The Ambassador of Turkey
Mr. Gunduz Aktan
Mr. Mayor of Athens, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to extend my warm welcome and thanks to all of you for attending this symposium. I am particularly grateful to the Mayor of Athens, Mr. Nikos Yatrakos, for allocating the City Hall for this purpose. Above all, my appreciation goes to Dr. Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis for her enterprising spirit and dedication to Biopolitics and cooperation between our two countries and for her untiring efforts toward the organisation of this symposium. I also take pleasure in expressing my thanks to Mr. Arvanitis who so kindly and efficiently helped us.
As is known, we have undertaken many common cooperative efforts in the recent past in order to improve our relations. During Greece’s somewhat long electoral period, these efforts understandably slowed down. We believe it is high time that we set ourselves back on the path of mutual cooperation. It is, I think, exceptionally meaningful that we start with this symposium on Biopolitics. I always felt I was lucky to have dealt with environmental questions right from the beginning of my career. When I met Dr. Vlavianos-Arvanitis, I unerstood that the concept of bios is better reflecting and more encompassing the reality, hence superior to any of its closest rival. I believe that we should reassess all our thinking, values, attitudes and policies in light of the concept of life, or bios.
Turkey, like Greece and other countries for that matter, faces serious problems besetting the preservation of bios. Rapid population growth and an extremely high rate of urbanisation have played havoc with the natural environment. In my generation, urban centres like Istanbul, Athens and Ankara have tripled or quadrupled in population and space. This has created infra-structure problems ranging from housing through traffic to transportation and communication. This, combined with a very high rate of industrialization, has polluted/infested the city’s air, soil and water resources. Fertile, arable land has been deeply encroached by industrial sites and perhaps lost for good. Construction technology spurred by greed for profit has destroyed the traditional fabric of old towns and the beauty of the landscape. Both Turkey and Greece suffer not only from their own doings, but also from the adverse effects of transboundary pollution, like the radiation loaded clouds after the Chernobyl accident. The dumping of highly toxic chemical wastes into the Aegean and the Black Sea turned into a nightmare. Climatic change and consequent water shortages threaten our countries beyond our control with a catastrophic potential for our regions.
The list is not exhaustive, neither do I want to prolong it. But in the present state of affairs the threat to bios is real and serious. Halfway measures, palliatives or expediencies do not constitute a response to them. Tactical and short-term moves are irrelevant. Therefore, I, as a modest diplomat who has been brought up with these weaknesses, am evidently misplaced to talk about their solution, let alone to make recommendations. I am of the opinion that those we are concerned with bios have very little to learn from diplomacy and indeed, the reverse is true. In the past, when we exaggerated our daily problems, the sages used to advise us to look into the infinite skies in order to have a sense of proportion. Now, what is called for is much simpler – we should look around us and see the imminence and the magnitude of the danger in view of which the dimensions of all real and fictitious problems are reduced to the extent of the ludicrous. Another, perhaps equally sobering lesson we can take from the concept of bios is a profoundly humane understanding that no matter what divides us and how divided we are, we share a common destiny – that we are in the same rocking boat. An ancient poet once said that death was the ultimate equalising force, for it struck with the same majesty the rich and the poor. Now in life, threats to bios deal equal blows not only to rich and poor, but to all, irrespective of race, colour, religion and nation. Dangers to bios may well bring about what the admonitions of religions have failed to do, namely the brotherhood of mankind. The crucial point that bio-morals can teach to diplomacy is that in this game there could be no winners against the losers. Either we will win together or we will lose together. It is no more than a chess-board on which we are operating. Cooperation, a long-term, far-sighted, honest and altruistic cooperation, is the name of the game. Can we play it or is it too late for us to change our ways? This question should have a positive answer.
In conclusion, I wish to say that I will humbly listen to the eminent experts who will follow me in this symposium to see what they will have to say in response to the challenge of bios and the potential of cooperation between our two countries.
His Excellency Mr. Gunduz Aktan graduated from the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University and served at the Turkish Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs. He has served at the Turkish Delegation to the OECD (Paris), the Turkish Embassy in Nairobi and the Turkish permanent mission to the United Nations. Mr. Aktan worked at the United Nations headquarters as director for the north-south dialogue and directed the Gulf Department and the Department of International Economic Organisations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was posted as first counsellor of the Turkish Embassy in Berne, returned to Turkey to be Advisor to the Prime Minister for foreign affairs and, while continuing to serve as Advisor, was appointed as director general of multilateral economic relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responsible also for Turkey’s relations with the EC. Presently, he is Turkey’s Ambasssador to Greece.