Recent exploratory foreign policy steps by the government seem to have armed those who look for opportunities to "nail" the government. In this context it is not hard to understand the logic behind the recent storm in a tea cup.
The constant questioning of Turkey's fundamental choices for peace and democracy, and its relations with its allies, is unwarranted. Turkey's fundamental choices include democracy, freedom, the rule of law, justice, human rights, secularism and free markets. These principles have been acknowledged and have allowed us to progress towards the European Union. Moreover, the very same principles have been embedded in our election platform and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has won the 2001 elections with this program. Since then, our government's domestic and foreign policies have been under the mandate given by the electorate. Overall, frequent skepticism or cynicism about Turkey's allegiance to its alliance relations is also unacceptable. As we have pointed out time and again, Turkey's alliance partnership with the Western world is a strategic choice.
The recent foreign policy critics actually vary by their motives and means. Some are sworn opponents who are impossible to please. We don't believe that we are obliged to entertain this group. They are dogmatic naysayers. These people are the convicts of their own shallow political minds. Besides, this conviction is like a life-sentence and can not be over turned. The electorate gives the best response to this group.
In some other critics we see traces of suspicion against new approaches and developments. This mentality, opting to stop the clock and live in the past, hopes to revive the discarded policies under the guise of "tradition", "continuity" or "consistency". These need to wake up, look around and note the 21 st century and the transformation taking place.
Some international critics are biased. This bias is unwarranted and actually reflects their ignorance on Turkey. It is also visible that their parameters on Turkey are outdated. They may also be longing for the past for whatever reason.
Understanding and comprehending Turkey requires some awareness of Turkey's geography, its history and sociology. As the joke goes, if Turkey were surrounded by France, Germany, Austria and Italy, it would be called Switzerland. We are not Switzerland, nor have we the luxury of being a Switzerland. Some shallow-water experts seem to be expecting Swiss neutrality from Turkey. This is wandering in the dream lands.
We are Turkey. We are the bridge between the East and the West, between Europe and the Middle East. There should be no doubt that our direction and alliance lies with the West. However, we also are burdened with the responsibilities inflicted on us by our history and geography. Tackling these responsibilities do not contradict with our alliance ties with the Western world. Our responsibility is to act together with our allies, but at the same time to warn our allies against possible mistakes and oversights caused by the region's characteristics. As a good friend and a good ally, Turkey has to be frank and honest.
Overall, even if we wanted to shut down our doors and turn our backs to these responsibilities, we cannot. Just remember our regional map and think about the recent international news reports. We are facing astonishing and frightening developments which were incomprehensible, unexpected and unpredictable not only 10 years ago but even one week ago. Unfortunately in Iraq, brother is killing brother and houses of worship are now turned into targets. We condemn the sick mentality behind this provocation.
The unexpected and the unpredictable are always the strongest elements in the Middle East. In the last 100 years, there is no country which has not been surprised by the region, or has not miscalculated the region.
We need to develop quick, decisive and effective responses against these unexpected events. We also need to develop our policies and our contributions. It is for these reasons that Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Caferi and other Iraqi leaders are visiting Ankara amid a political crisis in their country. Our steps in the Middle East are for democracy, peace, justice and development. These steps are not to deviate, but to gain fresh ground. And that ground is peace, democracy and reconciliation.
It is also our right to demand respect for our efforts towards peace, democracy and reconciliation. Otherwise, who will bring the East and West together? Recently we have all observed that the East and West are more in a conflict mode than a reconciliation mode and not much is required to trigger a clash between. This is sad and painful. However, Turkey is obliged to try its best, is obliged to stop the blood and tears, and throw its weight to prevent a conflict between the East and West. In this task, we certainly do not intend to stand alone. We always have, and always will, keep our doors open for our allies, friends, and neighbors who want to participate.
In Istanbul, we have brought our good friends Pakistan and Israel together, which marked the start of their diplomatic relations. In Ankara, we advised peace and reconciliation to the visiting Hamas leader. It is no coincidence that Turkey is a key partner in the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative; Turkey is also the co-chair of the Democracy Support Group under this initiative. We have brought together the EU foreign ministers and their colleagues from the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Istanbul; We have recommended the Iraqi Sunni leaders to participate in the elections in Iraq and brought them together with the US ambassador in Istanbul. Palestinian and Israeli businessmen will work together in the Enez Free Trade Zone in Gaza under Turkey's sponsorship. It is no coincidence that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was asked to co-chair the key United Nations initiative, the Alliance of Civilizations, led by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The top leadership of our allies are well aware of Turkey's peace building efforts. The best response to the recent noise was by the acting Israeli PM Ehud Olmert who has personally called PM Erdogan. A similar tone was also heard from UN Secretary General Mr. Annan during his recent meeting with Foreign Minister Gul.
That's why Turkey is important for both its neighbors and its allies.
Lately, and thanks to globalization, a new factor has emerged in the Middle East, where governments are no longer the sole power centers. This new element is the electorate, the public opinion, and the public conscience. If there will be democracy in the Middle East, then there also will be public opinion. It took Turkey about 200 years to build its democracy, which is the envy of this region, while it occasionally faces unfair criticism from the West. Certainly, it is crucial to encourage the Middle East electorate casting votes for common sense, development, peace and reconciliation. However, this goal requires patience.
In this environment, a Turkey which is passive, whose voice is lost in the noise, and a Turkey that has lost the confidence and respect of the Middle Eastern peoples is no good to its neighbors or to its allies. As of today such a Turkey is not possible and such a demand is irrational. Being for peace, reconciliation, justice and development is not in contradiction with our alliance ties. If our efforts bear results, then we will only be pleased for the sake of humanity, peace and the alliance of civilizations. If our efforts cannot bear fruit, then with a clear conscience we will do whatever the conditions require. The picture is very clear for us. Turkey has both the power and the ability to send in the doves of peace or raise its iron fist, whenever necessary.
Time is the most expensive and the most valuable commodity in the Middle East. Turkey is experienced enough to know that its is almost impossible to end overnight the problems which have endured over numerous decades. We are also realistic enough not to imagine any easy solutions, or dream of transformation without paying the dues. Turkey's experience indicates that the Middle East nowadays is more slippery and misleading than ever. The possibility of a sudden shift in the assumed parameters, and the possibility of making a mistake in the Middle East, has increased. For the ones who listen, we have conveyed our experience concerning the region and we will keep doing so. The last 10 years in the region are full of bitter lessons showing us what is possible and what is not.
Turkey is standing tall in the Middle East for its friends who need a strong, realistic, rational and a stable ally. Turkey is anchored in this region, and also reflects a harmony of the Middle East with modernity and the European Union ideals.
The eventuality of Turkey's EU membership is dubbed as a nightmare scenario because the EU will then be sharing its borders with countries like Iran, Syria and Iraq. On the contrary, Turkey's EU membership will be a beacon for the region and will accelerate the region's transformation. This is not a nightmare scenario but intsead a blue print for development, peace, stability and democracy. Turkey is aware of its strategic position. We do not have another place to go, nor do we have any desire to do so. We have been here before, and will continue to be here after. It is Turkey's potential for peace and reconciliation that makes it crucial for the West.