Turkish foreign ministry reveals plan for new foreign strategy
Hürriyet Daily News
The number of Turkish embassies in Africa has nearly tripled in two years’ time, says Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ambassador Naci Koru (L), showing the Daily News this increase on a map in his Ankara office. DAILY NEWS photos, Selahattin SÖNMEZSome 69 percent of Turkish ambassadors do not speak the language of the country they are posted to, a ratio the Foreign Ministry wants to change, according to a high-level official in the foreign service. The next generation of Turkish diplomats will work more efficiently as they will adapt to the culture of the country to which they are posted, Deputy Undersecretary Ambassador Naci Koru told the Hürriyet Daily News in a recent in interview in Ankara.
How will the new law on the organization of the Foreign Ministry shape the new generation of Turkish diplomats?
As a result of the government’s openings, we have entered a period of enlargement. In 2009 we had 12 embassies and one consulate in Africa; we now have 31 embassies, and this number will reach 33 this year. Enlargement means more ambassadors, more diplomatic staff. Each year we used to recruit around 20 to 25 people.
Wasn’t this number low due to the wish to keep the standards high?
A: No. We always got on the road saying we will recruit around 20. In fact in the past, the number of universities that could send their graduates to the ministry was small anyway. When I entered the ministry 31 years ago, we were 10 people and of that, eight were from Ankara University’s Political Science Faculty (SBF).
We had longstanding problems. Career diplomats used to get lower wages than any other public official. Now they are getting the same wage as other civil servants and that’s important since it will make the ministry more attractive.
We want to widen the
spectrum of those entering
the foreign service.
We want, for instance,
engineers, or those who
study geography to
enter the ministry
You have also changed the entry system to the ministry.
We want to widen the spectrum of those entering the foreign service. In the past the number of disciplines from which one could qualify to enter the ministry was limited. We want, for instance, engineers, or those who study geography to enter the ministry, provided they have post-graduate degrees from international relations or political science. In the last two exams that have taken place since the amendments, we had around 1,500 applications from those who sat the KPSS (Public Personnel Selection Examination). Then they enter a multiple-choice test that we prepare. This is followed by written tests and a final face-to-face oral exam.
What are your observations when you see the results of the last exams?
For the past 10-15 years, there has been huge interest among economy and management graduates. When I entered, 70 percent of the recruits were from the SBF. Now it ranks sixth. Graduates from other prestigious universities are entering the ministry.
Why are you after especially engineers?
They have a very analytical mind.
There is criticism that criteria has been lowered to recruit more people.
That’s not true. We just want the spectrum of disciplines to get wider. We had an exam system that had not changed for the past 40 years. We made it more rational.
There is criticism that these changes are opening the doors to the graduates of schools supported by certain religious communities and that this will open the doors to cronyism.
The ministry is still closed to cronyism. We never thought of recruiting divinity graduates while planning these changes as some have suggested.
The ministry is getting bigger and there is pressure for new personnel.
No, we are not under such pressure. We needed 200 consul and specialist staff [a category different than the career diplomat] but we could only get half. We really needed civil servants who speak Arabic but only 15 percent of the quota was fulfilled.
We visit Anatolian towns
to explain the ministry, as
well as our foreign policy.
But we also want to
encourage the graduates
of Anatolian universities
to enter the ministry
Does the ministry want to open to Anatolia?
We visit Anatolian towns to explain the ministry, as well as our foreign policy. But we also want to encourage the graduates of Anatolian universities to enter the ministry. We recruited a graduate of a university from the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa. He has an accent in Turkish but speaks fluent Kurdish and Arabic. We had another applicant – the number of brother and sisters goes into the double digits. His father was a guard at a constructiın site. He was very good. Kurdish and Arabic are like his native tongue. This is very important. These are our people and this diversity brings richness to the ministry.
What will the profile of the Turkish diplomat be in the future?
We want to send to regions like Asia, Africa or the Middle East diplomats that really want to go there. We built the infrastructure to motivate them. We did not have that until now. In countries where languages other than English, French or German are spoken, a diplomat cannot effectively work if he/she does not know the local language. Some 69 percent of Turkish ambassadors do not speak the language of the country they are posted to. Only 31 percent can speak the local language. My dream is really to reverse that ratio. This means that from the ambassador to the more junior diplomat, the embassy staff will know the local language and the local culture.
What will be their attributes in addition to the standard characteristics of a diplomat?
They will have to be business-minded. We are the representatives of the businessmen. This is also valid for Turks living abroad. They will be more attentive to answer the needs of Turks that live in the countries where they are posted. But right now what we are focusing on is to adopt our missions in certain regions to the circumstances that are particular to that region. We have a new concept for embassy compounds. We don’t want to construct embassy compounds just as a place for the ambassador to live and work; we will also build adjacent lodgings for the whole staff.
A concern for us is this: Think of an Arab country where the ambassador does not speak Arabic and the number two has come from Europe and does not know the region. You can’t work effectively in Riyadh if you don’t speak Arabic. You can’t work effectively in an African country where French is spoken if you send an Anglophone or [work effectively in another African country if] you send a person that does not particularly like Africa. The new profile of a diplomat will be one who can work efficiently in hardship posts, adapting to the culture and the circumstances of the country. We tell the new entrants, go to a language course and send us the bill.
Does that mean that diplomats will become regional experts and will serve only in those regions?
Not at all. There is no rule that a diplomat that knows Arabic will always be posted to the Middle East. Knowledge of the Arab world is equally important in missions like London or Washington as well.
WHO IS NACİ KORU ?
Born in İzmir in 1958, Naci Koru entered the Foreign Ministry in 1981 after graduating from Ankara University’s Political Science Faculty.
His first foreign posting was with the Turkish Consulate to Jeddah, followed by a position as the consulate general in Bregenz, Austria. He later took up a position at the Turkish Embassy to Bonn and then as counselor at the Turkish Permanent Representation to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.
Having worked in data processing and the Internet section of the ministry early in his career, he became head of the Information and Communication Systems Department in 2000. In 2002 he was appointed as consul general to Chicago while he served as Turkish ambassador to Riyadh between 2007 and 2009. Since 2009 he has been the deputy undersecretary responsible for administrative, personnel, archival and transport affairs, as well as consular education, legal and protocol affairs. He speaks English and German.