Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Conference Explores Turkey Domestically and Internationally

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Conference Explores Turkey Domestically and Internationally

Article excerpt

The Middle East Institute (MEI) hosted its third annual conference on Turkey June 27 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The day-long conference featured speeches and panels that explored the array of domestic and international issues facing Turkey today.

John McCain Gives Keynote Address

A keynote speech by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) kicked offthe conference. He began by describing his "life-long affinity" for Turkey and its history, adding that the success of the modern Turkish state stems from the country's rich heritage.

"We Americans need to realize we're dealing with a different Turkey," McCain said, explaining that Turkey is a dynamic and modern state, secular at its core, but with a growing population "who want greater freedom to express their identity as Muslims." Americans should not view either of these movements as inherently bad, McCain argued.

Nevertheless, McCain was not hesitant to criticize Turkey's human rights record. "It is widely reported that there are more journalists in Turkey than in any other country, and that intimidation of the media is a persistent problem," he said. The Arizona senator, often accompanied on his travels by his Israel-first colleague Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), addressed Ankara's relations with its former ally Israel following the latter's 2010 attack in international waters on the Mavi Marmara: "The recent deterioration of Turkey's relationship with Israel cannot serve any responsible interest," McCain said, "and it is especially painful for us, as we count on both Israel and Turkey as vital allies."

McCain went on to describe Turkey's role in providing humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees as crucial. In light of Syria's shooting down of a Turkish air force plane, he stressed the need for some sort of U.S. intervention. "The United States needs to devote a fuller measure of its power to help end the conflict in Syria as soon as possible," he stated.

While McCain did not specify exactly how the U.S. should intervene, he argued that it should do so "...not just because it is the right thing to do, and not just because it will be a strategic defeat for Iran, but because it can help to consolidate a new kind of relationship with Turkey...It can show the Turkish people...that America is willing to take risks for the sake of their security."

McCain ended his speech much as he began it, reiterating that Turkey's dynamic geopolitical role in the region cannot be underestimated. Citizens in Arab Spring countries are "looking to Turkey to guide their own struggles for justice," he said, and cited the recent increase in Turkish defense spending as evidence of the country's role as a leader in the region. Increased cooperation and openness between Turkey and the U.S. could result in nothing but success, he assured his audience.

International Relations

Next to speak was Turkey's Ambassador to the U.S. Namik Tan, who emphasized the close relationship between his country and the U.S. "Our two great nations are working daily, almost hourly...to achieve our common interests," he said.

With regard to Syria, the ambassador stressed that his country has "been consistent from the beginning....We emphasized the need for freedom, justice and democracy." However, he lamented, "I regret to say that our neighbor Syria has failed miserably." Its downing of a Turkish jet has brought the situation "to a critical mass," Tan said, and Ankara's stance toward Syria has changed as a result. "We now regard the Syrian regime as a visible threat to our security," he stated.

Turning to another of Turkey's neighbors, Iraq-a country that had been a point of contention in U.S.-Turkish relations-Tan remarked hopefully, "Our Iraqi brothers are now in charge of their own destiny." He emphasized Iraq's significance, explaining, "No other country in the region has the humanitarian and natural wealth Iraq does." He urged caution, however, expressing, "Our profound concern. …

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