Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke today at Columbia University to a packed hall of students, faculty and international media. The prime minister is in the United States to attend the Group of 20 meetings in Washington, D.C., where he will join with the leaders of emerging-market countries and industrialized nations to discuss the global financial crisis.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at Columbia. (3:11) Note: The Prime Minister's speech was translated in English from Turkish. Translations, depending on the source, may vary slightly.

The heart of Erdogan's speech at Columbia centered on Turkey's growing role in world affairs and the hope for a continued strategic partnership with the United States. In his opening remarks, Erdogan congratulated President-elect Barack Obama on his election to the U.S. presidency. Erdogan addressed the audience of Columbians directly when he said that the election of an alumnus must be "a matter of pride and joy for you." Under this new leadership, the prime minister said, "the United States of America will be on the side of those favoring peace."

Erdogan spoke of Turkey's active involvement in helping achieve global stability, and its alliance with the United States—a connection that is, he said, built on "very sturdy ground" as the two countries share "common ideals and a common vision." He expressed his confidence that the countries' relationship would remain strong under Obama and the new administration. "Leaders may change, governments may come and go," said the prime minister, "but relations between our countries will continue."

The remainder of Erdogan's remarks outlined the critical areas that are Turkey's main priorities: addressing the global financial crisis and the need for multilateral cooperation; resolving land and border disputes between Russia and Georgia, and Armenia and Azerbaijan; stabilizing the Middle East, particularly in regard to Israeli-Palestinian relations; helping to achieve a stable Iraq; and stopping nuclear proliferation in Iran.

In a recent New York Times article, Erdogan offered to act as a mediator between Iran and the United States. In his address at Columbia, Erdogan made it clear that Turkey could not accept a proliferation of nuclear arms in the region and that this is a top priority for his country. "Let's eradicate these weapons once and for all," he said.

Related Link

Erdogan detailed his country's continued efforts to become a member of the European Union. Turkey has been working to establish E.U. membership since 2005. "We are committed [to this process] despite all the obstacles put forth," he said.

Born in Istanbul in 1954, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spent most of his life in politics. After years of civic engagement, Erdogan worked in the private sector before returning to politics, and in 1984, became Beyoglu District Chairman of the Welfare party. In 1985, he was appointed the party's provincial chairman for Istanbul as well as a member of its central decision-making and executive board. Erdogan was elected Istanbul Mayor in 1994.

Erdogan was later sentenced to a prison term because of a poem he recited in a public address and was removed from office. After four months in prison, he established the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) in 2001. In 2002, the general elections resulted with the AK Parti winning two-thirds of the seats in parliament. Erdogan participated in the renewal elections on March 9, 2003 and became a deputy for the province of Siirt. He was appointed prime minister on March 15, 2003. After winning general elections on July 22, 2007 by an overwhelming majority, Erdogan formed the 60th government as prime minister.

Top   |    E-mail this story

© Columbia University