Geopolitical Challenges in Middle East and Eurasia: Turkey’s Role
Distinguished Members of the National Defece College Faculty,
Esteemed Staff Members of the National Defence College,
Esteemed Participants of the National Defence College,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed an honour to address this august audience at the National Defence College in New Delhi.
Since its day of inception, the National Defence College in New Delhi has been playing a vital role as the fulcrum of strategic learning for Indian Defence and Civil Services officers.
Our first contact was only couple years ago. I was most pleased to host the faculty and participants of the National Security and Strategy Course who visited Turkey in 2013 for the first time.
In Turkey they encountered a friendly armed force and an environment of sincere and open exchange of views. They had the opportunity to ask several questions that were in their minds. Military to military relations have been expanding between our friendly countries. In my time in India, I have seen a fair share of mutual visits and contacts including the visits of the Turkish Chief of General Staff, the Navy Chief, several other flag officers as well as naval port visits. We hope and expect to continue and expand military to military contacts between Turkey and India.
The National Security and Strategy Course includes flag officers from friendly India and several other countries. I have been told that Indian participants of Brigadier and equivalent rank are joined by participants from 25 other countries. As I went through the list I have noted that the latter group also comprises friends of Turkey’s.
I am no stranger to defence diplomacy and multinational training and education environments. There is every reason for me to feel welcome in this environment and I look forward to a lively interaction on various topics I will touch today.
I spent a few years at NATO Headquarters as an international civil servant in the Defence Planning and Operations Division focusing mostly on defence partnerships and cooperation initiatives, such as the Partnership for Peace. The Partnership for Peace focused foremost on developing interoperability and building capabilities, as well as supporting defense and security-related reform. It was fascinating for me to witness firsthand how so many nations interacted and ultimately interoperated with each other.
My country, Turkey, has been keen on international and multinational interaction, transparency and cooperation in military and strategic affairs. The first ever NATO Partnership for Peace Training Center was established in Turkey. Turkey also pioneered the Centre of Excellence in Defence against Terrorism. Our military schools -like the NDC- host scores of visiting participants and students from a wide spectrum of countries. I hope to see Indian participants at the Centre of Excellence.
Turkey maintains a reliably cooperative and peaceful stance in the world but is nonetheless ready for all contingencies. She keeps the second largest armed force in the NATO alliance. Turkey’s national defence industry has been developing consistently. Now, Turkey is home to two of the world's 100 largest defence companies, Aselsan and TUSAS, and locally produces state of the art military technology. Turkey now imports only 40% of its equipment directly from foreign suppliers. The other 60% is either the result of co-production/technology transfer agreements, international consortiums such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project or developed indigenously with little or no foreign help. As the age old dictum Ci Vis Pacem Para Bellum, (if you want peace, prepare for war) suggests, a strong military is needed in order to protect the peace.
The task given to me today is to explain Turkey’s perceptions, policies and roles vis-a-vis the geopolitical challenges in the Middle East and Eurasia.
Since I will speak on a subject of tremendous complexity, I should be particularly mindful of the time allocated to me and be selective in the panoply of issues that may come under the topic.
I may start with a generic observation.
All foreign policy as all politics starts at home. Turkey has been quite a place for change, a place for positive transformation. We have made countless political, economic and social reforms in the recent decade and a half. Turkey has become a much more open economy, a much more open society, and a much more open democracy.
We have effected many reforms to enhance our democratic system, to improve our practices of freedoms, fundamental rights, and the rule of law in our beloved country. We have also done much to entrench macroeconomic stability, while creating an environment conducive for doing business in Turkey.
Fighting poverty was a welcome consequent success. Turkey no longer has absolute poverty in the country. There is not a single percentage with an income of a dollar per person per day or less. Not a single percent has to live with an income of two dollar per person per day, either. Turkey’s economic performance has been visible in the Middle East and Eurasia. Many people have taken note and wished the same for themselves. We wish the same for them.
As we entrench human values at home we wish to see them entrenched in the world too. Turkey’s foreign policy aims to strike a balance between national interests and universal values. We believe that a foreign policy without consideration for universal human values would be a short termed miscalculation.
Obviously, foreign policy must also protect the national interest, as well. We believe that a humanitarian foreign policy is feasible although we are living through a world in flux; a world of risk that is in a transition in which negative and positive developments and trends are in competition.
