From Africa to Troy, Turkey’s issue with national values

From Africa to Troy, Turkey’s issue with national values

I no longer come across the question “what is Turkey doing in Africa?” Ten years ago, I would frequently come across European diplomats questioning Turkey’s increasing presence in Africa. 

In a decade’s time, Turkey’s presence in the continent has consolidated and become much more visible.

There is no doubt the strong political will plays a key role behind this fast consolidation. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attaches special importance to Africa. He makes sure to visit the continent at least twice a year. He is known to have said to his close entourage that visiting a place once a year is not enough to deepen relations.

Turkey has been a latecomer to the whole of the continent when you consider the presence of other countries, which with the exception of China, are mainly the former colonialist powers.

But officials with knowledge on Africa believe the progress registered in the course of the past decade has come to the point of irritating traditional players in the region.

According to Africa experts, Turkey has developed a country specific strategy to make headways, approaching the leadership directly in one man rule countries, whereas using all penetrative means in others where former colonialist powers are already well established.

Turkish Airlines, as well as state institutions like Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) and the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay), have proven to be strong assets in this endeavor.

Turkish Airlines flies to 54 destinations in Africa in more than two destinations in many countries. But most importantly, it connects the continents from east to west. In other words, if an Ethiopian wants to go to Senegal, he or she flies via Istanbul.

Coming back to the issue of the importance of political will, there is no doubt it is Turkey’s diplomatic missions that play the key role in reflecting the government’s political will.

From 12 embassies in 2002, the number has risen to 42. Twelve of the 42 ambassadors are women. If you think this is not a “feminist” government, on the contrary, one that sees the primary role of women to be a mother and a wife, assigning female ambassadors with the challenging mission of making headways in a difficult geography is highly striking.

But the Foreign Ministry is probably the only ministry approaching international standards in gender equality.

Of the 1,850 diplomatic career officials, 630 are women. There are 51 women ambassadors among 255. Of the 20 director generals four are women, while of the 50 deputy director generals, 24 are women.

There is also no doubt women in the Foreign Ministry are suffering from the glass ceiling phenomenon. Certainly, the fact that a dozen women ambassadors are trusted in Africa with a challenging mission will consolidate their standing in the future.

It is unfortunate that one of the women ambassadors, Sedef Yavuzalp, Turkey’s envoy to Kampala, will be recalled for the dress she wore at the national day reception.

She was summoned to Ankara after the footage of the Republic Day reception on Oct. 29 drew public criticism over her choice, which was probably a first in the ministry’s history. She was dressed as Helen of Troy to underline the fact that Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry had declared 2018 as the “Year of Troy.”

While her choice of outfit can be criticized, the lynching conducted via social media claiming she has no idea of Turkey’s “national, patriotic values,” was utterly unjust.

If the envoy was called back to Ankara in support of these criticisms, then the Culture and Tourism Ministry should be blamed in the first place for underlining a theme that is not “local and national.”

Are we supposed to turn a blind eye to the Hellenistic period in Anatolia, therefore leaving the ownership of the legacy of Troy to Greece, for instance?

While she is criticized for wearing Greek outfit (on a day that marks the declaration of the Republic following the last war conducted against the Greek occupying forces), Kadir Mısırlıoğlu a self-declared cleric, who loathes a secular Republic and is on the record for having said, “I wish the Greeks had won [the war of liberation],” has been visited by the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Dinayet). He is considered by this government to be one of the top officials in the bureaucratic hierarchy.

When you compare Yavuzalp and Diyanet head Ali Erbaş, it is crystal clear that it is the latter who has no idea of “national values,” especially the most important one, which is “the secular republic.”