Parliamentary Assembly Session: 11 – 15 April 2011
Address by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
(Strasbourg, 13 April 2011)
(Check against delivery)
Mr. Secretary General,
Distinguished Members of the Parliamentary Assembly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I warmly greet you.
I would like to express my pleasure for addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which is the oldest parliamentary forum of the peoples of Europe.
My address today coincides with a special date in Turkey’s relations with this organization.
Yes…61 years ago today, on 13 April 1950, the Republic of Turkey had ratified the Statute of the Council of Europe.
61 years later, today, I am honored to speak before your Assembly, which is currently headed by one of my compatriots, as the Prime Minister of Turkey, a founding member of this organization and a country which currently holds the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
The Council of Europe, since its establishment, has greatly contributed to the strengthening of democratic stability on our continent.
I would like to pay tribute to this organization for standing against all forms of discrimination and for rendering respect for human dignity the main pillar of our common culture.
I greet you, the distinguished members of this assembly and your former colleagues for having served this organization for all these years to promote the ideals and values of the Council of Europe. I wish you continued success in your future work.
I addressed this Assembly five years ago as the Co-Chair of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative of the United Nations.
Today, I address you again, the day after this Assembly had an extensive discussion on the “Religious Dimension of Intercultural Dialogue”.
The Alliance of Civilizations initiative, launched under the UN umbrella as a joint initiative of Spain and Turkey has aroused interest on a global scale. More than 100 countries have joined the Group of Friends of the Alliance of Civilizations. I believe that this is the case because the initiative addresses a major issue in the contemporary world.
Dear Colleagues, I would like to draw your attention to the following…
In early history, the Christian world and the Muslim world came into contact with each other as adversaries.
These original encounters which go back a thousand years have led to enduring prejudices, misunderstandings and polarization.
However, today, we look at history from a different perspective and see other dimensions of these adversarial encounters.
These encounters did not only bring two different cultures, two distinct civilizations up against each other. They also provided an opportunity for these two differing civilizations to get to know each other, to mutually understand and influence one another.
The meeting of the Christian and Muslim worlds, made a huge impact on the dissemination of science, art, language, music, daily routines and cuisines from one part of the world to the other.
The repercussions that this major encounter had on the foundations of both western and eastern civilizations cannot be denied.
History is not only made of war and conflict. But it also involves cultural interaction and convergence as well as an experience of getting to know one another.
As a matter of fact, the warring armies, once they stopped the fighting, started to engage in commercial activities. They thereby began the exchange of not only goods, but also cultures.
We have to stop reading history through wars, conflicts and polarization.
Those who read history only through conflict cannot help build a future based on peace.
Those who are trapped in history cannot promote peace and tolerance either in their own societies or beyond.
The Council of Europe and the European Union stand as testimony that history can be transcended by working together for a better future.
The Council of Europe represents the universal values that are essential for universal peace.
The emergence in Europe of racism, discrimination and intolerance is a cause of concern for all our societies. These trends have become an even greater cause of concern for the people living on our surrounding geographies.
I observe with regret that polarization is Europe is getting deeper.
We witness such phenomenon among mainstream political parties as they adopt populist stands to address general uncertainties and fears. I believe that it should be the primary responsibility of politicians to display leadership to reverse dangerous trends.
Let me remind you: Turkey is the only secular country with an overwhelmingly Muslim population in her region.
The principle of secularism which we adopted from the French model, has been controversial in Turkey over the years. For some, it has been perceived as an impediment against democratization and has been used to restrict freedoms.
Today, Turkey has left behind these controversies and proved to the whole world, that ISLAM-SECULARISM and DEMOCRACY can coexist.
It is an irony that at a time when Turkey becomes a model for her region, a new controversy on secularism begins in Europe which uses this principle for restricting freedoms.
Never in history or anywhere any positive results were achieved through coercion against beliefs, cultures and identities.
We have to replace religious intolerance with tolerance.
It is highly dangerous to exploit religious sensitivities, freedoms, points of divergence and prejudices for political purposes.
The universal values like democracy, human rights and the rule of law that Council of Europe stands for today remain vital than ever.
The yearning for freedom as well as higher standards of living are being dramatically expressed beyond European borders.
Dear Colleagues, it is time for us to see that in a globalized world, building small islands of peace is no longer attainable.
In a world where capital flows freely, so do the problems.
A world where some become infinitely rich, continuously raising their welfare, while others get poorer and lose their hope does not make a safe world. This does not make a sustainable system, either.
“Fortress Europe” retiring into itself cannot be a beacon for universal values, universal rights and freedoms. It might even start to have difficulty in ensuring these values for itself.
Europe cannot remain aloof to the rising demands for freedom from the Middle East and North Africa.
The recent events testify that theories of cultural relativism are simply false. The mind-set which claimed that democracy cannot flourish in the Middle East has collapsed.
If we are talking about UNIVERSAL VALUES, about HUMAN and HUMAN RIGHTS, we have to hear the cries rising from the Middle East and North Africa and support them.
We need to address this human reality without any hidden agendas or a pursuit of narrow selfish interests.
We have to start focusing on the human tragedies in the Middle East and North Africa, without being fixated on the oil wells.
