The Middle East and Relations with Islamic Co-untries: The Republic of Turkey attaches great importance to cooperation and relations with Islamic countries in accordance with its multifaceted foreign policy. Turkey is a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and plays an active role in the OIC.
The Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Center (SESRTCIC), an OIC affiliate set up to ensure prompt and accurate flow of mutual information with the objective of developing economic relations among Islamic countries, operates in Ankara. The Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture, another important affiliate of the OIC, operates in İstanbul.
The Standing Committee on Economic and Trade Cooperation (COMCEC), one of the three standing committees of the OIC, has been functioning under the chairmanship of the President of Turkey since 1984. This committee, monitoring the implementation of resolutions adopted in the economic and commercial fields and exploring avenues of furthering cooperation among OIC members, holds its annual meetings in İstanbul.
During the 11th Islamic Summit held in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, on March 13th-14th, 2008, Prof. Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, who had taken over OIC Secretary General mission on January 1st, 2005, was unanimously re-elected to the chair for a period to extend until the end of 2013.
The New OIC understanding accepted in the Dakar summit has brought the OIC principles, in line with the universal values, as much as possible and specified the basic principles for the Organisation to institutionalize. As the most evident step, Committee of Permanent Repre-sentatives was formed.
The Islamic Countries’ Foreign Ministries Conference and the OIC Foreign Ministries coordination meetings are held every year. So far, Turkey has hosted three Foreign Ministries meetings hold by OIC. In March 2008, Prof. Mahmut Erol Kılıç was elected as the Secretary General of the Islamic Organisation Union of Parliaments (OICUP) for a period of four years. This orga-nization operates to provide coordination and cooperation between the parliaments of the member countries.
The basis of Turkey’s Middle East policy is the establishment of peace, security, stability and prosperity to the people in the region, as well as increased and enhanced cooperation with the countries in this part of the globe.
Palestine-Israel: Turkey supports settlement of the Palestine-Israel and the Arab-Israeli disputes which are the source of the problems in the Middle East.
Seing its importance in opening the way to negotiations after seven years, Turkey has given support by participating in the Middle East Conference held in Annapolis, USA, on November 27th, 2007.
Turkey supports the Palestinian people with whom they have historic and cultural links, and all their just causes including self determination and right to have their own state. Having recognized the Palestine Liberal Organization (PLO) in 1975, and the Palestine State which was announced in exile on November 15th, 1988, Turkey established contact with the Palestine National Administration (PNA), established in 1996 after the 1991 Madrid Peace conference.
As part of its support given to Palestine, Turkey announced a Palestine Economic and Social Action Plan on December 24th, 2003. In May 2004 a coordinator was assigned and during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to the region on May 1st and 2nd, 2005, the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) opened an office.
Aid in kind and aid in money provided to Palestine between 1995 and 2006 amounted to 30 million USD. Turkey provides courses and training to Palestine security forces and health personnel, as well as higher education grants to Palestinian students.
Turkey has also been providing personnel, since January 21st, 1997, for the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), an international observation force stationed in Hebron on May 8th, 1994, under agreements between Israel and the Palestinian administration. Also, at the “International Benefactors for Palestine State Conference” held in Paris on December 17th, 2007, Turkey confirmed its donation of 150 million USD towards establishing an economic and institutional infrastructure, within the frame of the Palestine Reforming and Deve-lopment Plan, which covers the period 2008-2010.
Another of Turkey’s objective contributions to the efforts to establishpeace is the Ankara Forum, established in 2005 under the leadership of Turkey (TOBB-The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey), with the participation of Israel (Union of Manufacturers of Israel) and Palestine (Federation of Chambers of Commerce of Palestine). The forum, which has held seven meetings so far, has developed an “industry for peace” project, which aims at re-constructing the Palestine Industrial Free Zone and creating employment for 6 thousand Palestinians.
Agreement texts regarding this project were signed by the parties during the visit of Abdullah Gül, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and deputy prime minister at the time, to Israel and to Palestine on January 4th-5th, 2006. Unfor-tunately, following developments after the Gaza strip came under the control of Hamas in June, 2007, the project has been put on hold. Works have started for a similar project to be developed for the West Bank.
During the last meeting of the Forum held in Ankara on November 13th, 2007, a decision to establishm a Tarkumiye Industrial Zone in Hebron was made and signed by Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Israeli President Shimon Peres and PNA President Mahmud Abbas. This project, which has been elected among the four projects worthy of support by the representative of the Middle East Quartet, Tony Blair, aims at creating employment, attracting investments to the region and developing regional economy in the medium and long term.
