By Andy Owens
Published Feb. 27, 2013
Robert Pearson, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, told the Charleston Foreign Affairs Forum on Monday that the country could represent future stability in the Middle East as a shield against extremism as it continues to grow economically and reconsiders its regional role.
Robert Pearson said Turkey is in transition that could provide stability in the Middle East. (Photo/Provided)
The Charleston Foreign Affairs Forum hosts six informational forums each year that include speakers and discussions designed to put foreign affairs in context for its members of business and civic leaders and education professionals.
Growing up in Tennessee, Pearson said that early experience in the South helped shape his views on history and culture that extended beyond the U.S. borders.
“History comes in with the very first breath, and you never escape it — good, bad, tragic, triumph,” Pearson said about growing up in the South. “There’s a certain perspective of American history that people in the American South have that I think is hard to capture in other parts of the country.”
Turkey has experienced more than a decade of 7% annual economic growth, Pearson said, by adhering to a specific economic reform plan that boosted growth by medium- and small-sized businesses and expanding beyond European markets for global trade, among other items such as education and work ethic. But some of the economic gains came with a price that includes undermining and controlling some of the country’s institutions instead of governing politically, he said.
Pearson said Turkey’s constitution dates to 1980 when a reform government took over in a military coup and could be on the verge of changing as the country approaches its 90th year.
Pearson used an American history parallel to demonstrate the type of leadership in Turkey, comparing it to the United States under Andrew Jackson. Jackson dismantled the U.S. bank and executed British spies captured outside of the U.S. in Florida without alerting Congress, as examples of how he asserted his power under the Republic.
Turkey’s ruling party, while boosting the economy, has attacked educational, judicial and media institutions, as it has absorbed a mosaic of religions and remained secular without becoming distant from Islamic roots. But revolutions in the Middle East put Turkey’s role into question.
“When the Arab revolutions began, Turkey was seen as a kind of model, an example of a democratic country with an Islamic orientation,” Pearson said.
Since the revolution in Egypt, which Pearson called the heart of Arab culture, that country has become the model and Turkey has to change and find reconciliation throughout the region to ensure stability between Syria, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Russia.
“Traditionally and historically, Turkey has played a great role as mediator. They have good relations with Israel. They have good relations with every Arab country,” Pearson said. “They were in the organization of the Islamic conference so they can represent Muslim issues to the United Nations and to the world.”