Saturday, May 01, 2010

HE* said 'one minute' but he didn't mean it that way

Addendum, May 3rd, 2010:

Following a message from my father, I have now read 3 articles from centre-left leaning journalists on the lecture by Ahmet Davutoglu, a minister under the liberal-conservative AKP Party, and to my mild surprise, all of the articles compete with one another in praising him. Is this a reflection of their hotel and other expenditure bills for the weekend in London and Oxford paid by the Turkish taxpayers?

Original text:

When I received an email from my undergraduate university, Sabanci University, about a conference on Turkish Foreign Policy, organised in co-ordination with Oxford University and taking place in one of the colleges of the latter, I said to myself "what a great chance to visit another English town that I haven't been to before". What a fool I was, that I realised as soon as I stepped outside the Oxford Rail Station only to be amuse myself once again: As an outsider, a Londoner, I confused Oxford and Cambridge again and realised that I was actually here almost exactly a year ago. Be that Cambridge may remain as an undiscovered city for me, my 2nd trip to Oxford was nonetheless a delightful one.

The conference was organised by the partnership of Sabanci University with the South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX) to investigate Turkey's foreign policy in a changing world: Old alignments and new neighbourhoods. By all means, it felt as if the stress was rather on the new neighbourhoods than the old alignments, at least for the Saturday sessions of the 3-day conference that span from Friday to Monday, 30 April - 2 May. One of the main reasons to be at the conference was to watch Kara (Karabekir Akkoyunlu) give his excellent presentation on Iran - Turkey relations, a spin-off from his PhD. research at the LSE. Not only that he delivered his speech in exact 15 minutes with a very clear tone, posture and flow, but also enlightened the audience with certain recent developments on the Iranian front of Turkish borders and reminded all to re-situate the current exchange between the two old states into one of a centuries-old political relationship and develop a political framework for Turkish-Iranian and wider politics in the region within this context. His speech was part of Significant regional relations II: The Middle East session (the other 2 of the 3 significant relations are those with Russia and the Caucasus and South East Europe).

Kara's fellow lecturers in the session talked about the relations between Turkey and the Arab World, Israel and Kurds, respectively. The speech on the Arab World challenged the perceptions of the Turkish audience on the perceptions of Arabs over Turkey. After all, some sections among the various Arab societies may not regard Turkey as highly as we are being told in our home territory by our ministers Reem Abou-El Fadl reminded us, a notion that we tend to overlook, as we often forget to see the heterogeneity in the definition of the Arab World. The speech on Israeli relations one of a pragmatic-critical one as was expected but also elaborated clearly by Soli Ozel, although at times, I've caught a bit of a depreciation of Arabs by the presenter: This was one of my criticisms about the conference, the over-confidence of some of the Turkish presenters and the audience, alongside the overrepresentation of male population over females, and I guess these two do in fact go hand-in-hand. The last of the session's presentation was on the so-called 'Kurdish problem' (a term I repeatedly to refuse to accept) but unfortunately the speaker's delivery was so weak, I do not have any clear notes on what he tried to say.

This was the 2nd session we attended on Saturday, the 1st of which was a morning session on the Russian and Caucasian regional relations. Presentations on Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Russia sparked up some interesting discussion, obviously and expectedly mainly focused on the Turkish - Armenian relations but I have to say, I did not hear a convincingly strong argument, nor felt a heated debate (which I always believe, if done in a well-mannered way is a strength for an organisation as such). The best part of the morning and early afternoon was in deed non-related to the conference: Running away from the rain and the cold in London to be greeted by sun in Oxford in the morning and taking a long lunch break after our morning session to rejoice at the infamous Turf Tavern pub with Pimm's and lunch.

The highlight of the day came after the session with Kara (as described above). Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish Minister of Foreign of Affairs was to give a keynote lecture on Turkish Vision of Regional and Global Order: Theoretical Background and Practical Implementation. He arrived at St. Antony's College, Oxford University around 5 PM with an entourage of academics and journalists, amongst which I could count Can Dundar, Cetin Altan, Cengiz Candar, Hasan Bulent Kahraman and others. A set of photos were taken in the gardens of the college, while I was re-uniting with former classmates and teachers from Sabanci University who all came around here for this event.

