The new approach, which requires the restructuring of state institutions involved in foreign relations, is a must for Turkey, a country seeking to expand its influence in both its region and the international arena, experts say.
Various news outlets on Jan. 10 reported decisions made by the Foreign Ministry following a conference of ambassadors in Ankara. According to the reports, the ministry has launched an essential initiative attaching immense importance to the education of young diplomats.
The changes involving the education of diplomats include teaching them the languages of countries they are appointed to in addition to providing them the opportunity to further their academic careers by completing master’s and doctorate programs. The ministry will put special emphasis on the language issue and pave the way for diplomats to learn an additional foreign language besides English and French. Learning a foreign language will reportedly be encouraged and supported financially.
The lack of diplomats who can speak or at least understand the language of the country they are appointed to was once again highlighted in the latest diplomatic crisis, this time between Israel and Turkey, when Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s indecent treatment of Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Oğuz Çelikkol was shown on TV. In the diplomatic tension that ensued between the two countries, Çelikkol confessed to reporters that had he been able to speak Hebrew, he would have left the room in which he was meeting with the deputy foreign minister after the latter’s “explanation” in Hebrew to reporters of how he insulted and showed disrespect to the Turkish high representative.
The ministry will also work to hire more diplomats. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has always been criticized for having an insufficient number of personnel. In a conference held at İstanbul’s Bahçeşehir University last week, chief EU negotiator and State Minister Egemen Bağış highlighted the need for more diplomats and Foreign Ministry staff. “Even a small country like Slovenia carried out its EU accession process with 300 EU experts. In contrast, we have only 160 EU experts, this after a decision to increase the number of experts working at Turkey’s Secretariat General for EU Affairs.”
Commenting on the recent changes at the Foreign Ministry, İlter Turan, a professor of international relations from the İstanbul-based Bilgi University, told Sunday’s Zaman that the inadequate number of diplomats working at the ministry has led to an increased workload for diplomats. “An increase in the number of personnel at the ministry will allow the diplomats and other staff to focus on specific issues. There are now many newly opened embassies in Africa. The new ambassadors will gain much experience in Africa,” he said.
When asked whether the young ambassadors’ lack of experience is cause for concern, Turan said the limited number of diplomats is a big obstacle that prevents diplomats from working effectively. He also expressed his trust in the ministry’s training and education programs, which he said prepare ministry staff well.
“Having more diplomats means the Foreign Ministry will be able to address more fields. For example, they will not only be responsible for issuing visas, but will be able to engage in improving public diplomacy and getting involved in effective lobbying activities in other countries,” he said.
The ministry also decided to establish a department that will be responsible for working on developing public diplomacy tools that will strengthen Turkey’s hand and provide it the ability to shape world public opinion in favor of Turkey.
Turan said the ministry’s restructuring efforts are connected to Turkey’s new role in the region and on several international platforms. “There certainly is a connection between the restructuring of the institution and Turkey’s attempt to be a regional power.”
Voicing his agreement with Turan, İbrahim Kalın, the chief foreign policy adviser to the prime minister, said the recent changes are the outcome of the new foreign policy approach. Kalın noted that it is very important for diplomats to know the language of the country they are appointed to. However, he did concede that making this project a reality would not be easy.
“When we take the case of Çelikkol as an example, he was in Athens for three years and was then sent to Tel Aviv. How can it be possible for him to learn Greek and Hebrew?” Kalın noted, adding that if a more effective employment policy is put in place with the increased number of staff at the Foreign Ministry, young diplomats would have the opportunity to learn the language of the country and thus be able to closely monitor the countries’ media outlets.
Addressing the possibility of young diplomats becoming ambassadors at a relatively young age, Kalın said it is possible because the country’s population is on average young. “If most of the population in the country is young, it is not surprising to have young diplomats. I do not think this will cause problems,” he said.