Leading experts discussed the future of Turkish-Arab relations Tuesday in a roundtable titled “Towards New Realignments in the Middle East” at the TRT World Forum 2021.
Those attending the session were Hina Rabbani Khar, former foreign minister of Pakistan; Hafsa Halawa, non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute and visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations; Ayse Sozen Usluer, ambassador of Turkey to the Sultanate of Oman; Ahmet Yildiz, chairman of the Turkish Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; Ufuk Ulutas, chairman of the Center for Strategic Research (SAM) at Turkey’s Foreign Ministry; Dania Thafer, executive director of Gulf International Forum; Anas Altikriti, CEO and founder of The Cordoba Foundation; and M. Tahir Kılavuz, assistant professor of political science and international relations at Marmara University, with Tarek Cherkaoui, manager of the TRT World Research Center, as the moderator.
Usluer told the forum that Turkey’s policy in the region is based on dialogue.
“Turkey pursues a humanitarian foreign policy, as it does in the rest of the world,” she said. “Turkey envisages the development of Turkish-Arab relations on the basis of win-win.”
Stressing that Turks and Arabs live in the same “ecosystem,” she added: “Our lands and resources are side by side.”
“We share culture, religion and have the same economic constraints. We are threatened by climate change and terrorism,” she said.
"Thus, policies need to be developed accordingly. Bilateral relations need to be developed between Turkey and each Arab country,” she noted.
Recalling that Turkey pursued more “proactive” policies after the 2000s, she said she would rather call this the “proactive foreign policy of Turkey,” the rise of Turkey in the region, rather than being “aggressive.”
- Support to Turkish foreign policy
Ulutas started his speech by asking: "It would be a mistake to assume there is a monolithic group of people that can be referred to as ‘Turkish’ or ‘Arab.’ Which ‘Arab’ do we mean?"
"Which nation? Which people? An average Jordanian’s perspective of Turkey will be different than a Lebanese supporter of Hezbollah,” he continued.
Echoing his sentiments, Altikriti said: "When we talk about the Arab world, we think of it as a homogenous entity, which is not true because Arab countries are very different from each other."
Ulutas later referred to a poll which he said was conducted by an Arab think tank showing that support among the Arab populace for Turkish foreign policy is higher than any other regional actors.
Noting that Turkey was surrounded by at least two countries where there was a civil war, he said terrorist organizations such as the PKK/YPG and Daesh/ISIS were active in those countries.
“So a country like Turkey has to control its borders of course doing military operations,” he said.
Yildiz, speaking based on the experience he had on Iraq and Syria, said Turkey has unilaterally carried the burden of “controlling and securing the border for decades.”
“Still, Turkey is the country that aggressively defends the territorial integrity of Syria,” he added.
On the future of Turkish-Arab relations, Yildiz said he was not “pessimistic.”
Khar said: "The looming question is, do we want a more equitable world order for everyone. When you say, fair competition and fair trade for everyone, it has really not been there."
"The countries which were supposed to be the preservers and protectors of the world order are the ones who are wanting some countries out and building forces. I do not mean just military forces, but economic, diplomatic ones as well.
"I am absolutely there on the need for the United Nations as a global governance structure, but I'm also very clear that that governance structure has to be truly respectful and representative of everyone," she added.
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