Recep Tayyip


Prime Minister of Turkey

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mr Erdoğan expressed his pleasure at addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the oldest parliamentary forum of the people of Europe. His address coincided with a meaningful date in Turkey, since 61 years ago, on 13 April 1950, the Republic of Turkey had ratified the statute of the Council of Europe. Thus, he was honoured to speak before the Assembly, currently headed by one of his compatriots, as the Prime Minister of Turkey, a founding member of the Organisation and holding the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. The Council of Europe had contributed greatly to the strengthening of democratic stability on the continent: the Council of Europe’s respect for human dignity was to be commended and members of the Assembly should be wished success in continuing their work, which had been going on for 60 years.

He himself had addressed the Council of Europe five years ago on the Alliance of Civilizations. The Assembly had recently discussed the religious aspect of intercultural dialogue. Following the introduction of the Alliance of Civilizations, more than 100 countries had become a group of friends of the Alliance of Civilizations which had led to global interest and had played an important role internationally. In their understanding of each other, the Christian and Muslims worlds had been greatly shaped by the crusades, which had always been seen as the cause of prejudice and misunderstanding. But it was necessary to look at the other dimensions of the crusades, since they had also resulted in two cultures, two civilisations and two religions meeting and beginning to impact on one another. There had been effective interaction in many areas including music, science, language, art, and even cooking, and this interaction was at the root of both Western and Eastern civilisation. The history of the crusades was not just one of war and conflict but also of cultural interaction: even the armies had engaged in commercial activity! The broader history of Europe was no different, in that it could not be interpreted solely through conflict. Those who interpreted it in this way would be unable to build a peaceful future. The Council of Europe and the European Union were the most significant indications that history should not be interpreted through division. The whole world was striving for peace and these two organisations, both envied by the rest of the world, should further elevate the common values everyone shared.

Increased racism was a pressing concern for people living around Europe. It was sad that polarisation continued to deepen. Politicians had the responsibility of developing the leadership and good sense to prevent this. The oppression of fundamental rights for purposes of demagoguery or to win an election was an example of injustice which caused harm both throughout Europe and beyond, not just in the areas where such oppression occurred. Turkey was the only country to have adopted secularism while having a predominantly Muslim population and had proved to the world that secularism, democracy and Islam could exist side by side. It was ironic that secularism was now being debated in Europe and being turned into an element that restricted freedom. Religious intolerance should give place to undisputed tolerance. To use religious freedom as a political tool was dangerous. The importance of universal values, such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law, was greater today than in the past. People’s expectation of these rights transcended Europe and echoed across the globe. In a global world, it was impossible to establish islands of stability and order. Capital did not recognise borders and nor did problems.

The whole world was striving for peace and the Council of Europe and the European Union, both envied by the rest of the world, should further elevate the common values everyone shared.

A world in which one part became ever richer and another part became ever poorer was not a world we could live in, or live for. It was unsustainable. If Europe withdrew into itself, these universal values would be impossible. Such a Europe could not safeguard or promote these values even for itself.

Europe should not be deaf to the calls for freedom from the Middle East and North Africa. To claim that only some deserve democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms, or to say that democracy was premature for certain societies, was as dangerous as racism. Some people only saw what was under the ground, but they should listen to the calls for universal values and act without calculating their own interests. It was important to see the things as they were: not only the oil wells, but also the tragedies in the Middle East and North Africa.

The idea that democracy could not exist in the Middle East had been shown to be false. All arguments against democracy based on differences of culture or civilisation were wrong: to highlight ethnic or religious differences was contrary to the spirit of democracy and the will of the people. The last thing he wanted to see was conflicts or violence. It was essential that the only outside involvement was humanitarian, not military. No one wanted to see a new Iraq or Afghanistan in North Africa and the Middle East.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had opened wounds, and the situation in Libya and Palestine should be approached carefully and with universal values in mind. It was very important to share the values of the Council of Europe with neighbouring countries.

In Tunisia, the activity of the Council of Europe was timely and impressive. Secretary General Jagland and the Turkish Foreign Minister had visited Tunisia, and the President of the Assembly had had important contacts there. Tunisia was trying to create a democracy. In Egypt, the transition to democracy and governance by a civil majority was important. It was not easy to move from autocracy to democracy, but the ground was being laid for this.

