On Monday, the Turkish people marked the 95th anniversary of their republic as Istanbul’s new international airport opened its doors. This event went down in history as a first under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The refusal of opposition leaders to attend the ceremony because it was held “outside Ankara” amounted to little more than a knee-jerk reaction. Celebrating our republic with impressive accomplishments of high symbolic value across the country, including in Istanbul, was a source of pride for the Turkish people.
To be clear, Istanbul’s new international airport isn’t just another megaproject that Turkey has completed over the past 16 years under the rule of the AK Party and Erdoğan, nor is it just a commercial center. One way or another, the new airport, officially named Istanbul Airport, represents a statement for Turkey’s growing global influence.
At a time when the United States under the leadership of President Donald Trump continues to turn its back on its traditional global role as a superpower, Turkey has no choice but to transform itself into a powerful regional player; otherwise, the country won’t be able to protect its national interests.
Today, there is a rising new trend in nationalist and far-right discourses. Washington and European countries have already been affected by this populist wind. Across Europe particularly, mainstream politics finds itself under pressure from right-wing extremist movements. As Western countries have been the victims of populism, Turkey’s neighborhood, meanwhile, remains a hotbed of ethnic and sectarian conflicts ranging in intensity from Syria to Iraq. At such a chaotic conjuncture where the hope for world or regional peace is abandoned, by completing mega projects like Istanbul’s new international airport, Turkey is setting an example for the entire region by promoting closer integration with the rest of the world, pursuing its national interest and promoting an inclusive national identity.
Turkey’s national identity, which is full of inclusion and enthusiasm, is also the trigger behind all the major developments that have taken place in recent weeks, including: President Erdoğan’s responsible management of the Jamal Khashoggi affair to the four-nation summit held in Turkey on the final situation regarding the Syrian civil war and the new airport’s opening on Oct. 29, Turkey’s Republic Day.
[Daily Sabah, 30 October 2018]