“The issue is too serious to be dealt with by mere statements,” Davutoğlu told reporters on his way from Athens, where he attended an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting, to Brussels late on Wednesday. “I am very concerned. We must take this issue very seriously. It is not something to be underestimated as an individual case.”
Swiss voters adopted the ban in a referendum on Sunday, defying the government and parliament, which had rejected the right-wing initiative as violating the Swiss constitution, freedom of religion and a cherished tradition of tolerance. The result of the vote drew protests from Turkey, which said it had violated the freedom of religion. Davutoğlu, who discussed the matter with his Swiss counterpart, Micheline Calmy-Rey, this week in Athens, said the fact that such a result came from one of Europe's best educated and elite societies is a signal that the result cannot be underestimated. “This is a symptom and it should be taken very seriously,” he said, calling the ban on minarets a threat to European culture as well.
The Swiss referendum result, criticized by the UN and the Council of Europe, proved to be a divisive issue across Europe. A majority seemed to criticize the result, while far-right parties as well as French leader Nicolas Sarkozy have spoken in favor. In Italy, junior coalition partner the Northern League called for legislative changes to allow referenda in more areas than currently allowed. “Who can say for sure that mosques in Europe are safe now? Fifteen years ago, hundreds of mosques were burned down in Bosnia,” Davutoğlu said.
“Millions of Muslims are expecting the European leaders to show a clear stance and they have the right to do so.” Calmy-Rey has said her government is “very concerned” over the referendum result, underlining that limitations on the coexistence of different cultures and religions “also endangers our security.” She said provocations risk inflaming extremism.
Davutoğlu also announced that Turkey and Greece agreed to deepen cooperation in several areas and described a meeting on Wednesday with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in Athens as a “very good start” for better ties.
According to Davutoğlu, he and Papandreou, who is also the foreign minister, agreed to step up dialogue by introducing regular high-level political talks between the two countries to boost economic and cultural ties and resolve problems regarding Cyprus, Aegean disputes and the situation of minorities. They also agreed to increase Turkish-Greek cooperation in Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, the Black Sea area and the Mediterranean region. Ankara and Athens will also explore possibilities for cooperation in global issues, such as global warming. “There was a complete meeting of minds. They [the Greek side] said the same things as us, as if they had listened to us before,” he said.
Davutoğlu, who was attending a NATO meeting in Brussels on Thursday, also signaled that Turkey would not send more troops to Afghanistan for combat missions, despite a US request to that effect. “We don’t see the problem in Afghanistan as purely a military matter,” he said, calling for a “comprehensive perspective” to deal with the difficulties there.
The foreign minister also criticized media comments describing his political vision as “neo-Ottoman.” “I have never used that phrase. It is not something that we embrace,” he said of the term, which is certain to raise suspicions towards Turkey’s new foreign policy in countries in the Balkans and in the Middle East, which were a part of the Ottoman Empire until the 20th century. “Those who use this term either do not understand what it means, or they have bad intentions,” he said.