Fehim Adak has served as Minister of State since June 1996 in the Turkish government headed by Necmettin Erbakan. Born in 1931 and trained as a civil engineer, he entered electoral politics in 1969 and became a parliamentary deputy in 1973. Mr. Adak is one of Prime Minister Erbakan's oldest and most trusted political allies. During the coalition governments of 1974-78, he served in three ministerial positions. His trip to the United States has its origins in a trip by Mr. Erbakan to Libya in October 1996, after which the State Department announced it would seek a "private dialogue" with the Turkish government. at the invitation of Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin appears to reflect a U effort to strengthen ties with the Erbakan wing of Turkey's coalition government Mr. Erbakan explained that Mr. Adak's trip is intended to assure the U.S. government that it has no reason to be afraid of anything we are doing, adding: We need to explain ourselves better to our friend America. Daniel Pipes and Alan Makovsky had a short interview with him at the Turkish embassy in Washington on January 15, 1997.
Middle East Quarterly: What is the purpose of your trip to the United States?
Fehim Adak: I am visiting your country at the invitation of Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin. As you know, our two countries have historic relations which go far back in time, and we hope to build on them. Turkey has a new government, a coalition government, and we hope to take advantage of this visit to inform the U.S. government about the ways in which the new government in Turkey evaluates its relations with the United States. I can assure you that there is continuity in Turkey, so whatever government may be in power, it will basically continue with the same basic principles and the same policies.
There is continuity in Turkey, so whatever government may be in power, it will basically continue with the same basic principles and the same policies.
MEQ: Has your trip been successful?
Adak: We have had useful discussions with our U.S. counterparts. We have discussed almost every issue of mutual interest, ranging from bilateral economic relations to political questions and matters of foreign policy. I am pleased to tell you that we found we are in general agreement on almost all these issues. We knew that there was a long legacy of cooperation between the United States and Turkey that predated our coming to power [in June 1996], and my discussions just go to confirm that this cooperation will continue into the future.
I also had the opportunity during this visit to meet with representatives of financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. I can assure you that U.S. government officials and the officials of these institutions are both very eager to help Turkey settle its economic problems.
MEQ: Does the current state of relations between your party, Refah, and its coalition partner, the True Path Party, affect relations with the United States?
Adak: The Refah Party is the lead partner in the coalition but both partners in this government show the other understanding and they are closely working together. The parties forming the coalition agree on a program and are implementing it step by step.
MEQ: It sounds like you are saying that there are no problems between Washington and Ankara. But didn't your trip result from differences last October over the prime minister's trip to Libya, as well as other issues? In other words, the trip arose out of problems.
Adak: Turkey wants to maintain peaceful relations with all the countries in its region and in the world, and the United States shares this same outlook. We had to visit Libya to take up some bilateral economic problems with Libya; that trip took place within the framework of a general tour of the countries in Africa.
I get the impression that this visit did not disturb U.S. officials because it was not brought up in any of my discussions in recent days. In fact, it has not been touched on at any level at all.
MEQ: What about Turkey's commercial deal with Iran -- has that been raised in your discussions here? Adak: Our economic and trade relations with Iran do not differ from those that exist between some European countries and Iran. European countries are importing oil from Iran, and that is also what we are doing. Turkey has an acute energy crisis at the moment, so we need to import vast quantities of natural gas. The relationship with Iran is basically a commercial one, so there is no reason why it should disturb anyone. This is the way we explained our economic relations with Iran to American officials.
The relationship with Iran is basically a commercial one, so there is no reason why it should disturb anyone.
MEQ: Did the American officials accept this explanation?
Adak: Look, it is not right that countries should have adversarial relations for a very long period of time. This is neither realistic nor logical. We have plenty of examples before us where countries that once fought each other are now at peace. Take the case of Germany; if the European countries continued to dwell on the events of the First and Second World Wars , and pursued a policy of isolating Germany, European countries would lack meaningful relations and there would be no European Union today. This goes to show that states can and do change their policies over time, that they adjust their policies to changing circumstances.
We recognize that the United States, which is our friend, may have some reservations on this matter; but antagonistic relations with Iran cannot go on indefinitely. We believe the United States should leave the door ajar so that it has the flexibility to adjust its policies. What matters is a dialogue, good relations, and friendship; I can tell you that our U.S. counterparts are not against this. What matters is world peace and this is something both Turkey and the United States attach great importance to and are very much in agreement on.
MEQ: Of course we do. But in December 1996, a Turkish parliamentary commission chaired by a Refah Party member found Iran involved in supporting PKK terrorism against Turkey. Doesn't this mean that Iranian aggression is at least as much a problem for you as it is for us?
Adak: When you say that Iran has connections with terrorism or supports terrorism, you must base this statement on facts. Turkey's borders with Iran are a very mountainous and tough terrain, an area that makes it easy for terrorists to find refuge. You cannot be sure if terrorists entering Turkey are coming from Iran or from Iraq; and if they were using Iranian territory, they could well be doing so beyond the reach of the government. These are all possibilities and it is not yet clear which is in fact the case. The vacuum of authority in northern Iraq gives rise to terrorism and creates all these problems. In addition, you may have incidents on the borders from time to time; this can happen. We have to bring all of these problems to the negotiating table with Iran and find solutions to them.
MEQ: You do not, then, believe that the government of Iran supports terrorism against Turkey?
Adak: We believe such things should not happen.
MEQ: But does it happen?
Adak: As I have explained, we don't know if they are coming from Iran or from someplace else. The Iranian government has clearly stated that it does not support terrorism.
MEQ: Does Syria support terrorism against Turkey?
Adak: I don't have any opinion on that. From time to time we receive information, but we don't know if this is accurate information or not.
Again, the problem stems from the vacuum of authority in northern Iraq. Terrorists from there infiltrate into Turkey through its borders in the east. To be able to infiltrate Turkey in this manner, they must be trained by someone and we don't know whether they are being trained in the east or in the west. Perhaps some Western countries are training these terrorists. We hear from time to time, for example, that the [Constantinos] Simitis government in Greece provides training and weapons for terrorists.
Basically, we advocate that all countries of east and west should come together and without discrimination address this problem of terrorism, and should do so without preconceptions as to whether terrorism stems from the east or the west. East and west, we believe, should work hand in hand.
MEQ: Is Israel engaged in terrorism against Turkey?
Adak: I don't know.
Believers in Turkey
MEQ: In 1995, the Refah Party wanted to remove Article 24 from the constitution, the article that prohibits basing Turkish law on the shari'a [Islamic sacred law]. Why did you sponsor that initiative?
Adak: Actually, Refah wanted not to lift Article 24, but to redefine secularism in Turkey. So many people and institutions offer different definitions of this concept, to the point that they are causing confusion in the courts. For example, if somebody is charged with the crime of working against secularism, in each and every case it is up to the judge to decide whether the crime took place or not. To place the whole concept on objective criteria, we wanted to redefine this concept. This is what we were trying to do, not delete the article from the constitution.
MEQ: How would you like to define secularism?
Adak: Exactly the way it is defined in Europe. We would like to define secularism exactly the way it is defined in Europe.
MEQ: Your campaign program for the December 1995 elections stated that laïklik (secularism) now means zulmu (oppression) for Muslim believers. Could you tell us exactly what oppression Turkish believers presently suffer from?
Adak: We don't object to the concept of secularism, we have no problem with it, but we do have a problem with the way it is construed and implemented.
MEQ: But what kind of oppression do believers currently suffer?
Adak: We are a European country and we want to model our concept of secularism on European models; whatever is being applied in Europe should also be applied in Turkey. We also want to adopt the same system that is applied in the United States.