The formula to attain this balance we believe involves taking active and sometimes proactive stances with regard to the developments that affect us. Turkey thus aims to exert positive influence in our wider region and around the globe in a bid to contribute to the efforts to address regional and global issues to the extent of our increasing capabilities.
Allow me to hazard a second generic proposition:
All foreign policy as all politics also occurs within a specific environment and must interact and respond to it. Very few -if any at all- countries can afford to be immune to the dynamics of its neighborhood and indeed the world.
Our policy environment whether regionally or globally has been marked by the phenomenon of change.
Turkey has transformed as the world around it has entered a deeply transformative period. Most of the transformative regional and global dynamics have reaffirmed Turkey’s central position and role.
• In 1991, we saw the end of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the end of the Cold War. Turkey was one of the only two NATO countries who had a direct border with the Soviet Union. Three newly independent countries have taken the place of the Soviet Union as our direct neighbours. We have quickly developed relations with the successors of the USSR and moved ahead to forge a cooperative relationship with Russia.However, as the people of Georgia, Ukraine and Syria feel the pressure, Russia’s actions are now testing the very friendship and partnership which we have worked very hard to develop and want to continue in the interest of both nations.
• In 2001, we witnessed the horror of 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and the ensuing war in Afghanistan and Iraq. These three events can of course be studied separately. Iraq war as the world found out had little or nothing to do with 9/11. Yet, these events also converge from the vantage point of defining the contemporary standing of the United States in the post bipolar world system. The surge of military engagement of the US has caused an over-extension and consequently a relative withdrawal, which has caused pockets of power vacuums. Power vacuums are now being exploited.
• From 2008, we experienced a serious global financial and economic crisis. Many parts of the world seriously suffered from the crisis which resembled the economic breakdown of 1929. With unemployment and rising social tensions, political fragilities and even active conflicts began to develop. Yet, the developing world, and particularly the emerging powers, have suffered relatively less and in fact those who have managed to maintain fiscal discipline and provide suitable political and economic investment environments have gained benefits. The almost inexorable global shift of power has gathered pace, in some cases whipping great power ambitions.
The global economic crisis has also left us with no normative power, reinforcing only the most rudimentary interpretations of universally agreed norms and values, including of the much abused concept of sovereignty.
• These developments may or may not have played a role in the Arab awakening in 2011. We have seen the Arab Awakening as a manifestation of the burning desire of the peoples living under tyranny and under-development for representative government, individual freedoms, even democracy, and most certainly economic development. It signalled a belated change in a 100 year-old status quo imposed from outside and condemning the region to instability and under-development. However, what was called the “Arab Spring” then, has turned into an unfulfilled promise, for now, with the exception of Tunisia.
The Arab Awakening had been mistimed as it came with a long delay at a time when Europe and the United States had lost their monopoly as normative powers, able and willing to help democratic transitions. The tacit support to the coup in Egypt is a case in point.
It is said that, as the influence of democratic powers waned, authoritarian powers have begun to band together to resist what was -in their perception- imposition of regime change from outside. In fact, it is argued, authoritarian countries seem to be increasingly active in creating an international environment conducive to the survival of authoritarianism.
One can argue these points. Nonetheless, the trends indicated by the above points are well captured in the words of the Esteemed Foreign Minister of Russia Mr. Lavrov who noted as early as 2007 and quite accurately that “for the first time in the last decade and a half a real competitive environment has formed in the market place for ideas”, “particularly with regard to [value] systems and models of development.”
As accurate as this prognosis may be, it is nonetheless bad news for Turkey and India who have adopted democratic models and value systems.
As all that tumult had been underway we had to confront the additional mishap that regional and global multilateral bodies, including foremost the UN Security Council, have been proving ineffective in managing global transitions and addressing threats to state and human security.
The geopolitical context in Eurasia particularly is fraught with risks and needs capable actors uniting around fundamental values to cooperate closely in order to check negative trends.
Turkey is part and parcel of this broader strategic setting. As the country that ties Europe to Asia, Caucasus to the Mediterranean, Middle East to the Balkans, North to the Global South, East to West, Turkey finds itself inextricably involved in all political, economic, geopolitical, social, cultural dynamics and transitions whether regional or global.
