H.E. President Abdullah Gül’s Address At The 4th Istanbul Forum

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Dear Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m pleased to address such an esteemed audience at the opening of the “Istanbul Forum”.

I greet you with my sincere feelings and welcome you all who have come to Istanbul from Turkey and abroad.

I would like to extend my thanks to the Center for Strategic Communications (STRATIM) and the Mercator Foundation, the hosts of this organization.

Today, you will be discussing the recent developments with all their dimensions in the Middle East in which we share a common geography, history and future.

I would like to contribute to the general framework of your discussions by sharing my views with you on the comprehensive change and transformation process the world and our region are going through.

Dear Guests,

Before making a regional analysis about the developments in the Middle East, I would like to share my general observations about the international system.

We are going through a global transformation process the effects of which we are feeling more each day. In this process, the international order is growing more complex and transparent. Radical changes are being experienced in power parameters and the global balance of power.

On the one hand, the number of states which are gathering power in the international arena is increasing. On the other hand, non-state actors and players based on sub-nation identities are gaining strength.

The latter actors are gaining strength and influence such that they can surpass national borders and identities and weaken the central administrations.

We are all well aware of the discussions regarding “monopolar” and “multipolar” structures of the international system. The world we live in today is not a bipolar one. Nor can we mention a real “multipolar” power balance or a “nonpolar” international order.

But we can comment on the basic parameters regardless of these discussions.

The U.S.A. is still the country with the biggest military power, but it is not the sole player in the global order. Nonetheless, it is the country that has the greatest power and influence in world politics.

Therefore, whether the international system will enjoy a reasonable balance depends on the accord between the leading actors including the rising powers.

On the other hand, the world’s center of economic power is shifting from the Trans-Atlantic region toward Asia.

The importance of the countries and cultures that seem to stand on the periphery of the global system is increasing. A shift of these actors toward the center unavoidably alters the outlook of world politics.

As I have reiterated on different occasions, we are living in a three dimensional “imperfect equilibrium”, which arises from “political”, “economic” and “human” deficits.

We can add an “ecological deficit” pertinent to climate change, which is adversely affecting us all, to this list.

These deficits, which are affecting good governance negatively, are far from being overcome and are unfortunately growing bigger each day.

Democracy, in the political arena in a great number of countries, has gained a “moral supremacy” as the most ideal administrative system which meets the demands of people and which provides legitimacy of administrations.

What is important is that democracy is not only about regime. Societies, while wanting to determine their governments through free will, demand to enjoy freedom, the supremacy of law, human rights, good governance and economic prosperity, all of which are the sine qua non of democracy.

On the other hand, while technological innovations in the economy bring greater production and welfare, this prosperity is not fairly spread to a significant part of the world.

Moreover, global economic fluctuations, the outcomes of which can entail social and political pressures, cannot be prevented. The influences of global crises are now felt longer and deeper.

To sum up, we face a global political system without only one center of attraction, and an economic and cultural order whose gravity centers are growing more diverse, and due to this transition process, elements of instability are emerging in many regions.

Dear Guests,

The Middle East is one of the geographies where the hardships and pains of this process are felt deepest.

A radical change of paradigms is unfolding in the Middle East. A hundred-year-old status quo is being demolished along with its accompanying antiquated structures. A comprehensive transformation process arising from social movements is being experienced in the Middle East.

In many countries, the driving force for change is the social demands and pressures from within.

Today, the people’s demands are that their relationship wih rulers should continue on the basis of legitimacy, and that regimes should be based on the will of the people. Therefore, they are irrevocable.

At the end of this process, it is inevitable that radical changes will emerge and that a new order will be established in this human geography and region where we live. What kind of a political and economic order will emerge in the region is a basic question for which we are all seeking an answer.

During my speech at the OIC’s Meeting of Foreign Ministers back in 2003 in Tehran, I drew attention to the need for change in the region.

I underscored that the existing structures were not enough to meet the legitimate aspirations of people, and I also reiterated that the demands of people for good governance, transparency and accountability should be answered.

I warned that if these demands were not met, uprisings of the peoples or foreign interventions would come afterwards.

At this point, I would like to share with you four basic observations I have made about the developments in the region.

First, a social and political transformation process in a given region can trigger transformation processes which affect not only that country but other countries and peoples in the same geography.

On the other hand, we see that these transformation processes which create great social excitement are faced with resistance and that geopolitical interest perceptions originating from the international system and power balances immediately step in.

Secondly, each change in the region entirely alters the intraregional balance of power, as we saw in the process following the Iraq War.

Thirdly, the increasing awareness of traditional identities which were long suppressed in the past has unfortunately launched a term in which identity politics based on ethnicity, religion and sect come to the fore in the Middle East.

And this has exposed the nation states to new challenges. A result of this is a process during which national identities, territorial integrities and internal peace of countries are increasingly questioned.

