UN Body Led by Ahmet Uzumcu Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Turkish President Abdullah Gul expressed deep pride for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, led by a Turk, Ahmet Uzumcu.

al-monitor Director General Ahmet Uzumcu of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrives at a news conference in The Hague after his organization won the Nobel Peace Prize, Oct. 11, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Michel Kooren.

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turkish politics, syrian conflict, secretary of state john kerry, recep tayyip erdogan, nobel peace prize, chemical weapons

Oct 11, 2013

Turkish President Abdullah Gul was quick to celebrate the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, working in Syria. “The general director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is a former deputy undersecretary [at the Turkish Foreign Ministry] of ours, ambassador Ahmet Uzumcu,” he said. “Consequently, I felt great pleasure to see an international organization headed by a Turk granted the Nobel Peace Prize. Prohibition of chemical weapons is as important as prohibition of nuclear weapons. They are all weapons of mass destruction. In that respect, I feel appreciation for this organization’s success. I also find it meaningful that this organization received such an award at a time when it’s headed by a Turk.”   Indeed, it’s a proud moment for Turkey. However, one could have wished that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had not clouded it by his sharp reaction on Oct. 7 to US Secretary of State John Kerry, who praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for honoring the chemical weapons agreement that is supervised by OPCW. “How can we praise the action of a person who is responsible of the deaths of 110,000 people? Could there be such a thing? I am asking you,” Erdogan said. “I don’t consider Bashar al-Assad to be a political figure. He is a terrorist, and using state terror.”
 
As this article was written, Erdogan had yet to make a statement congratulating Uzumcu for this honorable award. There is no doubt that he will do so, but one still can’t stop wondering whether the Turkish prime minister wasn’t aware of OPCW as a potential winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize — since Uzumcu needs the backing of all the parties to the Syrian dilemma to be able to successfully finalize the task of eliminating of all chemical weapons — and Assad’s cooperation with this UN body in this regard is a good thing. In the end, Kerry was giving him credit for doing just that.
 
In fact, Uzumcu made it clear on Oct. 9 that Syrian authorities so far have been “quite constructive” and “cooperative,” as a team of 15 inspectors has begun to visit weapons sites in Syria. He said the challenging part is meeting the “extremely tight” deadline of completing the work by mid-2014 , but remains hopeful — if the pattern continues as it has, and if a cease-fire can be achieved by all parties fighting in the Syrian theater.
 
“If we can ensure cooperation by all parties, and if some temporary cease-fires could be established in order to permit our experts to work in a permissive environment, I think the targets could be reached,” Uzumcu said.
 
As a seasoned diplomat who prefers to stay out of the public eye and do the work needed to be done behind closed doors, Uzumcu rarely makes statements to the media. Although he has been heading the OPCW since the summer of 2010, he chose quiet diplomacy — even after his organization came into the international spotlight by playing a key role in the US-Russian deal over the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria, and therefore pre-empting a potential military strike at the last minute.
 
The path ahead is not an easy one, because there are so many possibilities regarding Syria’s sincerity in allowing access to the international inspectors, and the potential of their getting caught in cross fires, possibly in a potential provocation of a military strike. Having said that, this UN institution is now given the hope and the full encouragement to conduct its work. This award also signals that the Assad regime is doing the right thing by cooperating with OPCW in this mission.
 
Uzumcu will be presented with the award on Dec. 10, which marks the anniversary of Nobel’s death, at a ceremony in Oslo bestowing the $1.25 million prize. And, hopefully, Erdogan will state that there is no need to take offense at praising the Assad regime for its assistance to OPCW in completing this mission and eliminating all of Syria’s chemical weapons. Uzumcu has been given the task of leading this UN body to help avoid yet another military operation in the region, and to help all parties, both in Syria and in the international arena, find a political solution at the negotiating table. Congratulations! 

Tulin Daloglu is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has also written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. On Twitter: @TurkeyPulse

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