Turkey is situated at a geography that intersects multiple unstable strategic basins and needs to navigate through multiple risks.
Allow me to take the Middle East and central Eurasia in turn.
I have started my diplomatic career in the Middle East. I remember my years in Qatar and the Gulf with much fondness. My interest continued ever since although professional life took me to other places. When as a policy planner I read the UNDP’s Human Development report about the Middle East in 2003, it became clear to me that the whole Middle East was actually sitting on top of a time bomb.
Many observers of the region tend to overlook the premise that when a state cannot govern itself effectively it becomes vulnerable to internal and external erosive pressures. The Middle East has been facing an acute governance crisis. This is manifest in several levels and dimensions. I’ll leave economy and others aside but mention “religion” as an example.
The Middle East is a mosaic of peoples and religions with various interpretations. Regardless of their religions, languages and ethnic origin, the peoples of the Middle East have lived together and shared a common destiny. There has been no example in the Muslim world and the Middle East of the likes of the 30 Years War that pitted the Protestant and Catholic states against each other. Yet, today we are witnessing the negative consequences of sectarianism in the region. Our soundings of alarm vis-a-vis the Maliki government in Iraq were ignored and DEASH has attracted disaffected Sunnis and grown into a significant threat for the whole region and beyond. Secterian disenfranchisement is a crisis of governance by itself; and one which has a severe consequence.
Instability in the Middle East and North Africa has been affecting Turkey directly. Therefore, we have causes to advocate urgent solutions to the manifold problems affecting this region. In the free market of ideas, we advocate what we know best, which is political processes based on inclusive dialogue within legitimate formats.
As a nation that fought off incessant foreign interventions in its history we cannot be expected to encourage foreign interventions. At the same time, you should not be surprised to hear that we also cannot take crimes against humanity under the guise of national sovereignty to heart.
Turkey believes that the best way to build stability is by addressing the legitimate aspirations of the peoples. In this regard, inclusivity and legitimacy are of utmost importance. Oppression and exclusion of large parts of populations from political participation cannot produce long term stability. In contrast, effective governance to address structural problems, including unemployment of youth, helps build stable polities.
Overall, Turkey believes that the current problems in the MENA region can only be resolved through comprehensive and inclusive solutions based on dialogue and the rule of law. Therefore, we argue for the international community not to aim for short term fixes, which may not guarantee stability over the longer term.
Turkey argues in favour of the necessity and the merits of “patience” and “resilience.” Isn’t it true that comprehensive and far reaching transformations require long term efforts? Why should the Middle East be different?
I must note that I mention Syria as an example with utmost sorrow and incredulity. Things could have been much different in Syria.
I responded in several instances to the unrealistic assertions that Syria exploded because of external meddling; that a huge thing came out of nothing.
To me and most observers of the region this only shows either unfiltered acceptance of the propaganda broadcast by the Syrian regime and amplified by its supporters; or the distance to understanding the aspirations of the people.
At any rate, it reflects the same mistaken optic that Assad government has used when it believed that this was an uprising that could be contained with the killing of a few ten thousands people, as father Assad did in another era. This is not how things work in the era of globalized real time communication.
The conflict in Syria is now in its sixth year. A cradle of civilizations, Syria has turned into scenery of brutal mass murder involving all sorts of weapons including chemicals and ballistic missiles and oppression, as the Assad government has waged a war on the Syrian people. In a bid to cling to power the regime exploited sectarian sentiments and helped breed extremism and terrorism.
Whatever your ideology in the market place of ideologies, whatever position you maintain with regard to the causes of the Syrian uprising, please do not ignore and forgive that fact that Assad’s Syria has been committing systematic war crimes and crimes against humanity. Over 300 thousand people have lost their lives as their government chose to wage a war against its own people and their legitimate demands over five years ago.
The latest appalling airstrike carried out by the Syrian regime forces last week targeting an Internally Displaced Persons camp in Kamuna, Idlib, located right along our border, constituted another example of the government’s repetitive violations of international humanitarian law. The total number of displaced, both internally and externally, exceeds 12 million, half of Syria’s population.
The region cannot afford the emergence of a failed state for the sake of the survival of a barbaric regime. Having exhausted the alternative, we have come to conclude that as long as the Assad government stays, stability, security and prosperity of Syria will remain elusive.
