2014-04-15

Turkey seeks greater influence in the developing world

Experts say the UN's Alliance of Civilisations is one way Turkey contributes to peace and co-operation.

By Didem Tali for SES Türkiye -- 15/04/14

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Turkey is hoping to play a greater role as a broker of international peace and co-operation in the Middle East through the UN's Alliance of Civilisations and other bodies.

  • Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke at the recent Alliance of Civilisations meeting in New York. Experts say the organisation fosters international peace and co-operation. [AFP]

    Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke at the recent Alliance of Civilisations meeting in New York. Experts say the organisation fosters international peace and co-operation. [AFP]

  • The Emir of Qatar Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani (left), his wife Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned (centre) and Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the fifth Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilisations. [AFP]

    The Emir of Qatar Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani (left), his wife Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned (centre) and Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the fifth Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilisations. [AFP]

Turkey's historical and cultural ties to neighbouring regions give it the influence necessary to facilitate peace and development, said Mehmet Akif Okur, international relations professor at Ankara's Gazi University.

"Turkey is a leading figure of an alternative soft power in many areas that were traditionally dominated by the Western world, and can therefore act as an important conciliator to ease many conflicts and tensions," Okur told SES Türkiye. "Because of its position, Turkey shouldn't be a part of the on-going conflict discourse."

The UN's Alliance of Civilisations was founded in 2005 to promote sustainable international development, peace and action against extremism through international, inter-religious, and inter-cultural understanding. The organisation was proposed by then Prime Minister of Spain Jose Ruiz Rodriguez Zapatero and was backed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in order to reduce antagonism between Western and Islamic societies.

Vahdettin Isik is institute secretary of the Alliance of Civilisations Institute at Istanbul-based Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakif University, which was founded to provide the Alliance with academic staff and research. According to Isik, within a short time there has been substantial progress in promoting intercultural dialogue through humanitarian aid and economic relations.

"In recent years, with the accumulation of energy and development of human resources in our country, important ties with many African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries were established and some historic ties were revitalised," Isik told SES Türkiye.

"Even considering the fact that the distances have been shortened in our modern world, the speed of these developments was positively surprising. Through the languages of economics and humanitarian aid, there was a serious progress in our relations with many African countries. I believe that these relationships will get deeper in the next two decades."

The Alliance reflects growing Turkish engagement in the developing world. Turkey's aid and development assistance budget reached almost $3.5 billion in 2012, an increase from $85 million in 2002. Ankara has especially stepped up involvement in Africa, opening dozens of new embassies and boosting economic ties. Turkey-Africa trade leapt from $9 billion in 2005 to $23 billion in 2012. Officials hope to increase it to $50 billion by next year.

The Turkish International Co-operation and Development Agency (TIKA), founded in 1992, is considered an important arm of Turkish soft power as it continues its activities in various areas such as health, education, agriculture, water sanitation, housing, governance, and cultural co-operation on five continents. It accelerated its activities after 2012, increasing the number of its worldwide co-ordination offices to 33 in 2012, up from 12 in 2002.

Furthermore, in 2011, the Istanbul Program of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the decade of 2011-2020 was agreed to by the UN. It aims to overcome the structural challenges faced by the least developed countries, to eradicate poverty, achieve internationally agreed development goals, and enable half of the 48 least developed countries to graduate out of this category by 2020.

Saban Kardas, president of the Centre of Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, said Turkey's attempt to rejuvenate relations with its neighbours is a positive development. However, he added that Turkey should deepen ties with countries beyond its immediate region.

"Turkey is in a very crucial strategic position when it comes to helping the least developed countries grow and prosper. However, Turkey alone cannot tackle such an enormous task. There needs to be a stronger co-operation with other countries, and local priorities should be identified," he told SES Türkiye.

Economic means alone are not sufficient for building peace and co-operation, according to Kardas.

"Giving aid alone isn't enough. Principle problems with economic development should be examined, and areas such as infrastructure and security should be invested in," he said.

Okur warned that current domestic and international tensions could hinder Turkey's progress in building ties with other countries.

"Turkey resolving its own tensions would also reflect positive to this process," he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoglu raised the importance of international sustainable development, peace, and mutual co-operation in his speech at the Alliance of Civilisation's recent meeting in New York.

"Under-development should not be a destiny for any country," Davutoglu said, adding that violence has undermined progress toward development.

The sixth Alliance of Civilisations forum is to be held in Indonesia in August, bringing together representatives of 114 countries and 28 international organisations from a range of civilisations. Emphasising the importance of culture and diversity as an element of the post-2015 development agenda, the forum is expected to review the Alliance's Strategic Plan for the period of 2013-2018 in the hope of promoting intercultural tolerance and understanding.

How do you assess the Alliance's efforts to foster peace and stability? Share your thoughts in the comments area.

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