BH: Are you using your book, Strategic Depth, as a kind of handbook for your time as foreign minister?
AD: When I wrote Strategic Depth, I was not minister or chief advisor. It was published in 2001, when I was a professor at the university, and the purpose of this book was to reinterpret Turkish geography and history in the new situation of post-Cold War politics. To be frank, I did not imagine at that time that I would be asked to implement these theories. But because of the political change in Turkey, I was asked to help first as an advisor, then as a minister. And now that I am in this position, it is like a test for me.
BH: Are there things you've learned as a practitioner that maybe you'd gotten wrong in the book?
AD: Not wrong. In general, I'm really surprised by how well theory and practice match up. But in practice, you learn even more than you do from books sometimes.
I can give you an example. In 2005, we were trying to help the political process in Iraq. At that time, we were trying to convince Sunni insurgent groups to participate in the elections and become a political party rather than just a resistance. In the last meeting, after they complained, they criticized each other -- five, six different groups -- I made a speech.
I talked about Baghdad in the 10th century, 16th century, 18th century, and how it has been the center of civilizations: "Now, Baghdad is in such a situation that it is not a center of civilizational activity anymore. Even the streets are being divided; the houses are being divided between Sunnis and Shiites. Your ancestors gave you Baghdad, and now which type of Baghdad are you planning to give to your grandsons?"
One of the leaders, very old, his response was a lesson for me. After an emotional response to my speech, he said to his colleagues in a different competing group, "We have to listen to this gentleman because he speaks like a Baghdadi."
Empathy is important in politics. You learn that in order to solve a crisis or help a people, you have to behave as one of them.
Therefore, as a Turk, now I am European in Brussels, or Iraqi in Baghdad, Bosnian in Sarajevo, or Samarkandi in Central Asia. And these are not conflicting identities. If you want to contribute to regional and global peace, you have to speak from within. You should not impose. You should not dictate.
BH: Some people have criticized your conception of Turkey's foreign policy, saying that it's impossible to improve relations with one group of countries (for example, Syria and Iran) while maintaining good relations with, say, Israel and the United States. This year there's been enormous friction in the relationship between Turkey and Israel specifically. Do you agree with people who see a long-term difference in views about the region?
AD: I still argue and I still insist that it is possible to have good relations with different conflicting parties if you implement a policy of values and principles.
For example, from December 2002 until December 2008 -- six years of the same Turkish government -- we had good relations with Israel. And for two years we held confidential indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria, followed by open negotiations for one year. That same year, we had excellent relations with Syria and Israel. We had good relations with Iran and Israel. And we were very close to starting direct talks. We had almost agreed on everything, to start direct talks on Monday. On Saturday of that same week in December, Israel attacked Gaza.
And that attack created a big crisis in our region. Around 1,500 people were killed. Civilians. Children. Women. We are trying to implement a policy of peace in our region; we could not be silent.
Similarly, this year they attacked a civilian convoy, and they killed nine civilians, eight of them Turkish, one an American citizen. Now, who can tolerate an attack against a civilian convoy in international waters? In international waters! And this civilian convoy did not violate Israeli territory, did not harm any Israeli citizen or anything. So this was the reason.
It is possible to have zero problems if the other actors respect our values. It doesn't mean that we will be silent in order to have good relations with all parties.