The future constitutional structure of the new Syria can only be decided by a parliament created by free and fair elections.
After five years there may now be an opportunity to solve the Syrian crisis. To start with there is a plan. Geneva Communiqué of 2012 and the UN Security Council resolution 2254 which was adopted unanimously constitute the valid road map for a political transformation in Syria. In the past three months, we have seen two rounds of proxy talks between the opposition and the regime. However, these talks did not produce concrete results as yet.
The Syrian opposition did a fine job in communicating their expectations and position based on the UNSC Resolution 2254. They are eager to engage in direct negotiations for political transition and we continue to encourage them on it. But, the regime side is systematically avoiding discussions for political transition. It is playing for time, hoping that it can find a way out militarily. Of course, Russian assistance and military involvement has been a factor in this. International community must increase the pressure on the regime and its supporters.
This is not a policy of regime change from outside but taking ownership by humanity of human values. There is nothing in international law that allows a regime to commit mass killings of its people, and carpet bombing its own cities.
And, it is not only our values but also our national interest that compels us to take a stance not on the side of a tyrannical regime but on the side of the people of Syria, millions of whom is now taking shelter from their own government within Turkey.
The interest of the international community in fact concurs with Turkey’s national interest. The spill-over effects of the Syrian conflict are being felt acutely throughout the region and much beyond. After years of conflict, Syria has become a breeding ground for DEASH terrorism, extremism and mass migration from the region.
Radicalisation and terrorism in all their forms are the biggest threats to stability in vast parts of the Middle East, reaching parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. South and South East Asia has not been immune to this either.
In order to effectively fight DEASH, the conflict in Syria must end. And, to end the conflict, there must be a genuine political transition process leading to a new constitution and free and fair elections whereby the people of Syria can fully express themselves.
However, we see that international community’s attention has been diverted to DEASH. DEASH is our common enemy. It is at the same time a symptom not the illness by itself. The root cause of the illness is the Assad regime. As long as the root cause is not cured, symptoms will continue to recur.
Turkey shares a 1295 km border with Syria and Iraq. DEASH and other terrorist organizations operating in the region constitute a direct threat to Turkey’s national security. Turkey is an active member of the International Coalition against DEASH and has mobilized resources for its success. Unfortunately, the international coalition’s air operations will not be enough.
We believe that Humanitarian Safe Zones should be an essential part of any viable strategy.
A related topic of common concern to all countries represented in this hall is the issue foreign terrorist fighters or FTFs. When you look at the map you will see that FTFs will have to try to enter Syria and Iraq via Turkey. To prevent FTFs from reaching the conflict areas via Turkey, security measures have been reinforced, including new risk analysis units at airports and enhanced passenger screening and security checks in regions adjacent to the Syrian border. Turkey has also strengthened physical security measures along its 911 kilometres border with Syria.
In this context, Turkey is in the process of establishment of “Syrian border physical security system” which includes construction of 209 kilometres of wall and 143 kilometres part of the said wall has already been completed. Our authorities are taking all necessary measures to prevent third country citizens from travelling to Syria to join radical groups. Turkey’s no-entry list for suspected FTFs has exceeded 41 thousand names. Over 3300 foreigners have already been deported in this context.
As Turkey deployed a massive effort to addresss this problem we have been taken aback by the criticism directed against Turkey in that regard.
The fact of the matter is that FTFs come from several source countries, which must do their share in identifying and notifying who these people, their citizens or residents, are.
I believe Turkey has the right to expect from all source countries to take all necessary measures in order to prevent radicalization of their citizens and residents and to prevent individuals from travelling beyond their borders if such individuals are suspected of planning to enter Syria through Turkey with the aim of engaging in terrorist or radical activities.
In other words, priority should be on spotting and stopping of foreign fighters travelling to conflict zones, including Syria, at their country of departure. If that failed, then our priority would be to stop them at the first port of entry. For that, Turkey needs to receive timely, concrete and full information-sharing from source countries, not criticism.
