Speech by Ambassador Demirer to Rotary Manama / "An objective glimpse to Turkey"

Hatun Demirer 21.02.2016
(21 Şubat 2016 tarihinde Rotary Manama tarafından düzenlenen öğle yemeğinde yapılan konuşma)

Distinguished Rotarians,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here. I thank you all for the kind invitation and gracious hospitality. I am grateful particularly to Mr. Damani who created this opportunity for me to get together with you.

Before coming here, I was asked about the title of my speech and I replied as “an objective glimpse to Turkey”. I guess that this title sounded a little bit awkward to you all and most probably led you to question whether any Ambassador could be objective about their own country. I chose this title because lately I see a lot of biased news and articles about my country. And, as anybody, personally I also may sometimes be instinctively subjective when the matter is related with my nation and my country. Yet, Ambassadors are obliged to be objective in their works so that their analysis and observations be objective and realistic, not subjective and misleading. Therefore, today by mentioning bits of this and bits of that, I will try to draw an objective picture of Turkey, so that you can understand the context and have your own objective judgments about my country when you come across with a news related with it.

For some countries geography dictates everything and Turkey is one of them. My country occupies a unique location. She is blessed with being associated and identified with Europe, Balkans, Caucasia, Asia and Middle East regions. That’s why my country carries multiple regional identities and that's why inherently she is so rich and so dynamic.

Along with geography, historical background is a second factor that should be kept in mind for understanding the current developments. In that sense, Turkey is the main successor state of the Ottoman Empire which ruled over a large territory from the Balkans to the North African countries, covering all the Arabian peninsula between 14th and 20th centuries. Before the Ottomans, there were the Seljuk States of the 11-12th centuries, also of Turkish origin.
Through this historical background we inherited an abundance of cultural accumulation and ended up with a real multicultural society.

Today’s Turkey is established as a Republic in 1923 after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Since then she is a governed by rule of law.

Despite being a Muslim country, Turkey is a secular one. This means that state and religion matters are totally separate issues in Turkey. Our laws and regulations are not based on any religion. As contrary to most of the Islamic countries, “shariah” is not a part of Turkish judicial system.

What does this mean? This means that all Turkish citizens are equal before the law irrespective of their gender, ethnic origin, religion, sect and language. Equality also means equal opportunities for everyone. Turkish citizens, men and women, have equal status and rights and this is protected by the Turkish Constitution.

In Turkey, we don’t have rich natural resources like petroleum or natural gas. But we are a hard working nation. Our population is nowadays close to 80 million. And our biggest asset is our young and dynamic population.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Turkey is an active member of international community. Turkey’s being at the intersection of so many different regions, no doubt, enriches us. It presents so many opportunities. Yet our geographical position also carries so many risks. This reality –geographical opportunities versus risks- inevitably dictates my country to follow different foreign policy dynamics.

The on-going turbulence in the Middle East for the last five years is the latest challenge that the world is trying to get over with. But for Turkey, this was not the first one. I am afraid, it will not be the last challenge as well. During Iran-Iraq war of 1980’s, after that, through out the 1st and 2nd Gulf Wars among many countries in the region it was only Turkey which had to bear the direct humanitarian and economic side effects of the wars, like today, just because that we have borders with both countries.

Since 1980’s whatever happened in our close vicinity affected us closely. Yet we managed to overcome all difficulties because our nation is quite resilient as much as hard working.

The realities on the ground make my country to follow proactive, constructive and humanitarian foreign policy parameters. Al we want is peace and stability within our own territory and in our neighborhood. Because, we know that states can only prosper in peaceful and stable regions. All my country’s efforts for the last decades are meant to this end.

Respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries, especially our direct neighbors, has always been a priority for us. At this point, my interlocutors generally challenge me, by asking questions such as “then, how come you’re some much into the Syrian issue” or like “why time to time you come head to head with Iraq?”

