I recently visited Turkey on a fact finding visitwith my colleague, Cllr John Oakes. The visit took in civil society organisations, key AK Party members, Members of Parliament within Turkey, newspapers like Zamaan and religious leaders who are creating and shaping the landscape of Turkey. What I have found is a country of such vibrancy and new thinking that I am shocked at the level of mis-understanding that is promoted against this country.
For example, the charitable work that is being undertaken by organisations has seen support being sent to countries around the globe, with Turkish charities being allowed to work in countries where other charities have not been able to enter into. And this work has been conducted with no ‘song and dance,’ just with the quiet belief that the right to life of every individuals is sacred.
I have also seen something that I have not seen elsewhere. Turkey is a Muslim country completely at ease with where it is. The AK Party and the leadership of the country promotes democratic values and engagement and with the desire to be part of the EU. Yet this is done with respect for core Islamic values and with an inclusiveness towards the secular groups within the country. Islam always has and can sit side by side with democracy and the empowerment and protection of the rights of individuals.
This visit has therefore shown me that Turkey has to be engaged with and is an essential partner for peace within the Middle East. The longer the EU keeps Turkey out of the ‘club,’ the more it ceases to capture real opportunities and partnerships that can and must be developed.