During your time in office as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, what were your most proud moments?
While I was working as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and as the Prime Minister, I had moments that I was very proud of. It may take quite long to explain it all. But let me point out a few of them. During my term as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are several topics such as the evacuation of thousands of our citizens and foreign nationals during the conflicts in Libya and against Gaddafi, signing an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, ceasefire in Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina-Serbia, Syria-Israel, Gaza ceasefire, the mediation role I carried out in problematic areas such as the Palestinian reconciliation, the Lebanese crisis, Somalia, as well as ensuring our border security, increasing our diplomatic dialogue not only with our neighbouring countries but also with nations around the world to very high levels. I also helped to open 27 new embassies in Africa and led the establishment of the Cooperation Council of Turkish Talking Countries. The subject that honours me the most has always been work that contributed to regional and global peace.
During my time as Prime Minister, I also had many achievements such as ensuring the greatest election victory in the history of the Justice and Development Party. In the 1st of November elections, I helped reach an agreement with the European Union that almost enabled realisation of visa exemption for Turkish nationals. I ensured combating of terrorist organisations, maintaining a clean environment, ensuring social justice through an increase in the minimum wage and solving the staffing problem of subcontracted workers. There are also many internal and external developments I am proud of such as my fight against corruption.
Why did you resign from the AKP and how does your Future Party differ?
There are many aspects as to why I resigned from the Justice and Development Party. I was the 2nd Chairman and the 3rd Prime Minister of the Justice and Development Party, however for the first time in Turkish political history, I was sent to be disciplined with my friends and in turn demanded permanent expulsion. I thus chose to resign so that the high moral compass of the Justice and Development Party remains. Additionally, I had many other differences with the Party. For example, one of them was political transparency and political ethics law. I outlined from the beginning that I wanted to prevent corruption (one of the biggest problems the country faces today) and to oppose the involvement of relatives and family members in state life. In my fight against corruption, I encountered a lot of resistance and today, the establishment of an authoritarian system has been the most important mistake that has collapsed Turkey’s institutional structure.
Currently, it is evident that democratic rules and state reason are disregarded. The most important organ of the Turkish political structure, the legislature, has become dysfunctional. Intellectual conflicts on many issues such as these made my resignation inevitable. On the other hand, the Future Party differentiates itself in terms of realising all these justifications and, most importantly, realising issues such as justice and economic wealth that the society needs without exception. All the staff of the Future Party are established with an approach to include all different segments of society. It is not a one-man movement, it does not discriminate between religion, sect and identity. The Future Party only focuses on solving the problems of Turkey and has a pluralistic understanding, producing collective ideas and politics.
Turkey has been an active player in the Syrian Civil War and in taking in refugees, you have said previously that the “world has failed Syria”, what lessons have we learnt from Syria and if elected to power, what would you do to help achieve peace in the region?
Turkey has made great efforts to prevent the Syrian civil war from happening in the first place. Turkey has made historic calls to ensure that Syria’s territorial integrity was not compromised, and a democratic election could be held as soon as possible, which would also satisfy Syrians who were uneasy about the mismanagement. However, these pleas were rejected and the regime attacked innocent people with chemical weapons. The biggest lesson the world will learn from this is to remove barriers to the establishment of mechanisms to guarantee fast delivery of democratic transitions. Furthermore, it is the acknowledgment of the wrongness of supporting groups and movements that will only disrupt the territorial integrity of countries and turn into terrorist elements due to their global rivalries even if you do not share any border with them. Certainly, it can only be possible to get out of such chaotic environments through providing functionality to democratic mechanisms. International organisations should get all parties together for this purpose and create diplomatic negotiation areas that will ensure the transition process quickly. In this regard, countries must first act in line with the interests of the Syrian society. Power and rivalry conflicts will continue to be the main problem facing a free Syria. Today, the current regime in Syria controls less territory than different groups. What Turkey needs to do in such an environment is take the necessary precautions for its own security, as Turkey has the longest border line with Syria.
Do you still stand by your decision to shoot down a Russian plane that was in Turkish airspace near Syria in November 2015?
