17 April 2007

1615) Canadian Ambassador Brodeur: Being Friends With Turks; Facing Tough Love

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians http://armenians-1915.blogspot.com © pix Canadian Ambassador Yves Brodeur has experienced Turkey in three different phases of his life. He thinks Turkey is undergoing rapid change, but two things remain the same: familial solidarity and people's tendency for self-interrogation on the national level.

'There is a tendency here to see a lot of things through a negative magnifying glass because every time something is asked from Turkey it is seen as an offense or something that undermines your identify, which is not the case' . .

‘There is a tendency here to see a lot of things through a negative magnifying glass, because every time something is asked from Turkey it is seen as an offense or something that undermines your identify, which is not the case,' says Ambassador Brodeur.

Yves Brodeur, the Canadian ambassador to Turkey and a former architect, was in Turkey as a student in 1977, as a fresh diplomat in 1983 and now as an ambassador. He thinks that from his experiences in Turkey it is changing rapidly and that people spend lots of time trying to find out who is betraying the country instead of thanking those who are actually making it great. He says that people think they will lose their cultural identity but adds that it is too early to say such a thing.

Ambassador Brodeur thinks that diplomacy and architecture have something in common: Their philosophies are based on building, whether it be physical structures or international relations. He does not hide the fact that relations between Canada and Turkey were harmed by the resolution about Armenian genocide claims adopted by the Canadian Parliament in 2004. Over a cup of espresso he gives long and open answers.

“I think Turkey is a country where it is easy to become friendly, but they treat their friends in a very tough way. It is tough love,” he says with a smile.

This is the third time he’s been to Turkey. The first time was in 1977 when he was a student of architecture. He return in 1983 as a fresh diplomat and now he is here as an ambassador.

He mentions his old friends from Turkey who expect him to have a better understanding of Turkey than other foreigners because of his long history with the country. “They tell me that I should have known better. They are less forgiving. People are harsher on you when they are criticizing you,” he says, and laughs. He does not seem unhappy about this “Turkish attitude.” He says it is “funny.”

Since he was here before in somewhat different points in time, he is the right foreigner to ask for a comparison between the eras. He admits that it is a question he is always asked, but says he thinks the “comparison game is risky.”

“Things change, circumstances change and you cannot compare the situation between then and now, because circumstances are really different. Turkey was a different country altogether at that time. Turkey is a much more prosperous country [now]. You see signs of prosperity everywhere,” he says. Although it is 30 years since his first visit, the ambassador says, “Turkey is much younger than when I came for the first time.”

“For guys like me it is quite impressive. The future in the country is walking on the street and that is quite energetic, it is also energizing people. And I think it is not recognized by people in Turkey, the power that the young generation has. Now a new election is coming up, but surprisingly very few parties actually speak about the youth and their potential power. That is a quite different thing,” he says, also pointing out that “Turkey is also a country that is much more open to the world then it has been.”

Ambassador Brodeur thinks Turkey, like many countries, is undergoing rapid change. This also applies to the country’s traditions. But he is not sure if the change of traditions is negative as it is too early to decide. He can understand the fear of change: “People are thinking ‘Are we going to lose our identity? What will happen to this way of life?’”

Although he thinks that traditions are meant to change, he believes there are certain “solid” things that will not change in Turkey, like the solidarity in a family. “I am always extremely impressed by families no matter what [kind]: a rich family from Nisantasi, a poor family from Diyarbakir or just an average family. Families are very solid in Turkey, no one questions that. But perhaps the solidarity among neighbors is a little less as a consequence of modernity. People are busier, they work longer hours, they have less time to worry about neighbors,” he says.

But there is something that has not changed in Turkey, according to Ambassador Brodeur: People’s intense interrogation of themselves.

“They are worried about the outside; they are worried about foreigners. I don’t say they don’t like foreigners or the impact of foreigners. For me, for as long as I have been interested in Turkey the issue has been there. Right now there is too much emphasis on nationalism, but not [enough] on civic duties. I am not Turkish. I am saying this with all the modesty that I can adopt because I am a foreigner. Lots of people spend lots of time trying to find out who is betraying the country, but no time is spent on thanking the people who are actually making this country a great country,” Ambassador Brodeur says, without hiding his astonishment.

He goes back to the same question on social change. He tries to establish empathy: “Maybe one negative aspect of all this change is that it brings uncertainty. It makes people nervous. You are reinforcing nationalism because you want to protect yourself. That is natural, but the negative side of it is that you forget about the positive elements. All these things are consequences of opening up to the world and rapid change, but Turks will manage that.”

Constructing a building or a relation

When Ambassador Brodeur is asked about the road he took from being an architect to a diplomat, he smiles again. He explains that in Canada a university graduate of any field can take exams to enter the Foreign Ministry and if they do well they may get a job offer. It was the same for him: “This is the bureaucratic answer to your question,” he says and moves to the “philosophical” answer: “I’ve always been interested by the world out there. I think life is very short and the planet is very small, too small not to know who is living where, what they are doing. I find it strange that people have been living on this planet called Earth for years and don’t have the curiosity to go out and see who lives on the other side of the continent. For me it was always interesting. Architecture is a way of building. And international relations are also building so there are no differences in terms of approach: constructing a building or a relation,” he points out.

