On November 26, 2013, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies and participated in a public discussion with the Institute’s resident and visiting fellows, university professors, and Ph.D. and MA students from different universities in Tehran.
On November 26, 2013, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies and participated in a public discussion with the Institute’s resident and visiting fellows, university professors, and Ph.D. and MA students from different universities in Tehran. Director of IMESS, Dr. Kayhan Barzegar moderated the session. Below is the complete version of this session.
Foreign Minister Davutoglu: “…..as Turkey we are very happy that the P5+1 and Iran reached an agreement…. I hope these six months will be by all the parties in good spirit and there will be a final agreement, which will be good news, the best news in last many years in our region.”
Kayhan Barzegar: Good evening everyone! Welcome to the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies. My name is Kayhan Barzegar, I am the chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of the Islamic Azad University here in Tehran and also the director of this Institute. It is indeed a privilege to have Professor Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister of the Republic of Turkey with us in this academic meeting. Sir, thank you very much for visiting us. If you could just briefly address the audience for a few seconds, then we may begin the session.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu: Good evening! Today it is an honor for me to be in the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, and thank you Professor Kayhan Barzegar. It is a privilege for me to be here. In last ten years, I have been to Tehran several times but I didn’t have any chance to have any interaction with the academicians and intellectuals of Iran. Hence, this is a great chance for me and thanks for inviting me, and giving this opportunity to share my views.
Kayhan Barzegar: Thank you, Sir! Despite his Excellency’s tight schedule and busy time in Tehran, he has kindly accepted to join us today and I believe this shows how much Professor Davutoglu is interested in spending time with scholars, academics and research centers. Let me first report about the format of today’s session. This is a more Iran-Turkish dialogue in an academic setting. We are joined by our institute’s resident and visiting fellows, professors from different universities, and Ph.D. and Masters’ student of political science and international relations from different universities in Tehran. Let me also inform you that several distinguished ambassadors from European and Asian countries have kindly joined us in this session. I have kindly asked Foreign Minister Davutoglu to make his presentation in half an hour or so, then we will have the Q & A session. Here, I would like to sincerely thank Ambassador Ümit Yardim, Turkish ambassador in Tehran. He made great efforts for this meeting to happen.
Before I ask Foreign Minister Davutoglu to start his presentation, I would like to say a few words about his Excellency’s executive and especially academic backgrounds. Of course, he needs no introduction but I think that a few words about him can help us to understand what he has been doing. Professor Ahmet Davutoglu has been the foreign minister of the Republic of Turkey since 2009. Before that, he was senior advisor to Prime Minister Abdullah Gül. But beyond being a minister, he is a thinker, a strategist, and an intellectual who has written many books and articles on Turkish regional and foreign policy and generally Turkish view towards the world in the years ahead. I’m sure that many of you are familiar with his very important book Strategic Depth in which he maintains that Turkey should economically, culturally and politically integrate with the Middle East region. This is a turning point in strengthening regionalism in Turkish foreign policy. In fact, he is a regional political scientist. This shift in Turkish foreign policy occurred at a very important time, when the region needed it, that somehow balanced the power equations in the Middle East. For instance, this new policy orientation has led to increased Iranian-Turkish relations in all aspects. In this context, Professor Davutoglu has inspired many of us in conducting our Ph.D. theses and policy research in the context of the regional issues. At this Institute, we have the Turkish Studies Group in which, we intensely discuss the impact of his thoughts from different theoretical and policy angles. Beyond this, one more important point about Foreign Minister Davutoglu which I like most is that he deeply believes in the increased Iranian-Turkish relations. In his academic exchange and interviews, he has always stressed that Iran and Turkey are two nations that have deep state strategic relations and common interests. He has given weight to the geographical and developmental dimensions in the two sides’ relations. I think this is an important observation of Professor Davutoglu and I think his regionalist-based view is very important for us because we are dealing with the region which is mixed with ideological, identical, value-based, as well as power politics issues and principles. Narratives and historical past matter in states’ relations in the region. No country can unilaterally address and solve these issues, neither Iran nor Turkey, not even America a great power. Therefore, it is important that we focus on regional cooperation for solving regional issues. And this is the primary argument of Professor Davutoglu in his thoughts. I am glad that he has tried to put this in the policy aspect as well. Thanks again Mr. Foreign Minister for joining us. The floor is now yours.
Foreign Minister Davutoglu: Thank you very much Professor Barzegar. Again, it is very pleasure. First, I want to apologize for those whom I cannot see. (some crowd are sitting in the other part of the meeting hall). If I give a lecture or make a speech, if I don’t have eye-to-eye contact with my audience, I am very disturbed. Some of you may not be seeing me but I hope in the question & answer section, you can be more visible for me. First of all, again, thank you for this opportunity. It is very timely visit as a Turkish minister of foreign affairs and very timely lecture or interaction with Iranian academicians.
