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Turkey 2010

IPS students visiting Anitkabir, M.K. Ataturk's mausoleum in Ankara
Photo Credit: Anthony Suen

Turkey Study Trip Report

Under the leadership of second-year students Valerie Szybala and Meltem Turker and IPS lecturer Dr. Eric Morris, twenty students participated in the IPS Study Trip to Turkey, Meltem’s native country, March 19-28, 2010. Discussions with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, US Ambassador James Jeffrey, two university presidents, and several think tanks scholars presented students with an opportunity to “envision what it would be like to be real players in international policy.”

Here are students’ impressions:

Juxtaposed against the vibrant and jostling city of Istanbul, the layout, structures and atmosphere of the capital city Ankara gave off a sense of formality and importance. Upon arriving at the office of Prime Minister Erdogan, we were ushered right in. After a few minutes, the prime minister joined us with his advisors. In his speech, he touched on the progress Turkey had made in its EU accession negotiations, the unique advantage Turkey had due to its strategic location to effectively mediate between Europe and the Middle East, and Turkey-US relations.

At one point, an aide whispered to Mr. Erdogan that he would have to excuse himself to take a call from the president of Syria. Given that the prime minister had started off with some harsh words about the US House Foreign Affairs Committee’s resolution on the Armenian genocide, we were impressed that he came back to continue talking to us.

While we discussed a number of different foreign policy issues – from Armenia to pipeline politics to E.U. ascension – one of the most valuable aspects of our meetings was the variation in opinion. For example, when we met with the prime minister, he provided his view of the Armenian conflict in light of tension in U.S.-Turkish relations. In contrast, Professor Hasan Köni in the Law Department at Bahçeşehir University provided the historical basis for the conflict as well as a legal justification for avoiding the term genocide. This legal argument was made repeatedly at a number of think tanks or universities.

In general, the level of nationalism was striking. We encountered very little dissent regarding government action. However, the meeting with Dr. Cem Kozlu of the Foreign Economic Relations Board stood out in this regard. According to Dr. Kozlu, a Stanford Graduate School of Business alumnus and former member of the Turkish Grand Assembly, chairman and CEO of Turkish Airlines, and president of Coca-Cola Central Europe and Eurasia, the EU process will damage Turkey as a whole. From an economic perspective, he believes most of the value in accession will come from the process rather than from membership itself. In his view, the backlash from EU countries against Turkey will have long-term negative effects on regional relations, as well as relations within Turkey. This was not a perspective we had been given, as the current government is running on a platform that relies primarily on the accession process.Our meetings provided a valuable opportunity to see the “interdisciplinary” approach to policy, as well as the similarities and differences in policymaking in a country with a different history, culture, and values. Meeting with the president’s energy advisor, Professor Volkan Ediger, was a huge highlight. The U.S. focuses on climate change and energy incentive programs and weatherization. Yet for the most part Turkey has enacted very little legislation to deal with these issues on a domestic level. Instead, energy seemed to be a foreign policy issue (not surprising given Turkey’s geography), with an emphasis on pipeline relations and oil and natural gas in neighboring countries.

At Stanford we have so many opportunities to attend lectures or conferences on a certain country or topic, but we rarely, if ever, get the opportunity to gain so many different, relevant perspectives.

Polly Davis Hand, Damilola Sobo, Justine Isola, and Lucinda Gibbs contributed to this article.