Turkish Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Oguz Ozge: Q&A session notes
A: Well, in the first place, I wish to say that the Turkish Republic State was based on secular principles when it was founded in 1923. And secularism continues to be one of the main elements of Turkish society, of Turkish state of affairs. While the fact that for the last nine years or so, there has been a government in Turkey with Islamic leanings but I would say that despite the Islamic leanings I would argue that the secularist principles of the Republic are still there and continues to be a main element of the Turkish nation. And I’m hopeful for the future that this will remain. This is the distinctive element of Turkish society.
A: I would like to make a point that you should probably well understand the fact that the Palestinian issue is an important issue in Turkey. It is a sensitive issue, it is a sentimental issue, and the government is also doing all what it can to facilitate a way out or facilitate, negotiate a settlement of the Palestinian issue. Perhaps we have to look upon Gaza as an issue which is placed in this broader perspective. It is associated with the Palestinian issue. It is seen as part of the Palestinian issue in Turkey. And that is why there is a yearning for Gaza, to see Gaza as a place, as a spot, where no more restrictive measures are being applied. You certainly indicated there is a shared concern of the Israeli people and the Jewish people at large that Hamas is an important element as far as Gaza is concerned. But I think in Turkey, the plight, sufferings of the Palestinians there, takes priority over Hamas and if there is a sort of a solution being found to Gaza, then I think there is at least a belief that Hamas will be more peaceful and more forthcoming in their attitude towards Israel.
Syria is, it is a very hot topic and huge. Every day we watch on the TVs and read in the papers some 20-30 people are killed in Syria. I think, in terms of Turkish politics, Syria is a very crucial factor in maintaining stability in the region. Syria is our neighbour, as you know, and any unrest, any deteriorating situation in Syria, is a cause for concern in Turkey. And from the very beginning we, our Prime Minister, our Minister, have had contacts with the Syrian President and Ministers. We told them that civil casualties in Syria are unacceptable and the Syrian security forces should stop firing at people and we offered our help to begin a political modernisation in Syria. We told them that we would help everything that is possible for Turkey, even there was a timetable for reforms in Syria. But the words of the Syria President were not kept and we see the situation in Syria now getting out of hand. The international community is trying to do some, trying to take some measures as far as Syria is concerned, but as you know, in the United Nations there is a kind of a stalemate and Russia and China will not be supporting a Security Council resolution, which would provide for using force against Syria so there is a kind of dilemma but the Turkish Government, the Turkish State bodies are very vigilant towards Syria and I know that the situation is quite unbearable at the moment. There is hardly any possibility in using any force against Syria at the moment. We will see how things will develop in Syria and I think the Opposition in Syria is now trying to get organised and they are trying to get their voices heard in Syria as well. That’s all I can say at the moment.
Q: How far is Turkey willing to go in relation to Syria?
A: Well I’m quite honest, Turkey cannot act alone as far as Syria is concerned.
Q: As far as the blockade that’s been talked of Syria, it seems to me its analogous of the blockade in Gaza, and I think that the feeling that you have of Gaza is fine but I don’t think their lives are that miserable, and if they are, the misery that they suffer can be placed at the door of Hamas rather than this blockade that Israel is employing. As far as Syria is concerned, would the Turkish Government support, or at least turn a blind eye, to what is being sent to Syria to show its concern for the civilians?
A: Well I think we may not send a flotilla to Syria. Obviously we do a lot of things to make Syria understand our displeasure at what is happening in Syria and there are measures that we have put in place against Syria. We have a joint embargo measures against Syria and I think to the extent that is possible, I think Turkey is doing its share vis-a-vis Syria.
Q: It would seem from Turkey’s perspective, there are good blockades and bad blockades. And so Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a bad blockade. You go back to recent Turkish history. In 1993 Turkey imposed a blockade between Armenia and itself as a result of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. That actual blockade, that closing of the border, went on some 17 years, until about 2008. What are your thoughts on that? Do you see, is there an issue there that Turkey is so critical of Israel of Gaza but then in its own backyard it appears to prevent trade and entry to its border with Armenia.
