I am part of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s entourage on his visit to Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. The president’s short tour of East Africa has been transformed into the most extraordinary trip.
First the special forces group, which had gone to Somalia beforehand to review security measures, was the target of an attack. After that, news arrived of the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Erdoğan changed his schedule and went to Saudi Arabia to attend the king’s funeral.
The issues that caught the eye during the first two days of the visit were the themes of violence and civilization, and community-run schools. (Community is the term used to refer to the Fethullah Gülen-led movement.) The president, during his speech at a university in Addis Ababa, mentioned his country’s stance against terrorism with strong emphasis on the civilization it belongs to, and said:
“Fourteen centuries ago, 15 Muslims sought shelter in Ethiopian lands. The ruler of the time didn’t drive them away. The ruler didn’t ridicule their beliefs or insult their sanctities. He didn’t interfere with their worship. He even refused to hand these innocent people over to the cruel people who wanted them returned.”
“Today, if you were to ask some countries, societies and intellectuals, who claim to be civilized, they would say that the seventh century was a dark, backward and primitive one. It is for that reason that we never call the seventh century a dark, primitive and backward age.”
“That century was, for both Muslims and Christians, a shining century, an intellectual century, a Century of Happiness.”
“Trust me, those eras that they call backward and primitive were ones where morals existed even in war. Women were protected. Children were protected. The elderly and handicapped were protected. There was no such barbarity like genocide and the mass slaughter of people and societies.”
“The barbarity of today where mass murders are carried out with atomic bombs, nuclear weapons, and chemical or conventional weapons never used to occur during those times.”
“Serious debate is needed today over whether humanity is making progress or is regressing. A sincere discussion is required today on whether humanity is becoming more civilized or if it is becoming more barbaric.”
“If humanity is lagging behind that great tolerance and that great culture of coexistence displayed by Ethiopia in the seventh century, then it is clear that there is something wrong. (…) All countries in the world have to see this and adopt a common stance against all types of terrorism and violence…”
And the community issue…
The following remarks by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn during their joint press conference regarding community-run schools in his country were interesting:
“We expect that the Turkish government’s support and approval is sought regarding potential cooperation with any establishment. Even if we have had cooperation in the past based on good intentions, from now on if their nature has changed, or if their structure has been altered; we will establish increased contacts with the Turkish government and choose our approach based on their guidance and direction.”
At the same press conference, Erdoğan’s response was:
“In all the countries we visit, whether it is me personally or our prime minister and ministers, we explain the situation about them to the heads of state and government, and tell them they should shut down those places and that we can provide the same services via our Education Ministry. The Education Ministry is close to completing its studies in this regard…”
These statements -- alongside bilateral economic talks and the emphasizing of Turkey’s position on global terrorism -- show once again that Turkey has devoted a significant amount of its energy to the fight against the community on every level.
I will probably get the opportunity to discuss this personally with the president on our way back.