Another day, they are touching water for ebru (marbling), a traditional Turkish art. They participate in courses and lectures on Turkish history and foreign policy on a daily basis. Seventy-seven young diplomats from 77 countries have been staying in Turkey for a month as part of the International Young Diplomats Training Program sponsored by the Foreign Ministry. In fact, this year, the 18th program is being held. However, the program, which had attracted limited participation in previous years, has become an extensive one this year. Young diplomats have become familiar with Turkish foreign policy and Turkish culture, and with each other as well. They have made visits to prominent Turkish cities including İstanbul, Konya and Nevşehir, in the fantastic Cappadocia region, where they experienced the beauty and complexity of Turkey.
With the rise of Turkish foreign policy on the international stage, the International Young Diplomats Training Program has received greater attention. The Turkish Foreign Ministry had reserved more funds for this program; the ministry had sent invitation letters to 80 foreign ministries, which nominated their brightest diplomats for admission into the program. Ankara picked from these candidates. Turkey has assumed all of the expenses, including accommodation and transportation. In the selection process, underdeveloped and/or developing countries were given priority. For this reason, participation from African and Latin American countries, as well as from the Middle East and Central Asia, has been particularly huge. The purpose of the program is to inform diplomats about Turkish foreign policy, history, culture and society, and to promote Turkey’s image through an impressive experience. To this end, the Turkish foreign ministry seeks to make sure that the diplomats become acquainted with Turkey and have a positive image of it, so they can serve as the elements of Turkey’s soft power in the long run.
The young diplomats are pleased to be taking part in the program. They feel lucky. For most of them, this is their first time in Turkey. Alberto Rodriguez from Peru says, “I am happy to be here.” Rodriguez says that they have heard extremely important lectures during the program. Denro Bolou from Ivory Coast is happy with Ankara’s opening toward Africa, noting that Turkey’s decision to open an embassy in Ivory Coast was welcomed by them. Bolou likes Turkey and Turkish people. Some of the participants are already familiar with Turkey. Tomislav Lendic from Croatia is one of them. In 2002, Lendic traveled around Turkey for a month as a student. He has seen every place in Turkey, including Antalya, Erzurum, Trabzon and Hatay. He is currently doing his Ph.D. in the US. His subject is America’s foreign policy approach vis-à-vis Turkey. He made the decision to study Turkey after having a conversation with a waiter in Antalya. Lendic says: “I had always thought that only Balkan people were really interested in foreign policy issues. But the waiter in Antalya impressed me. He patiently explained a number of issues, from Cyprus to the Middle Est. He was so excited, telling me all of the details on the subjects.”
The Croatian diplomat notes he has benefited extremely from the program and that he has had the chance to better understand Turkey’s dynamics and motivation. He has also noticed something interesting: “Turkish foreign policy doesn’t operate in one of the usual styles. Turkey has friendly relations with both the US and Iran at the same time.” He also notes that he attaches importance to this program for his own career because he believes Turkey will assume a lead role in global politics. He says that working in Ankara in the future would be a huge asset for him because Turkey is handling many issues and bolstering its relations with many regions at the same time.
Phoumanininh Vilaysouk from Laos says that he has discovered many similarities between his people and Turkish people, noting that both are warm and hospitable. He underlines that the experiences, recommendations and warnings of the Turkish diplomats have been of great help to him. Vilaysouk says, “They made me notice and better understand the realities of [diplomacy].” The Laotian diplomat is pretty realistic: “Right now, there is not strong cooperation between our countries. But I would like to take what I have learned here to my country and seek to improve relations.” Vilaysouk is also happy to know many colleagues from different countries. Asked whether he has found anything surprising in Turkey, Vilaysouk says: “We do not have honey at breakfast in my country. For the first time in my life, I had honey at breakfast in Turkey.”
I communicated with Semra Ramadani from Macedonia in Turkish. Ramadani, of Albanian origin, admires the experience of Turkish envoys. And her greatest gain from the program has been that she now understands the roots of Turkish foreign policy. To her, Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has built Turkish foreign policy upon history, geography, geopolitics and good relations with neighbors. Ramadani also notes that Turkey pays particular attention to values and humane considerations in its foreign policy. The young Albanian diplomat also notes that people love Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in her country.
Navchaa Tseveen from Mongolia graduated from a Turkish school in his country. He is pretty familiar with Turkish culture, but owing to this program, he has had the opportunity to be in Turkey, which he has always wanted to see. Tseveen says: “This has been extremely helpful to me; I have become acquainted with the realities of world politics. I have also seen the strong connection between Turkey and the international community.” Noting that this program is fairly different from other events he has attended, Tseveen says: “This is like a mini United Nations, attracting participants from every continent. This is a fantastic experience.” Forward Mhlange from Zimbabwe praises Ankara’s vision because of the African initiative. Mhlange stresses that Turkey is not looking down upon the African peoples but instead, is establishing firm and sincere relations with these nations.
The training program will be expanded to receive a greater number of participants each year. The ministry is now considering organizing the program several times a year to host participants from different regions. The program will be of extreme help in the long term for both Turkey and the participants. The alumni will remain in contact with the ministry, which will send them messages on their special occasions, including birthdays, anniversaries and promotions, to remind them of Turkey’s friendship. These young diplomats, who have become familiar with Turkey’s policies and culture, will act as friends of Turkey in the world. In a sense, they will serve as the voluntary envoys of Turkey in 77 countries.
The sending countries are so pleased with the program that a senior diplomat said, “I wish you had organized another one for the senior diplomats as well.” The young diplomats from Balkans and Middle East countries where the Turkish soap operas are influential said that they would like to see Ezel (Kenan İmirzalıoğlu) and Mehmet from Gümüş (Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ), given that they are here in Turkey.