Ambassadors, faculty members, foreign dignitaries, reporters and cultural attach√ØøΩs filled Marillac auditorium Monday as Fr. Harrington presented Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with an honorary doctorate of laws.
The former professional soccer player and current chairperson of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party wore full academic regalia as he addressed the crowd through a translator, "I feel an affinity for this university which goes beyond the colors of red and white, the shared colors of this university and the Turkish flag." Erdogan (pronounced Ur-do-wan) stressed the similarity between the educational philosophy of St. John’s and the culture of Turkey in their willingness to accept change "based on a rationalism that does not reject the spirituality of life." Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party has roots in the more religious Welfare Party, and some secular groups expected Erdogan’s party to mimic its stance after his victory in 2002. Instead, he has proven to be a market-oriented reformer, concentrating on preparing Turkey for negotiating European Union membership in 2004.
Erdogan’s speech focused on balancing that prospective membership with Turkey’s national identity. ”Turkey’s having highly populated with Muslims has not been an obstacle before its active membership to western institutions and organizations," he said. "Turkey’s completing the process of accession to the European Union successfully will be a new sign of a Muslim society’s adjustment with societies with Christian majority on the basis of joint, universal and democratic values. It will be the first big step to be taken in the beginning of the 21st century in the name of meeting between civilizations.” While acknowledging that globalization demands that nations adapt, Erdogan also pointed out that no single culture could claim a monopoly on principles such as the supremacy of law, human rights, and the equality of men and women.
Harrington praised the prime minister’s political record as well as recent diplomatic efforts, both in Turkey’s attempt to reconcile a thirty-year-old division with Greece over the island of Cyprus and its accepted offer to serve as a mediator between Syria an Israel on the long-standing issue of the possession of the Golan Heights. "Such outreach, such commitment to world peace clearly are qualities which we as a university highly respect and applaud," Harrington said.
Erdogan is currently on day three of a five-day diplomatic trip to the United States. While in New York, he was given the American Jewish Congress’s Profile in Courage award, making him the first Muslim to receive it. He also met with international finance officials from Goldman Sachs Co. JPMorgan, Citigroup Investments, Deutsche Bank and others to discuss Turkey’s recent IMF-prompted economic reforms and prospects for foreign investment. He then left for Washington to meet with President Bush in an effort to mend diplomatic ties that were strained last year when the Turkish parliament voted not to allow US troops passage through Turkey during the Iraq war. The United States has been mentioned as a possible mediator over Turkey’s claim on the island of Cyprus.
Erdogan was the mayor of Istanbul in 1994 and became the prime minister of Turkey in 2003. He has since instituted a number of economic reforms, lowering inflation and interest rates while increasing Turkey’s international trade and per capita income. The current government’s term will end in 2007.
St. John’s has also awarded honorary degrees to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.