Turkey’s precious support
It was in the winter of 1994, in the beginning of November, when then-Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller visited Israel, Palestine and Egypt. As the Irish would say, it was raining cats and dogs during the Israel and Palestine section of the historic visit, which later became famous thanks to the “rose garden” speech of Çiller where for the first and last time an acknowledgement of Israeli statehood on the “promised land” escaped the mouth of a Turkish premier.
The Palestine section of the trip was terrible. Under soaking rain the Turkish premier and the accompanying 150 or so businessmen and journalists were waited for almost an hour in busses at the crossing point to the West Bank. On the Palestinian side there was no electricity that day. To avoid communication with the world – non-Israeli mobile phones were not allowed at the time by Israel – electricity of Ramallah, thus communication with the Palestinian West Bank was cut. That day Turkish journalists had to pay incredible sums to their Israeli colleagues to borrow their cell phones and pass on a few stories regarding Çiller’s visit.
On the banks of the Red Sea, at a nice restaurant President Yasser Arafat and the legendary Ebu Ammar of the Palestinian Liberation Organization hosted a delicious dinner in honor of Çiller. During that trip the accompanying journalists met with scores of Palestinian officials, non-officials and were received by Arafat.
Arafat was praising Turkey’s persistent and unwavering contributions to the Palestinian cause but lamenting about the insufficiency of the support his people has been receiving from Muslim states. At one point, learning that I am Turkish Cypriot, he looked directly into my eyes with his smiling but sharp eyes and said, “Turkish Cypriots are so lucky they have Turkey standing behind them like a solid rock. If we had a Turkey behind us, things would have been much different!”
Recently, I was talking with some top government officials. They were speaking on the Palestinian problem in the very same fashion that Turkish officials used to speak on the Cyprus issue when it was considered by Turks as the “prime national cause.” Their attitude reminded me the words of Arafat on his envy of the priceless Turkish support Turkish Cypriots had. “Now, the Palestinians have that support. Turkey is with them; fully committed to their cause!” replied the most senior one of the present Turkish officials.
They explained the silent but very important infrastructure investments, hospitals and schools constructed in Palestinian territories as well as provided some hints of the precious diplomatic assistance Ankara has offered over the past year to the Palestinians wherever there is a Turkish mission. “Not only the Turkish House in New York is also ‘the house of the Palestinians’ as the foreign minister recently said, all Turkish diplomats, besides their duties, are assigned to promote the Palestinian cause. Now, Palestinians know that Turkey is standing firmly with them at any cost!”
Interestingly enough, the very same day in Istanbul Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu lamented that the Muslim world must support Turkish Cypriots as they have been standing firmly behind the Palestinians. Obviously, Turkish Cypriots were jealous of the “observer state status” Palestine obtained in the UN.