H.E. President Abdullah Gül’s Address at the 4th Bosphorus Regional Cooperation Summit

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Dear Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very proud to be together with you during the opening of the 4th Bosporus Regional Cooperation summit held by the International Cooperation Platform and I welcome you all. I know that we have very valuable guests from abroad among us today.

Istanbul, which has brought together people, ideas and opportunities at the centre of Eurasia since the early ages, has become almost the centre of social dialogues. Economy meetings on the one hand, congresses relating to tourism on the other hand, brainstorming meetings and these kinds of other meetings have all turned Istanbul into an important centre. We are now carrying out such a meeting here today.

I would especially like to offer my thanks to Mr Ali Coşkun and Mr. Mehmet Büyükekşi, both of whom are the co-chairmen of the High Advisory Board, and to those who have contributed to the transformation of the International Cooperation Platform (UIP) into a brainstorming centre by institutionalizing the platform where global and regional issues are discussed. This platform is gaining strength and progressing on its path with the help of your efforts.

I hope that this conference which has been organized with the theme: “The Middle East and North Africa in Sustainable Global Competition” this year will be very fruitful.

Dear Participants,

During the first conference of the UIP which was held in 2010, I reiterated that information, capital and people are circulating at a great speed that has not been seen before throughout history and I also mentioned that this entails opportunities and problems at the same time.

Similarly, today I still believe that the three main multipliers of sustainable welfare and growth are peace, good governance and knowledge. In other words, I believe that there is an indissoluble bond between peace, stability and growth.

Within this framework, I would like to touch upon the latest developments that we have perceived in recent years.

In the last three years, a crisis has shown its effect with full force, whose economic, political and social aspects are gradually being felt in the north of the Mediterranean, which is accepted as the cradle of human civilization.

In the south of this region, civil commotions, which have shaken the foundations of a century-old status quo, have emerged, These civil commotions emerging in the countries with the problem of domestic legitimacy have initiated a process toward shaping the administration structures as per the demands of the people.

We are representatives of a generation who knows well the pains of war, poverty and famine and the value of peace and welfare.

The reason we are trying to understand better what is happening in our close vicinity is that we want to protect and distribute our acquisition which we have obtained with great self sacrifice.

In this respect, it is not possible to evaluate the recent processes, which have influenced the Mediterranean basin, independently of some macro dynamics. While we are trying to understand the present situation and drawing up plans for the future, we cannot ignore the fact that our world is passing through a multidimensional, multi layered, multilateral process of change and transformation.

The bipolar system has ended, but what kind of a regime will be established instead has yet to be determined. We live at a time when political and economic power centres are gradually diversifying. Asia is winning back its predominant position of the 18th century in the global economy. Such countries as China, India, Russia and Turkey are at the centre of attraction in this process. More than 90% of the global economic growth is being produced by such developing countries. The Middle Eastern and North African countries with rich human and natural resources are seeking new places in the changing world order.

The second macro trends I would like to address are the radical global changes in the areas of business, finance, trade and investment in recent years. Compared to the past thirty years, a great boom is unfolding in global trade. There are supply chains that have been formed in production at the global level. Regional trade blocks have become widespread. Countries have become interdependent on each other more than ever. As a result, prosperity has increased and poverty has decreased.

In the meantime, severe imbalances have emerged between countries or even within the same country in terms of income distribution. The gap between the rich and the poor is gradually widening. This factor, which has instigated the social unrests, is one of the basic factors that has led to the civil commotions in the Middle East and North Africa and is also the subject that will be addressed in today’s conference.

Thirdly, we live in a century when the issues which seem to be local bring about global results that effect all of us. Problems such as financial and economic crises, natural disasters, famines, increases in food and energy prices and contagious diseases are all now affecting much wider masses. It only stands to reason that the countries in this region which constitute the theme of the conference are also influenced by this process. The Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire also triggered a large scale transformation wave and he obviously resorted to such an action because he did not have hope left for the future. Masses of people have risen for their pride and their future. It goes without saying that problems need to be solved before they reach a level that could result in such actions.