A: Armenia, the relation between the Armenian State in the Caucuses is a different matter, I would say, in the first place. Perhaps I should begin by saying that when the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Turkish Government then recognised all the states, all the ex-Soviet republics, including Armenia. A little while, the Armenians put in their Constitution two clauses, two provisions, that one is they indicated their desire to see some of the Turkish territory to be ceded to Armenia and secondly, they asked for compensation from Turkey.
Well, the Armenian claims for Turkish territory within our legitimate borders is unacceptable to Turkey and we asked them to remove those provisions from the Armenian Constitution and they didn’t agree to this. And then, later on, as you mentioned, the Armenians occupied, invaded Nagorno Karabakh. Under the present legal norms, terms, Nagorno Karabakh seems to be Azerbaijani territory. The Armenians occupied Nagorno Karabakh by force of arms and then they caused about 1 million Azerbaijanis displaced persons, displaced from that normal settlements and territories, and there is about, I think, a community of 1 million displaced persons in Azerbaijan, and when Armenians refused to give the Azerbaijan territory, that is Negorno Karabakh, the Turkish Government, to demonstrate solidarity with the Azerbaijani people, closed its border, closed the frontier to Armenia, that is what it is all about.
The Nagorno Karabakh issue is still continuing, still unresolved, and there is a linkage between the Nagorno Karabakh and the border closed by Turkey to Armenia. That it is what it is at the moment.
Q: I hope you can lay down your Ambassadorial hat a little bit. In relation to whistleblowers in this country, the Jews are particularly passionate whistleblowers....your leader has been throwing some darts towards Israel quite (inaudible), and he doesn’t follow in the steps of Ataturk at all, he’s on his own. And I want to ask you a (inaudible) personal question about your leader; is he doing this on his own or is the Government supporting him, supporting his actions (inaudible)?
A: I actually cannot detach the Prime Minister from the Government. They are one and all. The Prime Minister is the boss of the party, the Government, but I really don’t know whether it is personal choice or the Government. But I have to say that as the Prime Minister indicated a policy line about Israel, then I would presume that it is a Government policy.
Q: It is interesting you justify Turkey’s response to Armenia because of a clause in the Constitution whereas Hamas has a much harsher clause vis-a-vis Israel; to wipe Israel off the map. That wasn’t my question. My question was, in your speech you spoke about the good relations between Turkey and Israel, which is historically (inaudible). I have a personal question. Everyone in my family except myself holds an Israeli passport. When it comes to the matter of travel between Australia and Israel, one of the very popular ways has been via Turkey and Arab countries. I recently myself went through Amman. I recently had to look for a ticket for one of my kids and one of the routes was through Turkey. However, what happened earlier this year, the 5th of September this year, around 40 Israelis, based on news reports, which is all I can go on, were taken to the side, strip-searched etc. at the airport. I thought I just couldn’t let my daughter go through Turkey. What’s your comment on that?
A: I really don’t know but I can comment on that in such a way that it may have been a sort of retaliation against the measures taken by Israel at the airport in Israel and the mistreatment towards the Turkish people. I can only say that. It is not an action taken by Turkey unilaterally. I believe that may have been an incident in Israel against the Turkish people and that may have been retaliation for what happened.
Q: I don’t know if I speak for others in the room. The Israel-Turkey relationship has been so important, it’s been the barrier between, “well, we’ve always got Turkey”. We’re still, we have friends in the region, 70+ million people, the door-step of Europe, maybe even accession one day, a fundamental important relationship, bi-lateral in a tourism people to people links, economic, scientific and others. To see this relationship go down hill personally and politically is a very, very troubling thing to watch.
So my question is, Gaza’s been bad for a while now, a long time, particularly from 2005/6 I think that was the election date for Hamas. Why now? What’s happened in the last two years that Turkey suddenly says, “actually, pretty bad in Gaza, I think we should take a radically, you know, overblown foreign political stance. By the way, not just with Israel but noted a lot more of an aggressive stance in the region by the Turkish Foreign Ministry in particular. Why now? And is it true and maybe this is going back earlier to the gentleman’s question. It seems to me that the government is taking a leadership position. Yes, the Palestinians are a sentimental issue, I completely understand that. As someone on the left-wing of Israeli politics, but why now? Why has the Turkish Government taken such a radical position publically, always trying to say we really want to get your goat up. What’s going on? Why is it happening now?
