Turkey’s Role In A Changing and Challenging World

Abdurrahman Bilgiç 12.10.2016

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a real privilege for me to address such a
distinguished audience in the historical venue of the National Liberal Club, established
by the legendary British Prime Minister William Gladstone.

Let me express my sincere thanks to Lord Lothian and
Johan Eliasch for inviting me to speak at the Global Strategy Forum. Since its
foundation, the GSF has been instrumental for promoting open debate and
discussion on important issues in international affairs, security and defence.

I can tell you that the success of the GSF has made it
one of the premier platforms for diplomats to follow with a keen interest. In
its 10th anniversary, I wholeheartedly congratulate the founders, advisory
board members and staff of this prestigious organization.

The Rt Hon Mr Jack Straw, My dear friend Jack,

Thank you very much for your kind introduction and
also for chairing this event.

As most of you know already, Jack is one of the
co-chairs of the “Turkish-British Tatlıdil Forum” along with Sir Julian Horn
Smith. The “Tatlıdil Forum” was established six years ago as a civil society
platform to promote dialogue between Turkey and the UK.

And, it has been quite successful in strengthening the
ties between businessmen, academics and members of the press from the two

“Tatlıdil” fulfils an increasingly important function.
At the time when we are all faced with common challenges, dialogue and closer
cooperation has become increasingly important.

Just have another look at the invitation for this
event. Count the number of issues that are mentioned there; Syria and the
Middle East, DEASH, EU, refugee crisis, Russia, Brexit… These are all the
issues that affect us one way or another to varying degrees.

I am aware that you expect me to address all of them
in my speech! So long as the GSF is ready to host us for dinner as well; I am

These issues are all also quite complicated and
constantly evolving. Just last week, as the co-chairs of the “Tatlıdil Forum”, my
dear friends Jack and Sir Julian were Ankara, meeting with the Turkish Prime
Minister and the Foreign Minister. He might be more informed than I am on
latest developments in Turkey!

Distinguished Guests,

Along with the challenges that I am going to talk
about in a little while, another important concept highlighted in the title of
my speech is “change”.

I believe that one of the main parameters that define
our century is the “change”. Not “change” in itself, but the scope and pace of

Both economically and politically, paradigmatic shifts
are taking place around us. Unfortunately, with the inability of global governance
structures to cope with these changes, the intensity and frequency of conflicts
have been showing an upward trend, once again.

Turkey is geographically located at the heart of
hotspots that span from the Middle East to the Balkans, Central Asia to the Caucasus.
We feel direct impact from every development in our wider neighbourhood.

And now, against this backdrop, I would like you to think
about the potential disturbing effects of the attempted coup that took place on
the evening of the 15th of July.

It is no secret that we are a little bit dismayed with
press coverage immediately after the coup attempt. Our European counterparts
were also rather slow to condemn the attempted coup.

I believe this is because of a lack of proper
understanding of the severity of the threat. Had this secretive cult with a fake
religious discourse succeeded, we would have most likely witnessed a civil war
in Turkey that was ruled by an undemocratic regime not hesitating to undermine
the foundations of the Republic, and suspending fundamental rights and freedoms
once and for all.

And, this would have happened when we were all
struggling with common challenges, like the turmoil in the Middle East, threat from
various terrorist organizations and irregular migration.

We were faced with a grim picture on the night of 15
of July.
At times like this, the support of our Allies and
friends is crucial.

We are grateful for the explicit support of the UK to
Turkish democracy and our elected government. Sir Alan Duncan, FCO Minister of
Europe, was the first high-level politician from Europe to visit Turkey after
the bloody coup attempt. This was recently followed by the visit of the Foreign
Secretary Boris Johnson.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me give you details of the attempted coup and the
measures we have taken in its aftermath.

A clandestine faction led by Fetullah Gülen Terrorist
Organisation (FETO) attempted to overthrow the democratically elected
government, the President and the constitutional order of Turkey.

