In my last column, I wrote about the conversation I had with Mr. Gürsel Tekin, head of Istanbul branch of the Republican People's Party, or CHP. Since the CHP has been absent from discussions often held about Turkish foreign affairs in different foreign capitals, especially in Washington, I was genuinely interested to hear about the CHP's vision and how it views the Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, recent foreign policy initiatives which are mostly energized by Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the foreign minister. As a rising figure in the CHP, Mr. Tekin seemed a perfect candidate to have this conversation.
Mr. Tekin, indeed, was impressive with his knowledge about current foreign affairs. Tekin did not only open up how he views many of the AKP's policies, he was also pretty forthright in lending his support to Davutoğlu in many foreign affair matters. I was very much surprised to hear Tekin arguing that many of the foreign policies that have been initiated by Davutoğlu actually overlap with the CHP's foreign affairs vision.
Tekin also caught my attention while elaborating part of his own international relations theory. While answering my question about the current Turkey-United States relationship, especially since Barack Obama came to office and visited Turkey in the very early period of his presidency, Tekin stated: "Every country has its own interests and follows those interests primarily in the international arena. The interests of different countries sometimes overlap with each other but other times do not. America is an important country in this region, so is Turkey. America will always need Turkey and likewise Turkey will need America."
In brief, Tekin declared: "Turkey is not the same country as it was 30 or 40 years ago and it has to look for its interests. Turkey cannot be an inward looking country anymore. For instance, Russia is also a nearby country, and it cannot be ignored and the relationships with Russia must also be handled carefully for trailing our own interests."
Tekin argued there are more than 50 Muslim countries across the world and it is only Turkey that is able to make democracy work, though admittedly with many flaws. Still, Tekin continued, harmonizing its secular and Muslim identities while getting the democratic system working is a huge challenge.
And, not knowing the difficulties of this task, many Western countries are unable to grasp the problems that spring from this struggle in Turkey. However, Tekin claims, "Turkey is the only Muslim majority country that has a secular system at work, and it is Turkey that can be the only model country in this scope to transform the region."
When I told him that so far that the Gürsel Tekin I listened to on foreign affairs sounds very much in tone with Mr. Davutoğlu, Tekin said, "Indeed, Davutoğlu's policies do not seem to be much different from the CHP's."
When asked him to elaborate this matching perspectives paradigm between the CHP and Davutoğlu over rapprochement with Syria and Armenia, hoping stealthily to find some factions, Tekin declared without hesitation: "Of course, Armenia, or Iraq or Iran are the countries that we should be able to make more trade and solve our existing problems. For instance, I am extremely happy to see that we now have better relations with Syria."
Following a question about the worsening relationships with Israel, Tekin made another important statement: "The CHP does not have any intention of impairing the good relations with any allies. Though, what Israel does in Gaza is simply unacceptable. The Gaza problem has been going on for how long now? Yes, it has to be solved quickly. However, we criticize AKP's approach to Israeli relations because AKP tends to treat this relationship as a part of domestic politics. However, Davutoğlu's approach looks calmer over the issue as opposed to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's bullying attitude toward Israel.
When it comes to foreign affairs, every administration has to calculate its national interests first very studiously. Just to win a couple more votes, one must not use any foreign matter for domestic gains. Israel is an important country in the region and diplomacy must be used diligently to solve problems. Shows, in the international arena, do not make any problems better. However, the foreign minister is more serene in conducting foreign affairs."
Tekin also emphasized the cultural differences between societies who have democratic traditions and who have the Islamic traditions. Tekin said Turkey, which has a 99 percent Muslim population has a tradition that is not quiet in tune with a cultural background that comes with democracy.
An interview, which turned out to be a casual conversation that lasted more than an hour, gave a great insight into how Tekin reads current foreign affairs.
It is my impression that Tekin was candid but confined under the auspices of the leadership of the CHP while debating some foreign affairs. I must also note Davutoğlu actually has been no less bullying against Israel than Erdoğan, contrary to what Tekin stated. Also, it was interesting to hear repeatedly Tekin’s praise for Davutoğlu while he continued to animadvert Erdoğan's style in foreign affairs.
Still, Tekin sounded like an open-minded politician ready to praise an administration easily when he sees it does a good job in many matters without any fear, as opposed to some other CHP figures that I also had a chance to talk to during my visit to Istanbul.
Before ending our conversation, I asked Tekin once more to pay attention to what is going on in Washington and in other Western capitals closely as I believe that the main opposition party is in despair when it comes to laying out its policy differences and positions, especially outside the sphere of Turkey. If the CHP is serious about taking on the administration, it must behave like a force that has all the skill sets to elaborate its foreign affairs vision to outsiders easily. The CHP, so far, has failed to do that and does not give much hope that it will do so soon.
I enjoyed the conversation I had with Mr. Gürsel Tekin, whom I followed from a distance with the audacity he displayed while reaching out to the pious people of Istanbul during the last local elections. I hope he can also manifest ample audacity to bring that same change to the CHP's foreign affairs outlook.
The CHP must understand that it is not the CHP that many independent pundits worry about. It is about Turkey without a strong opposition that is worrisome.
The stakes are high. Change is needed for the CHP, so must Tekin know that it is needed for a better Turkey.