Early this past January, Turkey's ambassadors from around the world gathered in Ankara for their annual meeting. The five-day gathering had the usual elements of gatherings from previous years: the seminars and debriefings, and the traditional group visit to the austere mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey's secularizing founder. But there were also some significant differences this time around.
Turkey's foreign policy profile has increased dramatically in recent years, and the ambassadors' meeting coincided with visits to Ankara by the Japanese, Brazilian and German foreign ministers, all of whom addressed the Turkish envoys. Turkey's top diplomats were treated to a show headed by an all-star cast.
But the biggest -- and most surprising -- difference in this year's gathering came at the very end, when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu decided to wrap it up not in Ankara, but rather in Mardin, a historic hilltop city not far from the Syrian border in Turkey's southeast region. Along with today's Kurdish and Arabic speakers, Mardin is also home to an ancient Christian community that has almost disappeared, most of its members having been forced to leave after getting caught up in the violence that gripped the region in the 1980s and '90s. Upon arriving in Mardin -- which, with its old stone houses, mosques and churches and winding, narrow streets, still retains a distinct sense of antiquity -- Davutoglu admonished his ambassadors (a notoriously stuffy, bureaucratic and Ankara-centric bunch, at least in the eyes of the Turkish public) to go out and mingle with the locals at the city's teahouses and bazaars.