It was indeed a terrorist campaign. The culprits
bombed the Parliament, attacked the police and intelligence headquarters with
tanks, heavy artillery, fighter jets and helicopters.

People from different walks of life took to the
streets. They stood against the tanks and guns with their bare hands. The
attempt failed, leaving behind 242 dead and more than 2,200 wounded.

Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. In the face of grave and violent attacks against our national
security and heinous infiltration of FETÖ everywhere, the declaration of a State
of Emergency was deemed necessary. Turkey also derogated from some of its
obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. And recently, the
State of Emergency was prolonged for another 90 days due to necessity.

Let me set the record straight regarding the state of
emergency and derogations.

First, our main aim to take all the necessary measures
in the most speedy and effective manner in the fight against this terrorist
organization. We need to bring the culprits to justice, and to eliminate the
FETÖ clandestine network from the state machinery.

Second, the state of emergency is a constitutional
measure. And, we are not the only country who resorted to this emergency
measure. Many democratic countries (France, Germany, Ukraine) did the same when
facing similar or even more limited security threats.

Third, a derogation is not a suspension of rights. It merely
brings certain limitations to the exercise of certain rights under required
conditions. Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights explicitly describes
these conditions and limitations.

Fourth, legal remedies are available against all acts
and measures that are being taken within the context of the State of Emergency,
including individual application to the Constitutional Court. Moreover, supervision of the European Court of
Human Rights continues. We did not suspend the Court’s jurisdiction whatsoever.

We are aware of our obligations related to democracy,
human rights, the principle of rule of law and international conventions in
this process. As in the past, due respect will be shown to fundamental rights
and freedoms and the principle of supremacy of law will be strictly observed.

Distinguished Guests,

The attempted coup might have brought questions to
mind about Turkey’s international commitments and its military resilience as
the second biggest army in NATO.

This is especially important given the turmoil in the
Middle East. The scourge of terrorism has been rooted more than ever in our
region. DEASH has taken control in Turkey’s close neighbourhood, namely certain
places in Syria and Iraq.

It is a significant threat to global security.
However, this is more imminent for Turkey than any other nation. The rockets from
Syria fired by DEASH killed 21 of our citizens so far along our southern
borders. DEASH’s acts of terrorism have taken hundreds of lives, most recently
in Gaziantep when 54 people, many of whom were children killed in a bomb attack
during a wedding.

We have been an active member of the anti-DEASH
coalition from its inception. We opened our airspace and military bases to
coalition fighter jets. Our military aircraft take part in missions against

As the nature of the threat evolved, we recently
started “Operation Euphrates Shield” to clear DEASH elements from the north of

It is launched as an act of self-defence in line with
Article 51 of the UN Charter and carried out with the support of the anti-DEASH
coalition. Its objective is to ensure the advancement of the Syrian opposition
on the ground against DEASH, and push DEASH elements away from the positions
they control along our borders.

So far, the operation has been quite successful. We
have cleared DEASH elements from our Syrian border. The Free Syrian Army
currently holds an area amounting to 1.000 square kilometres under its control.
The Syrians, like the residents of Jarablus, are returning to their homes.

Beyond its political message, this operation has also
shown that the Syrian opposition can succeed against DEASH, once properly supported.

Our resolve in preventing any terrorist group taking
root in our close neighbourhood will continue. As you know, we are against
various terrorist organizations simultaneously.

PKK, a proscribed terrorist organization in the UK,
the EU and the US, continues its bloody acts of terror in Turkey, targeting
civilians as well as security forces. And, the PYD/YPG in Syria is
ideologically and institutionally linked with the PKK.

Some PKK bombings in Turkey were conducted by
terrorists trained in PYD/YPG camps in northern Syria. No country can stay
indifferent to such a threat to its citizens’ security.

