Economic reckoning on 100th anniversary of Izmir Congress
Recently, I attended a meeting organized by the minister of treasury and finance, Mr. Nurettin Nebati, in Türkiye’s Izmir. The meeting was focused on an event that the ministry will hold in Izmir in February 2023. It is a reckoning of Türkiye’s economy over 100 years on the 100th anniversary of the Izmir Economic Congress.
As we all know, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has declared this era “Türkiye’s century” or “Türkiye’s second century.” The infrastructure work it has carried out over 20 years laid the foundations so the “Turkish Century” discourse could gradually be brought to the agenda. In addition, a conference to evaluate 100 years of the economy will be interesting.
At the first Izmir Economic Congress, a number of visions regarding the economics of the newly established republican state and the foundations of its economy were put forward. It was a conference where many issues were discussed, from the economic policies of the young state to industrial production and foreign capital relations.
Another remarkable feature of the congress was that Kazım Karabekir Pasha, a legendary general of the victorious Turkish army, served as the chair of the gathering. It is not strange that the general chaired such a meeting as Ottoman generals at that time had the intellectual capacity to conduct such a conference. But today, Mr. Nebati carefully underlined how the independence of the country and the economy intertwined.
Economic phenomena are certainly not independent of political considerations. As we all know, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) members often develop policies that rely on the names of their founder and the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. However, they are not very interested in dealing with his economic policies or the goals he set for the country.
The CHP members are trying to develop such a policy once again on the 100th anniversary of the congress. While the Republic of Türkiye is shaping a series of programs in coordination with the Ministry of Treasury and Finance and Izmir Governorship, we realized at the meeting that the CHP leadership of Izmir municipality is preparing a parallel event to overshadow the government program.
Minister Nebati stated that the young republic held the first Izmir Economic Congress 100 years ago to set a state policy. Today, likewise, in the event to be held in February next year, the state’s economic performance over the last 100 years will face a reckoning. Had the topic of the gathering been a local or regional issue, Nebati said he would have supported the idea and held constructive discussions, however, any attempt by the local government to sabotage the Economy Congress is unacceptable, he underlined.
Plotting the new economic strategy
Governments construct and implement development plans and trade policies in five- or 10-year periods. However, comparing the targets set at the Izmir Economy Congress 100 years ago to the point the country has reached today is critical. This analysis will play a significant role in plotting the economic strategy of the next century.
Sterile discussions on appointing a presidential candidate, court decisions regarding penalties and power struggles are taking place on the opposition front in Türkiye. On the other hand, while the opposition busies itself with this nonsense, the government’s discussion of the country’s 100-year goals will not escape the public’s eye and the people will take note.
During the question and answer section of the meeting, the participants, journalists and economists were curious about Türkiye’s daily issues. I brought up an argument that escaped the attention of economists. There is a significant uptick in foreign interest in Türkiye. Iranians, Russians, Arabs, North Africans and even some Indian and Chinese businesspeople come to Türkiye, become citizens and invest in the Turkish economy. I asked the minister about this matter left in the shadow of the refugee crisis and wanted to know his opinion on the impact of these foreign actors.
The minister’s answer was striking. He said that most of the Russians, Ukrainians, Iranians, Arabs and people from hundreds of countries all over the world come here for a better life, its convenient commercial climate and good economic environment. With its strong army and capacity for democracy, Türkiye is about to become an island of trust in the world.
Xenophobic threats and distrustful practices, especially in European states, also helped foreigners start to consider Türkiye as a safe port. In this context, the minister stated that we would all come to understand this better in the coming years.
Nations live alongside their pasts. The political line that has governed Türkiye for more than two decades, which Mr. Minister also belongs to, does not deny any existing acquis from the Ottoman Empire to the republic until today. Just as each tree rises from its roots, Türkiye will shape its next century by taking inspiration from Transoxiana and Seljuk-Ottoman civilizations and the 100-year cultural and economic acquired knowledge of the republic.