First of all, this morning, I congratulated to my dear brother, Javad Zarif, because of the great success in nuclear negotiations. As you know, and I am sure you followed, as Turkey tried to be contributed to this process in last 6-7 years in all fields. I still remember on May 17, 2010, we negotiated here 15 hours non-stop. At the end, from 6 o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock in the evening, we concluded, then we didn’t really have time for lunch. I know how these negotiations are tough but at the end of the day, if negotiations reach to a result, leading to peace and stability, that is an asset for those who are negotiating, not only for them but for those who are being affected or will be affected by any tension. Therefore, as Turkey we are very happy that the P5+1 and Iran reached an agreement. In fact, for us, Turkey, Iran, Brazil agreement in 2010 was a missed opportunity. If that agreement was respected rather than going to new sanctions, I am sure this agreement, today’s agreement would have been achieved in a much easier way because that time, there was not yet 20 percent enrichment in Iran; Iran later developed this enrichment , and it was much easier to get. At the end of the day, we reached some sort of an agreement and we are very happy.
I hope these six months will be by all the parties in good spirit and there will be a final agreement, which will be good news, the best news in last many years in our region. We don’t want to see our region in tension, we don’t want to see any nuclear weapon in our region, nowhere and we hope maybe in the world, nuclear weapons will be totally eliminated, that’s what we hope, not only as a foreign minister but as an intellectual, as a human being, I believe that nuclear weapon is a crime against humanity, thinking to use nuclear weapons. But at the same time, we don’t want any limitation, any restriction to peaceful technology in any way, because technology belongs to humanity, not to one nation. You can claim that this nature resource belongs to me, let’s say natural gas or oil or agriculture but technology is an accumulation of man intellectual power throughout the centuries. Therefore, all human beings and all nations have equal rights to reach peaceful nuclear technology like others. Based on these two principles Turkey will be supportive of all these agreements and it is a historic moment. If it is the beginning, I hope this will be spread to other nations.
Today, I want to mention basically the transformation of international system and how it has reflected to our region. Also, what are the main problems and how Turkish foreign policy is approaching to these problems. In 1999, when Francis Fukuyama wrote his famous article on “End of History,” I was almost completing my Ph.D. thesis and I wrote a counter-article which later was published as a book in 1994 The Civilizational Transformation and The Muslim World. In 1999, in my first preliminary critique of Fukuyama, I wrote that history will not end; history will glow faster than before because technology is intensifying and because there is a global crisis not global settlement based on several tensions and need of readjustment of international system. At that time, it was an academic critique. I didn’t imagine and think that one day that would be possible in history trying to be standing in the right direction. History is forming very fast. Therefore, our intellectual capacity, our imagination should be faster than history. Our vision should be faster than history. If we are stick to certain dogmas or certain misperceptions like as if the Cold War is continuing, then those who cannot adopt to this fast global history cannot be standing in this fast growing river of history. Let me just say a few words on in the long-term what do I mean by this. In the modern centuries, after all big wars, there was a readjustment of the financial system especially in Europe. For example, Turkish war in 17th century ended with the Westphalian order. So, classical Holy Roman German Empire has ended and new nations emerged but a work has ended and an order was established. Then, we had the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, Congress of Vienna, a Congress was met to define the law of the new game, the new rules of the new international structures which led balance with power system in Europe and also colonialism in other parts of the world in 19th century. The First World War which affected our region, created a new political geography in our region and in Balkans and also, in the Caucasus, in around Turkey and Iran, everywhere and nations came together to discuss the common principles of the new era of the new nations, end of empires, empirical nations. Then, since it was not successful, the Second World War did emerge and ideological confrontation, the most destructive war and after that war, the United Nations did emerge. The United Nations was opened and got system, both economic and international political-economic structure has been established.
Now, coming to the Cold War, ended in 1989, then the Berlin Wall has fallen but from that time until now, you cannot tell any congress like Congress of Vienna which established the new principles, not a the Westphalian type of order or reform of United Nations. If not new from the first war to the second war, lead from the League of Nations to the United Nations. What about from the Second War to the Cold War, post-Cold War; the Cold War was a war, a global war; Everybody in Vietnam, in Palestine, everybody, you had a global war; Korea but global war has ended. But there is still after now, more than 20 years, almost a quarter century past, there is no congress or a new organization or restructuring of the international system. Therefore, in 2001, in one article, I called 1989 to 2001 and the 9\11, long ceasefire, a long ceasefire not peace. Many questions have been asked without establishing new principles. Still we have the same UN system. We have the same international political era. Even the P5+1 mean the Second World War P5 winners. Then, there have been several discussions from the UN. New challenges did emerge especially global economic crisis but still there are functions in the old economic structures from the Cold War era. In economics, we adopted better than politics. We now have G8/G20 new structures but in the international political geography and system there is a need of reform. If this is the case, which areas, which reason is being affected by this and specially how the Middle East responded to the Arab Spring? We are right at the center of all incidents.
