Turkey, Iraq’s only democratic neighbor, has been on the minds of many as the U.S. moves closer to a war to disarm Saddam Hussein. In elections last fall, the winning party — the Justice and Development Party (“AK”) achieved the first clear majority in 15 years — was tagged by the U.S. media as an Islamic party, one that threatened to peel away at the country’s secular tradition. Below is what Turkish ambassador Faruk Logoglu had to say about the role of religion in Turkey and the Iraq war during a “10 Questions” session Tuesday with NRO.
Q: As you know, Turkey’s election received quite a bit of media attention here in the United States. Do you think that coverage was fair and accurate?
A: It’s always difficult to describe the character of the attention you get. I think there was overemphasis on the role of religion and that the front-running party was a religious party, which it is not. Overall, though, all the coverage was a good thing.
Q: What should Americans expect from the new Turkish government?
A: I believe that the new Turkish government will seek to maintain and strengthen its relationship with the U.S., which is one of friendship, partnership, and strategic alliance. Turkey’s parliament is also looking to do the same. There will be challenges to the two sides, so it will not always be smooth sailing. Turkey and the U.S., though, are very important partners. It is important for trade, for Middle East relations, energy issues, and of course, the war on terrorism.
Q: Is there a lot of on-the-job learning for the new Turkish government and parliament?
A: Basically, yes, I think so, because this is a new team. But in the Turkish context, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Most of our leaders had experience on the local level, and that experience will serve them well in their current capacity. They will ask others with more experience when they need to, and they are doing that now. Turkey is a really open society, with strong public and private institutions, and all issues are discussed openly and in an open manner.
Q: How does being Iraq’s only democratic neighbor affect Turkey’s approach to the question of disarming Saddam Hussein?
A: There are several ways in which that (being Turkey’s democratic neighbor) is important. One is that the Turkish government has to pay attention to the people of Turkey. It is also important to understand that things, especially issues of war and peace, take time. In Turkey, we have only started to focus on Iraq. We had elections and EU ascension and other issues that we were dealing with. We cannot produce a decision overnight. Events have to happen according to the Constitution and democratic procedures.
Because Turkey is democracy, we have certain values. We are committed to seeing the enforcement of Resolution 1441, supporting the war on terror, and supporting the stance on weapons of mass destruction. The government will ultimately take the issue to parliament, but we won’t do that until we feel comfortable that we will have the necessary backing in the parliament.
Q: In what ways is Turkey working together with the United States in case military action is taken to effectively disarm Saddam Hussein?
A: Turkish-American cooperation on Iraq goes back more than a decade, and since the Gulf War, it has been in the direction of the United Nations Security Council resolutions. The two most specific areas of cooperation have been helping enforce the no-fly zone over Northern Iraq and working with the Kurdish groups in Northern Iraq. In more recent terms, Turkish support vis-à-vis Iraq should be viewed in terms of terrorism.
Most recently, we have agreed to site surveys and site preparations (of possible U.S. military bases). The Turkish government is about to take this to the parliament. The Turkish government does not yet know if it will be able to handle the stationing of a large number of troops. The bottom line here is the dictates of Turkey’s national interests, both at home and as a friend and ally of the U.S.
Q: Should Iraq be liberated, what role do you envision Turkey playing in a post-Saddam Iraq?
A: A very important role, because first of all, they are a neighbor; second, we have a lot of shared history; third, we have had a lot of dealings with the Kurds; fourth, there are Turkomans in Iraq. And, by the way, not necessarily in that order. Any Turkey-specific control in Iraq would not go over well there, because Iraq is an Arab country. We will have to help in a more subdued way, and stay in the background.
Q: Why do you think Turkey is one of the few democracies in the Muslim world?
A: The basic reason Turkey is a democracy is history. Turkey has had more continuous dealings with Europe, and efforts for modernization started much earlier in Turkey, during the Ottoman period. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Republic of Turkey was formed, democracy was born after World War II.
This is one layer of analysis, and another layer of analysis is that Turkey took another major step, and that is secularism. We organized Turkey along modern lines, which means that our education was not Islamic and it was secular. This is not to say that Arab culture or Islam is inconsistent with democracy. Turkey is just one example.
Q: Can there be peace between Islam and a secular state?
A: Yes, Turkey is the living answer to that. Freedom of conscience and religious activities are allowed under the protection of the Turkish Constitution and Turkish law. Muslims in Turkey have no complaints about their ability to practice religion, they have a good appreciation of their religion, and their rights are protected. Yes, there is this talk about head covers for women and these other issues, but we talk about all this openly. That is just what you do in a democracy.
Q: Is there concern in Turkey about fundamentalists funded by other countries, and if so, which countries do you worry most about?
A: Funding of any sort is a problem in this world, but it is not just a problem in Islam. It is a problem to which Turkey is very aware. There are some — very few — fundamentalists inside Turkey, but should we list which countries support them? Probably not. But I can assure you that the funding comes from all areas in all geographies. As a democracy, though, we are fully capable of confronting these problems.
Q: Finally, what does Turkey’s desire to join the European Union say about the future direction of your country?
A: Turkey’s self-truism and constant direction is toward Europe and the West and greater integration with Europe and the U.S., for at least 150 years now. It is a process that started under the Ottoman Empire. The top priority this government made for itself was ascension into the EU. This confirms Turkey’s European vocation and our commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.
— Joel Mowbray is an NRO contributor and a Townhall.com columnist.