The emergence of ethnic, sectarian and religious divisions and violation of territorial integrity of states would run against the spirit of these events as well as the will of the people.
Creation of new sources of conflict and emergence of violence, would be the last thing we wish to see in our neighbourhood.
Allow me to underline this: We need to avoid external military intervention, except for humanitarian purposes, to assure the legitimacy of these democratic movements.
We do not want the experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq to repeat themselves in the Middle East and North Africa.
What has happened in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Palestine has left deep wounds on the psyche of the people living in the region. The belief in justice was shattered, thereby providing fertile ground for further polarization.
We would like Europe to view the developments in Libya and the recent events in Palestine through a prism of our common values.
We should share the common values and norms developed within the Council of Europe with our close neighbours.
The Council of Europe’s timely reaction to these events is called for.
Following the developments in Tunisia, our Foreign Minister in his capacity as the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers paid a visit to this country together with Secretary General Jagland.
The contacts of the President of PACE have also proved very useful for this country, trying to realize its democratic transition.
In Egypt, we believe that a successful transition to constitutional democracy will be important for the whole region. We therefore support the transfer of power to the civil authorities as soon as possible.
In Libya we lent our support to the UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973.
It is important that these resolutions are enforced in a way that will preserve the territorial integrity of Libya as well as the security and well-being of its people.
In the same vein, we follow closely the developments in Bahrain and continue to engage with all sides in the region so as to reduce tensions.
We also continue our efforts for ensuring that the popular movements in Syria, Yemen and Jordan result in democratic changes.
Turkey has a unique place in her region as she can communicate with every country, with every ethnic or religious group, offering solutions to problems and playing an active role in efforts directed at peace and conciliation.
As a founding member of this organization and as a country enjoying historical and cultural ties with its neighbourhood, we spare no efforts for ensuring peace and stability in our region.
We are not taking sides…We are not pursuing self-interest. We only seek solutions that will promote regional peace and security.
The recent developments and our policies developed as a response to these developments, have once again proved how indispensible our country remains for the EU.
Turkey has the potential to act on its own initiative in a large geography stretching from the Middle East to North Africa, from the Balkans to the Caucasus, which directly concerns Europe’s security and well-being.
Turkey has successfully went through the last global financial crisis, with a growth rate of 8,9% in 2010 and became the fastest growing country in Europe and the OECD area.
Turkey rates as the 6th largest economy in Europe and the 17th largest economy in the world.
I would also like to point out that Turkey has already fulfilled, although it has not been obliged to, two of the 4 Maastricht criteria, concerning government deficit to the GDP and the government debt and has thus achieved a better status on these two issues when compared with many other European countries.
I therefore find it hard to grasp how, despite all these facts, Turkey’s negotiations with the EU can be hampered on false pretexts and for populist purposes, how new impediments can be invented along the negotiation process.
Turkey is a country with considerable power.
It is a country which has displayed a strong will for the solution of its problems.
Let me be very clear with you: Membership is a process of mutual commitment. The EU and Turkey need to cooperate on this process.
Those who view Turkey with a given agenda and open its membership of the EU to debate in pursuit of their own goals and with political greed cause injustice, not just to Turkey, but more to their own countries, to the European values and their own people.
Even Turkey’s contributions to the EU and European Commission and its entry into the Customs Union are testimony to demonstrate Turkey’s importance for Europe clearly and without doubt.
Therefore, it is our expectation that Turkey’s membership be evaluated on fair and just grounds and that promises given to us be kept in good faith.
I would also like to dwell upon another aspect of the issue…
Turkey, under our government, has undertaken comprehensive reforms notably in the democratization process since 2002.
We have attached utmost priority to the struggle against all forms of prohibitions and strengthened the fundamental rights and freedoms in the widest possible sense in the last 8,5 years.
Many issues, which had remained a taboo 8,5 years ago, are freely discussed today in Turkey.
We have pursued a zero-tolerance policy towards torture and removed obstacles against freedom of expression.
I would like to state clearly that the allegations in recent weeks concerning censorship and oppression against the media and freedom of expression do not reflect the realities on the ground.
Let me suffice it to say that those media organs, which 8 years ago used to work upon orders from all sorts of undemocratic circles, and especially from the criminal organizations and the mafia in shaping their headlines, are today totally free to publicize and to broadcast their news.
Everyone is openly criticized and the arising disputes are settled in conformity with law.
We are aware that some of the recent detentions are perceived in Europe as an interference in the freedom of the press. In this connection, I would also like to remind you that journalists and newspapers who applaud and provoke coups simply do not exist in Europe.
Currently 26 journalists are imprisoned either in custody or as a convict following the trials in Turkey. None of them has been detained for their activities of journalism.
We hope that Europe and European institutions will continue to follow-up developments on this subject, not based on news disseminated by certain circles, but rather through more objective sources and will evaluate the situation accordingly.
The fundamental changes in our vicinity impose on us and the European continent significant responsibilities.
We have a responsibility to side with democratic change. We should be for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We have to stand not for confrontation, oppression, violence and cruelty, but for righteousness, for justice and for reconciliation. It is my conviction that the international community as a whole, including the Council of Europe and its members will unite around these ideals.
I conclude by extending my best wishes for the success of the Council and I greet you all with respect.