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On the 11 of October 2016, a discussion was held in Prague with HE Mr Ahmet Necati Bigali, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to the Czech Republic about  of the Republic of Turkey’s foreign policy, the 2016 Turkish coup d’état attempt, Turkey’s preparations for EU membership and and the current state of relations between our countries. The discussion was held at the His Excellency’s Residence in Prague. HE Mr Bigali has been Ambassador in Prague for two and a half years and has been assigned to his mission for four years. Before coming to Prague, he was the Ambassador in Brussels, Paris, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Teheran, and Northern Cyprus.

The Czech Republic has excellent relations, through political and economical channels, with the Republic of Turkey. Furthermore, both countries are participating in strong and enthusiastic engagement with NATO. Turkey is a negotiating country in the European Union. In addition, its first application for membership was submitted in October 2005, 11 years ago, and this process is continuing at present.

The Republic of Turkey was found in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), who was  its first president; as such, since its foundation ninety-three years ago, it has been  based on the principles of democratic secular countries principles and is primarily y oriented to Western civilisation. The Republic of Turkey seeks to be based on the rule of law and state principles. One of its top priorities is to become a member of the EU, as well as integrating itself into Europe. Many people, Turkish citizens, live abroad in EU countries, including Germany, Austria, France and the Netherlands. In the Czech Republic, however, there are only a small minority of people of Turkish origin (around 3000).

As we see have seen in recent years, the situation of Turkey is very difficult, as they orient themselves as a European country, but are geographically situated in the Middle East region, which is an extremely turbulent part of the world. They shares borders of 900 kilometres, with Middle Eastern countries including Iraq, Iran and Syria. The a barbaric terrorist organisation known as DAESH/ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has held territory in Syria and Iraq, for three years which piles trouble upon the whole Middle East region, while also presenting grave threats to the rest of the world; for Turkey, the group is a major security threat. On August 21st 2016, an operation was undertook against DAESH, which served as a counterattack and sought to reduce DAESH “territory”. In addition, Turkey has  tried to establish a security zone in the region.

Syria has been, is and will continue to be a strategic country, and Turkey and Syria have a very close relationship. In February 2011, when demonstrations kicked off the “Arab Spring”, the Turkish President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs told Middle Eastern countries that they have to heed the voices of the people and take some steps towards establishing democracy. At present, we need to cooperate with President al-Assad, because it is his government which controls the majority of the territory of his country.

Turkey is seeking to become a more responsible state which be involved in Syria, owing to its geographical position. Turkey will become a regional leading country, linking northern Europe with the Middle East. If we want to stop the Syrian conflict, we will first need to establish a means of cooperation with the Russian Federation; there is no other way. The destabilisation of Syria presents a very grave threat to all of its neighbours, and for the whole region surrounding, including Turkey. Moreover, the situation in Syria involves a very tricky game of foreign policy from the various interested states, which may be termed a proxy war. If every state concerned would cease their arms exports to Syria, then the war would be over. We are seeing clear hypocrisy on the part of some countries, because they are claim that they are trying to achieve democracy, while at the same time continuing to provide arms to the government, rebels and other military participants involve in Syria’s civil war.

Turkey has more than three million refugees within its land, and has spent five billion US Dollars over the past five years. The Republic of Turkey maintains an open door policy, because if it didn’t, huge numbers of refugees would be killed and, poor people would suffer even more. There is also a non-governmental organisation at work, providing funds to help with the  refugee crisis in Turkey, adding up to around $25 billion in total. Turkey is trying to provide education, services and better conditions for these migrants. However, the Republic of Turkey is clearly not endowed with unlimited resources; they are a medium-seized country and, for this reason, are counting on foreign contributions. Unfortunately, Turkey to date has only received $500 million from foreign countries in aid for the  refugee crisis. The European Union has promised to help with the crisis in this region, but up to now, they have not taken any notable steps forward. The Czech Republic is contributing aid to Turkey.

There are 25 refugee camps in Turkey. In these camps, there are around 260 000 refugees, in addition to the 2 700 000 others living across Turkey. These huge numbers means that we have to act collectively if we are going to solve this crisis. Another very important issue, which is often misunderstood in popular opinion around the European Union, is that of the dialogue with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Republic of Turkey has, approximately, seventy-nine million citizens of whom twelve to fifteen million are Kurdish citizens. Turkey has no problem at all problem with Kurdish people, but they have to eliminate the PKK terrorist organisation which was founded in 1979 and commenced its terrorists attacks in 1984 in south-eastern Turkey. We are talking about 50 000 victims who have been killed over the past twenty years. At the outset, there was a negotiation process in which the Turkish government sat down with the PKK political party across the round table, but after one year, they began with the  terrorist attacks. The Turkish military forces are conducting military operations against the PKK, which has been trying to establish their own state and capturing territory from Turkey over many years; this not acceptable to the government of the Republic of Turkey. Both the EU states and the United States of America accept that the PKK is a terrorist organisation, and it has been recognised as such  by the U.S., EU and the UN.

The third problem we must address is that of the attempted coup d’état, which was thwarted in July 2016. Turkey identified Fethullah Gülen, former imam and politician who has been in exile in the U.S. for sixteen years, as being responsible for this military action. His “sect” of Islam established forty years ago tried to integrate itself into society through education and social activities, and by these means, created followers. This organisation opened many primary schools worldwide, in seventy countries around the globe. However, in later stages, it became a threat for the national security of the Republic of Turkey. Moreover, members of this organisation infiltrated top security institutions such as the judiciary, army (soldiers and officers) and the mass media. The Republic of Turkey did not anticipate that it would one day act as the author of an attempted coup d’état, but in July 2016, they tried to kill the President and overthrow the regime. The President of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, inspired his citizens to take to the street in opposition to the military personnel of the coup d’état attempt, and in the end, the Republic of Turkey succeeded in neutralising the threat. We can see this as a victory for the Turkish people, and also for democracy. The Republic of Turkey declared a state of emergency for three months and many democratic states, including the Czech Republic, showed their solidarity with it.

There are many conflicts in south-eastern Turkey between the Kurdish majority there and the Turkish people, which means that travellers should exercise caution about visiting this region if they value their personal security.

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