Mehmet Ali Şahin, a former parliament speaker from the AK Party, was elected, with the votes of 81 provincial heads of the AK party, as the chairman of the council at the congress in which 1,487 AK Party delegates were present. In attendance were The many high-level foreign guests including some leading politicians such as Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev, Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, Iraqi Vice President Tariq Hashimi, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashal and former Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath.
“We will continue to the end our struggle to draft a new constitution that will allow diversity, that is based on fundamental human rights and that is also inclusive, integrating and welcoming,” he added. Noting that the AK Party is ready to talk about the preparation of a new constitution with any party by establishing the minimum common ground, AK Party leader stated, “We will never be the side that runs away from the [negotiations] table.”
Noting that military coups would never again be on the agenda in Turkey, “Let everybody know this: Anybody who intervenes or attempt to intervene in the democratic system will be brought to account in the courts of law of the people,” Erdoğan stressed.
At the fourth grand congress of the AK Party, Erdoğan also called on Turkey’s Kurdish citizens and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to cooperate with the government to solve the Kurdish issue.
Noting that, in the last 10 years, the AK Party has spent TL 35 billion in investments in the east and southeast of Turkey, which is a region densely populated by Kurds, “We are now waiting for our Kurdish brothers to take a step towards us by boldly raising their voices against the terror saying “That’s enough!” Erdoğan announced at the party congress, which took place in the Arena Sports Hall in Ankara on Sunday.
Calling on all the Kurds, whether they voted in the past for the AK Party or not, to listen to the voice of their conscience in the face of a brutal terrorist organization that aims to control the southeast region by exercising terror over the local population, Erdoğan said, “We want to open a new page, a page of brotherhood and to fill that page with our Kurdish brothers,” adding, “We are all part of the same family and are brothers.”
Talking about the important and sincere steps the AK Party government has taken for the settlement of the Kurdish issue, “It’s the AK party that put a stop to the decades-long assimilation policies towards the Kurds,” he remarked, citing as examples state television channel TRT 6 starting to broadcast in Kurdish for 24 hours a day and the elimination of obstacles to Kurdish as a language. Addressing Turkey’s Kurdish population, Erdoğan said, “Let’s settle this issue without yielding to violence, but through politics,” adding, “Let’s stand resolutely for democracy and for peace!”
Security measures were extremely tight in and around the Arena Sports Hall to prevent any incidents that might mar the event. The hall was decorated with Turkish and AK Party flags as well as posters of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and AK Party Chairman Erdoğan. There were also numerous banners within the hall that read: “Great nation, great power, target is 2023,” “Everything for Turkey,” “We are all Turkey together” and “Turkey’s party, Turkey’s leader.”
In his long speech, Erdoğan complained that the AK Party was left alone in its fight against terrorism by the opposition parties, but said the AK party has never waivered in its will to come up with a solution to the Kurdish issue. Claiming that some politicians make use of terrorism for their own political ends and that not only some foreign powers, but also those in Turkey who get benefits from the ongoing terrorism give support to terrorist activities, Erdoğan maintained, “A market for terrorism has come into existence in Turkey.”
But the governing party leader didn’t sound hopeless regarding common efforts among political parties to find a solution to the Kurdish problem. Although Erdoğan, in his speech also blamed the main opposition CHP for speaking as if it were the spokesperson of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), he called on the CHP to cooperate with the AK Party in the preparation of a solution for the decades-long Kurdish problem.
Referring to the earlier efforts of the CHP and the visit leading members of the CHP made to the AK party for settling the Kurdish issue in cooperation with other political parties, the AK party leader suggested that three colleagues from each party, the AK Party and the CHP, could work together and prepare a report on the issue. Calling on the CHP, “We are ready [to work together]. Should you say yes, we will sit and talk with you,” Erdoğan said.
In his speech, which was translated into seven languages, Erdoğan also boasted about the economic feats achieved during the rule of the AK Party. In 2002, Turkey’s debts to the IMF stood at $23.5 billion, whereas today it’s only $1.3 billion. “We are at the moment conducting technical negotiations with the IMF and will give a loan of $5 billion to the IMF,” Erdoğan said proudly. Turkey’s gross national product, which was $230 billion when the AK Party came to power at the end of 2002, now stands at $771 billion at the end of 2011.
Between 1993 and 2002, the economy grew on average by 3 percent, while during the AK Party rule from 2002 onwards, the average rate has been 5.3 percent. Erdoğan, who believes Turkey will score a growth rate of 5 percent in 2013 and 2014, also drew attention to the fact that in 2011, a period during which the global financial crisis reigned heavily, Turkey scored a growth rate of 8.5 percent in economic performance, which was second-best after that of China.
But Hurşit Güneş, deputy chairman of the CHP, criticized Erdoğan for failing to talk about the AK Party’s economic projections regarding the year 2023, in which the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic is to celebrated. “They keep talking about the year 2023 as a target period, but they haven’t talked about their economic model for the year 2023, or about the bad economic situation at present” Güneş told Today’s Zaman. Özcan Yeniçeri, a deputy from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), is also critical of the content of Erdoğan’s speech. “Erdoğan said nothing new regarding either politics or the economy” he said, describing the congress to Today’s Zaman, as “just being a show based on media support.”
In parts of his speech, Erdoğan also addressed young Turkish people. Noting the AK Party is proceeding in the footsteps of Sultan Alparslan, who opened the doors of Anatolia to Turks by beating the Byzantine army in 1071 at Manzikert in Muş province, and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, “If it’s God’s will, we will build 2023, and you will build 2071,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan spoke on a podium decorated in the background by a world map. His speech was translated into seven foreign languages simultaneously and handed over to delegates and visitors in printed form in Arabic and English in advance. The congress was followed by 800 local and 80 foreign reporters. There were special places for dignitaries, for other party representatives and for the disabled.
Outside the hall, there were big-screen TVs to broadcast the prime minister’s speech to some 20,000 people who could not make it into the hall, which housed just 10,000 people. Erdoğan arrived at the congress at 10:45 a.m. with his wide Emine, making a tour at the platform set up in the center of the hall.