Remarks of Ambassador Selçuk Ünal on “Security Challenges in Turkey’s Neighborhood and Turkish Humanitarian Diplomacy in a Multilateral World”

Selçuk Ünal 03.10.2018

Norman Paterson School of International Affairs

Carleton University

October 3, 2018

Dear Guests,

Thank you for inviting me. It is a great pleasure for me to address such a distinguished audience. Today, I would like to talk about the security challenges in Turkey’s neighbourhood and Turkey’s active humanitarian diplomacy in the world.

Turkey is a founding member of the UN, member of NATO and all major European institutions, and a negotiating candidate for EU. Being a key actor in Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Mediterranean and Black Sea regions, Turkey is in a tough neighbourhood. We are facing complex challenges. I would like to briefly mention the conflicts surrounding Turkey starting with the one between Russia and Ukraine. It has been 4 years since Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula was annexed by Russia. The illegitimate referendum is a clear violation of international law. We support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. We closely follow the situation in Crimea and in eastern regions of Ukraine.

Turkey supports the resolution of the conflicts in Southern Caucasus (occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and one-fourth of Azerbaijan by Armenia; situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia) through peaceful means within the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Turkey welcomed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between P5+1, EU and Iran on the Iranian Nuclear Programme. We have always considered diplomacy and negotiations as the only option in the resolution of the Iranian nuclear dossier. We expect the uninterrupted and full implementation of the Plan of Action in full transparency under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Despite recent statements and developments, this is still our position.

Preserving Iraq’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and political unity is vital for Turkey. These principles are also critical for regional peace and stability. In line with this understanding, we opposed the IKRG independence referendum. DAESH has been militarily defeated in Iraq and it is time for the Iraqi government to defeat it ideologically by adopting inclusive policies, promoting a common Iraqi identity, and reconstructing liberated areas. We will continue to support our neighbour in these efforts and establishment of a strong government in Baghdad.

Syrian civil war is now in its 8th year. Turkey will continue intense efforts to make sure that the talks in Astana, Sochi, and finally Geneva yield concrete results in 2018.

It has claimed more than half a million lives, created more than 5 million refugees and more than 6 million internally displaced persons. It caused terrorist organizations like DAESH and PYD/YPG to find fertile ground. Turkey would like to see a stable, prosperous and democratic future-Syria, which is able to preserve its political unity and territorial integrity, and is governed with its people’s legitimate aspirations. Based on established UN parameters, we support a political solutionthat maintains territorial integrity and political unity.

Syrian conflict is described by the UN Secretary General as “the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War”. Turkey is at its epicentre. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, we acted with humanitarian considerations. We accepted more than 3.5 millions of Syrians without any discrimination based on their religion, culture, or ethnicity. According to the UNHCR, Turkey, for the second year, is hosting the largest number of refugees worldwide, a total of almost 4 million most of which are from Syria and Iraq.

We continue to mobilize our resources to improve their living conditions. Our expenditures for Syrians (accommodation, education, health, access to the local labour market) have passed 32 billion USD since the beginning. We appreciate the humble efforts of a limited number of countries, including Canada, which have facilitated the resettlement of Syrians.

The recent developments put a special focus to İdlib in north of Syria. Idlib was declared as a de-escalation area in September 2017 under the de-escalation memorandum signed by the Astana guarantor-states in May 2017.

After the elimination of the three other de-escalation areas (Eastern Ghouta, North of Homs and Deraa-Quneitra) by the regime’s attacks, Idlib has become the only remaining de-escalation area. We do not want to see the repetition of the same scenario in Idlib. The Idlib de-escalation area holds a different status due to the presence of our military in the 12 observation posts along its borders as well as its proximity to our territories.

Idlib currently hosts a population of 3.5 million people. It has the potential to be the source of a new migratory flow towards Turkey. This could bring along the risk of terrorist elements trying to infiltrate into the Turkish territory.

On 7 September, the Presidents of Turkey, Russian Federation and Iran met in Tehran. They decided to address the Idlib issue with the spirit of cooperation of the Astana format. Building on this trilateral agreement in Tehran, President Erdoğan and President Putin met in Sochi on 17 September. Two countries signed a Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in the Idlib De-escalation Area.

This agreement is a diplomatic success in avoiding another humanitarian catastrophe. The timely and effective implementation of the memorandum will depend on the regime and its allies. We expect the international community to support this agreement, and to exert pressure on the regime and its allies to ensure their compliance with the memorandum.

There is another aspect of the Syrian conflict which is again concerning national security interests of Turkey. Turkey’s fight against terrorist groups, DAESH, PYD/YPG, which is the Syrian extension of the PKK and all others in Syria will continue. A key phase of Operation Olive Branch has been concluded following the liberation of Afrin city on 18 March. Together with the area liberated from DEASH last year, thanks to Operation Euphrates Shield, almost 500 kilometre-long stretch of the Turkey-Syria border (out of 911 km), from Afrin to Jarablus is now a terror-free zone. These operations have been conducted with utmost care to avoid any harm to civilians. The operation area is now fully under the control of the Free Syrian Army.

Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch paved the way for return of thousands of locals who fled the city. We have distributed more than 350.000 food rations throughout Afrin only in the initial parts of the operation. We established camps in Azez and Idlib in Syria, ready to host up to 170.000 IDPs. This frontline role is today holding millions of potential refugees who wish to go to West. It also blocks DAESH terrorism reaching to the West. We see the presence of PKK/PYD in Menbic as a national security threat and expecting them to leave the area as soon as possible.

Speaking of the humanitarian part of the conflict one should also mention the EU aspect. Turkey continues to carry out its commitments arising from 18 March Agreement with the EU. Thanks to Turkey’s tremendous efforts, the Aegean Sea did not become an irregular migration route. There are EU commitments to be implemented, such as visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, updating the Custom Union according to current needs, and full transfer of the first 3 billion Euros for the humanitarian needs of Syrians in Turkey.

The Conference on Cyprus was closed without any agreement last year in July. Both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side engaged constructively and with goodwill during the Conference. Their aim was to reach a just, fair and sustainable settlement of the Cyprus issue. The Greek Cypriots refuse to acknowledge the Turkish Cypriots political equality and to respect their sensitivities. Greek Cypriots unilateral activities such as exploration and exploitation of energy resources around the Island are disregarding the equal rights of the Turkish Cypriots.

A new era has begun in our relations with Greece in 1999 with the establishment of various political dialogue mechanisms, exploratory contacts on Aegean Issues, High-Level Cooperation Council meetings and high-level visits. Economy and tourism have become promising fields of cooperation. In 2017, around 921 thousand tourists from Turkey visited Greece. Same year, Turkey attracted 595 thousand Greek tourists. The facilitated visa procedure for visiting seven Greek islands close to Turkish shores has been in effect since 2012. It has also been instrumental in the increase of the number of Turkish tourists visiting Greece. There are some issues between Turkey and Greece concerning the Aegean Sea which we are still talking on.

Turkey and Bulgaria are two friendly, neighbourly and allied countries. Turkey has supported the integration of Bulgaria with Euro-Atlantic structures. With Bulgaria embracing free market economy, our relations have further developed.

Dear Guests,

While these security challenges were ongoing, Turkey has faced an unprecedented development. On July 15, 2016 Turkey witnessed the bloodiest coup attempt in its entire history by the Fetullahist Terror Organisation-FETO. This clandestine organization, a religious cult which had been nesting in the army and other government departments, as well as different institutions of the society, attempted to overthrow a democratically elected Parliament and Government. 250 people were killed and 2,200 were injured while resisting the coup plotters on that night. The mounting evidence at the court processes proved the link between the plotters and this organisation.

Turkey’s Active Humanitarian Diplomacy

Following our humanitarian assistance to Syrians, I also would like to give some detailed information on Turkey’s active humanitarian policy on this troubled security terrain.

Turkey’s humanitarian assistance has been diversified and significantly increased in recent years. According to the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2017, Turkey ranks the largest donor country world-wide with its 8 billion USD humanitarian assistance in 2017.

Turkey is also the largest humanitarian donor when the ratio of official humanitarian assistance to national income is taken into consideration. Turkish Red Crescent Society and numerous Turkish NGOs are also very active on a global scale.

In order to assist further and to offer guidance to UN’s humanitarian efforts, Turkey became a member of the OCHA Donor Support Group, which brings together leading humanitarian donors. In line with Turkey’s active role in the humanitarian action, Turkey hosted the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on 23-24 May 2016.

Development-oriented humanitarian assistance constitutes the core of Turkey’s policies in its humanitarian response. Given the complexity of present crises, the humanitarian-development nexus needs to be strengthened to increase the resilience and capacity of recipient actors to respond to humanitarian crises themselves.

In order to break such vicious circles it is needed to intervene with various tools. At the first stage, Turkey intervenes at the request of the host country with humanitarian aid for emergency humanitarian relief and continues with development projects to support resilience. Combined use of humanitarian and development tools turn out to be cost effective for donors in the longer run as affected countries become more resilient increasing their level of development. Development assistance enables affected countries to resist to such humanitarian shocks, which in turn would reduce their need of humanitarian assistance in the future. This approach has especially been very successful in sub-Saharan Africa.

Turkey’s policy to assist Somalia can be regarded as an exemplary case. All segments of the Turkish society from public institutions to NGOs and private sector were mobilized to assist the people of Somalia after the country was hit by a severe famine in 2011. Our assistance process which started with the visit of President Erdoğan, has gradually resulted in a comprehensive policy, comprising humanitarian, developmental as well as stabilization efforts in an integrated strategy. Several projects were put into action which consisted of human and institutional capacity building, construction of essential infrastructure, providing services such as education, sanitation and health etc. while humanitarian assistance continued.

Turkey will continue its open door policy to Syrians where it will carry on its other humanitarian assistance operations from Haiti to the Balkans, from Somali to the Middle East, from Central Asia to Myanmar to help the Rohingas.

