Noting that voters have given the current ruling party more support than any other party in recent history, Voice of the People Party (HAS Party) leader Numan Kurtulmuş lambasted the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) for failing to take full advantage of a strong mandate to solve the nation’s lingering problems.
“They’ve only done 20 percent of what needs to be done against bureaucratic oligarchy,” he told Today’s Zaman in an exclusive interview on the campaign trail covering Isparta, Burdur and Antalya in southwestern Turkey. “They could have made a lot of reforms to tame unruly state agencies that abuse power,” he added.
Kurtulmuş was also critical of the government for failing to reach democratization and foreign policy targets and stressed that problems with Armenia haven’t been solved because the government wasn’t prepared to address them. “I do support friendly ties with Armenia. But the government did not think it through when it undertook the rapprochement with Armenia. The issues like Nagorno-Karabakh were not properly discussed in the protocols, and its solution was not tied to the process of normalization. That was a mistake,” he explained.
Kurtulmuş is aiming in the long run to make a difference in Turkish politics but does not seem to be giving up on the upcoming national elections to be held on June 12. He has already organized district offices across Turkey and readied the party to compete in elections in one-and-a-half months, confounding predictions that a startup party would not be able to get ready to compete in the June 12 elections. Here are excerpts from the interview:
In your policy speeches, you especially focus on what you call a “synthesis of civilizations.” Can you elaborate on that?
I’m referring to the common and long history of experience that will carry this country and everyone who lives here to the future. I am stressing that this experience will help us solve problems. Everything in this land that belongs to our thousand-year-old history and civilization makes up the experience of this country. This experience is too vast to be limited to just one party or person. It should not be underestimated. We value every part of this experience, including the good times and the bad, mistakes and successes and the ups and downs. We appeal to people from all walks of life and believe that is what makes Turkey great. A combination of different experiences brought us together. We are explaining that the HAS Party is interested in taking office with this legacy.
You criticize Egemen Bağış, who touts the EU as the “biggest civilization project.” Are you against membership in the European Union?
I am not against the EU per se, but if you portray the EU as the “biggest civilization project” to the Turkish public, that will raise a lot of questions. First of all, the EU is not composed of one identity. There are many different identities in Europe. The Germans say one thing, the French say another and the British display a different attitude. Social democrats say one thing and conservatives and Christian democrats say another. Some people in Europe favor enlargement others favor the status quo or even scaling back after the euro crisis in some member states. We do not know what Europe will look like 10 or 20 years from now. It might dissolve itself after failing to generate common positions and everybody will go their own way. The changes taking place in North Africa and the Middle East may change the dynamics for the union, and Turkey may have to re-evaluate its position vis-à-vis Europe.
As for the Turkish candidacy, not everyone in Europe has the same opinion. One common view is that Turkey is a country that does not belong to Europe, but should not be left alone, either. In other words, Europe is trying to keep Turkey in place while touting all kind of excuses against full membership. This is ironic and cynical at the same time. The policy of keeping Turkey at bay is neither sustainable nor affordable.
‘Not all blame is on the EU’
Did Turkey not make mistakes as well?
I don’t put the blame squarely on the EU. There are mistakes in the rhetoric, for example, used by Turkish officials. If you were to tell any European or French person, for example, that the EU is a civilization project, he would get mad at you and ask, “Wasn’t France civilized before 1952?” The EU project is simply one of the outcomes of European civilization.
Do you think EU membership will benefit Turkey?
I know this process is going to facilitate Turkey’s democratization and help improve standards in certain fields like the economy, health, urbanization and the environment. But you have to remember this nation has always been in favor of democracy. Turkey has the potential to reach a level that is much higher than the standards in Europe today. Turkey has this dynamic and this opportunity. Turkey is a European state, anyway. It has both influenced and been influenced by Europe since the Ottoman Empire.
But I also see that based on the current situation, the EU will not give both full membership and the right to free movement to Turkey. We know this and they know this, too. In the end, politics is about “giving and taking.” First of all, I don’t think the European Union will last very long because of its own dynamics. Turkey should not base its entire strength on the EU. Turkey needs to observe a multilateral, active and strong foreign policy. It should pursue a diversified approach by not putting all its eggs in one basket. Turkey has relations with the US, Russia, China, the Turkic-speaking world, the Balkans and the Muslim region. Turkey has the opportunity and advantage of utilizing a foreign policy that is more multilateral than any other country’s foreign policy. Turkey has the opportunity to pursue a multilateral policy that the US and EU lack in some places. We need to protect the balances and show care in bringing out Turkey’s advantages within this balance. In other words, while establishing good relations with all sides, world balances should not be ignored. Turkey needs to develop a strong regional power and synergy with its neighbors.
