Turkish Embassy in Ottawa

Embassy Announcement

Artical Of Guelph Mercury "turkey: A Strategic Beacon For Canada?" , 03.06.2013

Turkey: A strategic beacon for Canada?

Guelph Mercury May 31, 2013

Canadians generally know little about modern Turkey. Many see it as a poor country, exotic perhaps, but far away and of little relevance to Canada.

Take a closer look. You may be surprised to find a modern emerging economic power of some 76 million people, the vast majority Muslim. A democratic, secular republic with a fast-growing economy — the fastest growth among the 34 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) industrialized member states. It now ranks 16th in the world. By 2023, it should be among the world's 10 largest economies.

Situated at the strategic crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Turkey has become a pillar of political stability, diplomatically engaged in a region not known for stability.

It should be a country of focus for Canada as we attempt to develop closer ties with emerging economies, creating links that should be political, social and cultural, as well as economic. But it is not.

Turkey's ambassador to Canada, Dr. Tuncay Babali, spoke recently to a small group of students and other invitees at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, which I was fortunate to have attended. His comments were informative and refreshingly frank, reflecting his profound knowledge of international affairs.

He characterized his country's geographic location as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, geography defines the Turkish nation, a source of pride, facilitating its success in expanding and diversifying trade links, and strengthening its role as a mediator and facilitator, particularly in the volatile Middle East. On the other hand, its location also exposes it to threats arising from conflicts outside its borders, highlighted by the civil war in Syria. Turkey also remains concerned about continuing instability in Iraq.

The Syrian situation is currently the major preoccupation for Turkey. Syria has an 850-kilometre border with Turkey, and there are currently some 300,000 Syrian refugees in the country. Turks have been killed by military incursions from Syria. Ambassador Babali believes the West, including Canada, is not doing enough to end the bloodshed.

I was pleased that Babali alluded to some of the dark pages of Turkey's past. Although the country has a very rich cultural heritage, Turks today recognize this is "a new century," and reject being trapped in the past. He claimed there is a changing mentality toward neighbours such as Armenia and also Bulgaria, where the ambassador's own ancestors originated. He underlined the courage of the current government in opening negotiations with the Kurdish PKK movement. That "takes guts" and it must be given a chance, he said.

Babali's presentation emphasized a very positive message of economic success, dating from the administrations of former prime minister Turgut Ozal in the 1980s, who initiated the transformation of the Turkish economy to one more market-based, and began the process of opening Turkey internationally. Under the current government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan this process continues. Turkey is a founding member of the United Nations, a member of the OECD, NATO, and the G-20, among others. It is a candidate for membership in the European Union.

The following are some highlights of Babali's remarks:

• Turkey is the third most populous country in Europe after Russia and Germany, and will be larger than Germany by 2020.

• Turkey's population is young (half of it is under 30) and well-educated.

• It is a major tourist destination — more than 26 million tourist visits in 2012.

• It has a huge construction industry — second only to China — and major investments throughout the Middle East and Africa.

• In the past decade, foreign direct investment in Turkey has increased by nine times its growth in the previous 80 years

Despite differences, Canada and Turkey have much to offer each other.

In a recent presentation to the Canadian Senate committee on foreign affairs and international trade, Mike Ward, Canada's former senior trade commissioner in Turkey, outlined the vast potential trade and investment opportunities Turkey offers. More needs to be done to realize these. Opportunities for political, cultural and educational links also abound.

Turkey is changing rapidly. The U.S. Commerce Department lists it as one of five countries of focus, the others being China, Brazil, India and Saudi Arabia. Canada needs a wake-up call.