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					                                 SPEECH BY AHMET DAVUTOGLU

on the opening ceremony of the conference „Ottoman legacy and Balkan Muslim
          Communities today“ in Sarajevo (Friday, 16th October 2009)

The distinguished characteristic of the Balkans is its geographic position in Afro-Euro-Asia, and its history
links to this geography. Three characteristics of the Balkans can be identified. The first is, that the Balkan
region is a buffer zone in a geopolitical sense. Usually it is seen as a buffer zone in transition from
Europe to Asia, from Asia to Europe, from Baltic to Mediterranean, even to Africa, from North to South,
from East to West it is a geopolitical buffer zone. I will explain what it means, why it is so important, and
why this characteristic had any impact on the history of the Balkans.

The second characteristic is the geo-economic characteristic. The Balkan region has been a region of
transaction in geo-economic sense. From the time of Greek civilization, ancient times until today, the
Balkan region has been a region of economic transaction, from sea to inside, to the land corridors of
Eastern Europe, from East to West. It was and it is even today a transaction of geo-economics.

The third characteristic is that the Balkan region is a geo-cultural interaction region. So, several cultures
interacted in the Balkans. Waves of migrations, many peoples came and mixed each other. If you have a
region with these three characteristics, a geo-political buffer zone, geo-cultural interaction and geo-
economic transaction, you have two alternative destinies in history.

One destiny is that you can be either the center of world politics, or you will have to be the victim of
world competition which means that you will have to be a periphery of another power. Therefore,
Balkan history is either success history or a story of failures and being victim of this competition. Today
for example, when we speak of the Balkans, usually we think that the Balkan region is a periphery of
Europe, not the center of Europe, but the periphery of Europe. Is it so? Is the Balkan region really a
periphery? No. In fact, the Balkan region is one of the strategic centers of Afro-Euro-Asia. Why did it turn
out this way? Why do we have such a perception of periphery? If you ask for example Mehmed-paša
Sokolovid he wouldn’t say that Sarajevo or Saloniki is a periphery of the Ottoman state or a periphery of
Europe. He would think that this is right the center of everything, like the Nasrudin-hodža story. But it
was true.

Therefore, look at the history. The first big state, imperial state, which emerged from Balkan region was
the Alexandrian Empire. It emerged from the Balkans although the center of the Alexandrian Empire was
not the Balkans. There was no Alexandrian police in the Balkans. All the big cities of the Empire of
Alexander were in Anatolia, in Egypt, in Iran, in Afghanistan. That Empire emerged from the Balkans, but
the center of the Empire was not the Balkans. In Roman Empire, both, Eastern and Western Roman
Empire, Balkan region was a periphery. Roman Emperors mentioned the Balkans only when they
decided to have a military preparation to go to Asia. So, they didn’t see the Balkan region as the center.
The only exception throughout history, a positive exception, is the Ottoman state. During the Ottoman
state, the Balkan region became the center of world politics in the 16th century. This is the golden age of
the Balkans. I am not saying this because we inherited Ottoman legacy, but this is a historical fact. Who
run world politics in 16th century? - Your ancestors. They waren’t all Turks, some were Slavic origins,
some were Albanian origins, some were even converted Greek origins, but they run the world politics.
So, Mehmed-paša Sokolovid is a good example. If there was no Ottoman state, Mehmed paša would be
a poor Serbian man who lived just to have a small farm or whatever he had. At that time there was no
developed farm in that part of the world. But, because of the Ottoman state he became the leader of
world politics. Therefore, Ottoman history is a history of Balkan region, a history of the central character
of Balkan region in world politics. All the main trade routes were in the Balkans at that time. Saloniki
became the center of economic activities. Before, Saloniki was a small town. But during Ottoman times,
Saloniki became one of the main centers of trade economy. All the Mediterranean trade went through

If you follow the migrations of Jews, you can understand the flaw of money. Why did Saloniki become
the biggest Jewish community from 16th to 19th century, even in 19th century? Significant populations in
Saloniki were Jews. What were they doing there? They were monitoring and making all the trade from
Saloniki to the North, to Euro-Asia. Mediterranean economics to Euro-Asia were administered through
Saloniki and Istanbul. Similarly, Belgrade was like a village, or may be a town in 14th century. During the
Ottoman state Belgrade became the central city, pivotal city of the Danube and of central Europe in the
economic and cultural sense. There were hundreds of mosques and churches. Sarajevo is a miracle, like
the miniature of this heritage. If you understand Sarajevo, you can understand all the Ottoman history.
Because it is, according to the saying, if you understand a person you can understand that century. Like
Hegel, if you understand Hegel you can understand the German mentality of the 19th century. It is the
prototype of all that mentality. Similarly, Sarajevo is the prototype of the Ottoman civilization. Sarajevo
has been the prototype of the rise of Balkans.