Turkey supported UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 on Libya. These resolutions should guarantee the territorial integrity of Libya and the prosperity of its people. Turkey was following developments in Bahrain and had made contact with all parties to try to resolve the situation. Stability in the region, in Syria, Jordan and Yemen, was also important, and work was under way to ensure developments continued in the right direction and at the right speed.

Turkey was a country which could speak to all countries, faiths and ethnic groups in the region. Turkey could play a role in establishing and maintaining peace. It was a founding member of the Council of Europe, was in talks with the European Union on accession, and had important regional ties. Turkey was working for peace, stability and order. Turkey did not take sides, act with its own interests at heart, or seek a role. Turkey’s work for peace demonstrated its importance for the European Union, and Turkish accession was vital to the European Union. The issue of Turkish membership should not be used in domestic politics or elections. Turkey could take the initiative in geographic regions such as the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East and North Africa.

Turkey was overcoming the effects of the financial crisis, with 8.9 % growth in 2010, and was now the fastest growing country in Europe. It had the 17th largest economy in the world and the sixth largest economy in Europe, with a GDP of $736 billion. Although not obliged to, Turkey had met two of the four Maastricht criteria, on the budget deficit and on debt burden. This was better than most European countries. To prevent Turkey’s accession to the European Union for populist or artificial reasons was foolish. Turkey needed the European Union and the European Union needed Turkey. Some saw the Turkish situation differently and were against accession for political reasons. This was an injustice to Turkey, to European Union values and to all European citizens. The example of the customs union had proved Turkey’s worth to the European Union. Turkey expected that the membership issue would be dealt with fairly.

Since the end of 2002, Turkey had achieved historic reforms, especially in the area of democratisation. The government had focused on combating corruption and poverty, and was continuing this successful work. The government had also worked to lift restrictions on freedom. Freedoms had been strengthened in the last decade, and many issues were now discussed freely that could not have been discussed a decade ago. There was zero tolerance of torture, and barriers to freedom of expression had been removed. Some had alleged that there were restrictions on freedom of expression, but this was wrong. In the past, the media and the press had taken instructions from criminal gangs and the mafia, but now the press was free, and freely criticised anyone and everyone. Disputes were also resolved openly. Some believed that restrictions on the press were the cause of arrests. In Europe, there were no journalists or newspapers which encouraged a coup d’état. In Turkey, 26 journalists had been detained or arrested, but not because of their journalistic activities. He had had a meeting on this issue with the Secretary General, and an envoy would be sent to Turkey to see the realities on the ground and that these people were involved with organised crime. This should lead to more objective information being made available.

The deep-rooted changes that had been occurring around us gave us great responsibility. We should be on the side of democracy, human rights and the rule of law and against conflict, oppression of violence, and injustice. The Council of Europe and the international community should stand together on these principles.


Thank you very much, Prime Minister Erdoğan, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you.

I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds and no more. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches.

The first question is by Mr Agramunt Font de Mora on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr AGRAMUNT FONT DE MORA (Spain) (interpretation)

asked, on behalf of the European People’s Party, and as a Spaniard, for the Prime Minister’s opinion on the role of Turkey in conflicts in the Mediterranean basin and in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Mr Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey (interpretation)

said that in the Mediterranean basin there were many countries with great potential. It was important to show solidarity and to co-operate with other members of the Council of Europe, as well as with countries from other international organisations. Looking at the most recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa, it was important that neighbouring countries were involved and had an active role. This situation had not been seen for many years. In Libya, it was possible to see the countries in the region taking an active role resulting from United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. Turkey had proposed that NATO take overall responsibility, but with the involvement of the Arab League, the African Union, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Gulf Co-operation Council. Turkey’s proposal was made so the situation did not come to resemble that in Iraq or Afghanistan. Turkey had clearly defined responsibilities in Libya, covering organising humanitarian aid, enforcing the no-fly zone and supporting the arms embargo, and it was fulfilling these responsibilities.

