TURKEY’S NEW VISIONARY
By Fatma Naib
May 12 2010
While leaders of the Middle East are caught between solving new
and old economic and political problems, and while the peoples of
the region are losing hope due to a lack of direction or solutions,
one country is quietly forging ahead with plans to become a regional
superpower. And one man is directing and implementing this drive.
Ahmet Davutoglu was a professor at Marmara University and the chairman
of the Department of International relations at Beykent University. He
was the chief adviser to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime
minister, before being appointed foreign minister in May 2009.
Davutoglu believes that Turkey has the makings of a regional superpower
and that its deep historical and geographical connections with Arabs,
Kurds, Persians, Central Asians and Caucasians are an advantage.
Located on the Mediterranean as well as the Black Sea, Turkey is
both in Asia and Europe, a member of Nato and the Organisation of the
Islamic Conference, Muslim yet secular and democratic, economically
and politically stable, and prospering.
In an increasingly volatile world, Davutoglu believes that Turkey has
the right, ability and confidence to play a major role according to
its own interests and not those of any alliance it is part of.
Father of the nation
Turkey is a nation of 77 million people who have, for most of the
last century, lived according to the founding principles of one man –
Kamal Ataturk – the so-called father of the Turks.
Secularism, nationalism, and Westernisation are all enshrined in a
constitution penned in 1923, and unquestioned by the vast majority
of the Turkish population.
But times are changing for Turkey, both at home and abroad.
With its unmatched geographical location, Turkey is on course to
regain some of its historical influence across the Middle East,
while remaining an important ally of the European Union and the US.
Increasingly, Turkish diplomats are being called upon to mediate in
seemingly intractable regional disputes, whether between Syria and
Israel, or Iran and the US.
But unity within its own borders remains a pressing issue, and
these complicated domestic problems are hindering Turkey’s progress,
including that elusive entry to the European Union.
Taking its place
But, with a new found confidence epitomised by Davutoglu, Turkey may
finally be ready to take its place as a genuine global power.
Ahmet Davutoglu, right, has sought to mediate the Iranian nuclear issue
Over the past few months, Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Ibrahim had unique access
to Davutoglu, the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy.
Although only in office since 2009, he has long been considered the
power behind the throne, having advised prime ministers and foreign
ministers for the past eight years.
During his first year as foreign minister, Davutoglu has sought to
build on this influence by promoting Turkey as a truly global power.
In spreading this message, he has made over 100 official foreign
visits, lifted visa restrictions on several neighbouring countries,
and even taken cautious steps towards a normalising of relations with
Armenia, following a century of enmity.
In doing so, he has utilised Turkey’s unmatched strategic location
for diplomatic gain.
"What is Turkey? Turkey from a traditional perspective has an Eastern
culture, part of the east but from the modern perspective, also we
are EU or Nato, part of Western tradition. Therefore the developments
in Turkey [are] like a litmus test," Davutoglu says.
"If we are successful in a dynamic manner and peaceful manner, it
won’t only be a good example for Turkey or our region, but it will
also be a good example and contribution for the global developments
in the future."
National identity has always been Turkey’s pressing issue, and is
still guaranteed to provoke controversy.
Kamal Ataturk founded the republic on the ruins of the Ottoman
empire. Overnight, he abolished a 700-year-old system of government,
changed the alphabet and dress code, and looked one direction:
towards the West.
For him, to modernise was to westernise, and becoming an accepted part
of Europe was the ultimate goal. And all of this was to be imposed
on an overwhelmingly Muslim society.
For Ataturk, there was no other way. And, in the intervening decades,
to disagree with the ideology of Ataturk was to invite censure
Today, however, many Turks are questioning the very cornerstones of
their society, and once again daring to ask: Who are we?
Davutoglu does not believe that being a Muslim clashes with being
"We are proud of our religion and identity but at the same time we
are part of European culture and European history and we are proud
of that identity as well," he says.
In the last year alone, Turkish diplomats have claimed credit for
mediating between Israel and Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sunnis
and Shias in Iraq, and even attempting to negotiate over the Iranian
"We don’t see crisis first, we first see vision. There is some foreign
policy approach from crisis to vision, you concentrate on crisis and
you try to deal with the crisis. Our policy is no, we focus on vision,
then from that vision we are trying to solve the crisis. And that
vision is good for all the region." Davutoglu said.
The EU question
Turkey’s geographic location makes it a key partner in any discussion
of the continent’s security. And yet, it is its very location at the
periphery of Europe that has made the EU reluctant to grant membership.
The EU still seems reluctant to accept Turkey as one of its own
Turkey signed an association agreement with the EU in 1963, from that
time until now they have been waiting.
Some of the delay was attributed to the political situation in Turkey
due to military interventions, which were deemed not fitting with
In 1999 Turkey did obtain candidate status.
"Until 1999 we had some difficulties we know that, but after 1999 we
were very active to fulfil the criteria" Davutoglu said.
But the EU still seems reluctant to accept Turkey as one of its own.
"The EU tries to make this a case of Turkey’s preference to unite with
its neighbours rather than the EU, but this is not valid because we
implement these policies together.
"We didn’t ignore EU process when we were focusing on neighbouring
"What is our objective? Zero-problems with our neighbours. I know
it is a slogan, but slogans are symbols, symbols create a new mind
and the most important thing is the transformation of mentality,
changing the concepts in the minds of the people." he says.
Davutoglu believes that Turkish membership will be an asset to the
EU, because with Turkey European culture will become more diverse,
and thus, help it to compete on the global stage.
In that sense, Turkish Islam, too, would be an asset to overcome this
challenge, he says.
The Rageh Omaar Report: Turkey’s New Visionary can be seen from
Wednesday, May 12, at the following times GMT: 1900; Thursday: 0300,
1400; Friday: 0600; Saturday: 1900 and Sunday: 0300.