In post-Cold War era, recently I wrote another article, I said that there were three earthquakes. Earthquake is a good analogy for imagination especially for Turkey which had many earthquakes, for land and sea. Earthquake means you have to be proactive, preemptive, to be ready for equipment, then, after shocks of the earthquake. You cannot say “earthquake starts and finishes,” no. You have to know how to deal with earthquakes. In that article, I said three earthquakes. The first earthquake was in 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union during 1899-1991, it was a geopolitical earthquake. Several new states did emerge. This morning we had the ECO meeting. Six of the members of ECO, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, did emerge in 1991. This is a geopolitical earthquake; why do I call a geopolitical earthquake? Because in that region from, let me say, Vienna up to China, this was called by Spykman as “Rimland” in the Cold War. This was a clash of the two Cold War fronts: The West and as a NATO member, we were a country of NATO, against the other part. This geopolitical earthquake changed, but now 20 years passed. Still we have Kosovo, with Bosnia-Herzegovina and with Abkhazia, with Transnistria, with many others are still in the agenda. These are ceasefires not peace. Ceasefire means you can restart war or you can make a peace. Both options are open and in Palestine also the process has started but still a ceasefire situation; there is no peace yet. So, it means geopolitical earthquake happened. I can make some comparisons with that. But still the impact is continued.
Second biggest earthquake was the September 11 event. 9\11 is a security earthquake. So, before the concept of security was that nation of security, nation to nation security. 9\11 taught to many nations that you cannot be safe even in the most imaginatively, most secure city of the world. In the 1991 geopolitical earthquake, the basic concept were democracy and of history liberalism, spread of freedom. Suddenly after 10 years, with the Security earthquake, this time security, preemptive strike, fight against terrorism did emerge and in many of these imaginations, you can predict the Islam-West tensions became the core issue. For example, no Muslim nation could battle around 300’000 Bosnian Muslims were killed in Bosnia, no Muslim thought that this is a war against Muslims by Christians but 9/11 was presented as if it is a war by Muslims against U.S. and therefore, even the names became skeptical. I have got an advisor. Now, he is our ambassador to Prague. In 2002, he was appointed to New York; no and he went to New York one year after 9\11, his name is Jihad. When he reached to the airport, one of his friends from the embassy was waiting and he says he was shouting Jihad, Jihad, Jihad. And, between him and that friend, all the other passengers laid down because they thought that there is a terrorist attack, Jihad. So, this is just a symptom. Of course, terror doesn’t recognize religion or ethnicity. As a nation, Turkey has been affected by terrorist acts. Lastly, when William Hague was in Istanbul because of the attack against British Council General in 2003, tenth anniversary. But it created a new security trauma and suddenly the rhetoric of political language shifted from freedom to security, from liberal politics to more restrictive politics. This was their natural response. I do not blame them, anybody, but this is the fact.
And, the third earthquake was in 2011, started with, the 2008 global economic crisis and 2011, European economic crisis for us and the Arab Spring together. This is an earthquake of economic politics. The economic politics together functioning and the Mediterranean area is the zone of this earthquake, in the north of the Mediterranean, you have the economic crisis. In 2011, several demonstrations in Greece, Italy, Spain, up to Ireland and there were demonstrations for political reasons in the Southern part of the Mediterranean in 2011 from Tunisia to Libya, Egypt, up to Syria. Now, if these are the earthquakes, first indication is there is no order. So, geophysics is moving; land is not stable. So, you cannot rely on that structure. Neither global structures are reliable, nor regional frameworks are reliable and we are right at the center of all these earthquakes. You can imagine how a Turkish minister of foreign affairs could sleep if you have so many earthquakes around you and if your people, your nation is composed of all the ethnicities of Balkans, Caucasia and Middle East, you can imagine, we have more Bosnians in Turkey than in Bosnia; we have more Albanians in Turkey than in Albania; more Kosovars in Turkey than in Kosovo; more Chechens in Turkey than in Chechnya; more Abkhazians in Turkey than in Abkhazia; you can need and whatever happens affect you. But at the same time, you have to teach stability and prosperity. Therefore, interestingly in the first earthquake, we had many challenges for Turkey as I said, Armenia as an issue or Bosinia-Kosovo; this was a shock for Turkish elites and politicians; new challenges. But during those years because of coalitions, very fragile coalitions because of PKK terror and because of economic crisis, Turkey did not focus on freedom, Turkey was more security-oriented because of all these threats. Then, we came to power. In the first year, 2002, 2003, we declared six new principles of Turkish foreign policy and I will connect this to the existing political situation in our region. Before these six principles, let me say one thing about the methodology; how even today, not as a minister but as an intellectual, how I approached to this type of new crisis. There are three options if history closed very fast and there is stability around you, three options. Either you will try to keep status quo, it is like flood is coming and you are trying to keep a very fragile boat; flood is coming. You have