“Turkey can only be a model as a secular state”
Seyfi Taşhan interviewed by ÖmerFaruk KAVUK (*)
(*) Published in Turkish in the periodical “VIP diplomat” 2011 No. 40 issue
Seyfi Taşhan interviewed by ÖmerFaruk KAVUK(*)
I am not sure if there is anyone who is not familiar with the name, Seyfi Tashan. Yet, I wanted him to introduce himself. He said the following: “It is not necessary to boast in order to introduce oneself. That’s why, it is very important for people to be cognizant of their capacities, some people don’t know enough of themselves. I am trying to be a modest person. I am from Ankara; I was born and have grown here. I can almost be the oldest native of Ankara. It can be difficult to find a man like me who still lives in the locality of the house where he was born. I come from a wealthy family but after they lost their wealth, I had to work my whole life. I started to work when I was 17 and still go on working. Don’t ask my age. If you ask me what I have done for years, my answer is that I graduated from the Faculty of Languages, History, and Geography of the Ankara University. I have worked as a journalist, I was a businessman for a while and approximately for the last 40 years I have been a publisher in international relations. First of all, I started to work in the Press, Publication and Radio Department. During my years there, I was the chief of foreign language broadcasting of the Turkish Radio. When I was 25, I started to write news and commentaries. That’s why I had to follow closely the political events. In 1947 I published my first article. For the following 10 years, I worked for publicity in government. I travelled a lot. I can even say that I saw the whole world. I work closely with the Council of Europe. The institutions abroad that I collaborate are; in Italy I am full member of one the institutes and I am a member of the scientific committee of another. During the Cold War years, I was a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the United States. In the United States I was a member of the center for Middle Eastern Studies and was a Board Member of the East – West Security Studies Institute”.
When the issue comes to the Turkish Foreign Policy Institute, which he has established, Seyfi Tashan relates like this: “I work in a foreign policy institute which I established 40 years ago starting with the publication of a periodical. Nearly for the past 37 years we have been working as an institute. It is the first foreign relations think tank in Turkey. Our work at the institute is to generate and convey ideas and to promote Turkey. I did my military service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so I know the Ministry well. I have always worked close to the Ministry. That’s why I have received in 1989 the Distinguished Service Medal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was the first time someone, who did not actually work for the Ministry, was awarded with this honor. This kind of occupation, naturally, makes you in contact with related people. With these connections you can find the opportunity to promote your own country and bring the renovations which do not exist in your country. There are huge difficulties in running an Institute. A foreign policy institute needs financial backing. Today, there are lots of institutes which are financed by private enterprises. I only get help from the state, nowhere else. Even most of times, I use my own resources. However, many institutes receive money from abroad and unknown sources. Naturally, they can do a lot of activities and they are seen more exciting. Here at our Institute we organize meetings, seminars and contacts with foreign institutes. Moreover, we have programs for interns who generally take entrance exams of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
About Turkish Foreign Policy…
Mr. Tashan’s words about the difficulties the Turkish foreign policy encounters are also remarkable: “Turkey carries the burden of history in its foreign policy. Especially, in our relations with our neighbors such as Greece, Cyprus and Armenia the burden of the history is noticeable. The dividend it brings to Turkey is very low. Even with the countries where perception of Turkey is positive, instead of contribution it carries responsibility. For instance, in Bulgaria the Turkish minority suffers. While you have not yet decided what to do yet, 300 thousand Turks try to pass over the border, same as they did in 1990. You have to take care of these people. Saddam Hussein starts to murder Kurdish people in Iraq, 300 or 400 thousand people flow over South Eastern Turkey. All of these are the burdens coming over Turkey. It is the same in Cyprus. We said that we gave Cyprus to Britain and registered this at Lausanne. However, when it was changing hands, the Turks asked for protection and Turkey had to intervene. All these bring responsibility. There is also a factor of relativity, for example, the Armenian Diaspora, in the US which usually carries animosity towards Turks, mobilized in 1953 to meet the Turkish President of the time visiting the United States and to promote the visit. I saw it with my own eyes, I was there because I was the second interpreter of President Celal Bayar. I saw how Armenians embraced Turks, they invited Turkish journalists to their houses, they feasted them and even did propaganda for Turkey. I saw them all. At that time, the relations between Turkey and the United States were so good that the Armenians felt the need to be friends of Turkey. Later on these relations soured. We must take part of the blame, we ignored them a lot and didn’t show them our friendship”.
Turkey in the Cold War years was another subject of our conversation with Mr. Tashan. He said, “The Cold War years were when we were the most active because Turkey needed promotion and support. After the Cold War ended, Turkey’s status has changed. Turkey was no longer a state in the proximity. During the Cold War, Turkey was in the proximity of Europe, the Soviet World and the Arab World. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Turkey all of a sudden, became a central country, her arms reached every direction”. Mr. Tashan pointed to the changes in economy since 1980. “Meanwhile with the economic dynamism which was generated in the 1980s, economic relations gained importance. Today, it is not sufficient to go on with our traditional partners; we need to reach to Africa and to South America. This is the big transformation of Turkey which was realized with private sector and government cooperation. It is the private sector which carries Turkey economically abroad. And it is the support provided by our universities which make the private sector a success.”
