Speech Delivered by H.E. Mr. Ali Babacan at the Vilnius University for International Relations and Political Science, 20 February 2009

Distinguished Participants,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Distinguished Guests,

I have the honor to address such a distinguished audience at this great university, the university which has been the cradle of many European thinkers, leaders, intellectuals, artists since the 16th century and interestingly not only as a Foreign Minister, but also as a Turk I have received always a very warm welcome in this beautiful country.

Relations between Turkey and Lithuania date back to centuries ago. Well I think the very first agreement of cooperation and friendship was made in 1930 between our Presidents. Then Lithuania went through difficult days. Turkey was a country which has never recognized the possible legal consequences of occupation and as two sovereign and independence-loving nations. The history of our bilateral relationship is actually full of good memories. Turkey was also one of the first countries to open an embassy here in Vilnius after the independence and one of the strongest advocate of collective security. We supported Lithuania’s accession process to NATO. Our relations when we look from the framework of the European Union are also a strong one. Lithuania has been a strong supporter from the very beginning of Turkey’s European Union accession process.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What I would like to do briefly is that, first maybe talk about the role of Turkey, the position of Turkey, talk a little bit on geopolitical aspects of Turkey vis-à-vis the surrounding regions and also vis-à-vis the European Union and also maybe before doing that, start with bilateral relations between Turkey and Lithuania very shortly about what we are doing together.

Our political relations are very good. We have many mutual visits on both ways, our Presidents meet often, our Prime Ministers do so. We as the Foreign Ministers actually come together quite frequently and we value the same ideals. We embrace the same values, whether it is about democracy, fundamental rights, freedoms, rule of law, these are the main guidelines that draw the framework of our common understanding with Lithuania. Our bilateral trade volume last year exceeded 400 million dollars, and last year the number of visitors that we have received from Lithuania to Turkey was about 95000. So this also represents a big increase compared to the previous years as well. We are both in the Council of Europe, we are both in the OSCE, the European Security and Cooperation Organization and we have cooperation in many international settings.

Coming back to Turkey, Turkey is a European country, but Turkey is also an Asian country. Turkey is a country in the Balkans. Turkey is also a country in the Caucasus. Turkey is a Mediterranean country. Turkey is also a Black Sea country. Turkey is also a country very close to the Middle East as well. When you look from West, for some people Turkey seems to be an extension of Asia towards Europe. But when you look from East, when you look from Asia, Turkey looks as an extension of Europe into that area. So depending on from where we look, Turkey is a country in many different regions at the same time. Having mentioned already the NATO and the EU, Turkey is also the country which initiated the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization with many countries around the Black Sea region and beyond we have that organization which is going on quite well. Turkey also initiated the Southeastern European Cooperation Process, a process which was able to bring all the Balkan countries together. Even in very difficult times in the Balkans, those countries were able to sit around one table.

We also recently started the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform, which includes Turkey, Russia as well as Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.

We are a member of OIC, the Organization of Islamic Countries, 57 member organization covering many continents and a wide area of countries.

We have just started a new platform between Arab League and Turkey, where Ministers are going to be meeting in every six months to exchange views about common problems, to find out areas of possible cooperation.

Also now we are a country which has a good access and good historical and cultural relations with Central Asia. Also with Central Asian countries we have different set-ups, where we come together quite often.

We are heavily engaged with Afghanistan and Pakistan, two countries with which we have very good relations and two countries for which we are trying to help them to understand each other better and cooperate more against common threats and challenges. We have already hosted two summits between the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Istanbul to enable them to communicate more and cooperate more.

With GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman, we started a new platform where again Ministers will meet at least once a year, but we are also now getting prepared for a summit.

Africa, a new continent for Turkey where we are getting our relationship and engagement more and more. With North Africa, we have already very strong historical and cultural ties. We have already embassies all around the Northern Africa, but for the Sub Sahara we have decided to open 15 new embassies, in addition to what we already have. In January last year the African Union, a 53 state entity has declared Turkey as a strategic partner. This is not a very common title that the African Union actually gives. There are only 3 stand alone countries in the world which the African Union sees as a strategic partner. China and India, both countries of more than a billion population and also Turkey as the third country.

