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public-diplomacy-takes-stage-in-mardin-2010-01-10_l1.jpgFULYA ÖZERKAN
MARDIN – Hürriyet Daily News

Foreign Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu on his Mardin visit. (DHA)

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu toured the southeastern city of Mardin as part of a brand-new strategy to explain Turkey’s foreign policy throughout the country, especially in long-neglected Anatolia.

Mardin is an ancient province home to Syriacs, Kurds, Arabs, Turks and a small Armenian community.

The foreign minister’s first stop was Kasımiye Madrasah, an Islamic school established in the 14th century overlooking the Mesopotamian plain. Accompanied by ambassadors, his wife, Sare, and two children, Mehmet and Hacer Bike, Davutoğlu listened to the madrasah’s history from a tourism police officer.

After posing with his family for photographers and reporters, the minister was asked to give a message on the occasion of Jan. 10, Working Journalists’ Day, and said, “Everyday is the day of the journalists.”

The minister’s next stop was the ancient city of Dara. Locals welcomed the minister with Turkish flags and banners. He also sang the “Çanakkale folk song” with local primary school students – a somewhat paradoxical event given the distance between Çanakkale on the Aegean and Mardin. The minister promised to take the children to Çanakkale on a tour. Davutoğlu also enjoyed a friendly chat with locals and handed out books of Turkish and world literature to various children.

The minister’s other primary stop was the 1,500-year-old Syriac Deyrülzafaran Monastery, and Mardin-Diyarbakır Archbishop Saliba Özmen recounted the monastery’s history for Davutoğlu.

Approximately 2,000 Syriacs live in Mardin, down from 12,000 in the past, as many Syriacs from the region have immigrated to Sweden over the years.

Meanwhile, during a meeting with representatives of the Syriac community, DavutoÄŸlu promised to deal with the problems of the group.

At another stop during the trip, the minister’s wife made an undisclosed donation to central Mardin’s Kırklar church, according to her adviser.

“Mardin is a great treasure of humanity,” Davutoğlu told reporters. “We’ll do our best to introduce this treasure to the world,” he said.

On Saturday, prominent Turkish ambassadors briefly abandoned the formal world of diplomacy to interact with people at a local coffehouse. Namık Tan, newly appointed as Turkey’s envoy to Washington, played backgammon with patrons, while Undersecretary Hakki Akil sported a local turban, or “poşu,” for assembled reporters