Thursday, November 26, 2009

Democratic Reform Process, EU Accession “Closely Linked”

The European Union praised Turkey’s efforts to grant its citizens of Kurdish origin more rights and to end the decades-old terror problem, linking it with the candidate country’s aspirations to join the union.

"The reform process in Turkey and the accession process are closely linked to each other," EU term president Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said during annual Turkey-EU Troika meeting in Istanbul. Bildt also praised the Turkish government’s pro-active foreign policy, especially in its region. “We appreciate the active Turkish role in foreign policy,” said Bildt.

The highest forum for political dialogue between the EU and Turkey convened Thursday with the participation of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış, the EU’s next term president, Spanish minister Diego Lopez Garrido, and EU representative in Ankara, Marc Pierini. EU Commissioner Olli Rehn could not make it to the meetings today.

Bildt has renewed the EU’s call for Turkey to open its ports and airspace to Greek Cyprus, but Davutoğlu said the issue would be addressed after a solution to the division of the island is reached.

Challenged by reporters over Turkey’s growing ties with Iran, Davutoğlu said that “all countries should be in a position to carry out” peaceful nuclear programs and that he wished to see “Iran better integrated with the world,” something he believes Turkey’s recent efforts will achieve.

Bildt supported Davutoglu’s statements, saying that “we do need to engage with Iran,” and that all countries have the “right to peaceful nuclear activities.”

Speaking on negative signals from the EU regarding Turkey’s EU accession process, Davutoglu said that the EU needs to “break down the Berlin wall that exists in the minds of people, not just politically, but socially and culturally”

“We will hopefully see the chapter on the environment open in December,” said Bağış. .

Diego Lopez Garrido, Secretary of State for the EU, expressed hopes for progress on Turkey’s EU accession while challenging Turkey to do more.

“Its clear that Spain is a country that believes in the accession process,” said Garrido, but “it depends on the political will. We have the political will…It depends mainly on the Turkish side.”

Asked how many negotiation chapters Garrido hopes will open under Spain’s EU presidency, he refused to give a definite answer, saying, “We can’t give a number now, because it’s not a question of mathematics.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkish University Awards Nobel Prize Winner Honorary Doctorate

Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Oscar Arias Sanchez was awarded an honorary doctorate from Bahçeşehir University on Tuesday in recognition of his personal achievements toward creating peace.

His speech was preceded by the signing of an agreement of cooperation between Bahçeşehir University and Costa Rica’s University of Peace to create a new Center for Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies in Istanbul.

Sanchez spoke to an audience of professors, deans, students and members of the press about the challenges of creating peace in the world and the specific need to focus on students. “Preparing students who not only understand what peace and freedom mean but also live these values in action should be the goal of every teacher and every classroom,” said Sanchez.

Sanchez also took the opportunity to promote global initiatives for peace that he is working on, including the Arms Trade Treaty, currently under consideration at the United Nations, which aims to regulate the flow of arms through trade.

“The destructive power of the 640 million small arms and light weapons in the world, 74 percent in the hands of civilians, is one of the primary threats to our shared security,” Sanchez said. “We must ensure that this treaty reaches the end of the journey it has begun.”

Offering Costa Rica as an example, Sanchez said in 1948 his country was the first in history to voluntarily abolish its army. He compared this with Atatürk’s vision, citing his quotation, “Yurtta barış, dünyada barış,” or, “Peace at home, peace in the world.”

Sanchez also spoke of his hopes for the future, announcing his dreams in bold, declarative phrases: “Victory of tolerance over cruelty. Victory of wisdom over violence. Victory of peace in our time.”

Turkish President Abdullah Gül welcomed his Costa Rican counterpart Oscar Arias in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Wednesday. Gül received Arias with full military honors at the Çankaya Presidential Residence. The two leaders are set to hold a tete-a-tete meeting before appearing at a joint press conference later on.

Transatlantic Academic Cooperation

The rector of the University of Peace, John J. Maresca, spoke briefly of his hopes for the new joint initiative between his university and Bahçeşehir. “We believe in peace, we believe it can be built,” said Maresca.

Article 2 of the agreement signed between the two universities outlines steps that will be taken to enhance cooperation. It includes student exchange, visiting professor exchange, joint research projects and the establishment of the Center for Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies, the details of which will be worked out between the University of Peace’s International Law and Human Rights Program and Bahçeşehir’s Faculty of Law.

Bahçeşehir University Vice President Erol Sezer told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that programs for student exchange can be put into practice very quickly. Five places at the University of Peace have already been reserved for Bahçeşehir exchange students with the signing of today’s agreement.

“The Center for Conflict Resolution can be established in the very near future because it is in our interest and we have experts like Vamık Volkan,” Sezer said. “Bahçeşehir would be a perfect place to establish such a center.”

Sezer hoped that a few international relations graduate students or law school graduates would take advantage of the program beginning next year. Costa Rican students from the University of Peace will also be able to take advantage of the program starting next year.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Israeli Trade Minister to Arrive in Turkey

Israel’s minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, is set to arrive in Turkey today for the annual Turkish-Israeli Economic Conference. He will hold talks with both the Turkish Agricultural Minister, Mehdi Eker, and Defense Minister, Vecdi Gonul.