So our work in many different corners of the world involve the main principles guidelines that we stick to. It is about international law, it is always about fundamental human rights, it is always about using diplomacy and political dialogue to solve problems. We have been of course and naturally I would say, quite involved with the problems in the Caucasus. The war between Russia and Georgia which took place last August was a big source of concern for us and Turkey was actually very fast to move and it was only the fourth day of the war when my Prime Minister and my self went to Moscow, next day to Tbilisi to try to calm down the situation and as I said the platform which I mentioned was actually a platform which we first talked about in the middle of the war. We came up with a possible agenda in the middle of the war to find a way or a common base for cooperation rather than fighting on the differences.

In Caucasus the relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia is going to be very important to follow. There are now talks going on and we hope that there is a normalization sometimes soon. Also Turkey and Armenia we have now our set of talks targeting full normalization between two countries. And if we are successful in these two tracks then we will see a new geopolitical situation in the Caucasus. Also our bilateral relations with Ukraine is also quite well, very strong economic ties, a lot of Turkish business people over there investing, doing trade so that’s also be an important set of relations for us.

The Russian Federation is Turkey’s largest trade partner and for Russia we are the fourth largest trade partner. 38 billion dollars of trade many FDI, direct investment from Turkey to Russia. And as a member of NATO, as a country also in the EU accession process, we are also having the balance in a way to approach from the framework of cooperation.

This is just an overview, the network of relations and also international settings that Turkey has been building and also intensifying its efforts more and more, but there is one area which is probably at the top of foreign affairs agenda or foreign policy agenda of many countries, which is the area called the Middle East. Over there, there are many problems sometimes turning into hot conflicts, sometimes frozen for a while. But the Middle East is a region where problems are really deep. As we have observed during the last several weeks the situation in Gaza was a big source of concern for all of us and also the overall framework of Israel-Palestine peace track how and when it can start again, the process between Israel and Syria for which Turkey has been the sole mediator between May and December last year, Israel-Lebanese peace track, another important peace track where there are problems and there are differences to be settled to be resolved. The situation in Lebanon, a country which is going to go through elections this year, Iraq is a country which has also its own set of elections this year, a country which is trying to come up out of the difficulties, trying to improve the security situation and also trying to become a truly independent, sovereign nation. Iran a very important country, a country which is talked about its nuclear program probably more than anything else, but then also a culture and history which has to be taken into account very seriously when we talk about the issues in the Middle East.

A little bit beyond the Middle East then we come to a geography, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The situation between Pakistan and India especially after the Mumbai terror attacks was also something which went through a very sensitive process, very sensitive period and two countries are talking with both Turkey quite frequently. So, again in Afghanistan and in India we have elections this year, so all these elections can actually prove to be good opportunity to move forward things but also these could be the events before or after which we may see some vulnerabilities for which we have to be careful about.

So, in all these complex network of relationships that Turkey has, Turkey itself is also a country which is going through an enormous transformation process. We have been going through an economic transformation, political transformation, also a social transformation. Turkey in 2002 versus Turkey today, are almost like two different countries from whichever angle we look at. In 2002 our GDP was 230 billion dollars, last year we closed with 750 Billion dollars. Our exports back then was 36 billion, right now 132 billion. We were exporting raw materials, agricultural goods, and textiles but now it is automotive, electronics, home appliances. FDI flow to Turkey, it was about 1 billion a year, that was the historical average, but then in a matter of couple of years it peaked to 22 billion dollars. It is just in one year, not the cumulative figure, which means how the confidence, how the trust of the business community has been building up for our country because foreign direct investment as all of you know happens only with long term confidence in the future of a country. It is not like buying stocks or bonds, where you can buy and sell in a matter of minutes, FDI is a long term engagement in a country when we look from the business point of view.

