Washington — Turkey’s democratic and economic progress in recent decades has been “remarkable,” and the country can serve as an example to its neighbors in the Middle East and North Africa, which are undertaking their own reforms, says Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton spoke at a coffeehouse in Istanbul July 16 where she took questions from her Turkish audience. Istanbul is the first stop as Clinton begins 12 days of travel to Europe and Asia, including stops in Turkey, Greece, India, Indonesia and China, to discuss a range of issues with government officials and organizations.
“I just want to see Turkey get stronger and more prosperous and have your democratic institutions be even more durable and be an example for so many of the countries that themselves are trying to figure out how to make political and economic reforms,” she told the coffeehouse audience.
The country’s impressive 11 percent annual gross domestic product growth rate in the first quarter of 2011 over the first quarter in 2010 is due to its political and economic openness and the development of its infrastructure, including in poorer parts of the country, she said.
Turkey’s combination of internal and external growth creates a much stronger economic foundation than those of economies that are largely export driven, Clinton said. Turkey’s growing consumer base and middle class will help sustain its economic success, Clinton said. Turkey’s economy can be “an engine for economic growth in the region,” she added.
“The more Turkey can demonstrate entrepreneurial activity, the more others can learn from you,” she said.
Asked about the Turkish’s government’s arrest of journalists, Clinton said she has and will continue to raise the importance of press freedom with the Turkish government, but she also urged Turkish citizens to make their own voices heard, saying their participation will “strengthen Turkish democracy.”
Turkish democracy “is a model because of where you came from and where you are,” she said, and added that she believes the country’s Kurdish population can be integrated in a way that allows Kurds full participation while maintaining their cultural identity.
But, she said, the United States does not support terrorism by groups such as the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The use of violence and terror “is not the way you make change in democratic societies,” Clinton said.
Clinton said Turks have a confidence about their future, and that “can be a base for making some of the tough decisions about how you integrate Kurds, for example, how you develop other parts of the country.”
In remarks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu July 16, Clinton said Turkey’s upcoming constitutional reform process will give the country an opportunity to address concerns over free expression, religion and minority rights, as well as advance the country’s prospects to join the European Union.
“We also hope that a process will include civil society and parties from across the political spectrum,” Clinton said.
“I think across the region, people from the Middle East and North Africa particularly are seeking to draw lessons from Turkey’s experience,” Clinton said. “It is vital that they learn the lessons that Turkey has learned and is putting into practice every single day. Turkey’s history serves as a reminder that democratic development depends on responsible leadership, and it’s important that that responsible leadership helps to mentor the next generation of leaders in these other countries.”