A: Well, I can say that Turkish governments have always been really alarmed over what happened in Gaza in particular in Palestine in general and well, when the occupants of, I mean pertaining to Palestine and Gaza, which the Turkish Government could have found favourable or positive on every occasion, I think there was a statement indicating the position of the Turkish Government in relation to such a (inaudible). In the past when the relations between our two countries were very positive and very satisfactory I remember having seen statements of such nature criticising the attitude of the Israeli Government. It is not new but I think what caused the Turkish Government to be as you have referred to, more radical, in its attitude towards Israel, I would say, the flotilla. Before the flotilla I can tell you very frankly that this Government was in power in 2004, I mean you know they had been in power for the last nine years or so, and even in 2004 or 5 we went to Israel on a formal visit with the now President. He was then Minister of Foreign Affairs and I was also at the delegation. I can’t remember the name of the I think Deputy Prime Minister but it might also be the Foreign Minister then at the same time, and he very clearly made the point to our Minister that the Israeli Government expected the present government to be anti-Israeli in its position. I mean policies against Israel. But he emphasised that he has been wrong because they were very pleased with working with the Turkish Government in about all fields political, economic and military. So it is actually, it’s not a new thing that Israeli Government was on good terms with the present Turkish Government. But I think the flotilla incident was a landmark in the deterioration of our relations but I, if that can overcome in the future than I would believe that relations, bilateral relations will pick up.
Q: I have three quick questions…first I would say that I hadn’t heard about this event the gentleman raised about the forty travellers but I would say that it’s clearly wrong to confuse political tension with the people travelling through. If Israel was in any way responsible for something similar, and I highly doubt it, than I would certainly condemn it. Would you be prepared to condemn that sort of thing happening? Quick answer to that please.
And the second question is that it seems to me that Israel is highly unlikely to apologise for the event that you talked about, apologising and then compensating, in order to move the relationship forward. Assuming they won’t apologise, how would you anticipate that there could be a move forward because clearly this relationship is important?
How much would you put this change that we’ve seen and the way this relationship has declined down to....we’ve recently seen France and Germany moving Europe, trying to resolve the economic situation in Europe, and to my recollection that France and Germany who were leading the opposition to Turkey joining the European Union and snubbing Turkey when it was attempting to do that. How much would you put if anything into that scenario as a part of the path that’s lead to where we are now?
A: Well, in the first question I can only refer to the news items that appeared in the Turkish press about the mistreatment of Turkish citizens in Israel, and while I am not in a position to say whether it is true or not, there was news about that and it is highly likely that the treatment of Israeli citizens in Turkey should be in retaliation to the treatment they received in Israel because otherwise I can’t say that there is a unilateral mystery point of any person. (Interruption: If that was the case, would you condemn it?) If it is wrong than I think it is for, it is a matter for the Turkish Government because I’m not involved in this issue, I mean I’m just a representative of the Turkish Government in Australia and it’s not for me to say anything about such an incident.
The second question, related to apology….it is really, I mean, if you look at the statements by the Turkish Foreign Minister and the President they are all very clear that apologies seem to be a precondition for improving relations with Israel. And the third question, France and Germany….while it is obvious that we should not lose sight of the fact that they pulled twice in the twentieth century, in the First World War and then in the Second World War and that is a separate case. I don’t think it is a resemblance of the relations between Turkey and Israel. For the European Union, well I can only say that because you know that the European Union have a very difficult position and a very difficult situation the circumstances are not....seem to be right for the European Union to make headway in the near future, well, I, we believe that if the European Union is able to put its economic house in order that I think it will be willing to negotiate afterwards.
