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Turkey in the World

Ambassador Dr Tuncay Babalı of Turkey on his country’s rising power and growing responsibilities.

By: /
24 April, 2013
By: Tuncay Babalı
Turkish Ambassador to Canada

Since my arrival in Ottawa as the Ambassador of Turkey five months ago, I have been happy to witness an overall increase in Canada’s interest in Turkey. Progress in Canada-Turkey relations had begun to accelerate even before my arrival, since our Foreign Minister H.E. Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu visited Canada in September 2012. In the last few years, Turkey and Canada opened new consulates in their respective countries; Turkish Airlines initiated direct flights to Toronto; and Air Canada will have direct flights beginning this summer. Turkey and Canada had three exploratory talks regarding the initiation of negotiations over a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. Canada’s Senate Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee is conducting a study on economic and political developments in Turkeyin order to examine the implications of these developments regionally, globally, and especially for Canadian interests and opportunities. Two separate delegations from the Senate and the House of Commons visited Turkey recently.

These are all very welcome developments and reflect the rapid changes in and around Turkey. Turkey has a unique location at the junction of Europe, the Caucasus, and the Middle East, all areas of significant strategic importance. The sixth largest economy in Europe and 17th in the world, with impressive growth rates over the last three decades and a vibrant population of 75 million, Turkey is now accepted as one of the major emerging economies in the world. Turkey’s well-regulated economy has been fueled by 110 billion USD in Foreign Direct Investment over the last nine years. In 2012, Turkey ranked as the 13th most attractive FDI destination in the world.  Foreign investors make up 150 billion USD of the total 300 billion USD that Turkey plans to invest in its more than 150 infrastructure projects over the next 10 years. The top sectors for investment are: energy; financial services; health; the automotive and parts industry; fast moving consumer goods (FMCG); the aerospace industry; defence; food and agriculture; and information communication technology.  Turkey has also become an international gateway to multiple markets – there are 54 countries within a three hour flight from Istanbul.

Turkey can be described as European, Balkan, Mediterranean, Asian, and Middle Eastern, all at the same time. Turkish people cherish all these identities, which makes them unique. Turkey is also unique in having  proven that a country with an overwhelmingly Muslim population can interact effectively with Western and non-Western societies, be a member of  NATO, and seek membership of the EU, all the while preserving its ties with the Middle East  and Central Asia, and its membership of the OIC. It is these ties that  allow Turkey to speak from within the West with the knowledge of the East when it participates in Western institutions. Likewise, these ties ensure that  our voice in Eastern institutions reflects our Eastern identity and our knowledge of the West. (When our Prime Minister visited Egypt as a part of his “Arab Spring tour” in 2011, he was welcomed by a very enthusiastic crowd in Cairo, and told an interviewer that Egypt should embrace secularism to succeed in democracy.)

As a result of these ties, and also because of geographical proximity, Turkey could not remain immune to the effects of the Arab spring.  The transitions that many countries in the region underwent were difficult, and posed serious challenges for nearby states, including Turkey; our foreign policy, domestic affairs, security, economy, and people were all affected. But the message Turkey gave to the countries concerned stayed steady:  that lasting peace and stability could only emerge as a result of the free will of the people, and that their demands for reform and democracy needed to be answered.

When the situation in Syria deteriorated, Turkey was one of the first neighbouring countries forced to bear the negative effects. In response to the influx of refugees from Syria, Turkey has pursued an “open border” policy since the beginning of the crisis. Temporary shelters have been established to ensure humanitarian needs are met. The principle of non-rejection at the border has been observed. “Temporary Protection” status has been granted in line with the UNHCR Executive Committee Conclusions, and the UNHCR maintains presence in the field.

At this point, Turkey is hosting 192, 000 Syrians in the 18 temporary protection shelters, and an additional 200, 000 Syrians are estimated to be living in Turkey by their own means or with their relatives. More than 40, 000 Syrians are waiting on the other side of the border to be accepted to Turkey, and the Turkish Red Crescent is providing them with daily necessities. Turkey is also providing for the education of 3,975 preschool and 28,014 school children with the help of 1,221 Arabic speaking teachers. There are five full-fledged field hospitals answering all the medical needs of the Syrians in the camps, and Turkey has asked Arabic-speaking countries to assist with providing Arabic-speaking medical staff. Since the beginning of the crisis, Turkey has spent more than 600 million USD of its own resources. The cost of keeping the shelters running will grow to 1.5 billion USD, according to the United Nations.  Regardless of the mounting expense, Turkey will continue to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance to Syrians taking temporary refuge in Turkey.

Turkey, in line with its global vision of helping other countries resolve their domestic as well as bilateral problems, seeks to facilitate reconciliation efforts and support the resolution of international disputes by peaceful means. Increasingly, Turkey has stepped up to serve as an effective third-party mediator. Turkey recently hosted the Second Istanbul Conference on Mediation from April 11-12 2013. This initiative was co-launched in 2010 by Turkey and Finland. The Middle East, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria were all discussed at the conference. Turkey also started another initiative, this time with Spain: the “Alliance of Civilizations”, later adopted by the UN Secretary General is aimed at easing inter-cultural tensions, and creates a new forum for those who seek to counteract tensions along cultural borders to coordinate their responses. Another clear indicator of Turkey’s global vision is that it has become a donor country in humanitarian and development aid, with contributions reaching 2.2 billion USD in 2012.

Overall, Turkey seeks to advocate universal values such as democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law, gender equality, good governance, and economic opportunity in the world, and to be an instrument for positive change and a source of stability in its region and beyond. Our foreign policy is guided by the principle of “peace at home, peace abroad”, established by our founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The fundamental components of our foreign policy today such as “zero-problems with neighbours” and “high-level dialogue” are in line with Atatürk’s overarching principle and vision of peace and prosperity. We are committed to continuing our efforts to make this vision a reality.

Ambassador Tuncay Babalı will be speaking to the CIC’s Montreal Branch on Monday, April 29. Click here for more information.

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