The countries of the Mediterranean needed to work for peace, from which economic development would follow. Palestine was a Mediterranean country and all countries in that region should play their part. Turkey would take responsibility when that was necessary, but not otherwise.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

Mr Prime Minister, we appreciate your defence of European values. We also appreciate the fact that your government is, for the first time, investigating the dark sides of Turkish history and the Turkish state in the past 20 to 30 years. You have also mentioned freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but are you not afraid that some in the judiciary are misusing investigations again to limit freedom of speech for critical intellectuals? Mr Pamuk and others never do anything against the state, but today they are punished and their freedom of speech is limited.

Mr Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey (interpretation)

referring particularly to the subject of Mr Orhan Pamuk, said that where there was an indictment the judiciary had to deal with the matter. In this case, there had been a positive result because there was no prosecution. Recent arrests had nothing to do with press freedom: the central issue was actually a plot to carry out a coup d’état. The Turkish judicial system was independent: it conducted its investigations impartially and the documentary evidence discovered as a result clearly had to be considered. He hoped that the case would be brought to a swift conclusion, since the Turkish Government shared the concerns of other members of the Assembly about long-term detentions.

Earl of DUNDEE (United Kingdom)

Prime Minister, taking into account your country’s strong influence in the area, as well as its current European Union candidature, could you say a bit more about which steps Turkey might now take on its own – and which other ones in association with the Arab League, perhaps – to promote democracy in the Middle East?

Mr Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey (interpretation)

said that he too hoped to improve Turkey’s democratic institutions. In September 2010, Turkey had held a constitutional referendum, with the theme of advanced democracy. Progress had been made but there was still much to do. Turkey would hold elections on 12 June and afterwards the government intended to bring in more comprehensive constitutional reforms. In a democratic state which respected the rule of law, there should be no room for ethnic, regional or religious discrimination. In eight and a half years in government, the current Turkish administration had made great progress in this sphere: Turkey was being transformed. Many other countries in the region were now asking for guidance on how to achieve similar results. His own party contained organisations which represented both women and young people. Turkey was an open society and his party was open to society. The party engaged with people face-to-face and not just through the media. He himself had visited all the cities in Turkey at least two or three times. His administration would work towards urban transformation to make life better for the people and would continue to put the people, rather than the state, first. The government was also in contact with colleagues in the Balkans and the Middle East. Indeed, he was determined to continue to maintain dialogue with countries across the world in order to contribute to world peace.

Ms BRASSEUR (Luxembourg) (interpretation)

said that the Prime Minister had just referred to a women’s organisation in his country but she had not seen a single female member of his delegation. He had also stressed the importance of the freedom of the press and yet a book had recently been censored and its author, a journalist, was in custody. How could the Prime Minister explain this?

Mr Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey (interpretation)

said that two female ministers had accompanied him and that there were women in his delegation. There were also female members of the Turkish Parliament. He recognised that it was important to overcome prejudice and discrimination.

The book referred to by Ms Brasseur had been published on the Internet. It was not he himself who had ordered its withdrawal. The judicial investigation had uncovered documentary evidence relating to the journalists who had been detained in custody and this was, presumably, the basis for the continuing judicial inquiries. It was important to note that the executive was not involved in this investigation: the judiciary was independent and was entitled to conduct its investigations as it saw fit.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

Mr Prime Minister, although, as you are aware, I cannot agree with your last remark, I, from the Group of the Unified European Left, sincerely congratulate you on the results of the vote in Turkey and on your work internationally. I agree with you that we should do our utmost to be on the side of democratic change. In respect of that, why have you not yet delivered on your promise to lower the 10% threshold in Turkey’s elections? That would be an important democratic change in Turkey. When will we witness the results of that promise?

Mr Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey (interpretation)

said that he did not necessarily expect members of the Assembly to agree with him, but he was stating the facts. He himself had been imprisoned in the past because he had recited a poem. He had been incarcerated for four months and on his release had gone on to establish a political party. That party had since won elections and had now been in power for eight and a half years with great popular support. The 10% threshold already existed when his party came to power and this, in itself, demonstrated that it was possible to set up a political party in Turkey and come to power in a short space of time despite the 10% rule.