In order to continue to reap the benefits of globalization and to achieve sustainable competition, we all have to assume a common responsibility to solve such problems including the injustices in income distribution.

During my speech three years ago, I reiterated that the prescriptions for solutions in which the state has a central role were not satisfactory.  In order to solve all of these problems, not only governments but also civil society needs to embrace these problems and has to lend support. In other words, we should be sensitive to what is happening around us and we must assume responsibility in solving the problems concerning us all.

Esteemed participants,

Among the geographical regions which have felt these global problems the most are the Middle East and North Africa. The civil commotions that occurred in the Middle East and North Africa are the outcomes of the above stated problems that came together at different scales. The transformation process which started three years ago has not finished yet, because the expectations of freedom, justice and equality which are the most fundamental and legitimate demands of people have not been met to a  great extent. The need for a representational system that befits human dignity and which is included in the foundation of social consensus remains to be met.

10 years ago, during my tenior as Foreign Minister, I underscored that the structures in this region were not sufficient to meet the legitimate longings of people.   I also stressed that the demands for good governance, transparency and accountability must be responded to. I had based my words not only on universal values which I believe in but also on an economic rationality. Just think, the average growth rate in a geography of 350 million people in the last thirty years has been 0.5 % . 60% of this population in this geography is under the age of 25. As a result of the high increase in population, there will be a necessity to provide employment for an additional 50 million people in the next ten years. At the moment, 65 million people live below the poverty line.

When all of these social and economic dynamics are taken into consideration, it was clear that the centenary status quo could not be sustained.

As stated in a report written by Arab intellectuals in 2002, there are three basic deficits that have caused the region to lag behind. These are the “deficit in knowledge”, the “deficit in social participation in economic and political life” and the “deficit in freedoms”.

The Arab Awakening is the 21st century’s most important regional dynamic that has brought democracy to a large demography. It is a historic opportunity in terms of overcoming these deficits. Actually, after this process started, a relative improvement was achieved in the area of freedoms. Promising developments are also unfolding in political and economic participation. The overcoming of the deficit in knowledge depends on the progress in the first two areas.

The progress rates of the countries in the region in this direction are not all the same. This is natural. We are at the very beginning of this journey. Each country will adjust its speed within the framework of its own inner dynamics, and its specific conditions. One should remember that the West’s entrance into the era of democracy, free market economy and knowledge and technology was a process that has continued centuries. Democracy was not achieved overnight. It has never been predominant in a country in just a year. This is a long process which progresses and sets in time and improves itself.

We can see that democracy is still at a developing process even in countries who have enjoyed a multiparty system for decades and which are run with democracy. We should also know that improvement and perfection are continuous. This also shows us that the Arab countries need a very long time to resolve today’s conflicts.

The crucial point here is that the democratic processes in the Middle East and North Africa continue without interruption. The basic responsibility of the political, religious and opinion leaders in the region is to manage the period of change in their countries wisely and with common sense and to pioneer in directing the change towards the right path.

Esteemed guests,

Another significant dynamic which cannot be ignored in this region which has experienced the pains of the transformation process is that the awareness regarding the traditional sense of belonging based on ethnicities and sects which were oppressed during the building of nation states has come back to the surface. Identities depending on ethnic and sectarian belonging gain force at the expense of national identities throughout the region.

The regional countries themselves must decide what should be done in order to launch a period in which everyone feels that they and their future are safe no matter what their ethnicities, religions or sects are. In this context, the following issues should be taken into consideration. First of all, the choices before us regarding ethnic and sectarian belonging are obvious. Either a sectarian conflict scenario, in which no one will be the winner, will be seen or a regional cooperation model will be established despite all differences. This is also obvious, separation or conflict will not get us anywhere. You can find justification for separation or partition even in a small village.