to be realistic. It is difficult to keep the status quo. Second, you will implement the crisis management. Crisis will come and you will try to manage the crisis. Third, is a visionary approach. Before crisis comes, you will double up your vision and you will try to understand the flow of history; where is it flowing? To which direction it goes? Which type of visions we can produce? Interestingly and surprisingly, for some in 2002, after one year of security earthquake, a security-oriented Turkey declared a new foreign policy based on freedom and democracy. We declared six main principles, later it was published as an article as well; this was not in Strategic Depth. Strategic Depth was written in 2001 when Turkey had a huge economic crisis. First principle: a new balance between freedom and security; I will explain this because this is exactly what we need today in our region, in the Middle East. There is a need of a new political legitimacy and political legitimacy can be achievable only if citizens believe that security and freedom is balanced. If you sacrifice security for freedom, you will have a cause, but if you sacrifice freedom for security, you will have an autocracy, ignoring individuals’ right of choice. Which political system or state is the most legitimate state? If you ask me, I can tell you: the state gives you maximum freedom without risking your security and I will provide you maximum security without limiting your freedom; this state is the ultimate.
Today, in the Arab world, why people are asking for a new political system? Because the zone of freedom is so limited; because of the focus just on security. They declare “Karamat, Karamat,” “dignity, dignity!” dignity for an unusual schism is there only if that schism thinks that political system has a legitimate entity within. This is essential. Turkey was seen at that time in the Cold War. We had several, several threats. When I was in high school, we were taught this someone communism may come. Communism is a threat. Some religious groups are threat because that might be against some revolutionary ideas. These are threats, Russians’ threat, Armenians are threat, external threat, internal threat; if you have so many threats, you cannot feel, you cannot think. In one of the interviews, when I became chief advisor, they ask me about this new foreign policy which I will mentioned the rest of five principles but just want to explain this, I said Turkey today is seen by a country with strong muscle, we need it. We are in a fragile region; regions not only one region. With an empty stomach, economic crisis, we were bailing one billion dollars from IMF. So, that muscle was not able to be a threat by our stomach. So, you need foreign aid. A small brain because you don’t produce your vision, just you don’t take your own Turkish vision but the general topic of international discourse is testifying what you think and more importantly, your heart is very shaky, you have the absence of self-confidence. If you have so many analysts, you don’t feel confident. What we want to achieve at that time, I said, what we are trying to do is a strong muscle, yes, must. But a full stomach means economic development.
From that time until now, Turkish economy has grown four times. Our income was 3000 in 2003 and today 12000 or 11500. And, we have to have a new vision. When I became minister, the first instruction was I don’t want to hear any excuse; in every platform there would be a Turkish perspective vision. You speak on environment; you speak on time change, civilization clash, cultural difficulties, etc. Everybody; Why? Because Turkey is right at this flow of history. You have to look and you have to be freedom-oriented. You have to be self-confident. This is and of course, more important is a healthy heart, just be relaxed; you can think, you can produce but if your heart is problematic, then it is difficult. This was the first principle. Second, is good neighborhood, good relations; it was replied as “zero problems with neighbors.” Why did we say this? Because in order to eliminate these external threats; the concept of external threats. And to have best relations, it doesn’t mean that “zero problems with neighbors,” does not mean that you will be living in heaven; no, even brothers and sisters, they have problems. But your intention is to minimize problems and to maximize integration with your neighbors. In last 10 years, we despite our promise today in Syria that I am sure that you will question and I will answer very openly but our relations with Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia. The foreign trade with Iran has increased ten times, with Russia, ten times in ten years; with Greece, we established high cooperation council mechanism like with others. In two meetings, we signed 50 agreements while in 7-8 years, we signed only 35 agreements; in last two meetings, 50 agreements. This is a new approach. Of course, there will be others and we will keep these.
Third, active regional policy to prevent the crisis in Balkans, Caucasia, Middle East, Central Asia. Forth, we are not living in the Cold War. Our relations with the United States or NATO is not alternative to Russia or our relations with Russia is not alternative to the EU. We will keep good relations with all global partners. With China, we have explanations today; with Russia, of course, we are a member of NATO; of course, we want to be a member of the EU. But this is not a barrier to develop other relations. Fifth principle is opening to new zones like Africa, Latin America, East Asia which we are not in the horizon of Turkish foreign policy. Today, we are very active in this region. In last 4 years, Turkey opened 23 new embassies in Africa only. Before until 2009, we had only twelve embassies, now we have 35 embassies. In Latin America, we opened six new embassies. In East Asia, we opened only in the last two years four new embassies.
