Middle East Observer interviews Turkish AKP’s vice president for foreign affairs ‘Fevzi Şanverdi’

Interview with Fevzi Şanverdi*



1.) What are your views on the political approach of the AKP governments towards the Middle East?

As of 2003, when the AK Party came to power, there were significant changes in Turkish foreign policy as well as many other areas. In fact, we can say that the greatest change in the AK Party governments was in foreign politics. Because the previously pursued concept of security and inward-looking politics has been abandoned, a pro-active political understanding has been adopted that recognizes the changes and transformations experienced by the world.

Unfortunately, the governments before the AK Party lacked the ability to follow the changes and transformations that happened in the world. The economic crisis in the country had reached a critical level, and social tensions had increased with the political crises. The people had no hope about the future of the country. These developments within the country no doubt reflected on the foreign policy. This situation forced the country to move in vicious cycles that did not go one step further from opening embassies in certain countries, let alone making moves in foreign policy.

AK Party was founded in a time of hardship that the country was going through. In one year after it was established, AK Party came to power on its own after the elections, and rapidly implemented moves in every field that were cornerstones for the country. In its essence, AK Party is not just a political party, but a revolutionary move. But the most important dynamic of this is not the political structure of the party, but the people themselves. AK Party has become a translator for the people, and implemented the services that the people had been waiting for years one by one.

When we look at the issue from the point of view of foreign policy, the most important aspect is the expansions towards Middle Eastern countries. Turkey moved away from the wrong policies followed since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire until AK party came to power. Turkey was detached from the geography that it was a part of, and the relationship with neighboring countries were not good. AK Party first gave up on these wrong policies followed by previous governments, and established relationships with the countries of the region on a common geography, common history, common culture, and common fate basis. As a matter of fact, this policy understanding was also instrumental in starting an extremely important process like “zero problem”. However, the beginning of the Arab Spring movement led to the halting of this work which contributed to regional peace.

The greatest achievement of the AK Party towards the Middle East geography is the inspiration stemmed in the peoples of the region through its success in its own country. As a matter of fact, this is one of the most discussed topics by experts during the Arab Spring process. At this stage, Turkey can not remain indifferent to any development in the region. Turkey does not distinguish between regional security and its own security. It is necessary to evaluate the Turkish military presence in Syria with the operation of Euphrates Shield and the Turkish military presence in Basika camp in Iraq in this context. As a country of Middle East geography, Turkey will stand against all elements that are not part of the states in the region and will continue its struggle for the stability of the region even if its alone.

2.) What are your views on Turkey’s struggle against terrorism?

Regrettably, the regimes after the Ottoman Empire that govern the countries of the region adopted an approach of administration that is disconnected from the peoples. This situation naturally brought a civil uprising like the Arab Spring. But instead of listening to the demands of the people, the administrators declared war against their people, insulting them. The regimes that chose to massacre the people forced the people to arm themselves and opened space for terrorist organizations. We see the result of these dangerous policies in some other countries in the region, especially in Syria.

All terrorist organizations operating in the Middle East, especially ISIS, are the heritage of those who choose to kill their people like Assad, left to region and the world. But the issue is far beyond Assad and other regimes. It is becoming more and more evident every day that there are intelligence units of global powers behind the terrorist organizations that shed blood in the region. Otherwise, would it be possible that these terrorist organizations were able to obtain weapons and dominate large geographies so easily?

Today, where we are, everyone with conscience and morality clearly sees that Turkey is the only country that is fighting against terror in a real sense. Turkey, which has struggled with terror within the country primarily, but also in Syria and Iraq, has become almost a nightmare of terrorist organizations. We have to ask the whole world, why can’t the coalition forces formed by the gathering of dozens of countries in Syria and Iraq succeed in fighting against terrorism. Why could not a solid success be achieved in these two countries, despite the fact that months have passed? There is only one answer, states that say they are fighting terror, especially Western countries, are not sincere. On the contrary, they are trying to take advantage of terrorism. As I said, who sells the weapons that are in the hands of terrorist organizations?

We have to emphasize one more thing here. When ISIS emerged, a large black propaganda was launched against Turkey, especially through the media. They attempted to make Turkey a target with this black propaganda that claimed Turkey supported terrorism. However, ISIS made its first action against the Turkish diplomats in Iraq and Turkey was able to save its personnel as a result of long efforts. Today, it is as if all terrorist organizations have teamed up and are attacking Turkey. So, why don’t we see any acts of terrorism in the states that claimed Turkey supported terrorism? Why isn’t the media that launched a campaign of black propaganda against Turkey questioning these topics? In fact, Kerry accusing Turkey of purchasing oil from ISIS in 2014, and these allegations being denied by Turkish Intelligence, and Kerry apologizing, demonstrates the black propaganda against Turkey in the best way possible. As a matter of fact, no one has yet been able to prove their claims despite the fact that Turkey has requested proof from all prosecution authorities. Like many examples we can count, Turkey is fighting against the terrorist organizations both inside and out. However, the forces that can not achieve success against Turkey through terror continue their attacks via the economy these days. Turkey will continue to fight against terrorism and its supporters on every front, hand in hand with its government and its people.

3.) On the one hand, Turkey is fighting against terrorism, while the new constitution is on parliament for voting. Why does Turkey need this administration that is defined as a Turkish presidential system?

As the whole world witnessed, Turkey faced an invasion attempt on July 15th. I call it an invasion attempt, because the coups are usually done against failed governments or as a result of political crises. However, on July 15, there was neither a failed government nor a political crisis in Turkey. For that reason, on 15 July, the Turkish people wanted to be suppressed, to be forced into a psychological crisis, and to get rid of the achievements made during AK Party governments. Therefore, any initiative that aims these is an invasion.