If reasons are sought for separation, disintegration and inner conflicts in countries which have either ethnic, religious or sect differences and which have multi diversities as in the Middle East, obviously they can easily be found. But this will not lead us anywhere either. The European Countries have faced such conflicts in the medieval ages and have paid great costs. I believe that now, the Middle Eastern geography, the Islamic geography, need to stop such conflicts and instead, they need to see these diversities as a treasure and should live together in solidarity and they also have to come together with respect and love. Only then, can energies, potentials and values be spent on welfare, progress and growth.

Otherwise, all resources will be wasted, and consumed. Countries will face great problems that will last many more years. If we look at our recent history, we can see examples of this. Indeed, there are great examples we must take. The cost of the first option will be to spread the seeds of a long term instability based on the denominational, religious and ethnic fault lines in our region.

The desire to make the role of this first scenario dominant in Syria has claimed the lives of more than 110 thousand people due to the ongoing civil war in that country.

The second scenario is to enhance the spirit of regional ownership and cooperation.  The key to overcoming the risks arising in the Middle East and North Africa and to reaping the benefits of the opportunities in the best way is the establishment of a regional cooperation.

If the countries in the region and the leaders do not seek their own solutions to the problems of the region, others will step in and impose their own solutions. We have seen this in the past. We have also witnessed the agonies and devastations it caused. Now, what must be done first is to work hard to produce local solutions that will put an end to civil conflicts which are posing the biggest threat to international peace and security.

The steps that will be taken in this direction will also be of great importance for the Middle East and North Africa to take their rightful place in the global order.

Thirdly, an efficient safety and cooperation architecture is needed as much as the necessity to keep the perspective for a regional solution alive. As a matter of fact, I have been reiterating on different occasions that a new OSCE-like safety architecture should be established to strip the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction. I hereby invite all the countries of the region to support this proposal.

Finally, I would like to underscore the importance of the balance between freedom and security while a new regional security structure is being formed. This balance is the key to achieving a long term stability and development in the region.

At this point, I would like to emphasize once more that policies which limit freedom by setting forth hypothetical security risks will not bring stability and security to the Middle East. Making concessions for security from freedom will entail the risk that the people might lose their faith in democracy.

If meticulous and resolute studies are carried out in these four fields which I have tried to outline briefly, there is no reason for the Middle Eastern or North African countries not to enjoy a fast rising process. The natural resources and wealth of the Middle Eastern countries, the close distance between the Maghreb countries and the Mediterranean; the countries having hundreds or thousands of kilometres of sea shores and the countries close to Europe all have a very high potential.

I sincerely believe that the regional countries can undertake much more efficient roles in international politics in the future with their rich human resources and qualified human power.

But this is a reality valid all around the world: first of all, stability, security and regional solidarity must be established. Whatever region in the world you look at, if there is no security present, economic growth and welfare can never be achieved. On the other hand, even in countries that fought against each other for centuries, where thousands of people were killed in wars, whenever stability and security were established, economic growth and welfare rose on this. Stability and security are the two crucial factors for the happiness and prosperity of the people and the region, so that the next generations can enjoy this prosperity and utilize their own natural resources for their own well-being. This can be achieved only through the foresighted and rationalistic leadership in the region. There are both negative and positive examples of this situation.

I sincerely believe that the regional countries can undertake much more efficient roles in international politics in the future with their rich human resources and qualified human power.

Dear guests,

I believe that this platform will give momentum to these kinds of thoughts and that such ideas will set the agenda through discussions among valuable individuals from many different countries and as a result, I also believe that all of these thoughts will become important suggestions for country leaders and politicians. For this reason, I attach great importance to  this meeting indeed. Initially, I was a participant as well and now, I have taken it under my patronage.

I would actually suggest to you that you should discuss everything freely, criticize if necessary, or come up with new ideas so that we can show all together that we are sufficiently intelligent, that we can solve problems through our own means and will, that we can find our own way out and that we can provide happiness for our people.

I would like to say “welcome” to you all once more. I congratulate everyone who has contributed to the growth and strength of the platform and I wish everyone present in this room success.


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