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Columbia Spectator Staff

Turkish President Abdullah Gül spelled out Turkey's global vision for a prosperous future at a speech on Friday before fielding questions about Israel and the Middle East. Gül's address marked the end of Columbia's weeklong World Leaders Forum, in which seven heads of state from around the world visited campus to address students. His speech was in English, but he answered questions in Turkish. University President Lee Bollinger introduced Gül and noted that this was the second time that a Turkish leader was participating in the WLF, as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an spoke two years ago. In his address, Gül discussed Turkey's efforts to secure freedom of speech. "Today, there is a very rich and colorful media scene," Gül said of the Turkish media. Turkey also has the highest number of Facebook users after English-speaking countries, he said. "Turkey is a country where things are openly discussed," Gül said, though he added, "To come to this point has not been easy. We paid our dues." Gül also mentioned the recent constitutional amendments, which he said will help make the country more democratic and which 58 percent of the Turkish public voted to approve. But Onur Karaoglu, GS, who lived in Turkey before he came to study at Columbia, said after the speech that some people inside the country have doubts about the government's agenda. Karaoglu, who wasn't a supporter of Gül while he lived in Turkey, said, "I don't see that its getting better. Some issues are getting even worse." The government claims that it is changing now, Karaoglu said, but he noted that a couple of galleries were attacked just after opening a few days ago. "They are not fully trusting them internationally, but they are not being trusted fully internally in Turkey," Karaoglu said. In his address, Gül also said that Turkey, which has the 16th largest economy in the world, has made its contribution to the global community. "Turkey's footprint is that the global revenue is increasing day by day," Gül said. But Gül added that the meaning of state is changing. "The change is influencing what can be understood as international relations so far," Gül said. "We need to establish a new language for a global context." Gül ended his speech by recalling the famous saying, "Together we stand, divided we fall." During the question-and-answer session, students asked the president about his country's relationship with Israel. Gül was questioned about Turkey's relations with Israel after an Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ferry, which was part of an attempt to break the blockade at the Gaza Strip, resulted in the deaths of eight Turks and a Turkish-American. "We were shocked by what took place," Gül said. "We were working to create an environment where there would be direct talks." "It wouldn't have been like a democratic society to act after this as if nothing happened," he said. Students also asked about Turkey's efforts to join the European Union. One student asked the president to name the largest obstacles to membership. "The greatest challenge is the lack of vision on the part of the EU," Gül said. "Turkey has never asked for membership to the EU without doing what we needed to do." But on Tuesday, when EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso spoke at the World Leaders Forum, he remarked, "We [the EU] are in a process of negotiation with Turkey, but it is agreed that all of the benchmarks have not been met." When asked about nuclear weapons in Iran, he said, "Our country is against nuclear weapons. We absolutely do not want to see nuclear weapons in our country." He added though that the situation should be handled diplomatically, instead of through war. Evelin Collado, GS, enjoyed the speech and said she understood his message. "I thought his speech was on point if he was trying to sell a new image for Turkey, which is what he was trying to do," Collado said. "He didn't try to downplay the issues," she added. Brian Smith, undergraduate SEAS '09 and graduate SEAS '11, said that though he has been to a dozen WLF events, this was the "first time I saw such an emphatic response to the questions raised." "He took them kind of head-on," Smith said.

World Leaders Forum