On April 6, in Washington, GMF hosted a conversation with Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey Bülent Arınç about the political outlook for his country and prospects for constitutional reform in advance of upcoming general elections. The conversation was moderated by GMF Senior Transatlantic Fellow Ian Lesser.
Arınç began by describing the environment his AK (Justice and Development) party was now operating in within Turkey. Following three decades of political turbulence that included two military coups, a number of early elections, and significant reliance on IMF assistance, Arınç’s party was now poised to win its third successive general election since taking power in March 2003. Under his government’s tenure, Arınç described how Turkey’s economic performance had strongly increased, allowing for both major infrastructure development and widespread increases in living standards. He pointed out that Turkey’s impressive growth rate of 9% in Q4 of 2010 now put it in the top five economies worldwide. Arınç argued that the political stability witnessed in Turkey since 2003 stemmed directly from this strong economic development, with the two issues linked like “Siamese twins.”
Recognizing that Turkey was not interested in articulating foreign policy beyond Cyprus, Syria, Greece, and Armenia for many years, Arınç said his country has been pursuing far more comprehensive and multi-faceted objectives of late. He noted that aside from Armenia, Turkey now enjoyed healthy relations with all countries in the region, eager to build peace not only in its own neighborhood, but in all areas where “peace was needed.” As a consequence of its international affairs, Arınç argued that Turkey was increasingly viewed as a pillar of the international community, one well-known for honoring its word.
Following his remarks, Arınç participated in a question-and-answer session. Lesser started off by asking how Turkey now viewed transatlantic relations, given Ankara’s increasingly multi-faceted foreign policy posture. Arınç responded that despite a shift away from fixed priorities, transatlantic relations nonetheless remained important. He reminded the audience that EU accession was still a major goal for Ankara –and one that Turkey still strongly appreciated U.S. support in realizing. He added that U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2009 remark that Turkey was a “model partner” was greatly appreciated and signified the closeness of the two states.
Asked about the challenges associated with implementing planned constitutional changes following the forthcoming general election, Arınç described how his parties’ democratic constitution would minimize problems. He detailed how his party was consulting with other political parties to ensure the new constitution would be representative of all views, and that once completed, how the public would ultimately decide on the constitution’s fate through referendum.
During the question and answer period, the Deputy Prime Minister was pressed on a number of controversial issues, including Turkish-Armenian relations, the openness of the Turkish debate on the Armenian genocide question, and the increasingly critical discussion on press freedom in Turkey