Nobel Peace Laureate Martti Ahtisaari has a special relationship with Turkey. A career diplomat, who became the first directly elected president of Finland, is man of immense stamina and patience. It was during his term as the chairman of European Union, the process of Turkey’s EU candidacy began. That was 1999. Ahtisaari continues to believe that Turkey can one day become a part of the Union.

Has Turkey moved anywhere nearer to an EU membership in the last ten years? Yes, he says. He is the chairman of an independent commission that support Turkey undertake the necessary reforms. “We produced our first report in September 2004. We had argued then that Turkey has filled all the criteria so that EU may start the process to start negotiations. I would have personally hoped that there were more reforms carried out. The government had appointed a new chief negotiator and I thought that this is very positive move. But as Turkey is getting towards elections, it is not a time when reforms are usually carried out,” he adds.

Former Finnish President is also critical of some EU members who are artificially creating blockades for Turkey’s entry. “In the second report which we are going to produce in September, we look into not only what Turkey does but also EU and some of the individual members are doing. If some member states are blocking some of the major sectors then, we have to take a critical look at that. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we would be saying some critical things about Turkey and some EU member states as well.”

When asked whether being a Muslim-majority-nation is a hindrance for Turkey’s entry into the elite club of European nations, he was quick to retort, “I would hate to live in a Europe that would not accept Turkey that happens to be a secular Muslim state. More important to me and my country as well is that Turkey fulfils the criteria like all the other countries that what to join EU. If they do, I see not reason why Turkey should not be a part of EU.”

Ahtisaari also points out that acceptance of Turkey in the mainstream Europe has strategic importance. “It is not only the political and strategic issues that we have been now discussing but also then the whole energy issue – the Nakupa pipeline. EU now put 250 million euros. We need alternative routes. Alternative routes are important in the overall energy strategy. It will send a very sad message if we say that Europe is some sort of Christian bastion and does not allow Muslim countries to join. I would rather not like to live in such sort of Europe. It was during my presidency, EU accepted Turkey’s candidacy. That is why my friends asked me to chair the commission to help Turkey’s candidacy, I accepted. It felt it is my responsibility.”

On the Middle East
The role of Turkey in the Palestine-Israel conflict is an important, feels the Nobel laureate. “When we see what happened in Gaza and Turkey’s role in the broader region is an important one. It was good that somebody was talking to Hamas when others were not for one reason for another to do that. It is very difficult otherwise to get their cooperation. This finally led to cease-fire.”

Elaborating further of the country’s role in the Middle East, he said, “Turkey has tried to look into it (Palestine-Israel conflict) in a rather balanced manner. People said that Turkey would isolate itself by talking to Hamas. But I definitely welcome the Turkish role. Turkey’s role is also important in relationship with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Ahtisaari had claimed that international community is not doing enough to resolve the Middle crisis. "I do not think there has been enough political will. Partly it also the fact that with Palestinians split. They have to form a united front. It is very easy to exploit that division. And there for instead of bypassing Hamas, the important thing is to get them somehow involved. Because if any movement, how difficult some people might find their policies, enjoys the support of the population through a free and fair elections, it is very dangerous to avoid these people."

Peace & Work
Even at the age of 72, Martti Ahtisaari has no plans for retirement. In his acceptance speech of Nobel Peace Prize, he spoke about the connection between poverty and crime. One of his pet projects involves training young people in the Middle East and North Africa to become entrepreneurs.

He explains, “The idea is to improve the employment possibilities for young people. In the next decade, we will have at least 1.2 billion men and women under 30 looking for work. With traditional means may be we can employee 300,000. What do we do with nearly a billion? Do we have employment opportunities in future? Then give them proper education. Make them as many entrepreneurs as possible, No problem with micro credit. This is important and I am working with people who can do this.
If young people do not get hope, criminal and terrorists are the best recruiters. So, we have to fight the poverty and that’s my basic message.”

Picture courtesy: Mikko Koivumaa