Turkey will maintain its active foreign policy and stand with oppressed nations in line with its national and international interests, the country’s president told a major ruling party convention on Wednesday.
Situated at the crossroads of Africa, Asia, and Europe, Turkey does not have the luxury of turning its back on either the East or West, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, adding that it will set its foreign policy while protecting its own national and international rights.
Speaking at the 7th Grand Ordinary Congress of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in the capital Ankara, Erdogan commented on a range of issues such as Turkey’s development under his party, the economy, and foreign policy.
Despite previously having a limited presence in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, Turkey has recently strengthened and diversified its outreach and adopted new policies in these regions, Erdogan said, adding that Turkey’s foreign mission representatives worldwide surged significantly over the past two decades, rising from 163 in 2002 to 251 as of 2021.
"From the US to Russia, the European Union to the Arab region, we will continue to shape our relations with all countries in line with Turkey's interests and the expectations of our nation," he said.
"We are among the world's top five countries with the most widespread foreign mission network," he said, stressing that Ankara can resolve any issue with countries that respect Turkey's national interests.
In recent months, Turkey has taken a milder tone in its foreign relations, and Erdogan said the country would win over more friends in the international arena and turn the region into a region of peace.
Stressing that Turkish assistance to war-weary Libya improved the situation for its people, Erdogan said now Libya can continue its democratic process and look to the future with hope.
Following the March 10 vote of confidence for new Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, Libyans hope to end the years of civil war that have engulfed the country since the ouster of late strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011.
- Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh
While Turkey remains one of the countries most affected by the Syrian civil war, as it hosts over 3.6 million displaced Syrians, more than any other country in the world, it will continue to stand with Syrians, said Erdogan.
“Turkey will continue its efforts, continue to stand by the Syrian people until Syria truly becomes a country run by Syrians,” he added. "While the whole world turned its back on the oppressed in Syria, we opened our hearts."
Erdogan added the Syrian regime, as well as Daesh/ISIS and the terrorist YPG/PKK, shed blood in the country, but Turkey, with its cross-border anti-terror operations, prevented the killing of millions of people at hands of the Assad regime and terror groups and did its best to ensure regional peace and stability.
"We provided sincere and constructive support to efforts to ensure political unity and territorial integrity in the country," he added.
Since 2016, Turkey has launched a trio of successful anti-terrorist operations across its border in northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and enable peaceful settlement by locals: Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018) and Peace Spring (2019).
Syria has been ravaged by a civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down with unexpected ferocity on pro-democracy protesters.
On last year’s conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (Upper Karabakh), which ended with Azerbaijan liberating considerable territory from Armenian occupation, Erdogan said that the three-member Minsk group had been tasked with resolving the conflict, but instead only made it more complicated.
Erdogan said Turkey stood with Azerbaijan in its efforts to liberate territories under occupation.
During the 44-day conflict, which ended in a truce on Nov. 10, 2020, Azerbaijan liberated several cities and nearly 300 settlements and villages in Karabakh from a nearly three-decade occupation.
Before the victory, about 20% of Azerbaijan's territory had been under illegal occupation.
In recent years Turkey has inflicted heavy blows on terror groups, especially the PKK, making them incapable of mounting terror attacks within Turkish territories, according to Erdogan.
Turkey has also made progress against the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) – the group behind the 2016 defeated coup – and Daesh/ISIS, he said.
In its more than 35-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK – listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, and the EU – has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants. The YPG is the terrorist PKK’s Syrian branch.
- The economy
Touching on recent market fluctuations, Erdogan said they do not reflect the potential of the Turkish economy.
Turkish stocks and the country’s local currency lost ground this week following the weekend dismissal of Central Bank Governor Naci Agbal.
The president urged the public to put their gold and foreign currency assets into use with economy and production, while calling on international investors to trust in Turkey's strength and potential.
“In the coming days, we will reach a much better position by expanding the Turkish economy in terms of investment, production, employment, and exports,” Erdogan said.
Touting the tourism sector, one of the country’s main sources of income, Erdogan stressed that Turkey closed out 2020 with 16 million tourists and $12.4 billion revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We will continue proceeding through the target of 75 million tourists in the coming period,” he added.
- Call for new constitution
Touching on the need for a new constitution, Erdogan said a new civilian constitution for Turkey is inevitable, in light of both national history and the evolving global context.
“We want a constitution that our nation wants to be ruled by,” he stressed, adding that Turkey’s current constitution – largely the holdover from a 1980 coup – has lost its validity.
Underlining that the new constitution should be a constitution of the people, not putschists or a tutelage regime, he said that they want to make progress early next year on drawing up a new charter.
“The new constitution's text, which will emerge with the widest possible consensus, will definitely be submitted for the nation’s approval,” said Erdogan.
- 'World is bigger than 5'
The president underlined that injustices and imbalances in global bodies – especially the UN Security Council – sow both insecurity and stagnation, and so reforms in this regard are urgently needed.
According to Erdogan, a new global security system should be constructed in a way representing joint interests, continents, regions, and beliefs instead of the interests of the five permanent Security Council members, or else resolving systematic issues will not be possible.
Erdogan has made "the world is bigger than five" a signature slogan, arguing against the UN Security Council’s unrepresentative system of five permanent members wielding disproportionate power – the US, China, Russia, the UK, and France.
By Burak Bir, Ali Murat Alhas, Gokhan Ergocun, Aysu Bicer, and Yunus Girgin