necessary reforms. Surprisingly Esad never took action in the face of a certain train wreck, slow but sure in the making. Instead, Syrian security forces have went on an indiscriminate killing spree against their own civilian population.

We could not continue our relationship with the Esad regime for convenience sake as if nothing has been happening. Rather, we immediately took a clear and strong diplomatic stance on the side of the Syrian people.

Democratization, transparency, accountability, human and economic development and security and stability in Western Asia is in our best interest. These cannot be achieved with regimes that have do not enjoy the legitimacy provided by the support of their own people.

This may be what we wish for our neighbours but of course Turkey does not have an official democracy promotion program comparable to those in several other Western countries. Turkey’s effect is through leading by example. Turkey has stood as a success story that is inspiring for the people of the region.

Turkey has no morally justifiable alternative other than a quick and clear stance in the face of Arab Spring supporting the legitimate aspirations of the people for freedom, empowerment and dignity.

Because the popular determination to overturn the oppressive and abusive old guard have heralded what would be in Victor Hugo’s sense the all powerful idea whose time has come. The aspirations and passions of the people were reminiscent of Allama Mohammed Iqbal’s timeless stanzas from Baal-i-Jibreel which translated from the beautiful Urdu as:

A sleepy ripple awaits, to swell into a wave,

A wave that will swallow up monsters of the sea.

Despite the support it has received from modern day communication technology, the Arab Spring is not an unforeseen anomaly. In 2006, I wrote:

“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...”

In light of the last year’s experiences, Turkish authorities think that the process of democratization is now inevitable and irreversible for the entire region that compels us to facilitate it in the best way we can rather than taking ad-hoc steps. Turkey responds by assisting our friendly nations in their efforts to institutionalize democracy by sharing our own experience and providing practical assistance. In those countries whose leaders continue to resist their own people we are partaking in efforts to promote peaceful change.

It is in everyone’s best interest that change takes place in a peaceful manner without leading to violence and new divisions along ethnic or sectarian lines. It is incumbent on all those who want to help to heed this aspect; act and talk in harmony; and remain always mindful of the overarching imperative to listen to the democratic aspirations of the people.

Overall, Turks cannot be expected to wish for their Arab brothers and sisters what they have wanted and gotten for themselves.

Dear Professors,
Distinguished Colleagues and Friends,
Distinguished Students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

A near unanimity exists however with regard to pinpointing the massive economic shift in the world from the Euro-Atlantic powers towards Asia as the main driver of change in the global system. This shift of economic power has indeed become impossible to ignore.

Since the prestigious global financial services firm Goldman Sachs published its paper Building Better Global Economic BRICs in 2001, the countries making up the so-called BRICs have achieved staggering pace of development. The combined weight of Brazil, Russia, India and China has already reached 15% of the world economy. The BRICs are expected to overtake the cumulative size of the G7 countries by 2035.

The BRICs are not alone on the path to reconfiguring the world‘s top echelons of economic pecking order. In 2005 Goldman Sachs then identified eleven more countries including Mexico, Korea, Turkey and Vietnam which have both the potential and the conditions to enjoin the current major economies and the BRICs. This is what Fareed Zakaria deftly called the rise of the rest. I believe the exclusivity of the BRICS concept has already become outdated. The facts have already moved on.

In a recent study the Stanley Foundation concluded that ten countries will form the top layer of the global major powers layer. These are the US, EU, Turkey, South Africa, Russia, India, China, South Korea, Japan. Obviously, this list is subject to debate. For instance, it takes for granted that Turkey will remain outside the EU. However, with perhaps a few additions the list also reflects more or less a general consensus as to the top achievers in the world. If that scenario is realized, it would have ramifications for the global economic, political, institutional structures beyond reproach.

All that systemic change could not happen without tremors. And the quakes may just be beginning in the social and political sphere. The global economic crisis is far from over. Its full impact is yet to be experienced. The street demonstrations in the developed post-modern West can well be harbingers for some major upheaval to come.

It is my conviction that neither rises nor falls, for that matter, are inevitable or inexorable. After all, history never evolves on a single vector and all assumptions of long time predictability are over ambitious. One may never arrive. The truth of the matter is that decisions by the capable actors do matter.

In testing times of turbulence, negotiation of peaceful change is of utmost importance. That in turn requires a comity and solidarity of capable like-minded states.

Turkey and India are two such actors. We can put forward an inclusive effort that will be a force for good in the world. Together with other friendly countries we can forge a new agenda and define a new bilateral relationship that also responds more effectively to the call of our two peoples for closer relations between our two great countries.

India and Turkey are like-minded in their vision of a more equitable world and in their self-image as two democratic, secular, social states governed by the rule of law.

Increased awareness of Turkey could only make my point about Turkey being a consentual power more vivid. Increased awareness of India will have similar effect in Turkey.

Dear Friends,

I could of course not have touched on all aspects and topics under discussion today at the seminar. I did not talk about our efforts in Afghanistan or the Balkans, in the Alliance of Civilizations initiatives, about the EU, NATO, nor Cyprus, energy security, current Israeli government, nor about countless topics.

But, I hope that I have given enough ammunition and stimulation for the remainder of the day when you will debate Turkey, her politics, development and foreign policy.

As I thank and congratulate again the JMI and the Center for West Asian Studies, the Indialogue Foundation and all the participants, I wish you a very successful seminar.

Thank you for your kind attention.

[1] Ahmet Davutoğlu, “Turkey‘s New Foreign Policy Vision”, Insight Turkey 10, No.1 (2008), p. 78.

[2] Bülent Aras, “Davutoğlu Era in Turkish Foreign Policy”, Policy Brief No:32, SETA, Ankara, May 2009, p.4.
[3] I offered a more detailed yet strictly personal treatment of Turkey‘s foreign policy including its continuities and changes and conceptual underpinnings in Burak Akçapar, Turkey‘s New European Era: Foreign Policy on the Road to EU Membership, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006.

[4] If interested I offer an analysis on the topic in Burak Akçapar, The Nascence and Senescence of World Orders, Portland State University, Center for Turkish Studies, October 2009.

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