Prof. Davutoglu (and I shall refer to him with this title as explained here) made clear to the press that this lecture was going to be that of an academic one, possibly a wrap-up of his academic background of years, his theories that are now well-known amongst many Turks, also spiced up with some of his recent political adventures. In a rather strange coincidence, the day also marked the 1st anniversary at his Foreign Ministerial post as he assumed this role on the 1st of May 2009 after having served as the Chief Advisor to the Ministry for a number of years under the AKP rule. I have to say, I was somewhat impressed by his lecture for a number of reasons: To begin with, I guess I had rather lower expectations from a Turkish high-rank politician to deliver a clear speech. Despite the fact that I knew about his professorship, having studied at Sabanci University provided me with a very high-level of knowledge and presentation skills in political sciences. Yet, Davutoglu was good. Furthermore, his calm and friendly manner appealed to the audience. Yes, I know very well that a politician with such sweet and mild charm could be one of the most dangerous of all, but it did feel rather sincere for this occasion. I was impressed by his attempts to respond to all the questions from the floor (and of course a question from the floor at a minister means, it is from a member of the press and one question entails 6 others). His adventures from the past year as he conveyed us through his stories amused the lecture theatre a lot (amongst which, the one where he had to abandon a conference to embar upon an emergency trip which includes driving to Konya, borrowing the special jet plane reserved for the Ministry of Transport, picking up the Prime Minister from his holidays in Bodrum and travel to Russia with other high-ranked ministers whilst everyone was on a summer holiday, right after AKP survived a constitutional decision on party closure and Georgia and Russia were on the brink of the war that followed after, was the one that everyone listened to with much enthusiasm, and to me it sounded like a Turkish rip-off of Ocean's 14 or 'come on Tayyip, we've gathered the old team for a special football game in Moscow, get on board').

The day was a long venture. After Ahmet Davutoglu's lecture, a heavy rain started. As a group of 6, we made our way towards the rail station for the 3 of us to take back the train to London. We managed to have a very efficient, extremely delicious and a rather inexpensive cheap meal of tapas in 45 minutes and over a large jug of sangria on the way. The sun had just set and weekend trippers were making their way back to London as we embarked upon the train. An hour later, we were back in London Paddington Station.

*HE is capitalised for its double referential meaning: both as a third-person singular pronoun and also to the British abbreviation for His Excellency, an honorfic style used for high-ranking members of certain states or kingdoms, in this case for the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Turkish Republic.

The title refers to a moment in Prof. Davutoglu's presentation where he made a 'one minute' remark with reference to Prime Minister Erdogan's Davos remark, which he used in a different and unexpected context, to which he and the rest of the lecture theatre laughed hard at.


karabekir said...

Omer - firstly, thanks for the kinds words, and thanks for coming, really appreciated..

Re: Davutoglu. Several of us said, when we heard that he would be arriving with a huge entourage including journalists and staying in an over-expensive hotel, oh another arrogant, wasteful Turkish politician. But I have to admit, at the end of the conference (following a dinner, a breakfast and a roundtable discussion session with the FM in addition to the first lecture) more or less everyone - including academics and journalists, young and old, Turkish or foreign - was seriously impressed with Davutoglu. I've heard more than a few of the participants say that Turkey's lucky to have him.

And I can assure you it was not because of those plane tickets. Rarely (if ever) has a serious international forum seen a Turkish politician that speaks so eloquently (most can't speak English) and to be honest quite philosophically about Turkey, the international order, history and humanity. He did take questions and did not try to spin them, but answer intelligently, showing respect to his audience. We rarely have statesmen that cultivate ideas beyond our own borders. And we almost never have politicians who speak of multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, mutual understanding, getting rid of borders and, yes, peace.

He did seem somewhat over-confident at times, which may even be taken as arrogance. And he certainly painted an unrealistically positive image of Turkey in the neighbourhood. Even so, it was very refreshing to have a Turkish politician not to be constantly on the attack mode (out of being inherently defensive) and just talk about threats, enemies, might and conspiracy theories.

In that sense, Davutoglu is in a different league from most of fellow MPs, and almost a direct opposite of the PM.

ömer said...

Wow, now I'm really curious to know what they served at the dinner!

No, but seriously, thanks for your confirmation of the others then. As I have also written, I was more than impressed but it seems like there is even more to him than what we saw at the lecture.

Damla Cihangir said...

Ömer, I have really enjoyed while reading about the conference. You have written exactly what almost all of us have been thinking after this 3days experience with Mr. Davutoğlu in Oxford. ı would like to admit that my Polish friend, Magda who attened just to the last part of the conference on Sunday, has also impressed from the speakers and especially from Mr.Davutoğlu. Since you didn't come on Sunday, you have missed the round table discussion that Mr.Davutoğlu also joined.

Finally, I also would like to comment that everyone that I have talked was impressed from Karabekir's presentation and his confidence. Congratulations to him too!

ömer said...

Thanks Damla, sounds like I did really miss more of Ahmet Davutoglu...

and something against the polite and intellectual language of these comments: Kara ruled!