We add the number of our Turkish embassies and increased from 94 to 134 and foreign representations increased from 161 to 221, with these statistics we are now the seventh biggest country in the world represented. P5, then sixth is Italy, then seventh is Turkey. Why? Because if you want to have a global impact, you have to be in Somali to help people, you have to be in Ethiopia to have strong relations with Africa. You have to be in Myanmar, both as a rising country but at the same time to deal with that kind of issue there or anywhere and sixth more international positions. Today, we became a member of the UN Security Council, as you know, in 2009 and 2010. We are contesting for 2015 and 2016, and we are either member or observe special dialogue partner in almost all regional organizations, from pacific island to Mercosur, from African Union, yesterday we joined to Asian cooperation dialogue in Bahrain. This is a new approach, we tried to achieve these goals in the early days we declared in 2002 when there were several turmoil of the second earthquake, security, we democratized our country, we made many reforms in our political system, in our economic system to adapt to this new situation, now there is a new challenge, which I will be concluding in five minutes.
This challenge is the global economic crisis, and parallel to the Mediterranean crisis, and the Arab spring, when in global economic crisis and in European crisis, since we applied multi-dimensional foreign policy, the share of the Turkish dependency on European countries decreased from almost 55% to 35%, the share of neighboring countries increased from 8% to 32%. When there was a crisis in the neighborhood, the share of Africa increased from 4% to 12%. So, when history flows so unpredictable, you have to put different alternatives on the table in order to maintain this economic growth, the Arab Spring was a challenge, but the challenge for Turkey also even the Turkish-Iranian relations, Turkish-Egyptian relations, Iranian-Egyptian relations or others; in the region was a big challenge. Why and how should we interpret? Of course, we respect all nations; it is their domestic affair what they decide, but at the same time, having the experience in Balkans, as Turkey, we are at this time on alert, that for example when the Bosnian crisis emerged, hundreds of thousands of people migrated to Turkey as refugees; from Bulgaria, 500,000 of them Muslim Turks came to Turkey. Therefore, we were alert but at the same time, we were thinking and we declared, in the first weeks of the Tunisian revolution when Bouazizi burned himself, we said this is the demands of the people in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Syria later, in Yemen, they are rightful demands. Why are they reacting against the Cold War structures? They are demanding the same things what Turkish people asked from us, right of freedom of choice, free and fair elections, rule of law, transparency, anti-corruption; the people in Tunisia or Egypt, they raised their voice against corruption, were they corrupt? Yes, the old regimes. They were against autocracy, yes, there was one party, one leader, one organization, this was not right for our people, as Turkey, we cannot say, Turkish nation deserved this, but other nations may continue to live like however they are, we have to be consistent. Therefore, from the first day of Bouazizi in Tunisia, until today, we accepted two principles: One is we support these rightful demands of the people, and exactly like demands in Balkans or East Europe in the 1990. The other, we will make everything possible, to make these transitions as peaceful as possible through diplomatic means.
Again, I am repeating here, the biggest earthquake in our region was the First World War; still the geopolitical map of the First World War, not based on the Sykes-Picot agreement, from 1979 till today, these challenges will continue. Of course, today if you ask about the destiny of the Arab Spring, first year, there were several ways of revolutions, in Tunisia, in Libya, in 2011, in Egypt, in Yemen, in Syria people raised, there were transitions in several countries, like Egypt elections, Tunisia elections, Libya elections, Yemen main elections but this year 2013 was a critical challenge of the old status quo and the new dynamic forces they are conflicting, still conflicting everywhere in the region, here the important thing is how we can manage things. I can make a comparison. 1989, the transformation started in Balkans. In 1992, after three years, still the Bosnian War was there, still Kosovo was unstable, so it means it is not an easy job despite the EU support, why? What is the role of the Egyptian young generation?
As an academician and teacher, I met with them during the early months of the revolution, the Tahrir Revolution, I met, they came and they participated in our campaign to understand, this is a natural flow and in Egypt, in a conference what is the problem, I made an analogy, you know I work in Ankara, in Istanbul, I have a house full of books, whenever I want to rest, I don’t go swimming pool but I go to that library house, just to contemplate, one day I went with my daughter, 12 years old, when I was writing something on the roof, she shouted “what is this, my father?” I thought that she saw something dangerous; she was showing to me my typewriter with which I wrote my Ph.D. thesis in the 1980s. For her, it was a discovery, as if it is an archeological discovery from before the Christ, she didn’t see typewriter, I taught in Egypt and in other places. When I was writing with that typewriter, I was in Egypt, I stayed there for some months to write my thesis, Mubarak was the president, then computers were discovered, again President Mubarak was president, then the Internet came, he was president, then Facebook came, he was president, mobile phone came, he was president, but he wasn’t able to resist Tweeters, this technological change should bring hope for the new generations, and they should feel that they are able to choose, for example today in Iran, yes, we had excellent relations with the previous governments as well, but after the 2013 presidential election, there are new ideas coming, election is the best remedy for any crisis, because election means, people be in free and fair election, people feel that all these elected persons, they are accountable to me, I can ask them questions, I have some say, but for Egyptians for three decades, they had one president only, or in other places, same in Syria, one family or in Yemen one person, in Tunisia one person.