We have thus stepped up our efforts in this regard. Turkey, as the Co-Chair of Anti DAESH Coalition Foreign Terrorist Fighter Working Group, leads and contributes to the international efforts aimed at stemming the DAESH and FTF threat. In the context of the Working Group’s Action Plan, which includes nine strands of action, Turkey has assumed the lead for “the promotion of intensified and accelerated exchange of actionable information on FTF travel, facilitation of effective communication channels and points of contacts between Coalition members”. Furthermore, Turkey is taking necessary measures to deplete the financial resources of DEASH. In this vein, Turkey contributes to the efforts of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and EGMONT Group. Simultaneously, for the purpose of preventing oil smuggling at the Turkish southern border, Turkey takes effective measures. I have used “effective” for a reason: The amount of smuggled oil which was 79 million litres in 2014, decreased dramatically to 1.2 million litres in the first ten months of 2015.
It is not only the Syrians who suffer in our region. Iraq, although today governed by a more inclusive government, is also going through a very serious security crisis. About one-third of its territory is controlled by DEASH.
Iraq is a strategically important neighbour for Turkey. Preservation of its territorial integrity, political unity, stability and prosperity constitute the main lines of our approach towards Iraq. Any threat of instability in this country is regarded also as an imminent threat to Turkey’s stability.
Iraq has been facing a variety of political and economic crises recently in addition to the huge security challenges as a result of sectarian and divisive policies. These policies caused grievances and outrage among various components of the society, particularly among the Sunnis and the Kurds. Situation in Iraq requires an inclusive and genuine political response to restore the country’s social and political harmony and tackle the current security threats.
The unity and integrity of Iraq should be maintained in accordance with its constitution. We believe that Iraq should evolve into a functioning federal state.
Devolution of power to the local authorities and fair share of its resources among different segments of the society should be ensured. We continue to support the Iraqi government for its sustainable internal peace, stability and prosperity.
We are exploiting any opportunity to establish close coordination with the Iraqi Government, as well as all components of the Iraqi society. However, we believe that concrete steps should be taken to address grievances of the disenfranchised segments without further delay. We observe some disappointment and frustration in the Sunni and Kurdish communities against the government in the absence of a real outreach.
The recent atrocities in the Sunni majority areas allegedly committed by extra-legal militias strike a blow to the reconciliation efforts. Shiite militias and volunteers have almost become the primary military force in fighting against DEASH. This weakens the state authority and constitutes another threat for Iraq’s future. Local support and winning the hearts and minds of all of the Iraqi nation are key factors in Iraq’s fight against terrorism.
In order to achieve that, steps should be taken to meet the legitimate expectations of the entire Iraqi nation and a clear distinction should be made between the innocent civilians and terrorists. Otherwise, we are afraid that exploiting the sense of marginalization within the Sunnis, DEASH may further enlarge its support base.
On the other hand, at a time when the military operations have reached a critical stage, the recent political crisis in Baghdad is undermining the anti-DAESH campaign. Recent military advances against DAESH in Iraq is encouraging. Nevertheless, there’s still a difficult way ahead to secure a lasting win against this terrorist organization.
We are advising the government to take fast and concrete steps to address legitimate expectations of Sunnis and Kurds. International community should continue to encourage the Iraqi government to carry out inclusive policies. Furthermore, reconstruction of the cities destroyed by DAESH violence will require significant commitment by the international community. Humanitarian relief efforts should be an integral component of these efforts.
As one of the neighbours of Iraq, Turkey stands ready to extend every support in its capacity to help Iraqi people in its efforts to rebuild its country and society.
We are working hard to ease the sufferings of all Iraqis. In this regard, we have set up three IDP camps in KRG that host almost 40.000 IDPs and refugees. We have also opened our doors to more than 200.000 Iraqis, including 20.000 Yezidis and Christians.
At the moment, the greatest challenge for those countries in transition in the Middle East and North Africa region is to be able to keep the momentum of change in the right direction. Particularly in the wake of the turn of events in Egypt, namely the military coup that took place in July 2013, the transition across the region is going through a precarious phase, with Yemen and Libya remaining in a particularly difficult spot. I intend to delve into these countries in the Q&A session.
Any talk on the internal and external dynamics in the wider Middle East region ought of course to mention Iran and the Palestinian issue. As we see eye to eye with India on the Palestinian issue, for the sake of time, I will touch upon Iran, where again our visions and interests converge.
