By virtue of its geography, Turkey tends to often be involved in a range of issues of wider international significance. However, at the moment, it seems to be pivotal in an even greater number of issues than usual, which makes it a particularly interesting time to visit.
It is only a couple of weeks since the decision was made by the EU to formally commence negotiations to enable Turkey to join. This has the potential to significantly affect the flavour and direction of global politics for decades to come. Whilst it is a gross oversimplification to lump Turkey in with other countries with a majority of Muslims, the perception of it as a Muslim nation is heavily influencing how many people and countries feel about this development.
Turkey also shares a border with Syria, which is on the edge of moving into crisis itself, Iran, which is at the centre of a long running international arm-wrestle regarding its nuclear ambitions, and Iraq, which held a referendum to adopt a new constitution just days before our arrival. In addition, the recent discovery of bird flu in the eastern part of the country was dominating media coverage throughout Europe.
It is all a reminder that Australia is a long way away politically as well as geographically. Despite its wide diversity of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, Australia is still very much white, western and English speaking in its outlook. Anything outside this boundary is still very much ‘foreign’. However, the special role the Gallipoli Peninsula now has in our national mythology means that there is a positive foundation to the attitude of the average Australian towards Turkey that does not exist for most other ‘foreign’ countries.
Gallipoli is important to the Turks as well, albeit not in such a unique way as it is to Australia (and New Zealand). It is a specific link we have with Turkey which no other nation has, and I think it would immensely beneficial to our nation if we sought to build on it in a big way. It is a bridge between Europe, central Asia and the Middle East, between Muslim and Christian, between East and West, between secular and religious. Turkey is also a developing democratic country with a sizable population of around 70 million, which means plenty of trade and economic opportunities for Australia if we can find the right ways in.