Conference at the Rotary Metn Meeting

İnan Özyıldız 03.08.2011

There is a very traditional cliché explaining the Turkish foreign policy: That geography, or the geographic location determines the foreign policy of Turkey. Although in our globalized world system there are many new elements shaping the foreign policy of any country, geographic location definitely is the main factor to be taken into consideration by decision-makers.

Geographic location is a given fact. There is a land, a territory inhabited by a people. This land is surrounded by other countries. Turkey has 8 land neighbors: Starting from the West, Greece and Bulgaria, two members of the European Union, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Northeast, our very old neighbor Iran in the East, Iraq and Syria in the South.

No need to say, from the Balkans to the Caucasus, to the Middle East, many conflict or potential conflict areas surround Turkey. Which makes the search for stability a top priority for Turkey.

Which may be different in Turkey’s case, is that there are also different historic moments, and different lands which continue to have an impact on behaviors and mentality of cthe Turks today.

Turkey is a nation that has historic, social, ethnic, religious, cultural links with every country that is within three hours of flight from Istanbul. This is another reason for Turkey to be keen to promote peaceful co-existence, mutual respect, friendship, harmony and cooperation between different cultures and faiths.

Turks, as you may know, started their journey in the 7th and 8th centuries in Central Asia. They moved westward, converted to Islam and finally settled in Anatolia which forms the modern Turkey today. Their contacts first with Iranians, and then with the Arabs who were extending the borders of Islam towards inland Asia had shaped their culture.

Turks had founded many small states and ruled in different parts of a large geography. One of these states, the small “beylik” of Ottoman (Osmanlı) neighbour of Byzantium, lived for a while in symbiosis with the Eastern Roman Empire, expanded to the detriment of it and in the end, put an end to this thousand-year Empire by conquering Constantinople, İstanbul.

In this regard, some historians look at the Ottoman Empire as the successor or heir of the Byzantine Empire.

The Ottoman Empire reigned between the end of the 13th century and the end of the First World War. The Empire, which entered the war as an ally of the German Empire, were among the losers. It lost huge parts of its territory, its Arab provinces, including Syria and today’s Lebanon.

Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 on the ashes of an archaic and theocratic political, economic and social system.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic, had a very clear vision for the new State: A secular republic along the lines of the major contemporary Western states. Although he fought a war of independence against some of these powers who occupied the Turkish motherland, he wanted to establish a nation state and a republic, inpired of French enlightenment. He claimed a place among the western family of nations. Turkey joined the League of Nations.

In other words, Turkey wanted to get rid of the “ancien regime” and all kind of problems related to that.


The Turkish Statistics Agency has recently announced the population of Turkey being 73.7 million, as of the end of 2010. 76 per cent of this population live in urban areas.

This population is relatively young: Half of it is below 29 years. 67.2 per cent is between 15 and 64, forming the potentially working age.

The Turkish people today are 99 per cent Muslim. This is not however an homogeneous Islam. The Sunnis constitute the large majority. Then we have Alevis. Small number of Jafaaris. (Turkey’s Alevis are different than Syrian Alawites.)

Non-Muslim citizens of Turkey are Armenians, Jews, Assyrians, Greek Orthodoxes and very small numbers of Catholics and Protestants.


The Turkish economy has grown in a remarkable way during the last decade. Economic policies have worked so well that Turkey has avoided the impact of the last global financial crisis.

Turkey has a vibrant free market economy. The industrial sector has grown considerably. Turkish businessmen and entrepreneurs have been deploying intensive efforts to open to the new markets, looking for new investment areas.

This explains why Turkey is seen today as a liberalizing economic force in its neighborhood. Turkey has the 16th largest economy in the world and the 6th largest in Europe. Despite the global financial crisis, Turkey maintains a relatively high economic growth. It will be among the fast growing economies in the world in 2010 and 2011.

The total trade volume has reached 282 billion US Dollars (exports 111 billion, imports 171 billion Dollars) in 2010.

2023 will be the hundreth anniversary of the Republic. So, in a decade the objective is to be among the ten largest economies in the world.


There may be many aspects of the Turkish political system which need to be elaborated.

But I would like to dwell upon two main characteristics: The secular character of the system, laicité, and the transformation of the democratic republic.

