January 29, 2009
Hero’s welcome for Turkish leader after Davos
01.30.2009 | International Herald Tribune
By Sebnem Arsu and Katrin Bennhold The New York Times
DAVOS, Switzerland: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew home to a hero’s
welcome on Friday after walking off the stage following an angry exchange over the Gaza war with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The episode Thursday had all the overtones of a diplomatic incident, ruffling
relations between Israel and a Muslim ally that is playing a key role in Middle East
The semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported that Peres called Erdogan five
minutes after the walkout in Davos to apologize for any misunderstanding, saying
that his remarks about Israel’s Gaza offensive had not been directed at the prime
minister personally. In Jerusalem, a spokeswoman for Peres, Meital Jaslovitz,
described the telephone conversation as “positive.” But, she said on Friday, there
was no apology from Peres, contrary to the Turkish news agency report.
Erdogan did not seem apologetic, either.
“I only know that I’m responsible for protecting the honor of the Turkish Republic,
the Turkish nation from A to Z,” Erdogan said as he returned to Istanbul. “I am not
a leader of a tribe. I am the prime minister of the Republic of Turkey. I do
whatever I need to, so I did it, and will continue to do so. This is my character.
This is my identity.”
“It was a matter of my country’s respect and prestige. Therefore, my attitude should
have been clear,” he said. “I couldn’t have allowed anyone to hurt the prestige and
especially the honor of my country.”
Live television footage showed crowds waving Palestinian and Turkish flags at
Istanbul’s Ataturk airport while chanting slogans in support of the prime minister.
Banners proclaimed Erdogan the “delegate of the oppressed” and said: “Let the world
see a proper prime minister.” The passions reflected widespread anger over the Gaza
war in Turkey, a secular nation whose population is mostly Muslim.
The incident came just days before President Obama’s new Middle East envoy, George
Mitchell, had planned to visit Turkey to discuss regional peace efforts as part of a
tour of several countries. However, on Friday, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy
in Ankara, speaking in return for customary anonymity under diplomatic rules, said
the visit had been postponed because of “severe scheduling constraints.” The
decision to put off the visit was made before the altercation in Davos, the
In Davos, Erdogan apparently became incensed after the moderator curtailed his
response to remarks by Peres on the recent Israeli military campaign. The panel was
running late, and Peres was to have had the last word, participants said.
Panel discussions at Davos are restricted to one hour, but Erdogan insisted on
responding to Peres. Red-faced, and with one hand grasping the arm of the moderator,
the columnist David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Erdogan turned to the Israeli
“Mr. Peres, you are older than me,” he said. “Your voice comes out in a very high
tone. And the high tone of your voice has to do with a guilty conscience. My voice,
however, will not come out in the same tone.”
Resisting efforts by Ignatius to end the session, Erdogan continued, saying to
Peres, “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.”
Eventually, the prime minister gathered up his papers and departed, saying, “And so
Davos is over for me from now on.”
Peres pointed at the departing Erdogan and said Turkey would have reacted as Israel
did had rockets been falling on Istanbul, participants said.
In a news conference immediately after the panel discussion, Erdogan said he was
particularly upset with Ignatius, who he said had failed to direct a balanced and
By all accounts, the discussion of the Gaza offensive was lively, with Secretary
General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations and Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s
secretary general, joining Peres and Erdogan. Participants said Peres was mostly
alone in defending Israel’s role in Gaza, and for that reason he was given the final
25 minutes to speak. Earlier, Erdogan spoke for 12 minutes about the Palestinians’
Although Erdogan has strongly criticized Israel’s Gaza offensive, his country and
Israel have long enjoyed close diplomatic relations. With its strong relations with
the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, Erdogan’s Justice and Development
Party has played a growing role mediating among Israel, Syria, Lebanon and the