Mustafa Pulat (Consul General, Consulate of Turkey in Berlin)

17.12.2011 - Interview conducted by the ICD News Team

Q1: Turkey has strengthened its military and economy and achieved a degree of political coherence it has not known in decades. For the first time since the end of World War I, Ankara is beginning to revisit its historical role as a regional powerhouse. How would such a reassertion affect relations between Israel and Turkey?

A1: I agree with you that the economic/ financial situation in Turkey has become better. Unfortunately we had a crisis in the late 90s that forced Turkey to clean up this mess in early 2000 dealing with corrupted loans and credits. This strengthened the Turkish economy and its performance.

Also in this particular point in history we have enjoyed a level of political stability which Turkey has not enjoyed for a very long time because when you look at the period before 2000 we always had political battles. Right now the present government is in power for a third consecutive term and of course with such kind of political power you can do a lot in a country like Turkey.

Turkey has always been important in the region but we have been inward looking all these decades. We have been a friend and ally to the west during the Cold War, but the circumstances were different and we were not prepared for the changes that came when the wall came down. So found ourselves in a limbo but after a short hesitation Turkey found itself in an island of stability. To say the least, this can and has provided some measure of security and stability the whole region. Take the Georgia crisis for example which took place recently. This was a major problem for the region, yet with the help of Turkey the crisis was settled more easily.

Regarding Turkeys relations’ with the Middle East; the region is of strong interest to Turkey. Turkish soap operas, Turkish movies are mass consumed. Cultural products are very much in high demand in the Middle East. We don’t how long this will continue, but at least right now it is the fashion. Also the political situation in Turkey, namely democracy that we have enjoyed for over half a century has become illustrational to the countries of the Middle East. We are happy to see this, but the fact of the matter is that all these countries have to have their own experiences. We don’t plan to be an example to anyone because we started with small steps in the early 19th century when we established our own small parliament. It’s a long process and it’s a process that obviously would change from one country to the other.

When it comes to Turkish-Israeli relations the affairs between our two countries dates back to Ottoman times. Turks and Jews have been good friends all throughout our history, and we have many examples that we can be proud of. For example, during the Ottoman Empire, when Jews were escaping the Inquisition in Spain they were warmly welcomed by the Ottoman Sultan. They came in the tens of thousands and still we have a sizeable and strong community of Jews living in Turkey. Turkish-Israeli relations with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey have had its ups and downs. The picture was not always rosy when they declared their capital Jerusalem. Even so, Turkey was one of the countries that recognized the state of Israel.

We cannot say that relations were always excellent but they have had a strong footing, strong base and Turkey has tried very hard to mediate the problems between Syria and Israel as well as with the Palestinian question.  We have invested enormous time and effort to clear the hurdles in the Middle East peace process, but unfortunately due to certain obvious political problems these efforts could not bear fruit. I think in this sense Turkey could not be blamed for what happened during the raid on the Gaza Flotilla, the ferry that had been boarded by Israeli commandos. All demands have been clear there have been voices at the highest level many times. This has created a knot in Turkish-Israeli relations; and this knot could be untangled only when certain conditions are met as declared by the highest members of our government.

Q2: The  World Trade Organization (WTO) has been criticized as representing more the interests of rich countries and multinational corporations, which harms developing and small countries who have less negotiating power. Why is this? What does this say about double standards within International Organizations.?

A2: I worked for the World Trade Organization so I feel biased answering this question, I worked for the secretariat which is a highly dedicated professional although a little bit conservative. Unfortunately this criticism around is partly true, partly not. If small nations are powerless or without the means or instruments to stop negotiations then the Doha round would have been completed. The Picture that we do have right now is very different. You have china as a member, yesterday they were going to vote Russia as a member after 16 or 18 years.  So the WTO is not the Doha round. The international system has gone through a process of great change. The United States and the West in general are not holding the ropes anymore. It’s India, China, African states, the BRIC countries that now exercise enormous power. When the Russians are in, the change in power will be felt more. Of course we can precise on particular negotiations of every culture, for the simple reason that some rich countries like to subsidize their very rich farmers at the expense of very poor African countries. This of course is just one issue. The other issue is again related to agriculture. There is a difference of approach with the so called “New World” Americans on the top, then Canadians and Aussies. In this sense you can have Brazilians and others who support the notion that agricultural markets should be free. Yet when these demands meet the Europeans there is a very strong clash because Europeans as having very large markets of 450 mil consumers with high level incomes who like to protect their own traditional ways of producing and living etc. The French, Spanish, Italians have subscribed to this view, while the Germans are a little bit different. Its not that the Germans are not doing any harm, but they understand the value of some of the arguments posed on agricultural liberalization.