Similarly, later in 19th century there was Mehmed Ali-paša. He is an Albanian, but he did not only
become one of the leading figures of Ottoman state at that time, he is the founder of modern Egypt. If
there had not been an Ottoman tradition, Egyptians would not have seen any Albanian in their life. And
Mehmed Ali-paša would have been at most Mehmed Ali-bey living somewhere in the Balkans only as an
intelligent person. So, leading figures are the prototypes of a civilization. What can we learn from this?
The Balkan region has a destiny because of these geo-political, geo-cultural, geo-economic
characteristics. Either the Balkan region will be the center of everything or it will be a victim of

Why was the Balkan region divided since the 19th century and from that time until now? Whenever we
speak of the Balkan region, we speak of divisions, clashes, ethnic clashes, not civilization. Absence of
geo-cultural interaction means cultural clash. Absence of geo-economic transaction means economic
stagnation. Absence of political authority means becoming a buffer zone of all the conflicts. Now, it is
time to reunite all these. Then we will rediscover the spirit of the Balkans.

Which type of policy should be implemented in order to achieve this? First, in order to prevent a
geopolitical buffer zone character of the Balkans, which makes the Balkans a victim of conflicts, we have

to create a new sense of unity in our region, we have to strengthen the regional ownership and foster a
regional common sense. If you look at the history, we are human beings and we are not living in
paradise. Human beings are grey, like history, or history is grey like human beings. We are not angels
and we are not animals. It is up to us to decide and to do something. Similarly, history is grey. It depends
which part of history you are taking as a selection to interpret today. Balkan history is not only a history
of conflicts. Throughout the centuries, from 15th to 19th century, Balkan history was a success story. We
can reinvent this success. We can reestablish this success through creating an original ownership,
through creating a new multicultural coexistence and through establishing a new economic zone.
Multicultural coexistence is very important because the rise of a civilization can only be understood
through analyzing the city structures and the cultural life in these cities. If a city is uniform it means that
that civilization is not so diversified. It is just an invert looking closed to society, like before in the Roman
Empire, the city of Rome was purely full of Romans. People living there was Romans. But later when the
Roman Empire was established it became a cosmopolitan city. Similarly, as Istanbul and all other Balkan
cities were multicultural. We lived together and because of that strong cultural richness, there was a rise
of interaction. The backwardness is purification such as in the 1990s. Those who organized the
massacres in Srebrenica, Eastern Bosnia, are barbaric people who did not want to tolerate cultural
differences. The spirit of Sarajevo is the spirit of coexistence, the spirit of living together. How does
Turkey look at the Balkans? We want to have a new Balkan region, based on political dialogue, economic
interdependency and cooperation, integration and cultural harmony and tolerance.

This was the Ottoman Balkan. We will reestablish this Balkan. People are calling me neo-Ottoman,
therefore I don’t won’t to refer to the Ottoman state as a foreign policy issue. What I am underlying is
the Ottoman legacy. The Ottoman centuries of the Balkans were success stories. Now we have to
reinvent this. Why did I come to Bosnia for less then 24 hours? Because Bosnia is in a very critical
transformational stage these days. I want to show solidarity with BiH. I want to show that we are here.
We are with the Bosnians and we will continue to be with the Bosnians. Why is this transition so
important? Because the territorial integrity and the political unity of BiH should be protected in order to
have security in our region. If BiH is not secure and stable, we cannot have security and stability in the
Balkans. The Turkish perspective towards this region is to reestablish a new Balkan region based on this
understanding of political dialogue, solving the issues through political dialogue, intensifying the
economic relations and cultural coexistence and harmony.

In 1990s, we faced many difficulties in BiH, in Kosovo and in Macedonia. When those difficulties
occurred where did the Bosniaks, Albanians, Turks, Macedonia and Kosovo, turn their face? To Turkey. It
is a historical relation. Let me give you an example making the analogy from the beginning. This geo-
political buffer zone character, geo-cultural interaction and geo-economic transaction, are the same
characteristics of Iraq and Afghanistan. Why did we have problems in Yugoslavia, in BiH, in Iraq and in
Afghanistan? Because all these three states were the mini models of their respective regions. BiH is a
small Balkans. You have Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox respectively Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats living
together as a miniature of the Balkans. Similarly, Iraq is a small Middle East: Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen,
Shi’as and Sunnis. Afghanistan is a small subcontinent in Central Asia with Tajiks, Pashtuns and Hazaras.
Therefore, these counties are critical countries. If you manage them properly, you can manage the

region. If you cannot manage them properly, you will have a regional crisis. What is Turkey? Turkey is a
small Balkan, a small Middle East, a small Caucasus. We have more Bosnians living in Turkey than in
Bosnia, more Albanians living in Turkey than in Albania, more Chechens living in Turkey than in
Chechnya, more Abkhazians living in Turkey than in Abkhazia, and we have Kurds, Arabs, Turks together.
Why do we have all this? Because of the Ottoman legacy. For all these Muslim nationalities in these
regions Turkey is a safe haven. The homeland, yes, most welcome, Anatolia belongs to you, our Bosnian
brothers and sisters. And be sure that Sarajevo is ours. If you want to come, you come, but we want you
to be safe and secure here as the owners of Sarajevo and BiH. Therefore, we have to take care. What
happens in BiH is our responsibility. Today I heard one diplomat saying, I don’t want to give the name of
the country, that in less of one weak, despite of all political issues, we intensified our efforts on BiH.
When I met Hillary Clinton on the Armenian issue in Zürich, I raised the Bosnian issue and we discussed
Bosnia more than Armenia.

