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Mideast must foster the culture of peace 13 mars 2007

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.

Turkish Daily News, March 13-14, 2007 Tuesday

Süleyman Demirel *

When I was asked to write on the current issues of the Middle East, I remembered my visit to Oman in December 1997 as president of Turkey, by the invitation of my dear brother, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, and his very gracious hospitality. The Middle East was more stable than today at that time. The Peace Process was seemingly on track; the world was unaware of the coming upheavals in our region.
It was one of the very first occasions where I drew the world’s attention to the danger of splitting the world along cultural and religious lines. I recall my press conference there where I warned against the dangers of any act or attitude that would pit religions and cultures against one another. I wish I had been wrong that day.

That was four years before the Sept. 11 attacks. Today the Middle East is again at a dangerous crossroads in history.

When we look at our wider region spanning from the Atlantic all the way to the Altai Mountains in Central Asia and to the Indian Ocean, we see that Iraq is on the brink of a wider civil war that might end up with total disintegration.

Afghanistan is under renewed threat from the re-grouped Taliban. The crisis over the Iranian nuclear program is continuing. The Palestinian authority is virtually crippled, unable to deliver security and public services to its people. Peace is yet to be achieved. Lebanon is trying to emerge from a devastating war and grappling with domestic turbulence. Sudan is going through a difficult civil strife that has larger international implications.

Moderation vs. extremism:

Some in the West see all these developments as part of a confrontation between the forces of moderation and those of extremism.

In fact, today we are faced with two major and imminent threats: On the one hand, some still advocate the inevitability of the so called clash of civilizations. They claim that Islam and the West are drifting apart. While on the other hand, the Middle East is dangerously sliding towards a « clash of sects » within Muslim societies. We have to disprove the first, and stop the second. This task is and should be, in our hands as the countries of the region.

Turkey finds itself at the forefront of the efforts aiming to prove that the « clash of civilizations » can be averted. Our accession process to the EU can prove once and for all that we are not divided along cultural or religious lines but united by universal values, such as democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law, tolerance and peace.

However, the prospect of a sectarian war among Muslims transcends all realpolitik issues or concerns. It is not only threatening regional balances and stability, but also our unity and solidarity as Muslim peoples.

Already, Muslim societies are faced with threats from ultra-orthodox readings of our faith that lead to dangerous militarism and terrorism. The militarism and extremism that has unfortunately taken the center ground in the debate among Muslim societies not only threaten pluralism in the Islamic world, but also sends the wrong signals to the rest of the world that is largely Christian in faith. On the other hand, rising Islamophobia is the new menace that has to be nipped in the bud. Today, the culture of tolerance and pluralism, that is, multiculturalism in Europe faces a dangerous challenge by the rising reactions against Islam in general and Muslims living in Europe. I see great perils in this new phenomenon. The two worlds should never grow apart. The Muslims in Europe should not feel threatened because of their identity and faith. History cannot tolerate another battle of civilizations. New generations of European leaders are now faced with the historic challenge of remaining true to the ideals and aspirations of their founding fathers who built a continent that is finally in peace. Yet, I also believe that as Muslim societies the crucial task falls on us. We should disprove the false prophecies. We should prove that our faith has nothing to do with violence, extremism and intolerance. Only then, can we put a mirror up to European societies, challenging them to come face to face with their own paradoxes.

On top of this alarming development, we are now faced with sectarian violence in Iraq and the danger of a growing rift among our peoples along the sectarian lines. I see this as the most disturbing development that should be stopped and avoided at all costs. Our future peace, prosperity and solidarity depend on harmony and brotherhood among all Muslims, regardless of their sectarian differences. In this struggle, much falls to our leaders, politicians, religious and civic leaders.

Our faith is given the test of time and wisdom: Politics and regional power struggles should not exploit sectarian pluralism among our peoples. We should be able to prove that unity in diversity and diversity in unity can be preserved in the Islamic world. For this, we need more dialogue, more participation and more tolerance.

However, all our efforts will be in vain unless calm and stability is restored in Iraq. Equally important is the situation in the Palestinian-Israeli problem.

A crucial year for Iraq:

2007 will be the crucial year for the fate of Iraq and maybe for the entire Middle East. The situation is grave. Prospects are not necessarily encouraging. Not only for Turkey, but for the entire international community, should the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq hold the key to regional and even global security and stability. For now, the Kirkuk issue looks like the linchpin of stability in Iraq. It is as vital to the unity of Iraq as are the issues such as modification of the constitution, the distribution of oil revenues and the implementation of federalism. Therefore, a consensus should be reached among all the communities of the province through negotiation. A premature referendum on the future of Kirkuk could be highly explosive, even catastrophic; so it should be avoided. Otherwise, it may lead to greater problems for the already precarious relations between the Arabs and the Kurds, which would have spillover effects in the wider Middle East.

