Turkey Takes the Global Stage
Turkey is truly an alluring country. In particular Istanbul, capital of the former Ottoman Empire and a city that has taken in a great variety of cultures, religions, and peoples, has a charm that elicits a sense of nostalgia from all who go there.
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Istanbul has not been in the global limelight, however, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire early in the twentieth century. This was due in part to the great decline in post-Ottoman Turkey’s national power, but it was also a result of the vigorous negative campaign that Britain conducted against the former Ottoman Empire in the Arab world and elsewhere.
In the Arab world and other countries that were formerly under Ottoman suzerainty, the British spread propaganda about the vicious Ottoman rule, and this became deeply imprinted in the minds of the people in these countries. As a result, though these countries have moved toward autonomous nation-building, almost none of them have yet been able to make a success of their own independence. They only have nominal independence, and sovereignty still rests largely in the grasp of Britain and the United States. The actual shape of British and US domination is harsher than the phantasm of Ottoman rule; these countries are oppressed in every way, and only a small minority of their people enjoy affluent lives.
Those on the side in power are unable to offer any resistance in the face of the “democracy” that the British and Americans flash at them like weapons. In addition, Britain and America have built up images of fearsome enemies and impressed them on these countries, presenting themselves as guardians against these enemies, while selling these countries large amounts of weapons for tremendous amounts of money. With the passage of time, however, the British and US scheming seems to be coming unmasked. Ironically this process began with the Iraq crisis that America caused. In January 2003, Turkey made the presence of the former Ottoman Empire felt to the other countries of the region, whether they liked it or not.
That month, the leaders of the region’s countries gathered in the former Ottoman capital of Istanbul with considerable trepidation. As I recall, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran participated. Their great fear turned into reality. Iraq was attacked, the Saddam Hussein regime fell, and the country came under US control. Since then Iraq has been forced to endure the abuse of the US military. Needless to say, the Iraqi people have lost their sovereignty, and the government of Iraq is little more than a US puppet. The US scheme, however, ended up exhausting America itself, though, and setting it on the road to trouble. The waste of tremendous amounts of money on the military took a toll, and the US financial world found itself facing a major crisis in September 2008.
The financial panic subsequently spread from the United States to other countries, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that Britain as a country is in a state of bankruptcy. It was in this context that the International Monetary Fund held its meeting in Turkey. At this meeting, the whole world—with the exception of obtuse countries like Japan—started to say no to the crisis rescue measures proposed by Britain and the United States.
First of all, the fact that the IMF is trying to play the role of the global central bank means no more than a change of name without any change in reality; Britain and the United States are to remain in control even after the name change.
Second, though a package of $500 billion in emergency funds has been prepared so that this money can be loaned to poor countries, this is merely in order to make it possible for the poor countries to pay the interest on the funds they have borrowed from the rich countries. It will do nothing to relieve the economic troubles that these poor countries are experiencing. The measure is designed merely to protect the interests of the lenders.
In the face of this traditional sort of flow of funds, the Turkish government has yet to come out with any comment, but in the period to come it can be expected to propose a system of interest-free lending. In other words, the day is approaching when Islamic finance will appear on the world stage. Following the IMF meeting I took part in a breakfast cruise hosted by a Turkish banker (who is also involved in a wide range of businesses, including construction, the cotton industry, and energy), during which I had the opportunity to exchange opinions with a number of participants in the meeting. The reactions I heard from them were extremely cool—that the contents of the discussions and proposals were of no benefit to them. The participants in the breakfast cruise were almost all from financial circles in developing countries, and their responses were not surprising. But these representatives of developing countries also expressed hopes for the role that Turkey will play in the future.
Turkey has hosted a number of conferences on the international level aside from this one. It also seems to be taking care to bring other countries in the region on to the stage as major actors. Just recently, a conference of the Turkic-speaking countries was held in the city of Nakhchivan, the capital of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan. The neighboring region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was originally part of Azerbaijan, remains under occupation by Armenia following the war between the two countries. This has caused a rupture in relations not just between Armenia and Azerbaijan but also between Armenia and Turkey.
It seems highly significant that Turkey held this conference in this troubled location. Recently moves to improve relations between Turkey and Armenia have come clearly to the surface. Both sides are confident that it will be possible to open the border between them and allow free passage in the near future. Over the past two or three years, countries in the Middle East have been attempting to raise their profile by hosting international conferences. A typical example is Qatar, which has been one of the least developed among the Gulf countries. Egypt, which prides itself as the leader of the Arab world, has also been doing its utmost to invite international conferences. Recently, however, Turkey has been taking center stage as the host country for such conferences. In addition to its convenient location, one of the conditions in Turkey’s favor is probably the fact that its people are of diverse ethnic origins. Their ancestors include people from Eastern Europe, Kurds and others from the Arab world, and people from Central Asia. So those who come to Turkey, no matter what country they represent, immediately feel at home. I believe that this attractiveness of Turkey, grounded in the nation’s history, will be of great significance in settling the problems of the Middle East in the period ahead.
At the meeting of the World Economic Forum (Davos Conference) held in Egypt in January 2009, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan directed harsh criticism at Israel’s President Shimon Peres, but subsequently Israeli Defense Minister (and former prime minister) Ehud Barak is said to have declared that the 600 years of Ottoman rule were the happiest period for the Jewish people. Meanwhile, with a crisis brewing between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program, Prime Minister Erdogan came out with a statement that went to the heart of the matter. At the latest session of the UN General Assembly, he declared that the biggest concern in the Middle East was not Iran’s future nuclear capabilities but Israel’s existing nuclear arsenal. Turkey has started to proclaim the cause of fairness to the world, and many countries are listening to it. I believe that Japan may be the only country that does not grasp Turkey’s global role.
The year 2010 is being observed as Japan Year in Turkey. I would suggest that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama visit Turkey on this occasion. If he cannot make it, perhaps Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada could go instead. This will, I believe, allow them to sense that the world is not rotating merely around Europe and America. ( Translated from a report published in Japanese on October 9, 2009 )