Turkish Foreign Ministry facing an existential threat

Turkish Foreign Ministry facing an existential threat

Hallelujah! I can technically become Turkey’s undersecretary for foreign affairs; that is of course if the draft law that is on the floor of Parliament is endorsed by lawmakers.

Is that a joke? No, it is not. But even if it were, it is not funny.

Turkish diplomats have never enjoyed great popularity in the eyes of the ordinary laymen. They are nicknamed “Mon Chers” (My dear in French), a negative connotation that targets the elite status of diplomats.

I take elite with its positive meaning; I have to say that indeed diplomats are elites. But they are not elite by blood, and let me say that the conviction among ordinary Turks that young diplomats are recruited from the children of older diplomats is a total urban legend. I don’t have statistics, but I can say with a very modest estimation that at least three-fourths come from modest, medium-income families.

What makes them elite is the institutional education they receive through master-and-apprentice training, the knowledge and skills they accumulate over the years and the experience they earn throughout a long career that is only rewarded during its very last years.

Dating back to the Ottoman times, the Foreign Ministry is one of Turkey’s oldest institutions, one of the important pillars of this country’s strong state tradition.

It is not a coincidence that among the appointed civil servants only the governors and ambassadors have the right to carry the Turkish flag on their official cars. They represent the state, not the government. Having said that, they do obviously implement policies decided by governments.

Unfortunately we have gotten used to seeing some governors, district governors and even university rectors trying to act as if they are the provincial heads of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Now it seems the government wants every single civil servant to act as a party official. There is no other explanation to the government’s recent initiative that enables anybody who has worked five years in the private sector to become a high-level civil servant.

A person working in the private sector can be more intelligent, more talented, more this and more that than the current Foreign Ministry undersecretary and his predecessors. But being smarter, wittier, this or that is just not sufficient criteria to be one of the top decision makers for foreign policy.

The AKP can no longer proudly argue it has saved the Turkish nation from military tutelage, for it is replacing it with party tutelage. This is reminiscent of the one-party rule of the 1930s and ‘40s under Republican People’s Party (CHP) administration.

This draft law should be rejected as a whole since its dire consequences would not only be limited to the Foreign Ministry.

Apparently the Foreign Ministry is seeking an exemption. There are rumors that 100 top diplomats will resign if the law is endorsed in Parliament. These rumors seem exaggerated. The fact is, however, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, the undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, has canceled some of his foreign visits in order to lobby against the draft law. We’ll see if he will succeed.