Also, the political ambitions to forcefully change the demographics of Kirkuk should be checked. Kirkuk, just like Baghdad, should be the common city of all the peoples including the Arab, Kurdish, Turkoman and Christian populations that live there, as was the case throughout history. In Iraq in general, and in Kirkuk in particular, no one ethnicity should be discriminated or favored against the others. Otherwise, Iraq may fall into long-lasting sectarian bloodshed with grave implications for global peace.

I also call upon the occupying coalition countries in Iraq to enter into a more substantial consultation with the regional countries regarding the current civil strife and the future of Iraq. After all, this is our region where stability and security are, first of all, our major concerns. If we want peace to prevail in the region we need to act accordingly. We need to look beyond suspicions, diplomatic squabbling and geopolitical power concerns if we want to forge peace and stability in Iraq.

Therefore, I welcome the most recent meeting of Iraq’s neighboring countries, together with the P-5 members of the U.N. Security Council at Baghdad on the 10th of March as a renewed and a realistic step towards finding a better and more effective collective approach to the future of Iraq. I also welcome Turkey’s active role in re-invigorating this crucial process and look forward to the next meeting at the ministerial level, hopefully in Istanbul.

I also believe that the Arab League should embark on a greater effort to bring about a regional consensus on the fate of Iraq. In this respect, the most recent meeting of the Arab League Foreign Ministers in Cairo sent the right message to the world that the Arab countries cannot shy away from taking a leading role in the search for a lasting solution to the situation both in Iraq and the current impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

The Palestinian question:

The Palestinian question remains the core issue in the Middle East. In fact, unless this issue is resolved and a lasting and just peace is reached, our region will still be held hostage by the chains dragging us back to the 19th century. Turkey has historic relations with both Palestine and Israel. We have been an ardent supporter of a Palestinian state from the very beginning. We also have had very good relations with Israel since its foundation. This gives Turkey a unique advantage to be a fair player between the two sides.

During my public life I have always advocated a peaceful and diplomatic solution to this problem and always emphasized that there could be no peace without justice in the region. Dialogue as opposed to isolation should be the guiding tenets of any effort to reach a just peace. Innocent civilians on both sides have suffered enough. In fact, history tells us that violence leads to further violence and suffering.

We cannot live in the past, we can only learn from it. We should live today for tomorrow. The children of Palestine and Israel will live together in this region. They should not continue to suffer from the acts of their forefathers.

I am happy to see that President Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came together recently with the help of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to re-start the dialogue. I welcome the renewed involvement of the United States in the process and also the preceding Quartet statement that paved the way for that meeting. I also see the Quartet meeting in Berlin on Feb. 22 as a further sign of determined international effort to renew the process. All these are crucial steps in the right direction and should continue. Otherwise, the voices of doom will overcome the voices of hope for a new beginning. In this respect, I welcome the statement made by Prime Minister Olmert yesterday, signaling a positive attitude on the part of Israel to the Arab Peace Plan of 2002, proposed by my brother King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. This plan remains to be the solid building bloc on which a lasting solution can finally rest. The plan offers a new political vision and a tangible perspective for peace to Israel. Needless to say that we need harmony and unity based on rule of law within Palestinian society because internal problems constitute one of the biggest obstacles to the revival of the peace process and to the achievement of Palestinian peoples’ rightful aspirations for their own state.

In this context, I would like to congratulate my dear brother King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, for his leadership to bring together the leaders of the Palestinian groups in Mecca on Feb. 8 to help them form a National Unity Government. I should also like to commend the important role of my brother Hosni Mubarak in helping this process towards its success.

Now, the onus is on the Palestinian parties to form a coalition of National Unity that can enter into a constructive dialogue with the international community and bring their people together around a new and a pragmatic political program that can pave the way towards establishing their own state at long last. Realism, moderation and constructive engagement should guide the new government in its struggle.

Peace is the only way to salvation for the people of Palestine. I remember what my late brother Yasser Arafat, may Cenab-i Allah rest his soul, once told me: He said that he could only come back to the Palestinian lands from exile by virtue of peace, not by virtue of violence. I hope my Palestinian brothers will do their utmost to protect and nurture democracy and rule of law in their lands and achieve their hard-earned claim to statehood through peace and negotiations. Only then could we have a Middle East that finally enters into the 21st century with hope and full of potentials for all the peoples living here

Iran’s nuclear program:

Another urgent issue that has to be addressed with wisdom and patience is the current dispute between Iran and the international community over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran and Turkey have had one of the most transparent and trustworthy relations for the last four-and-a-half centuries. Both countries have always been open and frank to one another. The current impasse over the nuclear issue creates further complications for peace and stability in our already fragile region.

