[MAN OF THE YEAR] Turkey’s foreign policy transformed as theoretician Ahmet Davutoğlu takes the helm

[MAN OF THE YEAR] Turkey’s foreign policy transformed as theoretician Ahmet Davutoğlu takes the helm

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu

December 31, 2009, Thursday/ 16:39:00/ FATMA DEMİRELLİ
The editors of Today's Zaman have selected Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as this paper's man of the year for 2009, recognizing the central role he has played in perhaps the biggest transformation that Turkey's foreign policy has undergone since its foundation.

The unassuming professor -- appointed as foreign minister on May 1 after serving for six years as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's chief foreign policy adviser -- is rightly credited with re-establishing Turkey's role as a pivotal country in its region while expanding cooperation with the US to a more advanced level of model partnership and keeping relations with Europe on track despite growing opposition to Turkey in European countries. Widely recognized as the man behind Turkey's new proactive stance since 2003, Davutoğlu quit his behind-the-scenes role in 2009 and became the active chief of Turkey's dynamic foreign policy. And over time, he proved the skeptics who feared that the great theoretician could fail to adjust to the fast-changing reality of global politics very wrong.

Davutoğlu, in fact, proved that he is not only an intellectual designer but also a successful doer. During the half-year that he has been in charge of the Foreign Ministry, Turkey signed agreements with Syria and Iraq to build strategic cooperation, took a landmark step to normalize relations with Armenia after decades of hostility and moved forward, albeit slowly, in accession negotiations with the European Union.

Davutoğlu owes his title not only to his performance as foreign minister but also to the great deal of controversy surrounding his name in Turkey as well as in several other corners of the world. His desire to reinstate Turkey’s influence in a vast area covering the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East has won him a reputation as neo-Ottoman, a term Davutoğlu emphatically rejects, and led to criticism that he wants to pull Turkey away from its traditional Western orbit to place the country in an Eastern axis.

But for Davutoğlu, efforts to build closer ties with Turkey’s Muslim neighbors in the Middle East do not mean Turkey is giving up on its decades-old drive to be an integral part of Western institutions, most notably the European Union. He was once quoted as saying that Turkey can be European in Europe and Eastern in the East “because we are both.”

The foreign minister, in fact, is convinced that Turkey’s growing clout in the Middle East will help its bid to become a member of the EU, rather than complicating it as critics at home and abroad argue. The EU, under a leadership with long-term vision, will see that a Turkey with influence in the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans is a great asset in advancing the old continent’s interests in the areas of security, energy and economy. His vision seems to have reached receptive ears in the Obama administration, which has found in Turkey a partner to promote US foreign policy goals in the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Caucasus. Its growing influence brought Turkey an elevated standing in international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Under Davutoğlu, Turkey’s policy toward its Eastern neighbors seems to have gone beyond the well-known “zero problems with neighbors” approach and turned into maximum cooperation and regional integration -- similar to what formed the basis of the EU in the post-World War II era. His efforts to reinvigorate ties with the country’s Middle Eastern neighbors that had remained dormant for decades amid mutual suspicions has removed skepticism toward Turkey as a “Western agent” and has won Ankara huge sympathy as a regional leader. Ankara is now a respected promoter of peace in the eyes of Syrians, the Lebanese, Iraqis and even Iranians.

When confronted by charges of a shift in axis, Turkish leaders assert that Turkey is part of no axis other than its own. The multi-dimensional foreign policy was reflected in the field of energy as well: Turkey signed deals with both the EU and Russia to allow rival pipelines to cross its territory, boosting its aspirations to become a hub for regional energy routes.

Since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) first came to power in 2002, Davutoğlu has clearly shown that he is after a redefinition of Turkey’s role in its region and around the world. His so-far-successful term at the helm of the Foreign Ministry, a combination of theory and effective implementation, indicates he is not just a foreign minister, but a statesman who is most likely to have a legacy throughout the years to come.

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