When president Haris Silajdžid came to Ankara last week, we had many activities. I changed my
schedule. I decided to come to Sarajevo, and from here, I will go to Armenia. One western diplomat
asked why are you suddenly parachuting this issue? Why are you involved in Bosnia like parachutes? I
told our ambassador who brought this news to me: “Tell them we didn’t go to Bosnia with parachutes,
we went by horse and stayed there with the Bosnians sharing the same destiny!” Yes, whatever happens
in the Balkans, in Caucasus, in Middle East, it is our issue. One day I will be in Iraq, another day in
Azerbaijan, another day in Bosnia, as minister of foreign affairs. Whatever happens, it is in our foreign
policy agenda. Again with Secretary Clinton I made a joke. In June, when I sat in Ankara, I made a 1000
kilometers circle around my office. There are 23 countries. All of them are our relatives and they expect
something from us. If we draw a 3000 kilometers circle, there are 72 countries, and every day in our
Ministry news can come from any of these countries which will change our schedule. This is our
historical debt. When I say strategic debt, I mean this historical debt.

In June, I went to north Afghanistan to Mazari-Sharif, Balkh, Jowzjan. We visited six cities, and usually
western diplomats and ministers, they visit only Kabul or they meet at the airport and go back. Only
Turkish ministers can visit six cities in Afghanistan without any difficulty. Because Afghanistan like Bosnia
is our country. I don’t feel foreign in Afghanistan. In Mazari-Sharif, the governer of Baleh, sat next to me
and said: “Oh minister, I need a school, hospital, park”. I called the TIKA coordinator and said: “Please
take notes”. Our journalists were surprised saying: “He was requesting as if you are a minister of
Afghanistan, or he is the governor of Konya.” Yes, he was so relaxed. He thinks that I have to do it. For
him Turkey is great. A Turkish minister has a capacity without limit and he has to do it. It is his historic
pardon. After two or three weeks, I went to Sandžak, Novi Pazar, with a delegation. There happened the
same. The people of Sandžak and Rožaje, were saying, we need schools, a hospital and this and that.
They were thinking that, yes, Turks are responsible to do all these things. Poor Turks, I don’t now what
to do, but we have to do it. They are right. For them, Turkey means the center. For them Turkey is a
place where they can go like a shelter. Turkish people are the people who have to find the solution. We
cannot be weak from their perspective. Therefore, our foreign policy must be proactive as we say. We
cannot ignore anything. You, for example, now, as a Bosnian and somebody from Dagestan in Russia,
you are so away from each other. He is a Russian citizen or an Azeri in Caspian and Bosniak is in Bosnia.

But in an apartment in Turkey, a Bosniak, an Azeri, an Albanian and Chechen live together. You may see
that you are far away, but in Turkey, they are living in the same house because of this historical relation.

Therefore, our foreign policy aims to establish order in all these surrounding regions, in the Balkans,
Caucasus and the Middle East. Because if there is no order then we will pay the price. For a Western or
another diplomat from another part of the world, a Bosnian issue is a technical issue to deal with, like a
technical diplomatic process. For us, it is a life and death story. It is so important. The territorial integrity
of BiH for us is as important as the territorial integrity of Turkey. The prosperity and security of Sarajevo
is as important as security and prosperity in Istanbul. This is not only the feeling or the responsibility of a
statesman. This is the feeling or the emotion of any individual Turk living anywhere in Turkey. And
today, I was telling our leaders here as well, there were two big spontaneous demonstrations in Turkey.
I know, one was in 1993, there was a broadcasting news at seven or eight o’clock that Serbians used
chemical weapons in Goražde. In two hours, not thousands, hundred thousands of people gathered
spontaneously. If they were asked to walk to Bosnia that night, they would not think of going home,
they would start walking to Bosnia. This is how we are linked to each other. In short, our history is the
same, our destiny is the same and our future is the same. Like in the 16th century, the rise of Ottoman
Balkans as the center of world politics, we will make the Balkans, Caucasus and Middle East together
with Turkey as the center of world politics in the future. This is the objective of Turkish foreign policy
and we will achieve this. We will reintegrate the Balkan region, Middle East and Caucasus, based on this
principle of regional and global peace for the future, not for all of us, but for all the humanity.

Thank you very much for inviting me and Allahimanet.


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