For Turkey our eternal neighbour Iran is an important partner. Good neighbourly relations and cooperation with Iran is our priority. In the past, Turkey put much effort to narrow the gap between the positions of Iran and the international community on several issues, including Iran’s nuclear programme. Turkey has made a point of consistently advocating diplomacy and negotiations as the viable way to a lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.
Iran is an important regional power and can play a significant role to contribute to regional and international stability. For that to happen it must choose to do so and stay the course. Iran’s nuclear program has been a source of concern in the region. Fortunately, the current Iranian government has created new hopes in the international arena. We rejoince in the fact that there is a political leadership in Iran which is willing to cooperate on common grounds.
The current positive atmosphere that governs the relations between Iran and the international community is an opportunity not just for Turkey and India but for everyone in this room. Like so many other countries including India, we are also very pleased that the longstanding negotiations between P5+1 and Iran culminated in an agreement. The Implementation Day of the agreement constitutes an important milestone.
The deal on Iran’s nuclear programme has given hope for the use of diplomatic means to resolve other regional crises. This was the message also of the 2011 Turkey-Brazil-India deal with which I was personally involved. At the same time, it has also created a window of opportunity for Iran to reintegrate with the international community. If Iran prefers to benefit from the gains of the nuclear deal in this direction, that would only be good news for the region. It would be good also for Turkey’s bilateral relations with Iran.
While we are firmly against the development of nuclear weapons and the emergence of a new nuclear power in our already volatile region, we strongly support the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy by all countries in compliance with their respective international obligations.
I must underscore that Iran’s return to the international community need also be studied from the angle of Turkish-Indian relations. What prevents us now from positioning Iran as a transportation bridge between India and Turkey and from there to Europe? India’s shortest and most effective land route to Europe would be through Iran and Turkey; not through Iran and a much longer and much less developed northern route.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is of course much more to be said about the Middle East. I do have to move on though, as my task today also involves discussing another key strategic basin that is facing major risks and disintegrative pressures. That is the geography that ties China and India to the Middle East and Western Europe.
India, like Turkey, has been well versed throughout its history in the waning and waxing interactions between the Far East and Western Europe and the vitality of the connecting Eurasian geography. Geopolitics as a disciple has in a sense begun with the assertion of the importance of the Eurasian landmass and was once shaped in a Great Game. Starting from Eastern Europe and ranging towards the steppes of Central Asia and mountains of Afhganistan this region remains to be vitally important for the peace and security of wider Eurasia. Caught up as it is in a turbulent period, this region faces crises and conflicts that hamper the efforts to establish a stable order based on common values and the rule of law.
The resolution of these conflicts by diplomatic means in accordance with international law, and thus achieving stability, prosperity and cooperation is essential for the future of global security.
One has the right to start from the ongoing crisis in Ukraine which has a negative impact on peace, security and prosperity of a very wide region. In Turkey we wish to see a political solution to the crisis based on Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and the principles of international law. We encourage all parties to respect and strictly abide by the terms of Minsk Agreements. We are greatly concerned that Crimean Tatars, who have hitherto sought their rights through peaceful and democratic channels, have become one of the most suffering groups by the illegal annexation of Crimea. In this regard, it is highly important to maintain the attention and support of the international community for Crimean Tatars and their presence in Crimea.
This brings me quickly to Russia. Turkey and Russia, two major countries of Eurasia, have been in constant interaction in this geography for hundreds of years. We thought we have succeed in making a reliable friend and partner out of Russia. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Turkish-Russian relations reached its highest levels. Together Turkey and Russia developed a multi-layered structure of cooperation especially in the fields of trade and energy. Although the two countries maintained diverging views on specific regional and international issues, we attached importance to keeping our dialogue channels open.
However, we have been witnessing a growingly assertive Russian foreign policy in recent years. Worse still, we have been observing new patterns of provocative behaviour which include violations of national airspace, harassment of planes and vessels in international airspace and waters, and an increasing number of military exercises based on aggressive scenarios.
This aggressive foreign policy line has unfortunately led to crises in Georgia in 2008, in Crimea and Donbas in 2014, and deepened the conflict in Syria in 2015.
This has affected Turkey-Russia relations, as well. Turkish-Russian relations are passing through difficult times.
