Organized by the Office of Public Diplomacy of the Prime Ministry together with the SETA Foundation and Artuklu University and supported by the Presidency of Turks Abroad, the 2nd Foreign Policy Workshop brought together over 150 graduate students, academics, bureaucrats, politicians and journalists.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ gave the opening speech together with Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, a member of the Turkish Parliament and the former president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
This was the second workshop after Konya last year and the main goal is to bring the academic students of Turkish foreign policy and international relations with its practitioners. In Mardin, graduate students and academics from more than 50 universities and officials from a dozen different institutions attended the workshop. For three days, they discussed the various aspects of Turkish foreign policy, academic studies, official policies and ways of increasing cooperation between state institutions and the universities in Turkey. It is the first time that such a gathering is taking place and giving a platform to both the academic students and decision-makers of Turkish foreign policy. This is another new dimension of the new Turkey. There used to be a wide gap between Turkish officials on the one hand and universities, research centers, think tanks and NGOs on the other. State officials used to approach academics and experts either with suspicion or for instrumental reasons. University professors and the NGO community used to have a similarly suspicious attitude. There was very little interaction between the two sectors.
This is changing now. Ministries and their related institutions are working closely with universities, think tanks and NGOs in practically all areas that are of interest to the nation as a whole. From EU reforms and the new constitution to environmental laws, national education and foreign policy, there is a growing, healthy relationship between government offices and the public at large. There are a number of reasons for this change, but two stand out. First, government officials no longer see the society in general as a threat to the sovereignty and security of the state. If the state is there to serve the people, then it must listen to it. Second, public opinion matters now in all walks of life, from art to foreign policy. Justice and Development Party (AK Party) governments have been paying more and more attention to both of these points.
I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the high level of both academic discourse and practical concerns raised during the workshop. The new generation of graduate students of international relations has a wide view of the world: They see it as one integrated unit in which national and regional issues should be critically examined from a comparative and interdisciplinary point of view. It was particularly reassuring to see young graduate students working in such diverse fields as public diplomacy and Turkish soft power, Latin America, the new rising powers of the world, Africa, state-society interactions in foreign policy, the Arab Spring, the Balkans, Central Asia and other issues.
The students also grappled with the issue of “homegrown theorizing.” Can the academic students of Turkish foreign policy and global politics develop new theories of international relations from a predominantly “Turkish perspective”? What difference can such theories make in the way we think about international relations? Will they be accepted by the main currents in the field? Who decides on the main theories of the field of international relations? This was a very stimulating debate.
Another novelty that came up in the workshop sessions and to which I referred in my speech is the new institutional activism that one sees in Turkish foreign policy. In the past, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs used to be the main and, in fact, the only institution associated with foreign policy. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is of course still the most important instrument of Turkish foreign policy. But now there are many new institutions that have become part and parcel of the practice of Turkish foreign policy. To mention a few, the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA), the Presidency of Turks Abroad, the Religious Affairs Directorate, the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay), AFAD (Disaster and Relief Organization), the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), the Anatolia news agency, the Yunus Emre Foundation and even the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) have all become fully engaged in the various missions of Turkey’s foreign policy in different parts of the world. As these institutions continue to grow and gain new expertise abroad, they will certainly make a difference in the practice of foreign policy.
This new “institutional activism” is a rather understudied aspect of Turkish foreign policy and reflects the new alignments and openings of the changing foreign policy perspective. I spoke at the Mardin Foreign Policy Workshop and gave an outline of the evolution of Turkish foreign policy over the past three decades since the end of the Cold War. I will discuss them in another column.