TBY talks to İbrahim Kalın, Chief Advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on domestic stability, the new constitution, and Turkey’s role in the region.
TBY Domestic stability is a key demand for foreign investors. How do you respond to this sensitivity?
İBRAHİM KALIN If you look at political stability in Turkey over the past nine years, it has been remarkable—especially given the fact that we had major economic crises in 1999 and 2001. Political stability and strong leadership have supported and strengthened economic development in Turkey. The government has been able to overcome not just the global financial crisis but also the ups and downs of the Turkish economy by taking a number of measures in such areas as investing in research and development, increasing production, securing the banking system, diversifying trade, finding new areas of investment, and attracting FDI.
How significant is the establishment of a new constitution in promoting Turkey’s democratic values internationally?
It’s one of the most important and ambitious national projects we’ve had in a long time in Turkey. We have had three constitutions in the Republican period: 1924, 1960, and 1982. The 1982 constitution was written after the military coup of 1980 and no longer caters to the needs of the new Turkey in the 21st century. In addition, that constitution has been amended so many times that it has lost its internal coherence.
It is crucial for Turkey’s future to write a new, modern, and civilian constitution. It is key for the new Turkey that is emerging with its democratic institutions, economy, new infrastructure, young population, and its new foreign policy. The needs and aspirations of the new Turkey will be reflected in the new constitution and it will boost Turkey’s development and remove many of the bureaucratic obstacles that concern business communities and investors. It will expand the areas of freedoms and civil liberties and establish the principles of equality, justice, and constitutional citizenship for all Turkish citizens. This is one area in which other nations, especially in the Arab world, have taken a keen interest. They, too, want to live in a system of democracy, under the rule of law and with transparency, and they look to Turkey as a source of inspiration and as an experience to be shared in terms of how the country has overcome years of military tutelage and resolved issues that have been on our agenda for many years: democratization, pluralism, religious minorities, human rights, civil liberties, and economic development. Therefore, our democracy is key to our political stability and economic development.
How do you envision Turkey’s role in the transition to democracy for countries involved in the Arab spring?
From the outset, we have supported the people’s demand for democracy, rule of law, justice, and transparency in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and in Syria, Yemen, and other places. Leaders should listen to their people’s legitimate demands. We believe this is in their national interest as well as in the interest of the region. When Prime Minister Erdoğan visited Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya in September 2011, he was received as an embodiment these core messages. There is major interest in improving bilateral relations with Turkey. Of course, we already have wide-ranging relations with all the countries in the Arab world. But there is always room for wider and deeper relations in all sectors of life. We will continue to cooperate with these countries and increase our diplomatic, cultural, and economic relations. We know that we cannot maintain a stable environment when our neighbors are unstable, weak, or economically lagging behind. A democratic and prosperous Arab world is possible and the Arab people have shown that it is possible to attain.
Turkey sits on a strategically important geographic location between East and West. Is there a conflict in promoting Turkey to Europe, the US, and the Middle East?
A businessman in Cairo, an executive in London, or an academic in New York obviously look at things from different angles. As far as Turkey is concerned, the image comes through all of these different perspectives. Turkey has changed tremendously and at a rapid pace. I would say that in some parts of the world that pace has not been fully understood—some people still have the image of Turkey in the 1970s or the 1980s. However, when they come to Turkey and they study Turkish culture, economy, and so on, they realize that Turkey has made a quantum leap in the past decade and in many areas, from building healthier cities and a cleaner environment to investing in infrastructure and protecting human rights and civil liberties. Just to give you one figure as an example, the number of tourists visiting Turkey in 2002 was about 12 million. This year, it’s reaching 30 million.
That said, we still have a lot of work to do. Turkey’s identity is dynamic, multi-dimensional, and colorful. On the one hand you have an incredibly rich historical heritage and cultural tradition, and on the other hand a critical geopolitical position, which makes Turkey a unique country with tremendous possibilities.
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