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    Turkey is not included in the Middle East tour of the Chinese President

    Güven Sak, PhD09 April 2015 - Okunma Sayısı: 931

    Chinese President Xi Jingping will go on a Middle East tour in April. This will be the first visit of Xi Jingping to our region. Which countries does this first visit entail? Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The former president Hu Jintao visited Egypt in 2004 and Saudi Arabia in 2006 and 2009 within the scope of his Middle East visits. It looks like the Chinese think of Egypt and Saudi Arabia when they hear “the Middle East.” They don’t think of Turkey. Admit it, Turkey had no bearing at all in the preliminary accord between Iran and the US either. Iran appears to be preparing to abandon its position as an outcast after 36 years and return to earth from some parallel universe. It is speaking directly to the Americans. Turkey does not feature even in the p5+1 equation. The Middle East is being reshaped, but the Turks are not heeded at all. I find that terribly tragic.

    And why? I think the first reason is pretty clear: Us Turks have tended to see ourselves primarily and particularly as Middle Eastern for quite some time now. The Middle East is all we care about. We look as if we’re buried in the region. We don’t care much about what has been happening in other regions. In an age when we tend to consider ourselves primarily and particularly Middle Eastern, the Chinese president visits the Middle East, but doesn’t come to Turkey. The Middle East is being reshaped, and Turkey remains a bystander. You just go around saying you’re Middle Eastern, pretend there’s no other world out there, and at the end of the day, fail to even be acknowledged as Middle Eastern. This is what I mean by tragic in the first place.

    Secondly, the most important project of Xi Jingping is the Silk Road project. The Chinese say “One Belt, One Way” as they refer to the project. Anywhere I look, there’s something going on about it. The Silk Road is not just a highway container transportation project, but in fact an infrastructure project that aims to connect the two sides of Asia via transportation and communication lines. A major infrastructure investment project is taking shape in front of our eyes. During the APEC meeting late last year, the Chinese said they earmarked $40bn for the project. The Genoese bankers were the financiers of the Silk Road back in the day. The Chinese appear to be taking over that task this time. Nevertheless, the issue does not seem to have found a place in the official documents of Turkey. Just as Turkey does not appear to be around as the Middle East is being reshaped, it appears to be looking the other way when one end of Asia connects to Europe via land. It feels like we’re missing out on the reshaping of Central Asia when we’re stuck in the Middle East. At least to me. Why is this tragic? The Turkic republics and Central Asia, once one of the main pillars of the official rhetoric, can’t get any of our attention now. The president of one of the Turkic republics was saying a while ago: “Send me those who say ‘there is no such thing as Turks’ so I can show them what Turks are like.” His grievance seemed justifiable to me. We no longer take those countries into account.

    Thirdly, Turkey can be positioned as the gate of Europe to Asia thanks to the Silk Road project. This way, northeastern Anatolia, one of the least developed regions of Turkey in terms of national income, can also have some prospects. We’re all mouths but we have no idea how to seize opportunities whatsoever. See the graphic below: It compares Erzurum, Diyarbakır and Gaziantep in terms of population density since 1927. Let me remind you of that ahead of Xi Jingping’s tour and tell you what I find tragic about it. Erzurum ranks first among these three cities in terms of population in 1927. Not much changes until the early 1980s. Then Gaziantep makes headway. Diyarbakır follows Gaziantep. Erzurum sits and stares. The transformation process after 1980 contributes nothing to Erzurum, whereas it does to other cities. One wonders why. After 1980, Turkey grows by opening up to the outside. Erzurum and northeastern Turkey cannot. Why not?

    The Islamic revolution takes place in Iran in 1979. The east of the region is treated as an outcast by the rest of the world. That’s what I mean by a parallel universe. Then the Armenian border to the north is sealed shut. While Turkey opens up to the world and becomes richer, the northeastern Anatolian region is stuck in that corner; it cannot open up and become richer. What’s the tragic thing here? It’s this: In order for northeastern Anatolia to open up to the world and become richer, the region needs to be restructured. A process of restructuring is on the horizon in both Central Asia and the Middle East. The process is triggered by the change in the farthest east of Asia. The impact of the east end of Asia comes to its west end. Turkey does not seem to be within the restructuring process. It does not seem to be reading the cards right at all.

    Turkey is the term president of the G20 these days. It has a function that may contribute to the reshaping of the global agenda. Infrastructure investments have a significant place on the G20 agenda. However, Turkey does not appear to have taken a single concrete step to cite the Silk Road as an example of trans-border infrastructure investments. Turkey applies for founding membership in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which the Chinese aimed to establish as a rival to the World Bank, at the very last minute, almost at the same time as Israel. Meanwhile, Iran is announced to be a founding member of the bank. There is a problem between China and the US on the global agenda. Turkey offers no clues at all as to what it may do on this point.

    The truth is, I’m dismayed. I have had the impression for a while that Turkey thinks the world is comprised only of the Middle East. The world is not exclusively comprised of the Middle East. Let me rephrase that: The world cannot be exclusively comprised of the Middle East for Turkey. I think we’re making our world smaller for no good reason. The smaller you make your own world, the smaller the world perceives you, it seems. This is what I see. We seem to have forgotten that opportunities don’t knock twice.

    Figure 1: The population of cities relative to every 10,000 people living in Turkey today.

    Source: Turkish Statistics Institute

    This commentary was published in Dünya on 09.04.2015