A lesson-learned should be that fighting another
terrorist organisation does not clear a terrorist organisation of its own
heinous crimes. And, PYD/YPG is not actually a democratic entity as it claims
to be. Its persecution against other Kurdish groups in Syria and its
displacement policies against Arab and Turkoman groups in the region are
well-documented by international institutions and observers, including Amnesty

Such policies of the PYD/YPG constitute a clear danger
to the future of Syria.

“Operation Euphrates Shield” is a clear indication
that Turkey will not accept any unilateral moves or motives against the will of
the majority of the Syrian people. We will not allow terrorist organizations to
take hold in a region that has critical importance for our national security.

Our efforts also constitute a clear contribution to the
preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity and political unity. Naturally, we
would like to see stable and peaceful countries on the other side of our borders.
We think this could only be reached by commencing a genuine political
transition in Syria.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Illegal migration is an important challenge that is
also related with the turmoil in the Middle East.

From the beginning, we have kept our borders open to
everyone fleeing persecution. Regardless of ethnic origin, belief, sect, and
disposition, we have approached everyone coming to our country with the same

Today, we are hosting more than 3 million Syrians and
Iraqis in Turkey. We are doing our best to make them feel at home and live in
dignity. Ten percent of Syrians in Turkey are accommodated in camps. The rest
live in cities amongst us. Every single Syrian is under the special protection
regime. This regime provides basic services such as health and education. It
also enables Syrians to obtain work permits.

So far, we have spent around 25 billion Dollars. 12
billion came directly from the central budget. However, the total support we
have received from the international community amounts only to 512 million Dollars.

While protecting the Syrians within our borders, we
are taking concrete steps to preventing irregular migration.

Since last year, we have developed a significant
cooperation framework with the EU against the refugee crisis. The aim of this
framework was to prevent the loss of life in the Aegean, crush illegal
smuggling networks and replace irregular migration with regular migration.

And, we succeeded to decrease the daily number of
irregular migration from the level of 7.000 in October 2015 to 50 in average in
recent months, single digit on some days. This picture shows that Turkey successfully
fulfilled its commitments within the framework of its cooperation with the EU.

In response, however, the promises given by the EU to
Turkey were not kept. Out of the 3 billion Euro refugee facility for Turkey,
only 181 million has so far been transferred. Once again, Turkey has been left
alone since the beginning of Syria crisis.

Make no mistake. We are not putting a price tag on
human life. We are not asking for money for ourselves. We are not mentioning
these figures for praise either. We just want equitable burden-sharing to better
assist our Syrian and Iraqi neighbours.

Let me give you an example. There are nearly 835
thousand Syrian children of school age in Turkey. We managed to enrol 310
thousand of them in schools with the help of governmental and non-governmental

Our goal is to ensure that not even a single child is
deprived of education and schooling. And, we call on all countries and
non-state actors to contribute to our efforts in this regard.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me also talk
about the state of our relations with Russia.

Following the letter of
President Erdoğan and phone call by President Putin in June, the necessary
steps are being taken for full normalization of the relations between Turkey
and Russia. We agreed on a road-map and exchanged many high-level as well as
technical delegations.

President Erdoğan and
President Putin met in St Petersburg in August and Hangzou in September. This
week they met for the third time in Istanbul at the margins of the World Energy
Congress that was hosted in Istanbul.

Over the last decade,
we invested a lot to our relations with Russia. Russia became one of our
biggest trading partners, with a trade volume of 30 billion Dollars and mutual
investments totalling 10 billion Dollars. We usually host around 4 million
Russian tourists every year. Russia is also our leading energy supplier. We are
constructing our first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu together with our Russian

Right now, we are
trying to restore our economic relations back to their previous level. Does it
mean that our differences on important issues suddenly evaporated? Definitely

Our differences on
Syria are very-well known, and our position regarding the illegal annexation of
Crimea is crystal clear.
we attach utmost importance to maintaining appropriate dialogue mechanisms so
that we can discuss these differences.


Let me finally touch upon the “elephant in the room”.
The most contested topic of the year here in the United Kingdom: “Brexit”.