Q: I commend you for having the courage to come to an audience like this tonight, I think you are a very brave man. (Ambassador: well, thank you.) May I just say to you I am a layman. I’m not political, I have no access to the kind of information you carry and work with nor with our governments. Please may I just go back a moment to present something to you and ask you from my perspective as a Jewish woman. When Israel was created as a State they never asked anybody to leave whereas it is historically a fact that the other countries said, “get out because we’re going to attack and you are going to be caught in between”. So there was a general movement by a lot of people not on Israel’s request. For the next twenty/thirty years these people were left in refugee camps. They belonged to the Jordanians, the belonged to the Syrians, they belonged to all the people within that area and they were left as refugees. They lived badly. They were never helped by people like your Government who are so concerned now about them. I’m jumping historically, it’s very important to me what I’m saying to you, so forgive me if I’m a little bit emotional, but I don’t understand. So, all this period of time we have a situation developing where in fact, as Newt Gingrich recently said, “there were no Palestinians”. If I may give two seconds of a joke of a story put at the United Nations, the story of Moses, or maybe not Moses but somebody who went to swim in the Dead Sea, when he came out, his clothes were missing. And he said, “Oh my goodness, my clothes are missing. They must have been stolen by a Palestinian”. And the man put up his hand and said, “there were no Palestinians at that stage”. And he said, “Ah”.
So, the point I’m trying to make is this….for this period of time there has been such an activity about Palestinians that today have one of the highest life expectancy in Gaza, one of the highest growth rates. They do have things going through the borders, they may not have luxuries but all the blockades that were set up, things were being delivered. So the blockade, or that particular flotilla came with people armed, they came with the Turkish army, or with Turkish people on board, forgive me, who were attacked, I don’t want to focus on that as much, I know that it is a strong diplomatic situation. I’m just asking why in the last 10-15 years since the enormous activity of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamisation worldwide of that particular period and what’s happening now with the Arab Spring and the Muslim Brotherhood really infiltrating everywhere. This great concern when they really needed the Palestinians help, there was nobody there. Now people who have not let Israel live, people who will not even agree to it, to two states, because they believe once Muslims have lived in a territory it’s theirs, they want the entire territory. Where does this all come together?
A: Well, you know if you go back to the beginning, in 1947 I believe, there was a commission fortnightly at the UN for Palestine and I mean, finally there was a partition between Israel and Palestine. And that United Nations resolution provided for a land for Palestinians and later on as you know, in the aftermath of the Madrid Conference in 1991, the Palestinian representatives and the Israeli representatives came together to work out an agreement and they agreed that there should be a land from I mean, there was a state for Palestine and that is a two-state solution than Israel….well I think if you look at present there is still no Palestinian state, they have not been able to establish their state. (Interruption: my question is why?) Well, I don’t know because the Oslo Agreement provided additional deals to be made between Israel and the Palestinians and those should not have been, it should not have been possible to reach such agreements. (Interruption: even Arafat’s wife says he would never have made an agreement. There would never have been peace.) Well, I really don’t know because I’m not, I mean, (inaudible) the Palestinians but it’s the reality that there is no Palestinian state at the moment and I believe they want to set up one.
Q: I’m interested in, I think Turkey is a signatory to the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] unlike India, unlike Israel, unlike Pakistan and I think unlike, well I think Iran is also a signatory, but given the complexities now in terms of the (inaudible) military situations, weaponry and the likelihood of abrasive conflicts in your part of the world more than our part of the world here, I was just wondering how the Turkish Government see its role in trying to deliver a Middle East that’s free of nuclear weapon. So, if you could elaborate a little on the policy of the Turkish Government vis-à-vis nuclear arms in the region and that include Israeli nuclear arms or Iranian aspirations in nuclear weaponry and maybe its relationship with Pakistan. I’m just interested in how the Government’s positioning itself at the moment.
A: Well, it’s also Australian Government’s position that there should be an imminent denuclearisation in the Middle East and I believe the Turkish Government (inaudible) look what’s in the paper in the first place because it’s obvious that we don’t want any nuclear power just beside Turkey and it is the least that we should expect Iran of becoming a nuclear state. It is very clear that if Iran should acquire nuclear weapons than it will be a threat to Turkey. Although I should add we have had a long relationship with the Iranians and I should say that the border between the two countries, Turkey and Iran, was demarcated in 1634, so for about, more than four centuries the border remains unchanged between Iran and Turkey. But it is very clear that we don’t want a nuclear Iran as a neighbour. We know that the nuclearisation in the Middle East is not feasible at the moment, there is no viable alternative. But there are other countries like Australia all push for denuclearisation and demilitarisation in different regions of the world. They may have some support in the United Nations but I don’t think it will be an issue of tomorrow rather than, I mean, a decade or so.
