Turkish Consul General Omer Onhon discussed Turkey’s stance on the crisis in Lebanon before an audience of over 50 students and guests on Monday.
Onhon spoke about conflict in the Middle East with regard to Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Syria and addressed prospects for democracy in the region. While some students said they enjoyed the lecture, which was organized by Yale Friends of Turkey and the Council on Middle East Studies, others said they had hoped Onhon would address more issues specific to Turkey.
Onhon talked about Turkey’s strategic position between Europe and the rest of the Middle East and the history of his country since World War I. He said the borders imposed on the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire contributed to the region’s current instability because they were somewhat arbitrary and did not always take sectarian divides into account.
“After the demise of the Ottoman Empire, a lot of states were born,” he said. “The borders were drawn by someone who knows nothing about the Middle East or someone who knows too much about the Middle East.”
Lebanon, for example, is a very volatile country because it is home to a number of different — and at times conflicting — ethnic and religious groups, Onhon said. Turkey has played an active role in conflict mediation in Lebanon and is sending hundreds of Turkish troops to help maintain peace, he said.
“Lebanon … [has] an economic potential, but it could be an excellent trouble,” Onhon said. “Turkey has been a country with active involvement in peace-keeping operations.”
Onhon also discussed the Israel-Palestine conflict. He said that while Arab nations use anti-Israel sentiment to unite Middle Eastern Arabs, there is still hope of resolving the conflict because both sides now agree in principle that two separate states should exist.
Onhon said he thinks that Turkey, as a democratic country with a majority Muslim population, could be a model for democracy in the Middle East. He said Turkey can act as a bridge between Arab nations and the West.
“Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel,” he said. “We also have a good relationship with Arab countries. This is the message that we’re trying to give.”
Yale Friends of Turkey Vice President Muratcan Bilgincan ’08 said he hoped the talk would convey the Turkish government’s view on the conflict in Lebanon and the Middle East.
“We really wanted to let people know what Turkey’s position on the Middle East is,” he said. “I think students have a better understanding.”
Some students said they enjoyed the opportunity to hear firsthand from someone involved in Turkish politics.
“I was interested in hearing about Turkey’s unique role as a non-Arab, Muslim country from someone from the government,” Eli Bildner ’10 said.
But other students said they felt Onhon’s presentation was too general and wished he had spoken more about specific ways in which the Turkish government has responded to regional tensions in the past.
Matthew Du Pont ’10 said he wished Onhon would have focused on domestic problems in Turkey rather than foreign affairs.
“I wish he had elaborated more on problems with the Kurds in the country,” Du Pont said.
The event was postponed from Friday, Oct. 6 because of scheduling conflicts.