Also political transformation that Turkey has gone through. At the end of 2004, or I should say by the end of 2004 Turkey was considered by the European Union as a country sufficiently fulfilling the Copenhagen Criteria meaning we pass the threshold in terms of democracy, in terms of rule of law, fundamental rights, freedoms, we passed the threshold so that we were able to start the negotiations for full membership with the European Union. But that doesn’t mean we have finished everything. We have done a lot but a lot remains to be done for our democratization process for improving the human rights conditions in Turkey. Sometimes it is easier to change the laws, to even amend the Constitution, but then implementation is the key word, when we talk about political reforms. Political reforms means actually means changing the rules of the game. But then you have the same players on the field, same judges, prosecutors, same police force and how to make the same players adopt themselves to the new rules of the game which is taking time. But we have every reason to move forward in this area, and we are following very closely with implementation of the political reforms also to make sure that Turkey becomes a first class democracy, not a second or third class democracy.

When we look at the social situation in Turkey, Turkey is becoming a much more open country, much more open society. Right now we have more than 400 television channels, 1100 radio channels. These include the national broadcasts, regional broadcasts and local broadcasts. Except 6 TV channels, all the rest are privately owned. Free competition. I am talking about 6 TV channels, we only used to a 5 actually owned by the state until the end of last year, because the 6th channel which started broadcasting at the beginning of this year, 1st of January, is a channel broadcasting in Kurdish language. 24 hours broadcasting in Kurdish and this is happening in a country where only 5-6 years ago it was banned to sell a book in Kurdish language in a bookstore. You wouldn’t find any CDs or cassettes or music, legally of course when you look for it in the music store or something like that. But now a state channel is doing this broadcasting, also other private channels are allowed to do their broadcasting in any language that they chose to do so.

The changes that Turkey is going through are not just about a change within the borders of Turkey, it is also a change which is influencing a very wide geography. When the decision was made for Turkey to start the negotiations with the EU which was end of 2004, there were many journalists from all around the world coming to Brussels to follow what is going to happen with Turkey. But out of those journalists we have almost 300 coming from Arab nations to follow the decision about Turkey whether the EU will accept Turkey to be a negotiating country for full membership or not. And when that decision was taken it was cheered all around the Arab world. It was the number one news in TVs and in headlines of newspapers. Now what is happening in our country is being very closely followed in North Africa, in the Middle East, in Central Asia, all the way to Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia. A country where we have Islam, democracy and secularity functioning together and functioning better and better together is a very interesting concept, a very attractive concept as well. I am saying Islam, because majority of our population in Muslim. I am saying democracy, because Turkey is now targeting to be a first class democracy. I am saying secularism, because in Turkey also we have a secular system which we embrace and a system where we have distinct separation of religious affairs and the state affairs. Also secularism is about religious freedoms for the state not to be involved the daily religious practices of the people, for the state to be at equal distance to all religions, religious sects, atheists, but also it is about no religious rule governing the system, governing the state mechanism, how the state functions also. This relatively new interesting concept which is working better and better in Turkey is as I said being followed very closely because in many countries in the regions which contains young intellectuals and people who are reform oriented. And when we prove to be a more and more success story, those reform oriented people, intellectuals in those countries also feel more empowered, they feel more encouraged to do new things in their own countries as well. So sometimes I am asked a question, they said that “are you dealing now more and more with the Middle East and Africa because that mean that you are getting away from Europe?”. Sometimes I am also asked in other regions in more East and South, “well you are now becoming the European Union member, does it mean that you are walking more and more away from us?” Actually both thesis are not true. The fact that we are more and more engaged with the Middle East, Central Asia, with the North Africa the more of a value that Turkey is attached by many European countries. Whenever now I sit with my European colleagues we talked a lot about the Caucasus, the Middle East, Central Asia and now Turkey is perceived more and more of an asset for the EU for the strategic importance of the country, for geopolitical purposes. Also as Turkey is getting closer and closer to the EU with a better functioning democratic system with better practices in terms of environment, health care, in terms of food safety, transportation, energy and so forth, then Turkey is also becoming perceived as a valuable partner in those parts of the world which I have just mentioned. So this is going to be an interesting time I would say to follow for the next years and decades.