The WTO has changed a lot but the change in itself did not bring any successful realization of the negotiation rounds. This is because when you look at the world scene, in my view, the reason why we are having a huge economic crisis, financial at this point, is due to the fact that WTO negotiations, Doha round, has stalled. If it had succeeded I think we would have had more avenues for economic growth and that would have been felt all over the world. The world has to start trading more but then you know it brings us to another question: Is the WTO the playing field for multinational corporations? Multinational corporations today comprise Chinese, Brazilian, Indian, and even South Africans. The structure of multinational corporations themselves have changed a lot so this broad argumentation really in my view does not explain today’s problems because things have changed so much. The needs have not changed, the need is for a more liberal and better integrated market and there has to be a balance for smaller countries, for poor nations. This of course could be achieved but the real problem is that the WTO has lost its original leadership from the United States for the simple reason that the US cannot lead anymore. This is because there are other major nations, but we don’t know as yet if this kind of multilateral WTO scene is helpful in concluding rounds in a fast and responsible manner. No one can blame anyone for this process as I discovered when I worked as a trade negotiator for International Property Services and other issues. If you leave it to the negotiator they will try to cut your heart out. There has to be a political vision.

Q3: Domestically Turkey is split between secular and non-secular politics. Does the application of Cultural Diplomacy change when one ideology becomes dominant in politics?

A3: First of all, I don’t believe that divisions between the so called secular camp and the religious camp are so deep. There are on all sides, certain groups, certain individuals, this is my personal view of course, who have a stricter view of what goes on in terms secularism or religiousness. For example, in Berlin in the same family you would see a girl wearing a headscarf and another girl not wearing a headscarf and with full make up. This is absolutely normal in Turkish society. I think we have politicized some symbols, some religious and political issues too much to the point that fragmentation between extreme groups is inevitable. The way forward is like as you mentioned through cultural diplomacy. Turkish are a very adaptable people. Now ask who is a Turk? We have people from Sudan who immigrated after the First World War when they were fighting for the Ottoman Empire at the Palestinian front because they couldn’t go back to their homes. They were settled near Izmir and Antalya, you have the Uzbeks, Turkmens and Azerbaijanis were going to pilgrimage when the Dardanelles war was taking place and instead of going to the pilgrimage they went to the front. All these people were settled and died in Turkey, so we are really mixed society. In fact 40-45% of Turkey’s population living in Turkey today originates from outside the country from places such as, Caucasia, Balkans, and partly the Middle East. In this genuinely build in multiculturalism I deliberately use these words, since they the lead to a very structured   kind of cultural diplomacy. Even though it may be not needed so much, of course we as a society need to improve the understanding between certain groups. Yet it’s not only the more religious but also the less religious people, or in some cases between various ethnic groups. In turkey we could see partly the process of doing this job usually in a good way. In my view, through television, press, and of course educational policies are spreading of universities all over turkey. Because the young members of our society after graduation take centrally organized administered state examinations, you can get funded in ways in which you can win. Sometimes you have to go to Universities as far away as the Black Sea, so students have to leave everything and go there for four, five, or even six years depending on the kind of education you would like to get. You can have a job afterwards and marry someone from the neighborhood. So what does this make you? You can be a Kurdish but you get married to a girl for example from another region. The mixing is already there, so in my view, because in the West especially in Germany, everything is classified in an organized way. Their understanding of other cultures and societies does not fit with reality.