Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Journey to Turkey

A Journey to Turkey

Ali Asghar Kazemi
September 2006


Turkish New Outlook

For the second time this year 2006, I had the opportunity to attend an international conference in Turkey. The first “Congress” was in Istanbul magnificent city, known as the gate of the West or the bridge connecting Asia to Europe. Though it was not the first time I visited the “City of Minarets,” the academic environment of the 1st International Turkish-Asian Congress, organized by the Turkish –Asian Center for Strategic Studies (TASAM), May 25-26, 2006, demonstrated a different aspect and image of the new Turkey, not necessarily overshadowed by Turkish glorious past, but as a flourishing modern state emerging amid the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

The second International Congress, hosted by the Kocaeli University, September 18-21, 2006, on Social Political and Economic Transition in the Turkic Republics of the former Soviet Union, confirmed the fact that indeed Turkey is on the path of resurging as a great regional power with a broad global vision. That is to say, while Turkey has been looking to the West for fulfilling the old dream of a modern secular state, at the same time it is earnestly pursuing an insightful strategy to the East, where it seeks its cultural and historical roots.

Turkish interests to the East seem to be first for conquering minds and hearts of those who were long subjugated by a brutal imperialist regime. For almost 70 years the Caucasus and Central Asian nations were totally denied of their rich cultural and historical heritage. Indeed, investing in these types of conferences and international gatherings will serve dual purposes: On the one hand, it would prepare a forum for exchange of views among scholars and academics of various countries. On the other hand, the product of these conferences will benefit Turkish strategists and politicians to acquire a better understanding of the new geo-strategic environment in order to direct their endeavor to taking advantage of the immense economic opportunities created in this vast region after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Turkish Modernity and Persian Melancholy

It is well to remember that Turkey and Iran have both had a long history of struggle for change and development. During the nineteenth century, Westernization had gone further in the Ottoman Empire than in other Asian independent sovereign states except Japan. In the Islamic world, Persia and Afghanistan lagged behind Turkey. While Turkey, as a state inherited from the old Ottoman Empire, was the first nation in Asia to look outward to the West and establish contact with European modern civilization, Persia was the first nation in the Moslem world to experience its constitutional revolution exactly one hundred years ago in1906.

In fact, at the beginning of the first decade of the 20th century, Turkey and Persia experienced decisive socio-political upheavals which led to fresh revolutions. Persia was the first to make the would-be democratic revolution. This event was not so much because the influence of Westernizing reformers but as to the extreme decadence of the reigning Kajar dynasty. Unfortunately, the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906 did not fulfill the expected goals and objectives of the people, but paved the way for the ascendance to political power of Pahlavi dynasty.

Persia became important to the West only when oil was found early in the 20th century. Perhaps this God-given resource was the main cause of Iranian vicissitudes during the past century which impeded this old nation from embarking on the path of self-sustained economy. Too much reliance on oil revenues not only hampered any effort for economic development but also inhibited the nation from establishing appropriate democratic institutions as necessary prerequisite for social and political development.

However, the revolution of the “Young Turks” in 1907 subsequently led to the emergence of radically reforming Kemalists, who after the First World War got rid of the Ottoman dynasty, disestablished Islam as the state religion and made the Turks change their scripture with Latin alphabet. From an economic perspective, the Turks in a way were fortunate not to possess natural resources such as gas and oil. Therefore, they had to rely on their limited resources, individual hard work, collective efforts and above all establishing good relations with the West in the road to progress.

The interesting thing is that Iranian leaders of the new Persia (Iran) wanted to follow the Turkish pattern for development and modernization but unfortunately they missed one important point in their comparison with Turkey; that is the existence of oil which worked against a true national endeavor for progress. Lack of democratic institutions and tendency towards authoritarian rule and corruption, common features of all “rentier states” finally led to another social upheaval whose outcome was the 1979 revolution which gave way to the establishment of a clergy rule in Iran.

Turkey and Iran, as two Moslem nations, have both realized that they are condemned to go for progress in this complicated world of interdependency. But while Turkey is earnestly looking outward to fulfill this dream by opting a secular approach to modernity and development, Iran is still struggling between pragmatism and fundamentalism. Future history will judge which approach is workable and tenable for development.

A Note of Appreciation

My Turkish friends and colleagues, especially Professor Dr. Bekir Gunay
(Congress Coordinator) have been more than kinds in inviting me to the Congress and to deliver the opening speech the first day of the Conference in the Council Hall of Kocaeli Metropolitan Municipality. I am also especially grateful to Mr. Ibrahim Karaosmanoglu, Honorable Mayor of Kocaeli Metropolitan Municipality as well as Professor Dr. Mehmet Saray, Chairman of Attaturk Research Center for giving me the honor of ribbon cutting inauguration ceremony of Exhibition of Ottoman Firmans and Documents at the Green Park Hotel and Resorts, Ottoman Hall on the evening of September 18, 2006.

I had also the privilege of presenting my main paper on the “New Dimensions of Terrorism” during the Plenary Session devoted to the topic: Central Asia between the Clash and Agreement of Civilization.

On the last day of the Congress I chaired the session devoted to: Great Powers and Central Asia. Finally, I was called upon to join the Concluding Panel Ceremony in the Grand Hall where I delivered a speech on the evaluation of the Congress. I was also most surprised when after the second night entertainment with Turkish Classical Music when I was called upon to present the Congress Certificate to the Lady leader of Turkish Orchestra. In a short speech I mentioned that this is the dialogue of civilization par excellence since we don’t need to understand Turkish language in order to enjoy and appreciate the lovely melodies of Turkish Classical Music.

In conclusion, the Kocaeli conference was quite timely and well organized and the presentations and discussions were substantive and very informative. I was really impressed by the academic quality and caliber of Turkish Scholars, professors and researchers; although some of them are still mired by a sense of Turkish nationalism and need to overcome language barrier in order to better communicate with their peers.

I should also mention here about the enthusiasm and dynamism of young Turkish students of the Faculty of Political Science and International Relations of the Kocaeli University in charge of administration and public relations of the Congress for whom I have a lot of appreciations and affections. Their gracious attitude, assistance and kindness will remain in memory.

I wish all the success for my Turkish colleagues and friends for their warmth and sincere hospitality which were truly beyond expectation. I hope I will have the opportunity to meet them here in Iran or in other parts of the world some day in the future. /

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