The incident that took place on 24 November 2015 clearly shows the risks created by Russia’s military adventurism in our wider region. We made a concrete proposal to the Russian side to tackle this issue together by forming a joint high-level commission, but did not receive a response. We have retained our calm as Russia took excessive steps such as the fortifying of Russian military presence in Syria including regions in the vicinity of Turkish borders, physical attacks carried under the guise of protests to Turkish missions in Russia, mistreatment of Turkish citizens living in or travelling to Russia, starting a defamation campaign against Turkey by using black propaganda, economic sanctions, banning of tourism packages, unilaterally suspending visa-free regime between the two countries, and others. Obviously, such unilateral excesses could as well be harmful for the Russian side, I suspect, it will leave Turkey with no choice but to do its own evaluations. I suspect their actions have already created a realization that it simply cannot be that Turkey remain dependent on Russia for instance in energy supplies. Russia must see that there is mutual interest in the two countries talking to each other even we disagree on specifics.
Turkey is ready to leave the current crisis behind and start talking with Russia on how we can repair our ties. Our wider region faces turbulent crises and conflicts which calls for cooperation between Turkey and Russia. We believe that it is time to open a new page, and hope that Moscow will come to the same conclusion soon.
Central Asia is a strategically important region for ensuring the security and stability of the Eurasia region. Its energy resources are vital for global energy security and it is a major hub for gas and oil pipelines as well as trade corridors. 2016 is the 25th anniversary of the independence of the Central Asian Republics.
During the past 25 years, the Central Asian Republics have made substantial progress in many areas, particularly in solidifying their sovereignty, building their state institutions, and elevating their level of integration with the world.
However, the transition process still continues.
Stability in Central Asia is still fragile due to the challenges stemming from the unique dynamics of the region.
The main threats to stability are problems related to governance and the development of the rule of law, allocation and distribution of resources -especially the water resources, weak regional cooperation and regional ownership, as well as the situation in Afghanistan which has the potential to influence over the whole region.
The region as a whole is not totally free from possible sway of the regional powers. We see both cooperation and competition between China and Russia vis-a-vis their strategic priorities towards the region.
Given our common historical, linguistic and cultural ties, Turkey has sought to increase engagement with this region on a broad range of issues.
Following their independence, developing economic and trade relations with Central Asian countries has constituted a priority on our agenda.
Projects relating to transport routes form a major element of Turkey’s policy towards Central Asia. In this regard, we believe that the “Middle Corridor Initiative” which links Europe and Central Asia through Turkey and the Caucasus will contribute to regional development, welfare, cultural exchange and enhance people-to-people contacts.
The “Middle Corridor”, would constitute a cost-effective and secure route. It is also 1.500 km shorter compared to the existing northern corridor. In this vein, Turkey has commenced many projects such as Marmaray and Eurasia Tubes, Three-Level Bosporus Tunnel which cross under the Bosporus and link Europe and Asia. Turkey also signed recently an MoU with China on aligning the Middle Corridor Initiative with the Silk Road and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Furthermore, Central Asia and the Caucasus have an important place for the energy security of Turkey. Energy security is now increasingly associated with concepts such as foreign policy, national security, economic growth and sustainable development.
In other words, it is becoming a strategic concept today. As a result, the issue of energy security remains high on the global agenda. Measures to increase energy security focus on reducing dependence on any one source of imported energy, increasing the number of suppliers, exploiting native resources including the renewables, and reducing overall demand through energy efficiency measures.
Turkey’s energy strategy is based on addressing its growing energy demand by diversified energy supplies and routes as well as contributing to the energy security of Europe through various projects.
Turkey is located at the crossroads between major energy producers and consumer markets. She has the potential to become an energy hub, contributing to regional energy security. In this regard, the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) constitutes the backbone of the Southern Gas Corridor. The delivery of gas to Turkey will start in mid-2018 and to Europe in 2020. It constitutes an opportunity for establishing an uninterrupted and reliable flow of not only the Azeri gas, but also Turkmen gas to Turkey and to Europe via the Turkish territory.
Various studies point to Turkey as the most viable and profitable route for the transportation of oil and gas resources from Middle East, Central Asia, Caucasus and Eastern Mediterranean.
I believe that Afghanistan requires a separate mention.
This is not only because I happened to have significant time and effort in dealing with Afghanistan. Afghanistan is an important country strategically located in the Heart of Asia.
