Abant Platform: perspectives on Turkey

İhsan Yılmaz
İhsan Yılmaz

Date posted: June 28, 2012

Ihsan YILMAZ  June 22, 2012

The Abant Platform, being an innovative institution, has now initiated a new discussion forum which, as far as I am aware, is a first in Turkey. We will be discussing different perspectives on Turkey together with non-Turkish academics, diplomats and journalists working in the country. For three days, we will focus on topics such as “Democratization, Turkey’s Democratic Transformation,” “Turkish Foreign Policy and the Middle East,” “Turkey’s EU Journey,” “Turkey’s Economic Development” and “Perspectives on Turkish Media.”

The lively debates and discussions show that once again Turkey is gradually and steadily being monitored by international observers, audiences and students of Turkey with an increasing number of plural perspectives. This in turn will help Turkey’s democratization and consolidation of its democracy in the long run, among other benefits.

As I have written here before, until recently, foreign observers usually receive their background information from “White Turks.” It was only White Turks who could travel abroad and could study in foreign universities. Only White Turks were appointed as diplomatic personnel. The Turkish media was owned by White Turks and they only appointed White Turks as foreign correspondents. Foreign observers who came to Turkey would only socialize with White Turks, who were the only ones who knew foreign languages. Suffering also from an Orientalist bias, generally speaking, these foreign observers have always sympathized with “the White Turks’ burden” and their “civilizing mission” and tolerated their undemocratic practices as these pro-modernity White Turks were trying to civilize the savage masses who, if given the opportunity, could turn Turkey into another Iran.

After the 1980s, “Black Turks,” or those who were not Laicist, Atatürkist, Sunni, Turk (LAST), to use my terminology from a previous column, as a result of mainly the former Prime Minister Turgut Özal-era reforms also started learning foreign languages, establishing business contacts with foreign countries, receiving education in foreign universities and thanks to their growing media outlets, started appointing Black Turkish foreign correspondents. More and more Black Turks started working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially during the Ahmet Davutoğlu era of Turkish foreign policy. The EU progress reports with their more or less objective reporting have also contributed to the process of understanding Turkey more accurately with plural viewpoints.

This Abant gathering shows that non-Turkish academics, diplomats and journalists could also serve to understand Turkey more accurately. I must say that I am more optimistic about academics than journalists since, with all due respect, I still find their work, with honorable exceptions, biased, inaccurate and non-objective. It seems to me that academics feel more comfortable to be more accurate about what is really going on in Turkey.

Discussions in Abant so far have shown that these non-Turks in Turkey have a better understanding of Turkey — its dynamics, simmering, creative and sometimes destructive tensions, institutions and agencies. Since they will be seen as more objective observers of Turkey in international forums, they will serve Turkey’s more accurate evaluation abroad. More importantly, Turkey will greatly benefit from their constructive criticism. All groups, institutions, parties, communities and individuals can benefit from their criticism, insights and feedback.

I thank the Abant Platform for organizing this event which will hopefully help Turkey move towards greater democratization, transparency, critical evaluation and more accurate understanding by the international world.

Source: Today’s Zaman http://www.todayszaman.com/columnistDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=284345

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