My replies are clear and simple: Because we have direct borders with these countries. And whatever happens in those countries affects us. Ensuring the security of their people is the first priority for all countries and that’s what we are trying to do.

Today, existence of 2.6 million Syrians in Turkey is a clear proof of what I am saying. This is the biggest refugee number so far in one single country according to the UNHCR.

Strangely enough, some people asks why we let so many Syrians into our country. Is there any other thing more valuable than life? Life is sacred.

Turkish nation would have never ever left vulnerable Syrian people beyond our borders to death. Anatolia, our homeland, has always been a safe haven for those running away from persecution for thousands of years. More than 500 year ago, the Sephardim Jews expelled from Spain took refuge in Anatolia. 28 years ago, we opened our borders to one hundred twenty thousand Iraqi Kurds fleeing Halabja massacre during Saddam’s period in Iraq. 25 years ago, again we welcomed half a million Iraqis fleeing the 1st Gulf War. And today, despite the problems of hosting 2.6 million Syrians, I am proud of the inherent humanitarian instincts of the Turkish nation. Saving 2.6 million lives matter and worth everything.

This also explains why Turkey supports and works for a genuine political transition in Syria and pursues a lasting peace in the region, first and foremost for our own security, and also for the 2.6 million Syrians in our soils.

When it comes to the questions regarding Iraq, I explain my interlocutors our long fight against the PKK, separatist Kurdish terror organization. I’ll also shortly give you a background information, so that you can understand what is currently going on. Unfortunately, during the late Hafız Esad period, PKK had terrorist training camps in Syria and Lebanon which was under Syrian army’s control for long years. Our relations with Syria normalized in time and PKK existence in Syria came to a standstill. But unfortunately, after Syria, PKK terrorists this time found a new safe haven in Northern Iraq over the backdrop created in Iraq following the 1st and 2nd Gulf Wars.

So my country is fighting against terror organization PKK and its offshoots in the neighboring countries, one is the YPG in Syria, since 1980’s. Although we have lost thousands of lives in this fight, we are determined to end PKK terrorism until its attacks against our national security is silenced for good.

At this point I also would like to highlight that the ISIS/DAESH is a bloody terror organization. My country is fighting against it with resolve within the Global Coalition headed by the US from the first day on.

Distinguished Rotarians,

Since all of you are businesswomen and businessmen, I should also touch shortly on economy. For the last 15 years Turkish economy has shown remarkable performance with a steady growth. This happened as a result of sound macroeconomic strategies combined with prudent fiscal policies of the Turkish Governments. Major structural reforms have integrated the Turkish economy into globalized world. Role of the private sector in the Turkish economy have increased. Financial sector became more efficient and resilient. Our social security system became stronger. As a result, Turkish economy grew with an average annual real GDP growth rate of 4.7 percent over the period of 2002 to 2014. Turkey turned into a major donor country from a foreign assistance receiving one. With 3.5 billion $, Turkey ranks 3rd in the world after the US and the UK, in extending official development aid to needy countries.

At this point, I should underline that Turkey’s goal of acceding to EU have paved the way for comprehensive changes in Turkey. To become an EU member country and to finish the race that we have once started at 1960’s is a strategic goal for us and we are taking our steps to that end with resolve. In our commercial relations, EU is our largest economic partner, accounting around 40 percent of our trade. We have also an ambitious goal of becoming one of the largest 10 economies in the world by the year 2023.

So far, Turkey’s GDP has reached 800 billion Dollars in 2014. Our exports to the different parts of the world is around 158 billion Dollars. In short, despite all past global economic crisis and the current turbulences in the region, Turkish economy is strong and continues to attract foreign investors. 12.5 billion $ foreign direct investment in 2014 is a solid proof to the strength of the Turkish economy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before concluding, I also would like to add that we have excellent bilateral relations with the Kingdom of Bahrain. We do see Bahrain as a strategic partner in the Gulf region and give importance to its security and stability.

Thank you.

Kemal Demirciler Ambassador
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