Today, cooperation with Turkey is a very important subject for Ukraine. Turkey is a neighbor that is historically associated with Ukraine and is one of the five countries with which relations develop most intensively. The interests of Turkey and Ukraine overlap in the search for balance in the new emerging geopolitical situations of the modern world. Turkey is a key country for Ukraine in developing its relations with the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Ukraine’s close approximation to Turkey is stipulated by their mutual interest in the transit of energy resources, complementarity of the economies and cooperation within the Black Sea economic cooperation field etc. We are talking with Mr. Ahmet Bulent Meric , the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Turkey to Ukraine about these and other issues.
- Mr. Ambassador, it is nice to note that Turkey was the first country that our magazine presented within its pages, when we initially commenced the project “Image.UA.” We are happy that today we are again talking about your country and its relations with Ukraine. Let’s first talk about how the cooperation between our countries is presently developing?
- First, I would like to thank you for your previous interest and current interest now in my country. Turkey and Ukraine – are very close neighbors and friendly countries. We are fully bound by a long-lasting history and have much in common. Despite different religious and cultural backgrounds, there are many mental and cultural features that contribute to cohesion between our peoples. During my two years of tenure in Ukraine, I have noticed with great satisfaction that Ukrainian people love Turkey. They love the Turkish culture and appreciate the beauty of my homeland. This gives us a very strong foundation for the further development of relations. In fact, this year our leaders reached a common understanding for levelling up the relations to strategic partnership. In our foreign policy, Ukraine takes a special place, as an important neighbour with whom our cooperation should be intensified in priority. This motivates us to look for complementarity in our respecteve potentials in order to create the required synergy. In my opinion, the complementary nature of our economies lays out ample opportunities before us. I do also see the potential for cooperation in transportation, energy, culture and tourism. Indeed, these are not exhaustive.
- I would like from our side to thank you for your true high diplomacy regarding our publication. For readers who are not aware of the situation, I will explain that recently there was the release of the special issue of our magazine dedicated to Armenia. There was an article which talked about events in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and the Turkish Armenians. These events were called genocide by Armenians. Our magazine is in favor of an objective presentation of materials. Consequently, you now have the opportunity to express Turkish viewpoint regarding this situation and its coverage in the pages of the magazine.
- Terming the events in 1915 as genocide is extremely erroneous. I would like to correct the mistake made by your editors. First of all the intention and general nature of these events by no means conform with the definition of genocide in the 1948 UN Convention Against Genocide. The events unfortunately occurred under the conditions of the First World War when the Ottoman Army was fighting against the Russian occupation. In this difficult situation the Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire insurrected against their state and collaborated with the enemy. The Armenian militia seized Turkish villages and killed innocent civilians in order to terrify the Turkish residents of Eastern Anatolia and cleanse the region of Turkish presence. As for any other state, the Ottoman Empire had to take the necessary precautions. Now, the Armenian Government manipulates history for its political ends.
My Government is desirous to normalize its relations with Armenia, by resolving this issue for good. Normalization will reintegrate Armenia with its neighbours and thereby contribute to peace and stability in the region. With this consideration we proposed establishment of an impartial commission of historians, including not only Turkish and Armenians but also experts of some other countries. We told Armenians: whatever the conclusions we would accept them. In line with these proposals we also opened up our archives. Our proposal did not find a warm and cooperative response. On the other hand Armenians still keep their archives closed to researchers. Simply this fact makes it obvious that Armenia is still willing to continue with its “myth of genocide” for political purposes.
- Thank you, Mr. Ambassador for expressing your opinion on this issue and now let’s go back to Turkey’s relations with Ukraine. How much are your businessmen interested in investment projects in Ukraine? In general, how could you rate the investment climate of our country?
- I have to say that over the past two years Ukraine has already taken significant steps towards the expansion of investment. In fact, stability has been established. Important reforms have been carried out and thus Ukraine’s potential has become more visible. We have a very clear business strategy for your country. As I said before, the complementarity of our economies gives us the chance to create a common free economic zone. In fact, our leaders have agreed to establish a free trade zone and a visa free regime between our countries. These are the basic components of a free economic zone which would enable free circulation of goods, capital and people. Under these conditions we estimate that our commercial relations will double and even treble. Last year our trade volume was approximately 5 billion Dollars. At the beginning of this year our leaders set the vision of 20 billion Dollars in 5 years and 40 billion Dollars in 10 years. I strongly believe that these goals would be realist if we could establish the free economic zone.
Coming to the autonomous Republic of Crimea, for us this particular region of Ukraine is a gateway between Ukraine and turkey. The Crimean Tatars, with whom we are bound by kinship provide a very useful bridge between us. We support the 2011-2020 Crimea Development Strategy. And the Turkish businessmen are interested in investment projects. For this reason my Embassy is planning to organise in cooperation with the Crimean Authorities a business forum in Yalta.
In order to ensure continuation of Turkish business interest in Crimea we should strengthen connectivity between the two shores of the Black Sea. Sinop is about 700 kms away from Yalta and we can resume the ferry service between these two centres if the harbour fees in Ukraine are lowered and customs procedures revised.
Before concluding, I would like to emphasize that Ukraine is able to do more in attracting foreign investment. If the Government of Ukraine continues to take solid steps in the right direction, I have no doubt that we will see a new and more promising Ukraine in a few years time.
- Now we are living in a difficult period of formation of our statehood. What can you recommend to the Ukrainian people after having the experience of democracy with in your own country?
- In 2023 we shall have celebrated the centennial of our democracy, whereas Ukraine marked its 20th anniversary this year. Ukraine is a young democracy and experience in liberal market economy is yet mature. The authorities and institutions will imbibe more the culture of democracy and liberalism by time. I see that the period of communism brought out such a mindset that inversion and protection are considered to be the best. This mentality runs contrary to the contemporary globalized system. Nowadays, every country strives hard to integrate in the global commercial and financial centers and take a share in the compartmentalized global production process. I must say I do not see any real effort in this direction for Ukraine.
My Government aims to establish a zone of peace, stability and economic prosperity in our near neighbourhood. Thanks to this basic policy guideline our immediate neighbours are becoming our best friends and partners. In fact, the present global system encourages regional cooperation, even integration in order to increase wealth. Look at the other regions: the European Union, ASEAN, NAFTA, etc. These are brilliant examples of regional cooperation for common good. Intensifying our regional cooperation would in no way impinge on our vision for integration with Europe. So let’s work together!
Nowadays every country is like a commercial company. They have a balance sheet and they are credited. You have to make sure that your assets exceed your liabilities. I think Ukraine is gifted with assets: it has friendly people, rich history a flamboyant culture and a beautiful huge country with economic potential. These are all your strengths. Yet you also have liabilities: not many Ukrainians have the ability to converse in English, tourism infrastructure is poor and services are not of high quality. Difficult and costly entry procedures and corruption should also be coped with.
I am sure tha by time Ukraine will get over all these difficulties and have an enhanced reputation.
- Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for the interesting conversation.