Following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Turkey recognized this new state, right after its UN membership and started diplomatic relations in 1950. Later on, political, economic, technological, scientific and military relations between Turkey and Israel developed quite rapidly. Presently, Turkish-Israeli cooperation does not target any country and may constitute a model for the whole region if conditions return to normalcy in this part of the world.
The historical roots of Turkish-Jewish relations date back to 1492, when the Ottoman Turks welcomed Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain. During World War II, Turkey once again opened its doors to many Jews escaping the Holocaust.
Lebanon: In July 2006, following the outbreak of war between Lebanon and Israel, aid provided by Turkey to help the country’s reconstruction exceeded 50 million USD. In addition, Turkey gave financial aid to UNRWA for Palestinian refugees in the Nahr El Bared camp, near Tripoli, who had been affected by clashes in the summer of 2007, and also sent food to the camp. Having contributed to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Turkey continues attempts to overcome the political crisis in Lebanon.
Right before the Annapolis Conference, official visits to Turkey were made by Israeli President Peres and PNA President Abbas, on November 11th-13th, 2007 and November 12th-13th, 2007, respectively. The speeches made during these visits before the general assembly of TGNA, have a historic significance, in the sense that the Israeli and Palestininan Presidents addressed a foreign parliament the first time. One of the priorities of Turkey’s foreign policy is to establish peace and stability in the geography it shares with the Arab world. As the world and the Middle East pass through a very sensitive phase, constant dialogue and cooperation between Turkey and the Arab world are of paramount importance vis-à-vis regional stability. In this regard, Turkey attaches particular importance to political consultation mechanisms with many Arab countries for a regular exchange of views on bilateral and regional matters. Turkey also explores the possibilities for new venues of cooperation with the Gulf and north-western African countries and maintains increasing reciprocal contacts and visits at all levels. Turkey’s constructive policy during the Iraq War has also created positive repercussions in the public opinion of Arab nations. The Turkish-Arab Cooperation Forum Frame Agreement signed on November 2nd, 2007 in İstanbul, aims at institutionalizing relations, on the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding signed on September 22nd, 2004 for developing dialogue, cooperation and coordination on regional and international issues with the Arab League.
Syria: Turkey’s relations with Syria, based on mutual interest and bilateral benefits, have rapidly developed during the last few years. Within this frame, there were corresponding visits in 2007 of Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Valid Muallem, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Babacan, Syrian President Beşar Esad and President Abdullah Gül. These visits contributed to an investigation of the possibilities of increasing the bilateral relations between the two countries, and cooperation on regional issues.
Iraq: Preservation of the territorial integrity and national unity of Iraq, a neighboring country with which Turkey has rooted historical, social and cultural ties as well as political and economic relations, is of great importance for peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East. This is among the primary priorities of Turkish foreign policy.
With the change of the regime in 2003 following the US invasion, a new era began for the Iraqi people. The priority targets of Turkish foreign policy concerning this new era in Iraq comprise the development of a culture of coexistence in peace and harmony and the establishment of friendly relations with its neighbors by all segments of the Iraqi society, the formation of a new representative and democratic political order encompassing all the people, increasing the level of welfare of all the people of Iraq through utilization of the rich economic potential of the country, the reinforcement of political and economic relations among regional countries, and the preservation of the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq by all segments of Iraqi society as well as the international community.
In the Iraqi regime, it is important to give priority to the common interests of the Iraqi people rather than to ethnical and sectarian considerations. Turkey maintains contacts with all segments of Iraqi society and gives them constructive advices with the objective of helping them establish unity and harmony among themselves. The Turkish Consulate-General in Mosul began to operate in 2007 and a Basra Consulate is planned to be opened in 2008. During the meeting of international donors in 2003, Turkey pledged to extend 50 million USD in aid to be used on the basis of bilateral projects. In order to establish stability in Iraq, Turkey is also very keen to maintain a close dialogue with the countries of the region, with the international organizations it has joined and with other elements of the international community. In this respect, the neighbouring countries concept, introduced by Turkey, has turned into an international plat-form. So far, ten official and four unofficial neighbouring countries’ Foreign Affairs Ministers meetings have beenheld. The Extended Neighbouring Countries’ Foreign Affairs Ministers Meetings were held twice in 2007, once in Sharm el Sheikh and once in İstanbul. The last one was held in Kuwait, with the participation of countries like Turkey, France and England, at Foreign Affairs Ministers’ level.
The visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Babacan to Bagdad on October 23rd, 2007 is of great importance, due to this being the first visit after 2003 made to Iraq at Ministerial level. During the visit paid by Iraqi President Celal Talabani on March 7th-8th, 2008, a common will was put forward for initiating comprehensive and new cooperation between the two countries.