When I start my question with “as an architect,” he smiles and corrects me, “as a former architect.” He explains that in order to be considered an architect, someone has to be a member of a professional association. But he answers anyway: He likes many buildings in Ankara, like the Opera House and the train station, but the Is Bank tower, located opposite the US Embassy, has something special. “It is very modern and it was interesting because it was modern 30 years ago. But after 30 years, it is still building with a lot of architectural points; it is very elegant, it is very nice and it is very modest,” he says.

For Ambassador Brodeur, diplomacy is about establishing bridges. He says honesty is very important for him and that diplomacy is a business built on trust. “You have to be able to trust the other side, even at times of war or conflict. I can represent a country that is at war with another one, but we must still be able to sit down at a table and be able to talk as human beings, and this is what diplomats are for. I believe in trust.”

He also discussed the balance between speaking openly while representing the interests of his country. “Sometimes you cannot be as open as you want to be because there are greater interests than your great principles behind [you], but honesty and trust are two key words. You need to be able to establish bridges with people who could potentially be your worst enemies, because if you don’t have that then there is no hope to find a way out of conflict or crisis. The nice thing or the beauty of diplomacy is that, despite who you represent -- you represent your country -- it is always [based] on human relations with someone who represents another interest. I think great diplomats are great human beings before anything else,” he says.

Canada and Turkey: Too far apart or is something else missing?

“I would like to know too; if I knew I would be able to go back home and tell the people that miracle,” the ambassador says, and smiles when he is asked whether there are any other issues between the two countries apart from geographical distance.

He explains that Canadians are busy with relations with the US, Latin America, France and Britain for obvious reasons. “For an average Canadian, despite the very good formal relations, Turkey is not on the map. But from both sides of the view, for the people-to-people relations, Turks living in Canada” -- such as his university professor who first convinced him to come to Turkey or the increasing number of Turkish students in Canada and Canadian tourists who come to Turkey -- “know very well what they are looking for, and are the best ambassadors that Turkey and Canada can have.”

One of the problems between the two countries is the resolution adopted by the Canadian Parliament on the Armenian “genocide.” Ambassador Brodeur says: “We have a problem that I don’t want to try to minimize because it is not a small problem, it is a big one. I fully understand why Turks and the Turkish government are upset by this, it is not fun to be accused of having committed genocide,” he says.

He thinks Turkey was a little late to tell the story from its side and the fact that the issue is not discussed in Turkey is not helping. “It is about influence, it is about making sure that they have enough knowledge to make a decision that makes sense, and it is about talking to them and telling them their (Turkey’s) side of the story. In this case I believe that Turkey started much too late to tell its side of the story.” But he adds that Canada is supporting Turkey’s idea of establishing a joint commission of historians from Armenia and Turkey for scientific research into the matter.

As a career diplomat, Ambassador Brodeur was in the communications department of the Canadian Foreign Ministry and was a spokesperson for NATO. “It was very interesting. Tough times, but very stimulating,” he says. “Just after the Balkan wars -- NATO was very much looking for its own existence,” he says and talks about one of his memories: “When I started the job at Christmas time, the International Herald Tribute had an advertisement. They were asking questions and saying they are giving the answers. One of the questions was, ‘Is NATO still relevant?’ The advertisement went for four days and I could not sleep,” he laughs. He believes NATO is still relevant.

He thinks being a spokesperson can be difficult sometimes. He does not hesitate to say, “I don’t know,” but he sees it as cooperation rather than confrontation. “Why? A simple reason: If I don’t speak to you, you don’t have a story. And if I don’t speak to you, I cannot get my message out. Somewhere we have to find a meeting point,” he says.

Ambassador Brodeur says in Canada people told him that there are problems related to freedom of expression in Turkey. He answers them: “There are vibrant cultural environments; there is a vibrant media here in Turkey. Here there are more national newspapers and TV channels than in Canada. All issues, even difficult ones, are covered by newspapers. Sometimes you have to choose your words carefully, but there were issues you could not talk about few years ago and this is changing too.”

He thinks that Turkey needs to be firmly anchored in the modern world. This will be to the benefit of everyone, also for Canada, and this is why his country is supporting Turkey’s membership of the EU. The most important construction project in Turkey, he says, is the EU accession process -- it should not be abandoned.

“The starting point is what do the people of this country want to become? If you have an agreement on getting there, how fast you get there becomes sort of instrumental to achieving the vision. If there are doubts about this, then you have a different problem,” he says.

He thinks there is a tendency in Turkey “to see a lot of things through a negative magnifying glass, because every time something is asked from Turkey it is seen as an offense or something that undermines your identify,” and according to him, this is not the case.

He goes back to social change: “Don’t lose track of the overall picture. Look at where you are now and where you were a few years ago and decide yourself if it is better now than it was before and why it is like this.”

Maybe Ambassador Brodeur has learned how to be friendly in the Turkish way after all these years and experiences: showing tough love.



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