Diplomatic tensions between the two countries have risen in the last few months following a host of spats. Turkey voiced its objections over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last year, the most conspicuous of which was seen in January when Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan’s walked out of a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos after a disagreement with Israeli President Shimon Peres. In October, a joint military operation in Turkey, codenamed Anatolian Eagle, was cancelled, reportedly because Turkish officials had asked Israel not to participate. In the same month, a Turkish television show called “Ayrilik” caused an uproar in Israel after it portrayed Israeli soldiers killing Palestinian children.

Ben-Eliezer’s visit will be the first official visit to Turkey by an Israeli Minister since the events in October. Eliezer was the only Israeli official to attend a dinner at the Turkish Embassy for the celebrations of Turkey’s Republic Day.

Commenting on the upcoming visit, the Chairman of the Turkish chapter of the Turkish-Israeli Business Council, Ekrem Guvendiren, expressed his hopes.

“I am optimistic,” said Guvendiren. “It will go very well indeed. There is no reason it shouldn’t.”

Despite the recent diplomatic speed bumps, Guvendiren insists that trade between the countries has not suffered. He said that between 2007 and 2008, both trade and investment between the two countries had increased and that numbers for this year suggest it will rise even higher.

“Trade between the two countries were not affected by the [diplomatic] strain,” said Guvendiren. However, he admits that tourism from Israel to Turkey has fallen 40% in the wake of deteriorating bilateral ties.

Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also commented on Ben-Eliezer’s trip, telling the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, that Eliezer’s “trip to Turkey is... an important trip, but has not been agreed upon by the Foreign Ministry.” Commenting on speculation that one of the goals of the visit is to discuss Turkey resuming its role as a mediator for talks between Israel and Syria, Lieberman said that “after all of Turkey's insults and tongue-lashing against Israel, they can't be a mediator”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Islamic Leaders Pledge Economic Cooperation

A piece of mine as published in Hurriyet Daily News- photos were not included in original publication:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Gathering in Istanbul on Monday, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC’s, heads of state discussed economic cooperation during the world’s worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

In his opening statements, President Abdullah Gül urged leaders to sign the trade preferential system, or TPS-OIC. “I call upon the distinguished heads of state to once again precipitate the finalization of the signing and ratification process,” he said.

Four countries have so far ratified the proposed TPS-OIC, although at least six more must sign for the measure to pass.

Gül reiterated his support for increasing OIC cooperation, saying, “Turkey’s foreign trade volume with OIC countries increased fivefold during the last eight years. I would like to renew our resolve to maintain this trend.”

Furthermore, Gül said the important commercial and economic relations Turkey has with both the West and the Islamic world are not contradictory.

“The European Union accession process and our participation in the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation of the OIC support each other,” he said.

Gül offered his congratulations to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai on his recent election victory and pledged to continue economic support for the war-torn nation.

Karzai requested more support from fellow OIC nations, asking them to “open up markets to Afghan products.” He said the OIC’s 550-million-strong workforce was the organization’s strength.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, stressed the economic failures of capitalism and criticized Western financial systems based on “usury,” urging instead a new economic order based on Islamic models.

“The world, the planet, could witness the positive ramifications of a political system that is based on divine teachings,” he said.

Saturday’s OIC ministerial meetings proposed several other structural measures to facilitate economic cooperation. A report by the OIC’s research council proposed the establishment of an OIC commodities market to be based in Istanbul, Cairo or Dubai. The report also discussed the October agreements between OIC countries that called for the creation of a “Central Banks Association” that would hold annual meetings as well as a chairmanship based on a rotating “troika” system.

Monday, November 9, 2009

TOBB, IDB vow closer cooperation

I have a new piece in the Hurriyet Daily News, here is the article and some pictures that were not published to go with them:

Sunday, November 8, 2009
Fadil Aliriza
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

The head of Turkey’s Union of Chamber and Commodity Exchanges, or TOBB, met with the head of the Islamic Development Bank, or IDB, on Saturday to announce future cooperation plans.

Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, head of TOBB, pledged to increase joint projects, of which two were completed last year, to a total of six.

“We believe that we will do important work, beneficial work for the Islamic communities,” Hisarcıklıoğlu said

This cooperation follows the memorandum of understanding signed between the two organizations in Jeddah on Feb. 5.

Ahmed Muhammad Ali, head of the IDB, said he was grateful for the continued cooperation between the two organizations, telling his counterpart, “You are helping the IDB to achieve its goal and its mission.”

The projects outlined by Hisarcıklıoğlu focus on investments in Africa and the Middle East, including a “capacity-building program for Iranian chambers [of commerce] and knowledge-sharing of Turkey’s economic development progress.”

The regional, private sector and economic integration policy signaled by TOBB on Saturday comes on the heels of important diplomatic agreements between Turkey and Iran, including a large bilateral deal on natural gas transit. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to arrive Monday for the OIC conference.

The Turkish government has a 7.7 percent stake in the IDB, while the IDB’s current operations in Turkey stand at $1.6 billion.

The meeting took place on the sidelines of Saturday’s meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s, or OIC, Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation, COMCEC. Ministerial meetings at the COMCEC conference looked at other broader issues affecting OIC countries, including the food crisis, the financial crisis and energy cooperation.