This created an accumulated frustration in the Arab society, as Turkey, we didn’t intervene in any of these domestic crises, but when there is a demand of the people in this direction, we tried to understand the flow of the history, no autocratic regime, in this technological age, can be sustainable like in the 1950s, the 1960s when there was one ideology or one party, there would be several discussions and dynamic forces, from then until today we have been consistent, we didn’t think whether Mubarak is Shia or Sunni or Bashar al-Assad is Christian or Sunni or any other, principles are important, self-respect, respect to the individuals, respect to the members, that is important, and just one point and then I will let you ask questions, but nowhere we stopped the diplomacy, in Libya for several months, prime minster, president and myself, we tried to convince Gadhafi not to attack Benghazi. Ten months in Syria, I went to Syria three times, prime minster once and several telephone calls in order to convince Bashar al-Assad not to use the army against the masses, but unfortunately, even today, in many of these countries, still the problem is not being discussable in a peaceful manner, and a tension has started.
Now this region belongs to us, all of us, what is the remedy? We have to have more political dialogue between us, especially Turkish-Iranian dialogue is the most important dialogue at this critical stage, where and when sectarian tension is tried to be propagated. I was in Iraq during Muharam, on Ashura Day I visited Najaf and Karbala and Baghdad in order to give the same message; now we need to unite that these transition, these political process should not be leading to any sectarian tension. There is a need of political dialogue. There is a need of economic interdependency. Each society is economically interdependent, then there will not be using violence against each other. This visionary approach based our visionary approaches what we say on four principles of regional interrogation either with political dialogue, economic interdependency, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian coexistence, not only in states and countries but in cities, in streets, in apartments, in houses. This is the history of our civilization. We live together; we will continue to live together and for a common security atmosphere, a common security framework in the Middle East, in Balkans, in Caucasia. That visional subsystem will help to restructure international system but if we are not able to solve our problems, at the beginning I said, frozen countries, we led our international power centers to lead all the crises in our region. Therefore, it is the right time for regional cooperation, regional coordination and it is right time to discuss visions other than just managing crisis or trying to keep status quo in this part or in the other part of our regions and as I said, Turkish-Iranian dialogue in this sense is a historic relation as well as two regional players, big players. We had both destabilization in the region at the same time to prevent any negative impact of conflict from a visionary perspective. I am here to discuss this vision rather than to discuss just one or some of these crises and each consequence. Thank you very much!
Kayhan Barzegar: Well, thank you Mr. Foreign Minister. I think your presentation was so clear and direct to the points that I do not need to summarize it at this point. Now, since we are running out of the time, we start the Q & A session. I urge the audience to raise their questions and comments as briefly as possible. Please identify yourself and that from which university or research institute you come from. OK, I see a lot of hands.
Summarized Version of the Q & A Session
Question: First of all, I should welcome you Mr. Foreign Minister to Iran. My name is Kamal and I am a Ph.D. student from Tehran University and also a journalist. You mentioned that Turkey do not interfere in the regional conflicts, for example in Syria. But we all know that Turkey by letting the transfer of weapons to Syria has somehow interfered and supported the Islamists and militias groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Question: Thank you. I would like to take this opportunity and thank you Mr. Foreign Minister for your informative and very useful presentation. My name is Maryam Pashang and I am a Ph.D. candidate of International Relations at the Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch, in Tehran. I am also a visiting research fellow at this Institute. My question is about the energy relations between Turkey and Iran. We know that your country has tried to join the EU and meet its energy security demands. Also, we know the EU’s policy is to diversify the energy supply sources including the Russian energy sources. But practically, Turkey is going to make close relationship with Russia. In this situation, it seems that the best option for your country is to expand its energy relations with its oil and gas-rich neighbors like Iran. My question is why Turkey has adopted such approach to its energy diplomacy?
Question: What is Turkey’s stance on the autonomy declaration by the Kurds in northern Syria? I have a comment too and that is that I thought it was beautiful to see Prime Minister Erdogan and Mr. Barzani recently standing like brothers beside each other.