Turkish Economy

Turkey’s inherent advantages emanate from its central geography, profound historical experience, young and educated demography and dynamic economy. Turkey is the 17th largest economy in the world, 6th largest in Europe with a GDP of about 850 billion US Dollars. Turkey has been pursuing sound macroeconomic strategies, prudent fiscal and monetary policies and realized structural reforms since 2002. Average growth rate between 2011 and 2017 is 6.55 %. According to the OECD and the IMF, Turkey is expected to continue to be the fastest growing economy amongst the OECD members until 2030.

Together with stable economic growth, Turkey has also reined in its public finances; the EU-defined general government nominal debt stock fell to 28.3 percent in 2016 from 72.1 percent in 2002. Turkey has been meeting the “EU’s 60 percent Maastricht criteria” for public debt stock since 2004.

Similarly, during 2003-2016, the budget deficit decreased from more than 10 percent to less than 2 percent as a ratio to GDP, which is one of the EU Maastricht criteria for the budget balance. The visible improvements in Turkey’s economy have also boosted foreign trade. Exports reached USD 157 billion by the end of 2017, up from USD 36 billion in 2002, while trade volume reached USD 391 billion. Besides, tourism revenues, which were around USD 12.4 billion in 2002, exceeded USD 26,3 billion in 2017.

Turkey has attracted around $180 billion FDI over the past 14 years, 12 billion USD only in 2017. Political stability and economic vitality of the private sector have paved the way for the realization of large scale infrastructural investment projects.

In the last 10 years, mega projects amounting to 250 billion USD were completed, including big scale energy and infrastructure investments. Currently Turkey has been carrying out projects such as construction of a third airport in Istanbul, 2 nuclear power plants in Akkuyu/Mersin and Sinop (8 nuclear reactors in total), high speed train tracks and highways throughout the country. The laying of the foundation of Akkuyu Nuclear Plant took place in April. Third suspension bridge across the Bosphorus was opened to service in August 2016. Marmaray stands out as a 6,5 billion USD rail transport project which connects the Asian and European part of Istanbul through railway a part of which consists of immersed tube tunnel under the Bosphorus.

Turkish air transportation sector ranks 11th in the world with a revenue of 30 billion USD and employing almost 200 thousand people. Flying to more than 200 international destinations, Turkish Airlines has become the airline which flies to the most countries in the world. Turkish Airlines is also one of the biggest Turkish companies successfully investing and operating in Canada. Air transportation agreement which was signed in 2009 paved the way for direct flights from Istanbul to Toronto and Montreal operated by Turkish Airlines. Istanbul has become the cultural, economic and commercial hub of the adjacent regions. Istanbul Atatürk Airport is the biggest air hub in Europe since 2015. One can reach to more than a dozen countries with an hour flight from Istanbul and within 4 hours one can reach to a market of 1,5 billion people in 57 countries, a geography extending from Ireland to India.

Turkey has become one of the fastest growing energy markets in the world in parallel to its economic growth. According to the International Energy Agency (lEA) Turkey will likely see the fastest medium to long-term growth in energy demand among the IEA member countries. In order to meet the growth in energy demand, the estimated amount of investment reaches to 125 billion USD until 2025. As an emerging energy terminal and transit country, Turkey also plays a vital role with respect to European and global energy security.

Turkey’s vision of 2023, the centennial foundation of the Republic, envisages grandiose targets for the energy sector such as installing 5 billion m3 of natural gas storage capacity, construction of 20 nuclear reactors in 5 nuclear power plants, full utilization of hydropower, construction of geothermal, wind and solar power plants, increasing the share of renewables to %30.

According to UN World Tourism Organization, international tourist arrivals to Turkey grew by 4.4% on a yearly basis. Turkey is currently the 6th most popular tourist destination in the world, attracting more than 22 million tourists so far in 2018.

Turkey-Canada Relations

2018 marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Canada.

The relations between our countries are based on common values and our solid alliance within the NATO framework, which dates back to the 1950s. It was here in Ottawa that in September 21, 1951, NATO Council recommended Turkey’s NATO membership. Our relations have a longer history though, including the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s participation in the Gallipoli campaign during the First World War. The Gallipoli campaign in 1915 has a significance for turning tragedies of the war into friendship between Turkey and the nations which took part in the campaign.

Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan has named Turkey a top emerging market with broad Canadian interests. Export Development Canada (EDC) with its regional headquarters based in Istanbul has identified Turkey as a strategic market of opportunity for Canadian firms. More than a dozen Canadian mining companies successfully operate in Turkey. It is a pleasure to see Canada’s growing economic and commercial interest in Turkey.


Economic relations between Canada and Turkey have always been solid and balanced; yet, the volume of bilateral trade and investments are still far from their full potential. Canada is 25thin terms of our imports and 31st in terms of our exports. From the perspective of trade volume its Canada’s 22nd trade partner. However, Turkey-Canada bilateral trade was doubled and for the first time reached to a peak of 4 billion CAD in 2017. It reflects an increase of 81% compared to 2016. This trend still continues. As of 2018 August, our trade volume has reached to 3.2 billion CAD. It is the first time ever a figure of 8th month.

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