The Turkish-New Zealand Link

By Kennedy, Ian | New Zealand International Review, November 2000 | Go to article overview

The Turkish-New Zealand Link


Kennedy, Ian, New Zealand International Review


Ian Kennedy discusses New Zealand's relationship with Turkey and suggests a number of opportunities for closer ties.

In terms of geographical location, Turkey lies at the crossroads of East and West -- a theatre for pilgrims, traders and armies over the years. Its strategic importance remains today as a gateway to Europe, through its Customs Union agreement with the European Union, and to the Balkans, Central Asia, Russia and the Middle East. Turkey is also a major economy in its own right, ranking twenty-second in the world in terms of recorded GNP. And that is not the full picture -- 50 per cent can be added for other business activity that goes unrecorded. In the major commercial centres of Istanbul, Izmir and Adana, big business operates at a level of sophistication matching any in the world. This is in contrast to much lower levels of industrial development in the south-east of the country. Elsewhere, often behind unprepossessing shop fronts, you will find small and medium-sized entrepreneurs trading globally by Internet and conventional means. It is a country of considerable diversity and dynamism with a large population of whom about 50 per cent are aged 35 years or less. Just to complete the picture, Turkey is a committed member of NATO and a secular Moslem country, resolutely opposed to Islamic fundamentalism.

The importance of Turkey has been recognised by the United States for all these reasons. In addressing the Turkish Grand National Assembly in November last year, President Clinton remarked: `Turkey's past is key to understanding the 20th century. But, more importantly, I believe Turkey's future will be critical to shaping the 21st century.' Israel, too, has recognised the importance of Turkey. And naturally enough, ties between Turkey, the United States and Israel have widened and expanded strongly in recent years with economic, political and security dimensions. This is watched closely by Turkey's neighbours in the Middle East, while Europe has been ambivalent about how to deal with its eastern-most and largest Mediterranean neighbour.

Most EU member states are keen to encourage what is called a European perspective for Turkey, but the matter is not straightforward. In addition to rivalry with Greece and concerns about human rights, freedom of expression and recognition of minorities, European countries worry about how they would cope with possibly large scale inward migration from Turkey (already 2 million Turks, many of Kurdish ethnic origin, are living in Germany) and the likely high financial demands that would be placed on the EU agricultural budget if Turkey became a member. Against this backdrop, the decision taken by the European Union to recognise Turkey as a candidate for membership was a significant step.

Different futures

Looking ahead, it is possible to imagine two very different futures over the next generation. Without too much trouble, a pessimist might foresee a dark future, a Middle East with the peace process shattered, Saddam Hussein's aggression unchecked, democracy collapsed in Central Asia, more violence in the Balkans, and extremism and terror spreading across the region with the potential to explode on a global scale drawing in New Zealand.

But there is another version -- a brighter future, one that requires Turkey playing a leading role, contributing to a future of rising prosperity and declining conflict and one in which nations that are predominantly Muslim are increasingly partners with nations that are not, acting in concert to realise the shared hopes of their people.

New Zealand's interests lie very squarely in the second version -- in a Western orientated and democratic Turkey as a force for stability in the region and the world.

New Zealand's contacts with Turkey began in conflict on the battlefields of Gallipoli in 1915. At that stage, our troops were under British command and Turkey lay within the Ottoman Empire. …

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