I have answered questions about making the Russian plane crash many times before. What is more important than the identity of the crashed plane here is the international rules of engagement that Turkey announced to all parties at that time. In accordance with this, it has been announced that if our airspace is violated despite all warnings, the necessary intervention will be done regardless of the country. These rules of engagement were announced before I was Prime Minister and continued during my term as well. Therefore, the intervention against the airspace violation was not against Russia, but against the fact that an unidentified aircraft repeatedly violated our airspace by ignoring warnings. The decision we took at that time in the face of violations of our airspace, from a country under war conditions, was absolutely correct in terms of protecting the borders of our country.
Kurds are Turkey’s second-largest ethnic group however often face attacks including recent murders in your birthplace and former constituency, Konya. What do you think is the best way to tackle this and promote integration and harmony with the Kurds?
First of all, I once again commemorate our citizens who lost their lives in this massacre in Konya. I should point out that, in the statement I made on the day of the incident, I explained that it should be investigated in all its aspects and necessary measures should be taken in all cities against a racist attack or provocation. After my visits to Antalya’s Manavgat district and all following forest fire areas, I paid a condolence visits to families on the night of the same day. However, the work done by official channels so far indicates that it is not a racist attack, but a pre-existing mutual hostility. But no matter what, we do not exclude our citizens of any different ethnic origin, who form another texture of our country. For us, there is no difference between a Yuruk Turkmen child growing up on the summit of the Taurus Mountains and a Kurdish child growing up by the Tigris River. For us, there is no difference between Yunus Emre’s Turkish and Fegiye Teyran’s Kurdish. This approach is the understanding of equality of every citizen of the State of the Republic of Turkey.
Whilst you were Foreign Minister, you tried to push Turkey for full EU membership, do you think that given the current political climate in Turkey this is unattainable?
It is possible to say that the current political structure is one of the obstacles to not only the membership of the European Union, but also the operability of Turkey’s own administrative structure. For this reason, although we, as the Future Party were newly established on 9th November 2020, we announced our “Strengthened Parliamentary System Model for Full Democracy”, breaking new ground among all opposition parties. It is a fact that Turkey can achieve many of its goals only through this system. In order to achieve this, we have tried to exchange views with all political parties. We have talked to the political parties that gave us an appointment. In our opinion, the current system, which has many problems in itself, is to be abandoned as soon as possible and the country should move to the Strengthened Parliamentary System. However, the ground to reach an agreement with the European Union should not be expected unilaterally from Turkey alone. The European Union should also abandon its previously taken one-sided and prejudiced attitude.
Last month, Members of the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning repression of opposition parties in Turkey and the government’s attempt to remove democratically elected mayors. Do these make you fearful of being in opposition in Turkey?
If we were afraid, we wouldn’t set off with a new political party. Let me give you an example, before the Future Party was founded, only 2 parties were formed in Turkey. After us, 21 political parties were established in 2020. In 2021, new parties were formed again. In other words, the Future Party became a movement that destroyed the climate of fear in Turkey like an icebreaker. Yes, there is a particularly serious media embargo against opposition parties in Turkey. There is oppression. But everyone should know that Turkey has an important history regarding the depth of democracy. When the time comes, democratic elections will be held and this climate of oppression and fear will change through the ballot box. I have also made statements about the dismissal of elected mayors before. We are against terrorism and the deprivation of the rights of the elected. If these people were involved in terrorism, why they were allowed to participate in the elections and not prosecuted? If they were not involved in terrorism, why their rights were taken away? These are the questions needed to be answered.
We have seen a rise in nationalism and Islamification in Turkey, a recent example being the government’s conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Do you think Erdogan and his party are going too far?
It was right to reopen Hagia Sophia, inherited from Byzantium, used as a mosque by preserving its architectural texture about 480 years in the past. The important thing is that this architectural masterpiece is preserved as a treasure of human accumulation and passed on to future generations. While this decision is correct, we strongly oppose the use of this issue as political material or as a polarising argument.
What are your predictions for the 2023 elections?
As I said before, the elections in Turkey will be held in the most democratic and democratic way. However, the human landscapes we see in the cities we visit show that the time has come for a political change of administration in Turkey. As one of the main pioneers of this change, the Future Party is the most important alternative to power.