I don’t want to make this a monologue but just one last example which I want to talk about the Alliance of Civilizations. It is an initiative started with together with the governments of Spain and Turkey. We started with this as two countries and this is about interfaith dialogue, intercultural dialogue and it is in a way a response to the rhetoric of “Clash of Civilizations” which was mentioned a lot after the 9/11 events. After the initial phase we turned this project over to the United Nations. Now it is a UN project. During the course of just two years, 78 countries listed themselves to be in the “Friends of Alliance” group including Lithuania. Countries like Argentina they did a big event last year, in Kazakhstan in October they hosted another big event within the framework of the Alliance of Civilizations. The first official forum was held in Madrid last year in January. This year we are hosting it in Istanbul where we invited many leaders and foreign affairs ministers around the world to discuss to have a brainstorming about how we can actually bridge the differences, how we can actually enhance mutual understanding between the religions, cultures, how to come up with common values, common ideas where we can built more and more cooperation, how we can join strongly around commonalities rather than fight on differences. There are things which is also we are talking about and Turkey is so playing a role and doing contribution.

Well, here in my note, I have one last, I said last but this is actually the real last subject. It is about energy. Very briefly, if you have questions I can talk more about it but Turkey is a natural energy bridge. When you look at the map 2/3 of the world oil and gas resources are in the East or Southeast neighborhood of Turkey and we have huge market of Europe for energy in the West and for energy security, for energy supply security, Turkey has a lot to do to bring alternatives, to diversify and we have been doing so for a while but we are going to be doing more and more with projects like Nabucco.

Thank you for your interest and thank for your patience. If you have any questions maybe we can continue with that questions.


Actually I started my remarks saying that I will be speaking in front of such a distinguished audience, but I now understand that it is also a very well informed audience about Turkey, very good questions and really very up-to-date I would say.

We may start with the last question maybe it may open the door for other questions also. When we just look at the map and when we define only geographically where Europe ends and where Asia begins we have straits, the Turkish Straits which are actually dividing Europe and Asia. We have literally land on Europe and land on Asia as well, but in terms of cultures, what we are doing in Turkey, of course we have a unique culture and we will never would like to in a way be assimilated or just changed culturally in a way. What we want to do is more and more adopt, embrace and promote the European values. Those values which we think very important for Turkey and those values which are able to bring together 27 nations so thinking about not long time ago, just sixty five years ago in Europe we had the Second World War. France and Germany fought each other. Millions of people died. If we are talking about differences, then there are huge differences even within the founding European Union member states, the states which actually founded the European Union at the very beginning. So in terms of differences of course we can always talk about them but then European Unions emerged as a peace project, as a peace project which actually brought together different countries starting with first six. And now when we look at the 27, we see many ethnicities, many religions, religious sects, different languages and quite different cultures and sometimes the EU is talked to be, there are terminologies like absorption capacity and so forth. We don’t believe in being absorbed or Europe as absorbing countries. It is about coming together around commonalities for the good of all. So we see the European Union as a union of values. So whoever country, whichever nation is able to accept implement, embrace and start promoting those values are European Union members. So that’s how we define it, so when you would ask Turkish people probably they will say “We are Turks.” That would be the answer probably you would receive from many of them. Being a member of the European Union is about values and ideals as I said.

About Euroskepticism, this has to be a lot to do with the rhetoric we have been hearing from some member states after we started the negotiations, because it was end of 2004 as I said, when we started the negotiations process and that decision was a unanimous vote of all the EU Member States. But then we started to hear rhetoric from some countries saying that Turkey is not European, Turkey can never become a full member, maybe some kind of a special arrangement, privileged partnership or something like that. That kind of approach actually caused a backlash in Turkey. The feeling of being not wanted caused a response saying that “if we are not wanted then we don’t want the EU”, so it was a very emotional response that our people have taken against that kind of a rhetoric coming from some EU Member States. But on the other hand, all the reforms that we have done in the EU process has actually made our people happy. Because there has been a process in Turkey during which individual by individual people are now more empowered, there has been a big power shift from certain institution, certain mechanism towards the individuals towards the citizens of the country and they enjoyed this change in Turkey. And the quality of life is getting better and better enjoying more and more freedoms in many aspects. People of Turkey, they like the reforms , they have been actually very happen about what is going on but in terms of what we are hearing from some EU member States is something which is causing disappointment or disillusion I would say, but support for the EU process is still stronger than for any government to look forward.