New Turkish Foreign Policy and Axis Shift Debates
According to Mr. Tashan, Turkey does not face a situation of breaking off from the West. Mr. Tashan says that Turkey is now a European country and he continues: “I was asked to give a speech in an important think tank in the United Kingdom. My subject was ‘Turkey: from marginal to central’. For a long time now Turkey’s foreign policy is focused on Turkey’s central position in the region. Hence, you have to follow a foreign policy open to the East, North, South and West, open to all the regions in its proximity. For a long time, especially during the Cold War, Turkey had conducted Western dependent foreign policy. With this kind of policy making it is not possible for Turkey to have a central role. I had analyzed and theorized this policy and advocated a policy from marginality to centrality. It later became the policy of Turkey. Particularly, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs visualized this policy and wrote a book called “Stratejik Derinlik”(Strategic Depth) theorizing on this policy. It does not mean at all that Turkey is breaking off from the West. We are both in the West and in this region. Turkey is a European state, we should not forget that. Because we are settled in Europe and except the European Union we are an active member of all European institutions. Today, there are millions of Turkish people living in Europe. Under these conditions, there cannot be an axis shift. A European country’s axis cannot be shifted. Turkey is not a Middle Eastern country, it is nonsense even to think of this.No one can implement such a policy in Turkey. We have a history of reformation for the past 200 years. Everyone looks at us as a model. Turkey is only a model state. In this regard I believe that our foreign policy is appropriate and Turkey has become an example in different aspects.”
Turkey and European Union
The conversation always comes to European Union issue. Mr. Tashan gives remarkable information about Turkey – EU relations. “If one ponders about Turkey’s Europeanness, Turkey is no doubt European. When it comes to the European Union, it is only the half of the whole European population. At first, they referred to the European Union as an economic community. The most significant aspect of economic union is customs union and we are part of it. Secondly, majority of other issues that the European Union is dealing with is defined as cooperation and these are generally handled within the Council of Europe. Especially, acknowledging the right of individual petition, we contribute to this most valuable cooperation in human rights. With regard to economy, education and state structure we are one way or the other part of Europe. When we come to the European Union, the most important factor of this community was economic union, this entailed currency union. However, EU could not set a clear target, could not become a federation or a state. They could not apply a common foreign policy or common security policy. They have some difficulties in terms of supporting each other; it is obvious in the case of Greece and Portuguese. There are some reasons why EU stays at a distance from Turkey. First of all, this is a system established with the leadership of France and Germany. Northern countries are always dominant. Southern countries seem to be added later to the system. When Turkey becomes a member of the EU, she will be a country with many members in the European Parliament and one of the most influential members in the European Council. As a result, the focus of EU will shift to the South. France never wants to share her dominance over the European destiny. Another reason is that, nationality, remaining from the Napoleonic period, is still casting its shadow over Europe, in various countries nationalist parties are in power. They are afraid of foreigners. Reformation of Europe resembles reformation in ancient Greece. It is kind of a system that foreigners, slaves and women cannot be included in the democratic system. In the process of reformation slavery was abandoned, and then, although late, women were given their rights. However, foreigners are still not included in this process. When we consider all of these, they say Turkey can be a member but not immediately. Even they don’t know when. But, there is a serious interdependence between Turkey and Europe. Due to this dependency, European business community wants Turkey in the European Union. However, the process is very slow as I explained earlier”.
About Arab Spring
We turn our focus from Europe to the Middle East where there is chaos now-a-days. Mr. Tashan’s analysis of the Arab Spring contains information which will expand the horizons of one’s mind: “The need for reform is not new in the Arab World. As you know, with the Greater Middle East Initiative, the United States advocated the necessity of spreading human rights and democracy. All US administrations since President Wilson, except the isolationists, try to promote these values. Beginning with Father Bush, they initiated an opening to the East and they had this idea: if we bring democracy to the Middle East, anti-Semitism will come to an end and Arabs will no longer be a threat. One of the obsessions of US in their Middle East policy is to protect Israel. With this premise, it became necessary to support reforms. Arab countries had remained economically backward for a long time and they just started to adopt liberal economic policies. Moreover, they cannot even free themselves from socialist tendencies inherited from the Soviet period. Rulers cannot abandon this tendency in their approach to the problems even today. For example, you cannot expect a sudden change to liberal economy in Syria. She was a follower of the Soviet Union. With the pressure, from the West, the concept of reform was felt in the Middle East. Especially, youth wanted it. Furthermore, Arab countries who want to be in good relations with the West, they kept religious parties out of their system, while they were religious. These parties stayed in the opposition. Some of them organized clandestinely, as is the case in Syria. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was not represented in parliament through cheating and could not participate in the political structures. In Tunisia, rather than these, despotism and theft of the rulers provoked the youth. A few years ago I participated at a meeting in Cairo; there were participants from international organizations, as well as young Arab writers and politicians. All of them unanimously demanded reform. Although politicians accepted reform, they did not want foreign intervention. Whereas US policy was in favor of bringing reform and democracy even if it was by force. It is significant that the first revolt started in Tunisia. Countries like Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are much closer to Europe than other Muslim countries. In this respect, Tunisia will not suffer much. However, it is difficult to say the same thing about Egypt. There it is more probable for the Muslim Brotherhood to become stronger and come to power. This can change the whole foreign policy of Egypt. Sharia can officially be accepted. There is the same risk in Syria, too. When you look at its population, Alewis who are closer to Shiites, form 15% of the whole population while the rest are Sunnis who are closer to the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore, in case of free elections enforcing of Sharia is probable, too. It is likely that Sharia will take the lead while we talk about freedom, peace and democracy in the Arab World. “
(*) Published in Turkish in the periodical “VIP diplomat” 2011 No. 40 issue
“We are both in the West and in this region. Turkey is a European State, we should not forget this. Because we are already settled in Europe and except the European Union, we are an active member in all the European institutions. Today, there are millions of Turks living in Europe. Under these conditions, there cannot be a shift in axis. A European country’s axis cannot be shifted. Even thinking of Turkey as a Middle Eastern country is nonsense”.