The dynamic behavior exhibited by Turkey in its foreign policy and the gains it has made in recent years have been addressed by some circles opposing those developments in a discussion of Turkey’s orientation, claiming that the country is turning its back on the West. The governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) responded to that allegation by compiling the number of foreign visits made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since 2002 and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his predecessor Ali Babacan in 2009.
In his seven-year term at the Prime Ministry, Erdoğan has made 234 visits to 81 countries on five continents, strong proof of Davutoğlu’s statement summarizing the country’s foreign policy orientation: “Our axis is Ankara and our horizon is 360 degrees.”
When the list of the prime minister’s visits for the last seven years is examined, it is obvious that the country’s growing relations with the Muslim world did not come at the expense of its bonds with the West. Erdoğan has travelled 112 times in total to 33 European countries since he was sworn in. The US played host to Erdoğan the most, 14 times. Following the US is Belgium with 13 times, as its capital, Brussels, is also home to most of the European Union institutions. Another European country, Germany, occupies third place on the list with 11 visits. The UK, Italy, Switzerland and France are all among the top 10 destinations for Erdoğan after Germany. Other members of the group of most visited countries by Erdoğan are Azerbaijan, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
African states seem to have received considerable attention from Erdoğan as well -- the prime minister has paid nine visits to the continent during his term in office. Asia appears as another strong host for Erdoğan, too. He travelled to 34 countries in Asia, with 18 visits to the region’s five Turkic states, in the same period. With visits made to Australia and New Zealand added, Erdoğan has reached five continents.
Erdoğan has made many travel firsts as prime minister of Turkey. Afghanistan, Lebanon and Sudan as well as Australia and New Zealand have received a Turkish prime minister for the first time with Erdoğan’s visits. Erdoğan was the first Turkish prime minister to visit the western Thrace region of Greece, where Turks live as an ethnic minority and also where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkey, was born, in Thessaloniki.
According to statistics recently released by the AK Party, the party’s foreign ministers are breaking records as well. Their visits are highly significant as they show the multilayered approach of Turkish foreign policy. In 2009 alone, Babacan and his successor Davutoğlu made 93 visits abroad. Davutoğlu took over from Babacan in May of last year. He has started the new year with an even faster pace. In the first 70 days of 2010, Davutoğlu made 19 visits. More than half of these 112 foreign minister trips in 2009 and 2010 were to Europe. The Middle East received Turkey’s chief diplomat 28 times, while Asia followed with 18 times. The foreign minister has travelled to the US nine times in 2009 and 2010 to date.
On his way back from a three-day visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon on Wednesday, President Abdullah Gül had the satisfaction of completing another strategic trip. Since he was sworn in on Aug. 28, 2007, Turkey’s foreign policy has become much more dynamic. He has paid 56 official visits to 43 countries during his term in office thus far. He has travelled to the US, Russia, Japan, China, Germany, France and India, proving the contributions a head of state can make to his country’s external relations. His visit to Armenia in September 2008 marked the beginning of a new era for Turkey regarding bilateral relations with this long-estranged neighbor. It was the first such visit in the history of the Turkish Republic.
Representation in both East and West
In recent years, several Turkish figures have assumed significant positions in international organizations. Furthermore, Turkey was elected to a two-year non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council in October 2008 with the votes of 151 of the 192 members at the UN General Assembly.
Professor Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu has been continuing his work since 2005 as secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the second largest international organization after the UN in terms of its number of member states. Kemal Derviş has been the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for four years, since August 2005. Ahmet Üzümcü, the permanent representative of Turkey to the United Nations in Geneva, will be the new director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) starting in July this year. Lastly, Professor Gün Kut was recently elected as a member to the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for a three-year term. Gül’s chief foreign policy advisor, Ambassador Hüseyin Diriöz, is expected to be appointed as a deputy secretary-general to NATO, too.