The July 15th issue once again revealed that the current system in Turkey is not sufficient. On the other hand, both in our region and in the world, very rapid changes are taking place. According to these changes, Turkey wants to be among the top ten countries of the world within the scope of its 2023 targets. However, it is becoming more clear every day that it is not possible to reach these targets with the current system. For this reason, Turkey put a system in its agenda that would enable the country to take big steps in a short time instead of the existing system which is a multi-headed system. This system, which is expressed as a Turkish presidential system, has been prepared in accordance with the dynamics of Turkey after extensive researches that have been done on all the precedent systems in the world. It will enter into force after it has been submitted to the public through referendum once the articles have been accepted in parliament.

The new system brings with it a lot more innovation that will strengthen our country, especially stronger and more effective legislative control, and a single, stronger governing power at every election. The following data alone are sufficient to reveal the need for a new system in our country? From 29 October 1923 to today, we have had 65 governments in 93 years. The average lifetime of a government was seventeen months. Now I ask you, which government can implement solid and concrete services in seventeen months? Is it possible to develop and grow a country where government changes are taking place in such a short period of time?

As the AK Party, the new system we want to bring to life with the support of MHP means that Turkey will fly with its own wings. Turkey will continue on its path in a completely independent and strong manner in all respects. In this respect, especially the perception of the CHP, the opposition party, that the regime is being changed does not reflect any truth. As AK Party never had a problem with the regime, it is the political party that has served the country the most and has been committed to Turkey according to its founding principles. With the new system that will enter our lives together with the support of our people, Turkey will have a chance to implement big projects in a short time.

4.) A new era is beginning in the US with Trump. Again in the EU, a new process is on its way with Brexit. For various reasons, it seems that Turkey’s relationship with both sides is having problems at the moment. What are your views on that?

When he started his duty, Mr. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım declared that the basic philosophy of Turkish foreign policy would be the strategy of “increasing friends, reducing enemies”. In fact, this understanding was a strategy that began under the leadership of Erdoğan, from the day AK party came to power. As a matter of fact, this strategy found a very important response both in the region and in the west. On one side, Turkey settled its problems with the countries in the region one by one, and on the other side, it made important progress by sitting on the negotiating table with the EU. Relations with the United States continued at a strategic level. However, today, Turkey’s relations with the US and the EU are undergoing a serious test period. This process is a process of sincerity in relationships.

If we assess this situation in terms of EU, as Turkey acted with all its sincerity in accordance with the EU acquis, every time the EU countries came up with new barriers with excuses. Despite the fact that Turkey made the effort to implement all the criteria brought before Turkey, the EU has asked to change our legislation of fight against terrorism, which means intervening our internal affairs. With this demands, the EU shows that it doesn’t want Turkey to fight terrorism, and that it wants us to tolerate terrorism. This is unacceptable in any country of the world. Because every state is obliged to protect its people and must take necessary measures to eliminate all kinds of threats. The EU states, on July 15, unfortunately did not demonstrate a strong will, and chose to move according to the result. This attitude is a shame for those that claim that democracy is their principle.

On top of all these, the EU is also embracing terrorist organizations. Because of their contacts with the terrorist organizations, only 9 of the 219 names we requested from the EU countries were taken action on, and they were not handed over despite the agreements between us. Members of the PKK, PYD, PDY (FETO), YPG and DHKP/C terrorist organizations are living comfortably in EU capitals. They can carry out all sorts of activities. Although the PKK is considered a terrorist organization by EU countries, it can open tents in front of the EU Parliament. The EU has failed in the combat against ISIS. It is not sincere. Therefore, it is not possible for us to talk about the improvement of the relations without the EU countries being sincere and honest with Turkey. As Islamophobia increases day by day in the EU, it is not possible for Turkey to remain silent while there is discrimination between terrorism. For this reason, the EU should decide as soon as possible as to whom it will act together with.

The same situation is also true for United States. Unfortunately, the Obama administration will be remembered by dragging the geography of the Middle East into chaos and probably as the most unsuccessful period in US history. Just like the EU countries, the US did not establish a sincere attitude towards its relations with Turkey. On July 15th, the ringleader of the FETO terrorist organization, which has entered an occupation attempt in Turkey, is welcomed with all kinds of compliments in the US. Obama administration decided not to hear us despite the tens of thousands of evidence we have submitted. USA is the center of the FETÖ terrorist organization. The support of the US administration to terrorism is not limited to this. The US also provides all kinds of support to the terrorist organizations PYD/YPG engaging in all sorts of terror acts in Syria. There are thousands of evidences demonstrating this. Again, unfortunately, the warnings of Turkey are not taken into consideration. It is

necessary to make this clear at this point. As much as the regime and the terrorist organizations that kill innocent civilians in Syria and Iraq are guilty, the countries who think of gaining advantage from the crisis and not raising their voice are equally guilty. For this reason, with the policies they follow, both the EU countries and the US are guilty. As Turkey, we hope that both sides will soon return from the wrong politics they follow. They should know that EU and USA are not indispensable for Turkey. If a public opinion survey was to be conducted in Turkey today, the result would reflect that a great majority of Turkish people would not want to join the EU, and they believe the US supports terrorist organizations. We can not say anything beyond our good wishes for the time being since we don’t know much about the politics that Trump will pursue.


* FEVZI ŞANVERDI is the AK Party’s vice president for foreign affairs

(The Interview is exclusive for Middle East Observer)