His party governed from the political centre and embraced all parts of Turkish society, including the Roma people. The latter had recently been expelled from France and he questioned whether that represented democracy. In France there seemed to be no respect for freedom of religion and those who chose to judge Turkey should first look to themselves. The 10% threshold did not call Turkish democracy into question, and there were similar thresholds in operation across Europe today. For the security of Turkey, his administration had decided to continue with the 10% threshold and the people had agreed to this. Coalition government had previously caused problems in Turkey and he did not want to see that happen again. The Turkish Government would reduce the 10% threshold when the time was right but it was really a decision for the people. Turkey was now making progress: no political party was banned and anyone could choose to establish a party. His own political party did not represent any one region or ethnicity but covered the whole country and represented all Turkish people.

Ms MARLAND-MILITELLO (France) (interpretation)

said that the protection of religious minorities was still a topical issue in Turkey. What guarantees could the Prime Minister give the Assembly that all Turkish people had equal rights of access to places of worship and freedom of religion?

Mr Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey (interpretation)

said that he would like to invite Ms Marland-Militello to visit Turkey, since she had perhaps not been following developments in the country closely and was speaking on hearsay. In Turkish, when somebody did not know something or was speaking out of context, it was said that they were from France. Ms Marland-Militello was clearly from France. In accordance with the Treaty of Lausanne, the Orthodox Patriarch was elected by the Council of Priests. Members of the council had to be citizens of Turkey; they had not been, but Turkey had allowed the elections to continue. He himself had said to the Greek President that the priests should apply for citizenship, but they had not. He had repeated this more recently and had said the same thing to the Patriarch. Finally, they had applied and were now citizens of Turkey. They had wanted to hold a mass at Sümela Monastery. Turkey had agreed and they had done so. German friends had also come and held a mass in Turkey. The Armenian Orthodox church in Van had been in very bad condition, on the verge of collapse. The Turkish Government had given its own money to restore this and it was now open for worship. Did Ms Marland-Militello want more examples? All religious minorities in Turkey were free to worship and the government guaranteed that freedom. The present government had made this possible. It was disrespectful for people to say that there were obstacles. If somebody had raised a particular problem with Ms Marland-Militello, he would personally look into it if she provided the details.

Mr RUSTAMYAN (Armenia) (interpretation)

said that Turkey had signed protocols with Armenia. What was the point if they were not directly involved in solving the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and had dismantled an Armenian monument?

Mr Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey (interpretation)

said that whether the border was open or closed, Turkey had honoured its commitments to protect the rights of Armenians. But Turkey could not let Armenia usurp the rights of Azerbaijan either. Steps should be taken to overcome the situation and then the borders could be opened. The Minsk Group should be involved. If the United States of America, France and the Russian Federation did not solve this problem, it would be difficult. There were 70 000 Armenian citizens of Turkey and 40 000 Armenians who were not citizens and who stay in the country without legal registration. Turkey was not sending the second group back; it could, but it would not. They were there because they were in difficulties. It was important that Mr Rustamyan should know that they had signed the protocol to resolve problems, but the Armenian side was taking a back seat on dealing with the problems of its diaspora. The Armenian Government should move in a more determined manner in the right direction, and then the borders could be opened. There was no element of retaliation on Turkey’s part.

Mr IWIŃSKI (Poland)

I speak as an MP from a country that has had diplomatic relations with Turkey for more than six centuries and had a common border for more than 300 years. I welcome Turkey’s new role in the world, and I would be grateful if you could develop the new ideas that were presented recently in Düsseldorf on the cultural assimilation and integration of migrants.

Mr Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey (interpretation)

said that he would answer briefly. Culturally, he was definitely against assimilation, which he thought a crime against humanity. He had said this before, and he said it again now. But integration had to happen. Last night, he had addressed Turkish residents of France and told them that they should integrate and that this should create no problems on either side. The same approach was being taken in Germany, where there were 2.7 million Turkish people and integration continued to be encouraged. However, Turkey was opposed to cultural assimilation, for others and for its own people.


Thank you, Prime Minister. We must now conclude the questions to Mr Erdoğan. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank him most warmly for his address and for the answers he gave to questions.