In my talks, I always encourage my Iranian brothers to pursue moderate, fully transparent and rational approach, which would at the end lead to the peace, security and prosperity of the Iranian people and the whole region. I also urge my friends in the international community that there should only be a diplomatic solution to this problem. The means disposable to diplomacy should be fully employed. Even if these means are exhausted, the logic of diplomacy should be able to find even further means for peaceful solution of this problem. There should be no further nuclear escalation in our region. On the other hand, our region needs no other armed conflict that would worsen the current problems around the world.

Let me say a few words on Lebanon and Syria as well. I am sad to see that the beautiful country of Lebanon is yet again at a standoff internally. The events of last summer and the armed conflict between Israel and Lebanon exacerbated the fragile balances in that country. The specter of renewed sectarian conflict, as I said at the beginning, should be stopped before it goes any further. Lebanon has always been a beacon of hope that pluralism can be maintained in unity in the Middle East.

Lebanon’s success will create a new hope that the deadly specter of sectarianism and ethnic rivalry can be overcome in our region. Lebanese people are known for their resilience and determination in the face of troubles. They should once again be able to come together around a national agenda, rather than sectarian or short-term political concerns. The international community and the countries of the region should be more vigilant in their efforts to help Lebanon. I am happy to see that Turkey is trying to do its utmost to help the Lebanese people both as part of UNIFIL and in economic and social areas.

Syria, a key actor for Mideast peace:

Syria is crucial for the revival of the Middle East peace process and for settling the Lebanon issue. I am happy to see the positive change in Syria’s position to overcome the isolation it faces. I welcome their presence in the Madrid plus 15 Conference and their latest overtures toward Israel to begin talks. Syria should be engaged positively despite the current differences and problems between Syria and the United States and Israel.

The problems and challenges we face are great, and many are centuries-old. Yet, we should never forget that we live in a greater reality, which is the world at large. History marches on. Our region has lagged behind the progress that other parts of the world have so far achieved. Living through a conflict ridden life should no longer be the destiny of the peoples of the Middle East.

Today, all the countries of the region together with a total population of 300 million produce a yearly gross product that is less than that of Spain with only 44 million people. This cannot be an acceptable prospect for our peoples.

We must avoid sectarian strife:

But if we cannot stop the rift among our peoples, especially the sectarian differences, none of us can win. If we are not united in our search for peace, moderation and normalization of the Middle East, we cannot expect progress. We should not fall into this trap of inaction and excuse. We have to leave behind conflicts, fraternal fighting and rivalry.

We need to focus on how to save the lives of our children and improve their living conditions. We must be able to deliver them the highest standards. Or, we will be held accountable for our mistakes by future generations.

We live in a new age. This new age is called the era of globalization. Globalization means more co-operation and collaboration while being more competitive in an integrated world. Yet, we first need the regionalization of the globalization. Knowledge-based economy, innovation, entrepreneurship, efficiency, transparency are the new means and concepts of the new global cooperation and competition.

The Middle East should be part of this new global reality. In this region, we should prove that unity in diversity and diversity in unity are possible. We need more interdependence. It is no secret that interdependence rules out war as an option. We should have better infrastructure linking our peoples and the rest of the world.

Almost 70 percent of the world’s oil and 45 percent of the gas resources are in the Middle East and the Eurasian countries. Global dependence on these resources will continue to grow for safer energy and higher economic growth. Therefore, we should have a new economic vision and better energy relations in our wider region. As a first step, the Arab Natural Gas Pipeline Project should be completed as soon as possible. Thanks to this project, the Middle East will highly contribute to the energy supply security of Europe through Turkey.

We should have deeper cultural interaction among our peoples to foster the culture of peace.

We are confronted with a critical choice: We should either be able to put our house in order and show the world that our societies can sort out their differences peacefully. Or, we will repeat history with all of its troubles, rather than build a new future. The choice is in our hands, not anybody else’s * This article is prepared from an address Suleyman Demirel, the ninth president of the Turkish Republic delivered at a luncheon hosted in his honor by ambassadors of Arab countries at the residence of Mohammed Nasser Al-Wohaibi, the ambassador of Oman and the dean of the diplomatic community in Ankara

* This article was prepared from an address Süleyman Demirel, the ninth president of the Turkish Republic, delivered at a luncheon hosted in his honor by ambassadors of Arab countries at the residence of Mohammed Nasser al-Wohaibi, the ambassador of Oman and the dean of the diplomatic community, in Ankara


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