When you include Turkey’s neighbors, don’t other balances in the world come into play?
Yes. First and foremost, the US comes into play. The EU, Russia and China come into play. But we are serious about solving our problems with our neighbors. We will take the initiative and show the political determination to solve them.
Isn’t the government doing that?
It did with Syria, but it didn’t show the same determination on the Armenian issue. It delved into the Armenian problem as part of its zero problems with neighbors plan, but the issue doesn’t just concern the two countries. Other countries, especially the US and Russia, are also involved in it as well. Turkey could have solved problems with Armenia in a fair manner. It still has the opportunity to do this.
Despite Azerbaijan’s stance?
It could have done it by winning Azerbaijan’s support, by making it a part of the solution and by following a multilateral policy. We believe that in order for Turkey to be successful in all other circles of foreign policy, the first circle (neighbors) must be very strong.
The causes of deadlock on Armenian issue
In your opinion what is the reason for the deadlock on the Armenian issue?
Unfortunately, the government was not prepared when it entered the process. It began with the aim to solve it, to have zero problems. Maybe it entered it upon the suggestion of third countries. But the process was obstructed because the necessary preparations had not been made.
It was a mistake to hold the talks in a biased country like Switzerland. The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh was not discussed. The government should have said something about the Nagorno-Karabakh problem to convince Azerbaijan, which is a part of the problem. The government should have made statements that would satisfy the people of Azerbaijan and Turkey. No Armenian government would agree to recognize the Treaty of Kars. A decision like that would be annulled by the Armenian Constitutional Court, and that is in fact what happened.
After that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to send back illegal Armenians in Turkey back to Armenia. That was complete sabotage of the peace process. It wasn’t something that suited our culture or morals. If you don’t say anything to speculators who make millions and even billions of dollars and then leave, then you shouldn’t be saying anything to the poor people who work for half of minimum wage. If they want to live here, then let them live here. If Turkey aims for it and takes a solid step, it will solve the Armenian issue.
Nuclear armament is a crime against humanity
Turkey voted differently in the UN regarding Iran. What’s your view on this issue?
First of all, there needs to be a global standard on nuclear arms. Standards that are unfair will be offensive and unsustainable in the long run. According to one study, there are close to 35,000 or 40,000 nuclear arms in the world. Others say there are more than 100,000. Nuclear armament is against humanity. It is against Islam. Countries want to use nuclear weapons against armies they can’t win against in war. At what cost? At the cost of killing civilians, innocent people, defenseless children and old people.
Are you saying it’s not right for Muslim countries to have nuclear weapons?
Yes, a Muslim civilization can’t have nuclear weapons because it is a crime against humanity. Almost all of the nuclear arsenal weapons belong to non-Muslims countries. It is estimated that Israel has thousands of nuclear arms. There are talks about the possibility of Iran producing nuclear arms. Indeed, Iran should not produce nuclear arms. But this isn’t a matter of being a Muslim country or a Christian country. It is a danger for the world. Everyone saw how damaging nuclear fallout from on nuclear power plant in Japan was. Now we are seeing leaks in the power plant.
There are concerns that terrorist organizations might get hold of these weapons.
Not just terrorist organizations, but, God forbid, what if all these nuclear weapons fell into the hands of two paranoid state leaders. The entire world would be dragged into a disaster. That’s why we call for the destruction of all nuclear weapons in the world. Let’s not allow any country to produce nuclear arms, not just Iran, so that we can protect future generations from this danger. It is unfair, irrational and unacceptable for countries that have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world a couple of times to impose an embargo on Iran. Iran is saying it is ready to share its information with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran should not take a step on producing nuclear arms, but other countries should destroy their nuclear arms as well.
How do you view the debate on nuclear energy?
Even peaceful nuclear energy has become a subject of debate following the disaster in Japan. We cannot oppose nuclear energy that is going to be produced under very good conditions and with cutting edge technology because nuclear energy is the most functional and the least environmentally harmful among known energy sources.
What business does NATO have in Libya?
How do you evaluate NATO’s intervention in Libya?
It is unacceptable for any country to interfere in the internal matters of another country. What business does NATO have in Libya? Is there any justification for NATO’s intervention in Libya? This is the question the West should be asking.
Are you against the occupation of Libya?
Col. Muammar Gaddafi is a cruel man. The West watched as he inflicted brutality on his own people for years. Instead of preventing him, many Western companies cooperated with him. Wasn’t Saddam Hussein supported by Western countries? Western countries and companies have been supporting Gaddafi for years. You help him get stronger, you continue to support business activities by turning a blind eye to his murders and then you turn around and issue a NATO decision. Isn’t this occupation?