Q: The dominant view among international commentators at the moment is that Turkey is in a state of transition both internally where the army has always been a real safeguard for secularism in the country, is now loosing its power more and more each year with mass arrests of high ranking army officers who have been replaced with officers more affiliated with the current Government and possibly related to that concurrently the dominant view is that Turkey is transitioning its foreign policy after being rejected by the European Union and it’s made a determined decision to take up a leadership role in the Islamic world. I think a lot of people do believe that there was a decision that its relation with Israel should deteriorate and I don’t think that it’s the flotilla. If we go further back to when Prime Minister Erdogan stormed off stage in Davos after insulting Mr Peres, so my question to you is how do you see that transition? Do you believe there is some transition taking place at least internally, if so, in terms of foreign policy as well?
A: ....but as far as the military is concerned well I approach with a grain of salt the news or the comments in the press in the media that the military role is the (inaudible) in Turkey. Well there is hardly any concrete gauge to measure whether the military is in decline or not. I wouldn’t believe that the military is on the decline rather I believe that the military is quite strong and will continue to be strong for given the circumstances that prevail in the region.
Q: Iran continually threatens and states that it wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Turkey is lucky enough that Iran just wants to destroy the NATO radar, not the whole country but you say that Iran is a friend of Turkey and vice versa as a… (Ambassador: I didn’t say that.) Well that you’re not enemies let’s say. What’s your response when a country that you said shares a border with you for over 400 years says we’re going to attack certain installation in Turkey and it wasn’t (inaudible) from the Revolutionary Guard? What’s your response to that?
A: Well, I can only say for four centuries we have been able to resolve our differences on issues without resorting to any force and arms, that is perhaps, that is (inaudible) we haven’t fought Iranians for four centuries.
Q: I’d hate for you to leave here thinking that all Jewish people in Melbourne unreservedly support Israel’s blockade of Gaza. There is certainly those of us who have serious moral concerns about the blockade as well as Israel’s handling of the flotilla incident. We might not speak loud but we have those concerns. Israel traditionally has very strong military ties to Turkey and the Turkish military has strong relationship with Israel and do you see any prospect of that being reviewed in future if some of these current concerns can’t be overcome or is that something of the past?
A: Well I have pointed out in my prepared statement that the unrest in the Middle East, what is developing because of the Arab Spring that necessitates the Turkish and Israeli relations to improve, and if I believe our relations may develop in the future if we are able to recognise difficulties and in that case I believe the military and the relations with the Turkish and the Israeli military will resume and I believe that could come again (inaudible) or to the advantage of both nations. But as far as the flotilla incident is concerned, I should say that I have not got the impression that the Jewish community in Melbourne is quite adamant that Israel should continue its present position.
Q: You mentioned earlier about the Palestinian issue being a sentimental issue for Turkish people but I’m wondering if the Turkish people are being misled by the media about the new position/situation in Gaza at the moment where there is a flourishing economy and the Red Cross recently ordered that there is no humanitarian issue there what-so-ever and indeed in fact the situation about the Palestinian state as it is, which Palestinians are refusing to accept they clearly do not want the two states solutions, they want just one state solution and they have never agreed to it. You were saying why Palestinian state does not exist still when there was a petition right from the beginning and it’s forcing Israelis to agree to two state solution but Palestinians did not and still do not agree totally. So my question is about whether the Turkish people are being misled by the media about the real situation in Gaza at the moment?
A: Well I can’t possibly comment because I mean I really don’t know about the actual situation in Gaza in the first place because I am quite far away from Gaza and secondly I really don’t know the media misled the Turkish public on the Palestinian issue general and Gaza in particular but I have never come across any report saying that the economy in Gaza is flourishing but maybe it is my ignorance in the first place but….secondly I, well I believe that if it is the case in Gaza then I believe that it will be reflected sooner or later in the Turkish press or media so that the people will get informed about it.