The possibility of long term instability and clashes, which ethno-sectarian identities can incite, is increasingly penetrating the region.

Therefore, the issue in the Middle East is far from being only about transformation in some countries, but it is also about preventing potential areas of conflict from turning into actual power struggles and clashes.

Fourthly, the discrepancies in the approaches of non-regional countries toward the transformation in the region. In the last three years, we have seen that a number of international actors have, on the one hand, championed that the real guarantee of stability in the region can be achieved through legitimate administrative structures which can meet the demands of the people, and this is why they have taken the side of the transformation powers.

However, we have also witnessed that the same actors, when the first adverse culminations created by the transformation emerged, have backed up the actors who were opposed to the transformation on the grounds that it paved the way for instability.

Within this context, it can be understood that one of the main reasons for this contradiction is pertinent to the orientalist discussions on whether the socio-cultural texture of the Islamic world is compatible with the modern democratic order.

I tackled this issue during my speech at Oxford University in 2011 two months before the events in Tunisia started. As I stressed back then, there is no dichotomy between Islam and democracy because no matter what origin it comes from, a pluralist regime, in which every belief and culture can find a place and in which participation, freedom and tolerance are blended with the rule of law, is attractive for all.

Despite being mentioned in different terms today, most of the notions of universal human rights are values which have taken root also in the Islamic world.

For instance, the values to which Islamic societies have attached the utmost importance in history are those such as the manifestation of rights and justice, accountability, transparency in state expenditures, participation in government and consultation. These values are what make the concept of democracy meaningful today as well.

Consequently, the Arab people are capable of building pluralist societies just like the western nations.

Therefore, as I have many times reiterated, the Arab Spring was a historic development which has demolished the orientalist superstitions that say “democracy and Islam are incompatible,” and which has refuted the claim of the “cultural relativists” who deny the universality of democratic norms due to cultural differences.

It would not be realistic to expect political systems which will pave the way for democratic progress and culture to emerge in a single stroke. In no country can the transition to democracy be achieved overnight. This requires a certain process.

When its development process in history is examined, it will be seen that the pace of democracy is closely related to the special conditions and internal dynamics of societies. We all know, too, how long democracy has taken to mature in the West.

What is crucial is that although the democratic process is slow and has ups and downs, its direction must continue without ceasing and its standards continuously rise.

Dear Guests,

I believe that we should take into consideration the general framework of the issue I have stated earlier while evaluating the course of the historic change and transformation process in the Middle East, and the developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.

These countries today are faced with different challenges and problems. One cannot claim that the expectations of freedoms, justice and equality, all of which are the fundamental demands of the social movements starting in the Middle East and North Africa three years ago, have completely been met. Moreover, the need for a representative system befitting human dignity, which is core in the social accord, still remains.

On the other hand, we should realize that focusing only on the existing problems will pave the way for bigger problems. Cracking down on the legitimate demands of rights and freedoms, as in Syria, has also instigated the process of an internal clash which poses a threat to stability in the whole region.

Therefore, one should admit that the real contradiction between change and stability emerges when the legitimate demands of change are not met, and that resistance to change is not the guarantee of stability but the source of instability.

Dear Guests,

The most critical country in the transformation process in the Middle East and North Africa is Egypt. Unfortunately, the historic journey to democracy in Egypt has been interrupted.

I believe that the Egyptian people, despite all the negative developments, will overcome this problem through their historic heritage. The main responsibility to build the future of Egypt is of course on the shoulders of all of the Egyptian people. We most want to see Egypt as a prosperous and strong country.

We sincerely wish that Egypt, without exhausting its energy, return to democracy and accelerate its economic development without further delay because any damage to the stability in Egypt harms the whole of the Arab world, the Middle East, North Africa and the whole international community.

We as the nation of Turkey believe that our historic friendship and amity with Egypt is strong enough to overcome these emerging dissidences.

Dear Guests,

The crisis in Syria is growing deeper. It is a shame for all humanity that the deaths of tens of thousands of people, millions of others having been left refugees and the destruction of towns and cities are mentioned as if they were mere statistics.

There is a civil war in Syria and no exit is yet in sight. The only affirmative development recently has been that the UN Security Council, at the end of the diplomatic process carried out following the use of chemical weapons which brutally killed innocent people, has at last reached a resolution on Syria.

We welcome this resolution and support its implementation.

With this resolution, the UNSC has clearly demonstrated that the conflict in Syria poses a threat to international peace and security. This is an important development.

It is also significant and appropriate that the UN resolution reiterates that the measures to be taken in case of a violation shall be interpreted within the context of the 7th Chapter of the UN Charter.

I hope that this development serves as the first step toward the establishment of a security architecture which will pave the way for the elimination of all kinds of chemical weapons in the Middle East.