Comment: Welcome Foreign Minister Davutoglu. I am Hamid Ahmadi, Professor of Political Science in the University of Tehran. I am teaching Middle East issues and have written about the Turkish-Iranian cultural relations. I have a comment and a suggestion, not a question. First of all, everybody knows you in Iran and we have had lots of MA and Ph.D. theses about your ideas. You talked about the dialogue between Turkey and Iran and regional cooperation which is a very important question. I am saying that this is very encouraging. We have a great responsibility today. We are being challenging by many threats in the region, the Syrian crisis, this confessional conflict between the Shia and Sunni, the Egyptian crisis. Iran and Turkey have a great responsibility and they are capable of doing things and they have been capable. Unfortunately, we have forgotten our legacies. Both Iran and Turkey have been very important in the past. I just give two examples, one in 1639 after 130 years of war between Iran and Turkey, the Persian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. We came to an agreement which is called Zohab or Qasr-e Shirin Treaty, which is the result of a long process. Everyone has forgotten it, the world has forgotten it; even the Iranian students and Turkish students don’t know about that agreement. That agreement was eight or nine years before the Treaty of Westphalia. Unfortunately, there is this egocentric orientation in the West; they are saying that was the beginning of the world, as if there had been dark world before that. I have always been saying to my students that Zohab Treaty was a lesson for the West. Who knows that the Western counties took the lesson from Iran and Turkey in order to manage to reach an agreement called the Peace of Westphalia that today every theorist likes Hans Morgenthau, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Kenneth Waltz are saying that was the beginning of the world system? The second example was during the advent of World War II. Iran and Turkey came together in 1937, - in Reza Shah’s period- they signed the Sa’adabad Pact and then, Iraq and Afghanistan joined. You know at that time, all the Western democratic countries were fighting each other and killing each other while Iran and Turkey initiated the first agreement in the 20th century to reach peace, regional security, stability; we have forgotten this issue. Now we can, because of that historical legacy, we are capable of coming together, I can comment for you as the foreign minister of Turkey and you can talk with Foreign Minister Zarif.
Therefore, not only Turkey and Iran but also Saudi Arabia and maybe Egyptians have engaged in the regional crises. Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia can come together to solve these regional problems. We should not expect that the West or the United Nations come here and solve or negotiate. Sorry that my comment was rather long but I thought it was important to be mentioned here. Thank you!
Foreign Minister Davutoglu: Let me start about first with Professor Ahmadi and second asked about the Turkish-Iranian energy relations and I will come to other issues. I fully agree with Professor Ahmadi. In fact, I didn’t want to go into details; I wanted to share the more the existing problems. In the early years of our government when some Neocons in Washington criticized our good relations with Iran, in fact, even before, in 1997 when we started the detente, there were several criticisms. At that time, I wrote an article, the title was the Turkish-Iranian border is older than the United States. Yes, there are some new dynamic forces in international relations and there are historic relations in the past. Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin is a good example of long standing peace between two neighbors. Therefore, Turkey and Iran have historical ties and knowing each other not only as two nations but also as two state tradition.
Again, in Washington, in my last visit, last week, they asked me a question about Iran in a think tank, round table discussion, about the possible nuclear deal, the Turkish-Iranian relations, our differences of opinion on Syria and some other issues. I told them that there are two categories of states; you can have different categories, but the two categories are relevant. One is those states that have strong state traditions and long standing memories and some new states that are facing new challenges. Turkey and Iran have strong state traditions, they understand each other even if they differ, and they know each other’s values even if sometimes they have different positions. Today, I talked to brother Javad Zarif and I told him this.
Also, today I spoke with Vice President Jahangiri and other colleagues. In my remark which was translated in Persian, that part as far as I know: “the Turkish- Iranian relations is, and could be and should be the backbone of stability in our region.” I made a comparison in my book between the Turkish-Iranian relations and the French-German relations. France and Germany, for the last four centuries, how many times, after Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin, German army came into Paris and how many times French army went into Berlin? Several wars, but when they decided to unite their forces, after World War II, in a peaceful manner, they brought together; they went to brought together and the European Union did emerge. When you go to Strasburg, you can see a monument, one mother, having two sons, one fought in the German army and the other fought in the French army. Strasburg was like a battlefield. Now, Turkey and Iran didn’t make any war in the last four centuries almost. Their potential complementarity is more than France and Germany. I assume that one day Turkey and Iran, if joined hand in hand, they will not only benefit two sides because of the complementarity of geography, economy and energy - I will come to the energy point - that will be one big stability. That was the understanding of our governments in the last ten years even before. The Sa’adabad Pact is also a good example. But in the last ten years, Turkish trade with Iran has increased ten times, it was 2.5 billion when we came into power in 2002, last it was 22.5 billion despite the sanctions.