About article 301 of our Penal Code, actually last year we amended that article, so we no longer talk about “Turkishness”, so we changed that article and also we gave the authority to our Ministry of Justice actually to open a court case or not. Because in this transition period we have to make sure that the players of the game get the right kind of messages about what we mean by the change in that Law. The cases against Orhan Pamuk and so forth, those are already dropped after the changes that we have made in that article.

About freedoms in Turkey, I think it is important to understand the character of our government and character of our ruling party in Turkey now. Our Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan was the Mayor of Istanbul. He was elected in 1994 but he couldn’t complete his turn, because he was put in jail, so he was moved from the Mayor’s Office to a prison. Why? Because he read a poem, a poem of four lines. The very same poem existed actually in the school books. So we have not only my Prime Minister but also many members of our party, many members of our Parliament, many members of our Government has very bad personal experiences because of lack of freedoms in Turkey in our recent history. So we have every reason to improve practices in Turkey in terms of freedoms, fundamental rights. So we don’t want those old days to come back. And we want to move only in one direction towards having more free environment in Turkey.

Now about the question in the ideological transformation in your words. Now first of all it is important to understand that Kemal Ataturk who is the Great Founder of our Republic. Kemal Ataturk always talked about having Turkey to reach a contemporary level of civilization. He always talked about modernizing the country. He always wanted Turkey to be more and more advanced country in every sense. So this EU process in a way is a good tool to realize what Ataturk probably had dreamed about in 1920s, 30s and so forth. But on the other hand in Turkey we have some circles coming up with some I wouldn’t call it artificial but some kind of a self defined set of rules or set of approach where they have their own terminology, their own understanding and they make politics out of those self defined rules and so forth. So what is important is that Turkey is as I said becoming more and more of an open society. Every evening when you sit in front of a TV, you just go from channel to channel and you will see probably at least 7,8,10 discussion programs where anything is discussed. So now our population is much more informed about what is going on in Turkey and in rest of the world. This free debate environment is creating healthier discussion framework in Turkey and ultimately it is the will of the people what it comes. So ultimately whatever the people would like to see, would like to have for the future of the country, they are going to make their decisions. They will have many alternatives. Now we have more than 50 political parties. So they have many options, they listen to everybody. They listen all the political leaders. There is this free debate and there is free media basically. Whichever party, whichever ideology, whichever political choice they will make has to be respected. I think that’s probably going to be the way to go, but on the other hand as I say we fully respect our Great Founder, his ideas, his original ideas, not maybe manipulated ideas after he passed away. That’s I think a main aspect, which we should emphasize more and more.

Now, about the Cyprus issue, there is a new set of negotiations going on in the island. In 2004 we were almost getting a solution, but in the referendums Turkish Cypriots accepted the resolution plan of the United Nations; in the south Greek Cypriots rejected the Plan, the comprehensive solution plan for the island and it didn’t go through. After 4 years after the elections in the South of the island, there is now a new set of talks continuing. By the way in Cyprus there are two functioning democracies. In the North, the Turkish Cypriot side, there is a President, there is a Prime Minister, there is a Parliament, there is a Constitution, there are laws, there are political parties, so there is a functioning democratic system in the North as well. So now two leaders are coming together, I think since September they met 20 times or so to find a way out. We fully supported this process. We really want to get a solution for the problems, because it is quite an awkward situation, what we are seeing right now and an island which is literally divided into two has been accepted as a member to the European Union and it is actually a basic rule for the European Union so that if any new member has any kind of border disputes it is very difficult to be a member of the EU. But now we have an island which is literally divided into two and taken into the EU as a whole so this is, taken supposedly as a whole but then in the North the EU rules doesn’t apply and so quite an awkward situation that we are seeing over there.