Within this context, I support and regard the direct constructive talks, which the U.S. and Iranian leaders have launched, as significant and I hope that these talks facilitate the resolution of many other problems in the region including those of Syria.

On the other hand, unfortunately, the Syria problem is too big a regional and international issue to reduce to the elimination of chemical weapons.

The human tragedy in Syria and the civil war which poses a threat to the regional stability and security must be ended without further delay.

However, I observe that recently, the existence of radical and extreme groups which is a natural outcome of the atmosphere of internal clashes in Syria has also caused some hesitations in the U.S. and Western public.

The Syria issue has been stuck in the dilemma about whether Syria will gradually come under the control of the radical and extreme groups or a Baath-like regime. This approach might further prolong the existing deadlock in Syria.

The exit road out of the crisis in Syria is, as I reiterated during my speech at the UN General Assembly, a comprehensive diplomatic and political resolution which has been missing from the very beginning.

The First Geneva Accord, which did not have a sanction mechanism and which did not include a transition process with a tangible calendar and modality, failed because it had been prepared as per tactical considerations.

On the other hand, the political resolution perspective, which was strongly manifested in the last UNSC resolution, and the preparations for the Second Geneva Accord in this regard are affirmative developments indeed. We all should support this process. However, in this process, the mistakes made in Geneva 1 should not be repeated, and there should be no diplomatic ambiguity.

The basic parameters of the resolution are obvious. Many international actors including Turkey agree that after this much blood has been shed, after millions of people have become refugees and after this many cities have been destroyed, there must be a new administration in Syria.

The method for this is that a resolution with an enforcement mechanism, which will compel the Syrian regime to conform to the principles to be agreed about a transition process, should be created.

Thus, a resolution perspective, which will end the civil war, provide the security of the Syrian people and involve all parts of the Syrian people in the future of the county, will emerge. What is critical at this point is that the international community should establish a political environment where the free will of all of the Syrian people can resonate.

I believe that such an exit strategy can only be achieved through the sincere efforts of the five permanent members of the Security Council and the neighbors of Syria. As a person who pioneered the process of Iraq’s neighbors, I am of the poinion that such a process for Syria is belated but is the most reasonable way.

Dear Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have to constantly think of some questions and possible answers to them in the face of these developments in the Middle East and North Africa which will affect the future of all of us.

At the end of this process, which one of these two eras will emerge in this region in the 21st century: Could it be a new “Renaissance era” in which peace and prosperity prevail, or a “regional interregnum” in which millions of people, no matter what sect or ethnicity they belong to, will have to undergo new agonies for the sake of some regional competitions?

What can be done to launch an era in which everyone in the region regardless of their ethnic, religious or sectarian identities, feels themselves and their future secure?

The answers to these questions and the method to be pursued will determine the fate of this huge transformation process, which started in Tunisia but the results of which will influence the whole region and global stability.

Within this context, we have two scenarios before us:

The first scenario is the one in which different internal and foreign factors are involved and geopolitical interest perceptions and a balance of power policy is pursued as in all great transformation processes.

Besides, it is the combination of the belligerent understanding based on geopolitical interests and the ethno-sectarian identity politics in which one sees the other as his enemy, which, as I have stated earlier, means carrying the Islamic world back to the Dark Ages similar to those in Europe.

It is not within the bounds of possibility that any country, sect or society can get the best of such an era. In other words, this scenario, which will pave the way for an “intra civilizational clash” worse than a “ clash of civilizations”, is the one in which everyone will lose.

The second scenario is to reject the ethno-sectarian identity politics based on narrow geopolitical interests by realizing the dimensions of the danger.

We all know well the successful economic integration and security architectures

that Europe, by learning from the wars and clashes which were the products of such politics, has implemented.

The peoples in the Middle East, by gathering around common values and interests, can turn their region into a basin of peace, stability and prosperity.

The fundamental responsibility of the political leaders, religious leaders and opinion leaders in the region is, first of all, to manage and pioneer the process in their region by acting with wisdom and sagacity.

Be sure of the fact that every country which has fortified internal peace will be the greatest champion of regional peace.

Such leaders, acting with an understanding based on rights, justice, common sense and universal values, must make efforts so that the second scenario can prevail.

Many countries in the Middle East and many powers relevant to the region have spent enormous energy and resources on wars in the Middle East and crisis management so far. The outcome of these expensive adventures with their high human costs is obvious.

It is high time to plan peace and to invest in peace in the region. After all, the most permanent peace projects have been planned at the climax of wars, clashes and crises.

I assure you that a sincerely peace planning and financing peace requires much less energy and resources than those needed for crisis management and wars.

As we all know, peace, democracy and development move forward hand in hand.

The assurance of real stability and peace in the region is possible only through the establishment of an order where such an understanding pervades.

Thank you.

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