Afghanistan is undergoing a challenging period. The withdrawal of the ISAF and the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan National Defence and Security Force (ANSDF) are the critical junctures we face. Despite the significant progress made in many fields during in the last 14 years in Afghanistan, the achievements are not yet at a point of no return, and the security situation which has direct impact on its immediate neighbourhood and beyond, is still fragile. Therefore, the international community’s continuing support to the security and development efforts of Afghan Government during the “Transformation Decade” is vital.
The key aspect for the post 2014 period is the regional dimension, which is important in the context of political reconciliation, peace and security, as well as economic development of Afghanistan and its neighbourhood. We are of the opinion that security, stability and prosperity of Afghanistan are intertwined with those of its neighbours.
In this regard, Istanbul Process, which was initiated by Turkey and Afghanistan in 2011 as a regional cooperation model, is a useful platform to address these challenges with a spirit of ownership. Thus, we should make best use of this Process to address the common challenges. As you all know, India co-leads the CBM “Trade, Commercial and Investment Opportunities” and will host the 6th Ministerial Conference in 2016. We believe that Turkey and India can cooperate within the framework of Istanbul Process.
Turkey’s commitment to Afghanistan is for the long-term and will continue to extend her helping hand as long as is needed. Turkey’s assistance to the Afghan people is the most comprehensive development aid program directed to another country throughout its history.
Within this aid program Turkey has completed more than 850 projects in Afghanistan since 2001, with a total amount of 1 billion Dollars. Turkey has also been making significant contributions to the security of Afghanistan. In this respect, within the framework of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission (RSM), Turkey assumed the Framework Nation responsibility in Kabul region as well as the security and the management of the Kabul International Airport for 2015-17. On the other hand, Turkey organizes comprehensive training programs for the Afghan National Army and Police and provides material support.
The upcoming NATO Warsaw Summit and Brussels Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan significant would be significant with respect to our common efforts towards Afghanistan.
To achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan and regional stability, the successful conclusion of the Peace and Reconciliation Process is vital. Turkey supports the ongoing initiatives to this end. International community’s continuing assistance to Afghanistan in the fields of security, development and capacity building will help Afghanistan to become not only a stable country but also backbone of major regional infrastructure projects.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to have been the longest serving Turkish Ambassador in India since the time of Emperor Humayun.
As a diplomat I’ve been able and much honoured to get a first-hand glimpse of this unique nation exuding with tremendous potential.
Turkey and India have historic and deep ties of friendship.
The first cultural cooperation agreement that independent and sovereign India had ever signed was concluded with Turkey for a reason.
The Treaty of Friendship that governs our relationship explicitly states that there shall be forever peace and friendship between our countries.
I have made lifelong friends as I admired how Indian people have sustained their democracy and pursued high rates of economic growth. The greatest asset of this nation is its resourceful people including its diaspora.
The relations between Turkey and India hold tremendous potential.
Turkey and India are both G-20 countries. They are prominent figures in their regions. They have convergent views on several issues and possess complementary capabilities.
Yet, the level of high level interaction and consultation until recently was not at a level that our friendly relations merit.
Fortunately, momentum has been taking a turn for the positive. In the past few years we have had the honour of hosting the Honourable President, Prime Minister, Vice President and the Ministers of External Affairs. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance, and Minister of Economy have visited India. We held the 3rd round of Counter Terrorism Working Group Meeting and Secretary-level Foreign Office Consultations in 2015.
Our gaze is now on the Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.
A Prime Ministerial visit has been pending since 2013.
We have offered a history opportunity to form a strategic connection between Delhi and Istanbul to connect India to the most extensive our airline network in the world with just one stop.
This air bridge between India and Turkey would be strategic stringboards for both countries whether in economic or in touristic expansion of our friendly countries.
There is also the proposal to make use of the opportunities offered by the extensive land connectivity that exists between Iran and Turkey. Once Indian products are in Chabahar, they would be easily in Europe thanks to the robust connectivity that Turkey offers both to Iran and to Europe and Central Asia.
We will be honoured to welcome the Honourable Prime Minister for a bilateral visit in 2016.
The Honourable Prime Minister’s leadership is needed to clear the backlog of issues and open new horizons in the agenda of our potentially promising relations.
Thank you for your attention.
I look forward to a lively interaction with you at the Q&A hour.
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