Now for the question about Kurds. I think it is important to make an analysis of the region in a wider framework before maybe we talk about these ideas. Now in Iraq as you know there is now a new administration in the North of the country, an area where there is a higher density of people who are of Kurdish origin. On the other hand we have our Kurdish population living in different parts of the country as well as the Southeast and East. But on the other hand they are the citizen of the Republic of Turkey. So they enjoy the identical benefits and privileges of becoming a citizen of Turkey. With all the reforms that we are making, we are actually giving more and more emphasis on cultural freedoms to make people use their language, their mother tongue also whichever freedom area that we can think about, so for Turkey our citizens of Kurdish origin are not minorities, they are enjoying the same benefits of being a Turkish citizen. In our Parliament right now only in my Party, there are approximately 60 people who are of Kurdish origin. In our Government we have several Ministers who are of Kurdish origin and they are as I say the part of the society, they are part of the system and they are represented in different authorities and we had a President for example, not recently, years ago, or top ranking generals in our army and that’s not new, that was already there. So with the new environment in Turkey, with all the reforms I would say that we have been introducing more and more, the issues are actually fading away. The new Turkey, there is a totally new set up and those issues are which was an issue actually, which was a problem is also going away.

Well I think unlike what is your personal perception about our citizens of Kurdish origin they are proud to be our citizens, they are proud to be citizens of Turkey and they enjoy living in Turkey. As I say they are not a minority, they are not a different group. When you go to Istanbul, when you walk in the streets, you can not differentiate who is of what origin basically. They are everywhere; they are in all parts of our country and when I say “they” I wouldn’t mean “they” and “we”, because we are the same nation and we are all together basically.

About Georgia, now we have very special relations with Georgia. We have cooperation in the area of defense and military, we are training Georgian Army, high ranking officials, we have Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, Azeri oil goes through Georgia to get into Turkey and to the Mediterranean. Same for gas. We are now constructing a new railway between Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, BTK railway and also we have a big Georgian diaspora living in Turkey. We have also big Abkhaz diaspora living in Turkey. I think the population of people of Abkhaz origin living in Turkey is more than the population in Abkhazia. So we have all these integrated set of relationship. On the other hand, we have been repeatedly declaring that the territorial integrity of Georgia has to be respected and even in the very difficult times we have been saying this over and over again. So there is not any kind of problem that you probably see from here between Turkey and Georgia. We still have very good relations. Right now we are helping the reconstruction of Gori, we are building residences over there because President Saakashvili asked us to do so and we are already doing it. On the other hand, independence of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, their declaration of independence is something which we have never recognized. It is only the Russian Federation and Nicaragua recognizing those two republics as independent entities. So that is our strong stance. It is very important in foreign policy and foreign affairs to act on international law, to act by principles, to act by wisdom and by also always talk about fundamental human rights, the UN Charter as guidelines. So, as long as we stick to those guidelines, then the only thing which will happen is I think more and more trust a country builds. Our Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform, that is a platform which five countries come together voluntarily, we cannot force any one country to be there. So Russians are there, as well as Georgians are there. Azeris are there as well as Armenians are there. We are there. So thinking about relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Armenia and Turkey and Georgia and Russia, we have to talk, we have to have a forum for dialogue. We have to find common areas of interest, find cooperation areas, to build confidence. Because as I said at the beginning, political dialogue is the key way to solve problems. Nowadays in our world, we think that it is very very difficult to solve problems through military means, by using military force. Diplomacy and dialogue are the key instruments to solve the problems.

Now, coming to article 301, looking at how many cases we had before, looking at how many cases right now we have, the outcome of the changes, it is functioning quite well. If there are problems in the future we can always correct it. It doesn’t mean that article 301 has been changed once and it will stay as like forever. Even involving the Ministry of Justice in my view is not quite in line with the concept of separation of powers. Because you know the legislative power versus executive power and why we put that link is something probably temporary, it is not going to stay forever but then we have to make sure that everybody understand what we have in our mind, we have to make sure that everybody understand what the Turkish Parliament really wants to see in terms of those court cases and so forth.

And coming to Youtube, I said we are not perfect yet.