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Brief History of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey

The Foreign Service of the Republic of Turkey is founded on the well established traditions and legacy of Ottoman diplomacy with a long history.

The application of this commanding diplomatic tradition as an effective instrument was one of the leading factors which enabled the Ottoman Empire to reign over a vast geography for several centuries. 

The foreign affairs of the Ottoman Empire were conducted by the “Reis-ül Küttap” (Head Secretary) until the 19th Century. However, the “Reis-ül Küttap” was also entrusted with other functions such as maintaining the records and administering the correspondence of the State. In 1793, during the reign of Selim III, the first permanent Embassy was established in London and Yusuf Agah Efendi was appointed as the first Ottoman Ambassador. Accordingly, the Ottoman Empire thereby adopted a diplomacy based on the principles of permanent representation and reciprocity in its diplomatic relations. The Ambassadors of the Ottoman Empire appointed to European capitals, while fulfilling their duties in respect to bilateral relations, also served as pioneers of modernization by accelerating the process of westernization and reform within the Empire by way of the information they transmitted to the Porte regarding the countries they were assigned to.

The Translation Office was established during the reign of Mahmut II as part of the restructuring of the “Reis-ül Küttap” system in accordance with the diplomatic requirements and conditions of the time. As the foreign affairs of the Empire had increased significantly and had come to occupy an important role in State affairs, the “Reis-ül Küttap” was upgraded as a Ministry in 1836. Yozgatlı Akif Efendi, the last “Reis-ül Küttap”, was appointed as the first Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The cornerstones of our foreign policy in the Republican era were laid during the initial years of the War of Independence. Immediately following the inauguration of the Turkish Grand National Assembly on April 23, 1920, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was officially established on May 2, 1920 as part of the first National Government and Bekir Sami was appointed as the first Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry which was established with extremely limited resources, performed the functions and duties demanded by the increased contacts with the outside world in a diligent and committed manner despite all the hardships of the period and played an important role in the process leading up to the Lausanne Treaty.

After the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began to develop both its internal and external institutional structure. In 1927, the first comprehensive legal regulation on the organization of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was enacted with the adoption of Act No. 1154 which laid the foundation of the Ministry’s present day institutional structure.

Since the inception of the Republic to this day, the vision and principles of the great leader and founder of the Republic, Atatürk, have not only guided Turkish foreign policy but his maxim “peace at home, peace in the world” also continues to constitute the fundamental objective of this policy. Accordingly, Turkey has pursued an active and peaceful foreign policy since the 1930’s. Despite the pressures to the contrary, the competent diplomacy pursued to safeguard the interests of the country prevented Turkey from being dragged into World War II and the consequent devastation it would have entailed.

The international order that emerged in the post-WW II period to a great extent shaped both the foreign policy considerations of Turkey and the institutional structure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. With the intensification of foreign economic relations and the proliferation of international economic institutions, the pursuit of our interests in the economic realm was also brought under the responsibility of the Ministry.

In the same vein, in accordance with the growing trend towards international cooperation in political and economic affairs and the increase in the number of organizations to serve this purpose in the period following 1945, multilateral political and economic affairs also assumed an important dimension in addition to the conduct of bilateral relations among the functions of the Ministry. The growing importance of multilateral diplomacy and the proliferation of international organizations also led to an increase in the number of our Permanent Missions accredited to such organizations.

During the 1950’s the network of Embassies and Missions of the Turkish Foreign Service was significantly expanded as delegations that had been temporarily closed during WW II were reopened and new Embassies and Permanent Missions were established in various capitals. 

With the 1970’s we experienced a wave of organized Armenian terrorism directed at Turkish officials and their families serving in missions abroad. The assassinations carried out by the Armenian terrorist organization ASALA, together with the terrorist organization November 17 in Greece, claimed the lives of a total of 39 officials of the Turkish Foreign Service, including five Ambassadors.

Important developments took place in the Ministry and structural changes were made in the organization of our Ministry in the aftermath of the Cold War. The number of our missions abroad increased significantly with the emergence of new states in this period. At the same time, the transformation that took place and the challenges experienced in the geography that we inhabit in the 1990’s introduced various new risks and opportunities for Turkish foreign policy and further enhanced the significance and role of Turkey in securing peace, stability and prosperity in this fragile neighbourhood.

The Republic of Turkey, which had a total of 39 missions abroad in 1924, is now represented by 221 missions throughout the world. These missions comprise of 129 Embassies, 11 Permanent Missions to international organizations, 80 Consulate Generals and 1 Trade Office

Serving  under the leadership of the 42nd Minister of Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish Foreign Service consisting of a total of 985 diplomats at the Ministry and its missions abroad, continues to operate with its modest resources and number of personnel to conduct and further promote our international political, economic and cultural relations in the bilateral  and multilateral context  as well as  to contribute to peace, stability and prosperity in our region and beyond.