Turkey is very keen on its secular system. This is the basic element and condition to promote democracy in such a difficult environment.

Turkey, during its 87-year old republican period went through very difficult times. It survived the post-First World War crises, the Second War and the Cold War. We witnessed several military interventions. Following each military intervention, the civilian regime recuperated. On the other hand, we succeeded to hold regular, free multi-party elections since 1946.

Having protected the basic tenets of its republic Turkey is now trying to transform it into a modern democracy, up to the level of the European democracies.

In this regard, the EU accession process is one of the key elements to understand this transformation. Turkey is fully committed to the EU accession process and determined to advance the reform agenda with the vision of full membership. The accession process, regardless of its end-result, keeps Turkey on track.

Turkey first applied to the European Economic Community or the Common Market in 1959. Signed a partnership agreement in 1963. This agreement’s final objective was full membership to the EEC but it did not work that way. Turkey renewed its demand in 1987. Established a customs union in 1995. Started accession talks in 2005. So far, despite all kind of political obstacles Turkey opened negotiations on 13 chapters out of 33. As you have noticed, this has been a very long process which tested the patience of several governments in Turkey.

Now, more than half of Turkey’s foreign trade is with the EU countries. Turkey’s exports to EU are 60 billion dollars, EU’s exports to Turkey are 70 billion.

During the last decade the governments in Turkey launched and implemented an ambitious reform campaigns. Many important steps were taken, from individual freedoms to cultural rights, to women’s and children’s rights.

These reforms aimed at raising the democratic standards, respond to the aspirations and expectations of the Turkish people for higher standards of democracy and rule of law.

I will add to that, Turkey’s EU membership will definitely make the European Union more capable to influence the developments in the Middle East.


Our common past goes back to 10 centuries ago. Turks started to come down to the Syrian coasts in the early 11th century. Before than they reached the Aegean Sea in the West. The Ottoman rule started in 1516 and lasted four hundred years.

Lebanon, after its independence become an attraction point for the Turkish citizens living in the southern provinces like Hatay, Mersin, Adana and Mardin. Like European countries which attracted the Turks with their developed lifestyles and advanced eduation, health and banking services, Lebanon played the same role for the southern part of Turkey. Many people came to study here, as many Lebanese went to İstanbul for university studies.

A series of high level visits in recent years gave an impetus to the bilateral relations: The visits of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2004, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in 2008, His Excellency President General Michel Sleiman in 2009 and Prime Minister Saad Hariri in 2009 and 2010 to Turkey and finally the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Lebanon in November 2010.

Last year, visa requirements between Turkey and Lebanon were removed reciprocally. We have ween an immediate impact of this decision on the number of Lebanese visiting Turkey and the number of Turks coming to Lebanon. The number of Lebanese who visited Turkey last year exceeded 100.000.

The bilateral trade reached a record level in 2010. According to very recent figures provided by the Lebanese authorities, the Lebanese exports to Turkey exceeded 230 million Dollars, while Turkish exports to Lebanon reached 684 million Dollars. This means that we achieved a total trade of 915 milllion Dollars, which goes beyond the pre-crisis 2008, 905 million Dollars. There is no need to say that the removal of visas has had an important influence on this.

When the Prime Minister of Turkey visited Lebanon in November, he signed with Prime Minister Hariri two documents:

-The association agreement for the establishment of a free trade area, and
-A communiqué for the establishment of the High Level Strategic Council between the two countries. This kind of institutions, we have with other neighbouring countries such as Syria, Iraq, Greece and Italy.

Turkey tries to establish an area of interdependence in the region. We believe that there are a political will and favorable conditions for such an initiative. A free trade area between Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, will further help remove obstacles to trade and develop multidimensional economic ties in our region.

Private sectors are one step ahead. The private sector representatives from the four countries came together last December in Istanbul and signed a framework agreement fort he establishment of the Levant Four. This agreement has the final objective of ensuring free movement of people, goods and services among the four countries. Private sectors have already tabled 75 projects in 14 different areas. Infrastructure, banking, stock exchange, student exchange programmes.

Hakan Çakıl Ambassador
Monday - Friday

09:00 - 16:00 / Kon. 09:00 - 14:00

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