Abdullah Gul has been president of Turkey since 2007. Somewhat overshadowed, at least abroad, by his longtime political partner Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- Turkey's prime minister and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- Gul has recently started to carve out a more independent political identity. While Erdogan has become increasingly strident and authoritarian since taking office in 2003, especially as the AKP's parliamentary majorities have grown, Gul -- although personally pious and traditional (he married his wife when she was 15 and he was 30) -- has quietly pursued a more moderate and progressive path. A former foreign minister and prime minister himself, Turkey's head of state and commander in chief has raised his stature (and popularity) by embracing seemingly contradictory principles: defending both Turkey's Muslim identity and its pluralistic values, challenging his own government's antidemocratic excesses, championing the rule of law, and helping reorient his country's foreign policy eastward while remaining a forceful advocate of integration with Europe. We spoke in his Ankara office in October.
How do you think Americans and the West are getting Turkey wrong?
Turkey is a bridge between Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the Caucasus. Each of our neighboring countries has a different government and administrative style. In Turkey, we have a vast majority-Muslim population along with democracy, human rights, and a free-market economy, and this makes us unique in the region. From a geographic and geopolitical point of view, Turkey belongs to this region, and we have historical relations with all our neighbors. But from a values point of view, we are with the West.
If we look at the future, it's almost a mathematical fact that the world's economic and power balance will shift toward Asia. So politics must shift, too. The United States and Europe must start recognizing Turkey and its importance. And Turkey must become more important for them.