Yesterday, in Bahrain, I said, after this nuclear deal, in a press conference we are very happy. Now, I can make assertion that in the next five years, if there will not be sanctions, Turkish-Iranian trade would be 100 billion dollars, because we need energy and Iranian- Turkish markets together are two most dynamic markets in the world, young population, very assertive. And, also because of transport corridors, the longest transport corridor from northwest to southeast is Turkish-Iranian. My dream one day is that Trabzon and Bandar Abbas, these transportation links will be the busiest ports because it is the shortest of Euro-Asia, and from Trabzon you can reach through rivers up to Baltics and to Danube to Central Europe and Turkey can reach from Bandar Abbas to all the Indian Ocean. There is a huge potential. This is how we should look for the future; this is our vision. Once you are so interdependent economically, even if the most outliners in those countries cannot create war, because everybody is benefiting. Now, who can imagine France and Germany will fight against each other because both of these countries will collapse. The economic interdependence is the best way of peace, this is how we see Iran and also how we saw Syria.
Therefore, we established highest strategic cooperation, mechanism and we signed 51 agreements in Damascus - and I will come to your question about Syria - and this is what we want to see, on energy, excellent, great potential. Turkey is one of the biggest energy demanding countries, our energy budget yearly is 60 billion dollars, and Turkey is one of the most strategic countries in the sense of transit countries. Iran is energy producing country, most probably there will be energy rising as well to consume but it is energy producing and might be transit as well from Central Asia. If we bring these potentials together, the market of energy is in Europe. The supply of energy is in Iran and the (Persian) Gulf. The transit will be through Turkey. These pipelines will be the modern Silk Road between our countries, this is the visionary approach we want to see, and I fully agree Turkish and Iranian state relations and state rationality can create new big potential between two but also can prevent many tensions and problems.
[Regarding Turkey’s support of the militia groups] …..we did not do it and we never brother Kamal, never supported al-Qaeda affiliated groups or terrorists, nowhere, neither in Syria, nor in any other country, not Al-Nusra, not ISIL. Do you know from where ISIL developed? Because many of their leaders escaped from Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Then, ISIL emerged and spread. They are not from Turkey. We never support them; we will never support them. They are as dangerous as Bashar Assad but if we want to solve it with Iran Inshallah and with other regional governments, we work very hard with Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia did not participate but we worked very hard but until now, unfortunately with these regional countries, we were not able to stop this bloodshed. Again, tomorrow and today we have and will speak. In Geneva 2, we will continue to speak but all of us have to be against oppression from wherever it comes.
The last question about north Syria. We are against any de facto formation in Syria. Nobody can claim this is my territory. When they can, they decide; when a new parliament being established, they will decide what will happen, not us. But if Kurdish groups declare this is my region, then Sunnis declare, others declare their region that will not be that will be division of Syria. This is not good. Lastly, about Barzani’s picture. Yes, it is a good picture because its substance is peace. We will have excellent relations with all the neighbors with the central government of Iraq as well as with the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and with all the neighbors in the region. We want to be hand in hand and especially between Turkey and Iran. If we are hand in hand, all the other issues will be resolved.
Kayhan Barzegar: Thank you Mr. Foreign Minister. If I can follow up with your point about the Iran-Turkey relations, I have always said that Iran and Turkey have hundred reasons to cooperate, only a few to not. In this context, economy and geography matter most. With these two dimensions, it is unlikely that any confrontational kind relations emerge in two states’ relations, even with the region in turmoil. Perhaps one of the origins of tension in the region is the existence of the balance of power setting. This political-security architecture is itself a source of tension. For several decades, it became the conventional wisdom that this setting can preserve the security in the region. But in actual term, it is set to preserve the interests of outside powers at the expense of the regional states. Because it encourages regional countries to check each other’s power economically, politically and militarily. Instead we should think of balance of interests and cooperation between regional states to solve regional crises such as that of Syria. The Iran-Turkey cooperation in solving the Syrian crisis from the beginning could have avoided the prolongation of this crisis. This is exactly the main argument of Foreign Minister Davutoglu in his regional approach.
It is also interesting to know that it is ideology and politics in the Middle East that somehow lead states to economic relations and exchange. But in the case of Iran and Turkey, it is more economy that connects the two sides politically. Based on this substance, Iran and Turkey are backing to each other again to develop a new kind of realist cooperation on the regional issues. Recently we hosted Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Hossein Amir Abdullahian to present the Iranian policy towards Syria. Now, we have this chance to compare these two trends in an academic way.
But thanks again Foreign Minister Davutoglu for taking the time. We are interested to take another round of questions but I am told that we should stop now. I thought this was a great opportunity for our fellows, professors, and students to meet you first and then understand better the substances of Turkish foreign policy towards the region and especially Iran. Thanks also for being so attentive in responding the questions and comments. Please join me in thanking Professor Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister of the Republic of Turkey. (audience applause)
Quoting: Institute of Middle East strategic studies