Speaking at the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta on Jan. 27 as part of the Atlanta-based Istanbul Center’s Distinguished Speaker Series, Wilson said Turkey is undergoing a fundamental transformation, but that this is not correctly understood in the US. Noting that this transformation is still important for the US, the former ambassador said there are three important streams in Turkey: migration, economic progress at a radical level and political transformation.
Wilson said that the high levels of migration from eastern to the western Turkey, from rural to urban areas has become conspicuous, and that these migrants have brought their culture to urban areas and influenced the structure of cities.
Underlining the unprecedented economic growth in Turkey, Wilson said that not only was economic transformation taking place in İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir but also in cities like Gaziantep and Kayseri.
Political transformations, Wilson noted, have been a result of social transformation in the country and he said the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has played a tremendous role in these sweeping changes.
Saying that the ruling party is using nationalist, and sometimes populist, tactics to increase its popularity, Wilson said the previous political system was open but included several authoritarian elements and that the regime was embraced by only a small section of the society. As a result of the transformation in the country, Wilson said, Turkey is more powerful now than it has been for centuries.
Noting that Turkey averted the financial crisis of 2008-2009 better than any other country in Europe, Wilson said the primary reason for this was that leaders in Turkey’s business world learned from the experiences of previous economic crises the country had gone through.
The diplomat said Turkey has also gained self-confidence and this confidence could be seen in the behavior of government officials and activities of the government. Stating that some things, such as strong nationalist sentiments, have not changed in Turkey, Wilson said this situation is a very compelling force in domestic politics and is more important than any other issue in the country.
The speed of domestic transformations and the political strife since 2001, in the past three to four years in particular, have created problems in relations between Turkey and the US, Wilson said, adding that despite all disappointments and different viewpoints in tactical and even in some strategic matters, Turkey is considered in almost all the high-level foreign policy priorities of the US. He said the US needs to investigate the reasons behind Turkey’s contemporary policies to better understand the country and also noted that it is important for the two countries to work together.
Asked about Turkey’s role in the Israeli-Syrian proximity talks over the occupied Golan Heights, Wilson said that strained Turkish-Israeli relations compel him not to have expectations about the role Turkey could play in this mediation. He added that if Israeli-Syrian peace talks are resumed, Turkey will not be able to clinch a deal without the help of the EU or the US, but Turkey’s role in the mediation might put the relations between the two countries back on track.