I have spent a substantial part of my professional life following foreign policy affairs and commenting on them.
When a friend, Abdülkadir Özkan,was the chief editor of the daily Milli Gazete, I mostly wrote on developments in the Middle East with the pen name “Fehmi Muzafferoğlu”. Later on, I wrote frequently from London, Damascus and Boston when I lived in each of those cities and my pieces were published in the daily Yeni Devir with another pen name “A. Akıncı”. In Islam Magazine (İslam Mecmuası in Turkish) known as ‘the best-selling monthly in Turkey’ at that time, I edited singlehandedly the whole chapter related to world affairs.
Simultaneously, I contributed to several foreign newspapers and magazines.
[During my time in Boston I received my master’s degree from Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. So, again on foreign policy.]
My interest for foreign policy affairs continued when I had a column in newspapers. In my first year in the daily Zaman as the chief editor, Haluk Atlas, who wrote on international affairs due to the absence of an able commentator of the paper in the field, was actually my pen name.
The difference between yesterday and today
It was not easy to follow developments in the world before the advent of Internet. I tried to overcome that challenge by subscribing to foreign newspapers and journals, and spending long hours in bookstores glancing through shelves when travelled abroad in order to pick up books that seemed worth to have.
I spent a good part of my income on books and subscriptions.
With the advent of Internet, everything has become much easier and much more convenient. Sitting on chair before our computers at home, we are able to learn instantly what is happening throughout the world, and have access to news, essays, reports and books.
In the past, I used to take a note of what I considered important in notebooks and cards in order to use them later when needed. In the last 10 years, however, I have got the privilege of maintaining my digital archive thanks to the Evernote program. The number of pieces in my Evernote archive has reached several thousands. Recalling a single specific word proves to be good enough to find what I seek.
During the days prior to the First Gulf War (1990-1991), thanks to the cable service of the Turkish Post, it had become possible to watch CNN International broadcasting from Atlanta. At every opportunity, Turgut Özal, the President of Turkey in that time, would mention those CNN programs that he watched previous night and tantalize us by doing so.
At one occasion I had dared to told him, “Do a favor and make us watch them too, even if just a pinch.” Shortly after that, Emin Başer, the General Director of the Turkish Post had called me to get my full address, and the cable had been extended up to my house.
When an increasing number of satellite transmitters started to circle up in the sky by allowing us to have access to TV channels of many countries, I had to spend a considerable amount of money to have those satellite dishes installed, and now it is perfectly possible to watch broadcasts of hundreds of countries at home, through a simple affordable satellite dish.
But I have a question here
Yes, we have access to many broadcasts to watch, books and articles to read, reports to peruse, but do we really make use of them? Has our interest for world affairs increased thanks to these new possibilities?
I have been pondering upon this question for days.
Turkey has been going through a harsh time being squeezed in most complicated bi-lateral and multi-lateral relations of its history. The government is facing more challenging problems in foreign affairs than ones at home. Don’t we often hear in debates on domestic affairs some phrases such as ‘malicious conspiracy’ and ‘mastermind’ that actually refer to foreign powers?
Our relations with the USA, the European Union, the NATO, Russia and those countries around us such as Greece, Syria, Iraq and Iran are quite different compared to before, and we experience serious problems with some of them.
Despite this, our care for these problems is pale in comparison with that of domestic problems.
US President Donald Trump, with the encouragement of hardliners around him, has targeted Iran, and sent US Navy to the Gulf as a part of gunboat diplomacy. Several articles appear in foreign press stating that Trump will increase American military deployment in the region to the level only seen during the days of the occupation of Iraq, to the contrary to his promise to withdraw American soldiers from the region.
What do we do?
Every single development in the region concerns Turkey as much as the countries that have been targeted or facing a potential attack.
Such developments concern Turkey, but we don’t pay much attention to them.
I am guilty too; it is months since I wrote on foreign policy affairs last time.
I am afraid, we will suffer from consequences of our own indifference.
[Translated by Bernar Kutluğ from the the article appeared in this site on May 18, 2019]