I have been attending back-to-back party conferences
over the last 3 weeks. It seems that everything, including major foreign policy
issues, are discussed against the back-drop of this all-encompassing theme.
Also, I am often asked how we envisage our bilateral relations with the
“post-Brexit Britain”.

To begin with, it is no secret that we did not prefer
the UK to exit the EU. I even wrote an article for LSE explaining why.

It was not because we were concerned about our mutual
economic interests that were advanced within the Customs Union.

It was not because we did not want to lose a staunch supporter
of Turkey’s EU accession.

The reason was this: we thought the EU should have
maintained its cohesion and solidarity in the face of common challenges. We
also believed that the EU needed the UK’s outward-looking vision, pragmatism
and dynamism.

Yet, the referendum is over and British people has
made their democratic choice. We respect this decision and the post-Brexit
vision of the Government.

Yes, Britain is leaving the EU. And, true, Turkey’s
accession process is not being allowed to run its natural course because of
artificial obstacles. However, it does not mean that that our countries cease
to be European.

In the life of the states, there are more permanent
factors than politics; like history and geography. Turkey and the UK have been
part and parcel of Europe and they will remain so.

We are all destined to live in this geography
side-by-side. And, we can ensure that this destiny is mutually beneficial
through genuine partnership and cooperation.

In the post-Brexit era, we stand ready to cooperate
more than ever with the UK. And, I can tell you that we have already gained additional
momentum in this regard.

Earlier this
month, we had three cabinet ministers from Turkey visiting London over the
course of just three days.

While our
Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence attended multilateral meetings, our
Minister of Economy met with the Right Honourable Liam Fox and got together
with the business community.

It was agreed in
this meeting to begin exploratory talks between the two countries to shape the
economic relations in the aftermath of Brexit. Both sides also expressed their
wish to hold the next meeting of the Joint Economic and Trade Commission along with
a Business Forum.

Secretary Boris Johnson was recently in Turkey. Not only did he have fruitful
discussions with our Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, but was also received
by President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Yıldırım.

You probably
heard that Foreign Secretary Johnson called for a “new partnership” between our
two countries, and expressed his hope for a “jumbo” free trade deal.

Journalists immediately
approached me at the margins of the party conferences, and asked about the
meaning of a “jumbo” trade deal!

Well, I will
only tell you that we will jointly evaluate all dimensions of our trade
relations and work on innovative solutions that will cater for the needs of our

On the basis of the solid foundation of our relations,
we only have a room for improvement. We already have a “strategic partnership”
that was established with an agreement signed in 2007 and renewed in 2010. This
document highlights various areas of cooperation, from trade and investment to
defence cooperation, from Cyprus to energy issues.

The substance of our bilateral cooperation is very
strong and it goes beyond traditional areas. Today, we are cooperating with our
British counterparts as part of our vision to make Istanbul a leading financial

We are in close touch with British companies to
transform Turkey into a true energy hub. We work hard, together with Azerbaijan,
to complete the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) that will help bring the
Caspian energy resources to Europe.

As we share similar security concerns, cooperation in
the field of security is vital, and our respective authorities have been doing a
great job in fighting the sort of terrorism I mentioned in the beginning of my

Back to trade, as of last year, our bilateral trade
exceeded 16 billion Dollars. The UK is now the second top destination for
Turkish exports.

With its unique geographical location, dynamic
economy, strong financial sector and young population, Turkey provides British
companies a suitable environment to invest in and reach out to the neighbouring

This must be the reason why more than 3.000 British
companies invested in Turkey so far, and why the total value of their
investment has already exceeded 8.5 billion Dollars.

Distinguished Guests,

As the title of my address indicates, we are going through changing and
challenging times.

In the midst of turbulence, Turkey is geographically close to “an arc of
instability”, if you like. Yet, it continues to stand as
a pivotal country that aims to generate peace and
stability in its neighbourhood and beyond.

Thank you very much for listening to me and I would be
pleased to answer questions you might have.


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