Turkey and the Durban II conference: Above all there is silence

By Daniella Kuzmanovic

While my fellow bloggers have called attention to the Iranian and Arab reactions to the Durban II conference in Geneva, I have refrained from writing anything on Turkey. The reason is obvious: The Durban II conference has been bypassed in almost complete silence by the Turkish press at large, by columnists, as well as by Turkish politicians. Apart from reporting on the speech by Iranian president Ahmedinejad and the reactions it caused, the Durban II conference has simply been a non-issue. One column by pro-Islamic writer and thinker Ali Bulaç in Zaman 24.4.09 (http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/yazarDetay.do?haberno=173358) seems to be the exception that proves the rule. Instead, other domestic policy related issues including among other a speech by the Commander in chief, economic crisis, Turkish-Armenian relations, Ergenekon related weapon finds, Northern Cyprus elections, and a possible reshuffle of the cabinet are obviously of more pressing concern.

Considering that Turkish government, including prime minister Erdoğan himself, has put some effort into becoming the new best friend of the Muslim world, the lack of comments on the Durban II conference by Turkish political establishment deserves a few notes, though. One of two issues at the centre of the Durban II conference is the Palestinian question and the possibilities of a critique of Israel. Most probably recall the showdown in Davos earlier this year, where prime minister Erdoğan walked out during a session on the Gaza situation after having called the Israelis ‘killers’, and having complained that he was only allowed a few minutes for comments while the Israeli representative, president Peres, was able to speak for a lot longer. Subsequently Erdoğan was hailed as a hero at home and in a range of Arab countries. Moreover, Erdoğan also articulated the sentiments of a range of Muslim countries when Turkey displayed strong concerns regarding the choice of Mr. Rasmussen as general secretary of NATO.

Turkey, alongside most UN countries apart from Iran, has only been represented by their diplomatic UN staff at the Durban II conference. In addition to this, it has not gone unnoticed in Turkey that the OIC secretary-general, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (a Turk!), would be attending the Durban II conference. One could suggest several reasons why the Durban II conference is not really given much attention by Turkish policy makers and thus not by the Turkish press either:

          Turkey, more specifically prime minister Erdoğan, is one of two founders of the UN supported Alliance of Civilizations initiative, and would rather that this is the forum in which issues concerning the Muslim world, freedom of speech and of religion is debated

          Turkey is at present member of the UN Security Council and see little benefit in creating further tensions by profiling themselves in a forum which is much less significant and boycotted by among other the US. Not least since the new US president is seemingly interested in making Turkey a key ally in a new, dialogue-oriented foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asian regions.

          If Turkey were to stand out with critical remarks at the Durban II conference they would be associated with the outbursts of president Ahmedinejad, which would damage their image as oriented towards dialogue and building bridges rather than burning them. The grand ole man of Turkish pro-Islamism, and the one who AKP has broken away from, Necmettin Erbakan, actually visited Ahmedinejad only days before the Durban II conference started. The AKP will probably make an effort to avoid this kind of association

More reasons could surely be listed. Feel free to add…

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