Ukraine-Turkey. More of Turkey in Ukraine and more of Ukraine in Turkey

HE  Yönet C. Tezel, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Turkey in Ukraine spoke to “Image.UA” on the relations between Turkey and Ukraine over the last 25 years

Mr. Ambassador, in your opinion, what are the main highlights of 25 years of Turkish-Ukrainian cooperation?

Our present relations with Ukraine are at a very good level. As you mentioned, we have been cooperating for 25 years. According to the words of Ukrainian Foreign Minister Mr. Klimkin which is almost a generation, During this time we achieved a lot but we could have done even more. In fact, our relations have accelerated in its development only over the past 5-6 years. In 2011 we established the High Level Strategic Council. This Council meets yearly at the level of heads of state, accompanied by 6-7 ministers. The Next meeting of the Council will  take place when President Erdogan visits Kyiv soon .  Besides the yearly Strategic Council meeting other high level meetings take place as well. The head of the Ukrainian Parliament Mr Parubiy was on a visit to Turkey last November. The Ukrainian Prime-Minister Mr Groysman’s visit to Turkey is planned for in mid April.

We are at a good moment to strengthen our relations of strategic partnership. These are not empty words, a lot is being done in this direction. We have expert level and high-level regular meetings, devoted to many different topics: economy, tourism, security, defense industry, energy, diplomatic cooperation at the international level. Still, we believe that the results of our cooperation can be even better. We can do more and we should do more – currently we use only some part of our  potential.

Turkey and Ukraine are neighbors across the Black Sea. We see eye-to-eye on many issues. Our people and our societies are actively communicating. We both share strategic choice of close integration with Europe. We understand each other and we understand our challenges and problems. Turkey wants to invest into the future of Ukraine. We support ongoing transformation of your state and as many other friends of Ukraine we hope that it will go faster and will bring feasible results. Turkey stands by Ukraine in terms of its territorial integrity, unity, independence. In this regard, we continue to keep Crimea in close focus.

The mutual interest is definitely growing. This is also felt in cultural and historical dimensions…

We should be getting to knowing each other more and that is what happening now at the society level. As Ukraine is rediscovering its history and identity, the facts appear that its relations with the Turks, Ottomans were in fact more positive than official historic narratives lead us to believe. New researches by Ukrainian historians are showing that a lot of alliances were in place between Turks, Ottomans and Crimean Tatars in the past. Our states have demonstrated maturity and preserved friendship from our history, leaving behind animosity. For instance, I am personally happy to note that in the Ukrainian society there is no prejudice towards Turks, which sometimes can be seen in Europe.

I do not have  exact figures but I would also like to say that Turkish-Ukrainian mixed marriage is not a rare thing.

In I am delighted to mention one more thing. Last year because of many conflicts around Turkey, in particular in Syria and Iraq, as well as terrorist acts in Turkey itself, our tourist business suffered. A number of tourists arriving to Turkey, which normally reaches around 40 million people a year, has lowered. However, Ukraine stands out in this respect as the inflow of tourists from your country grew at 48 %. This is a record and I am very happy about it. This trend shows that Ukrainian people are informed and realistic people. They know Turkey and feel comfortable and welcome in our  country. Turkey offers good services for Ukrainians at competitive  prices. The process of intensification of tourism is mutual: the inflow of tourists from Turkey to Ukraine has showed an increase of about 25%.

You’ve mentioned mixed marriages. In this regard, we cannot but mention Roxolana.

Roxolana or Hürrem Sultan, as we call her, – is a historic person, which unites Ukrainian and Turkish people. We should mention in this regard yet another Ukrainian woman Hatice Turhan Sultan or Nadiya, who also became a mother of a sultan. These  strong women possessed good managerial skills and were very influential at the Ottoman court.

We have found several pieces of art and music, inspired by the personality of Roxolana. These are operas and ballets, written by Ukrainian composers  and some by Turks. We hope to implement a special musical project on this theme in cooperation with the Ministry of culture of Ukraine.

I should mention here that our Embassy works under the motto: More of Ukraine in Turkey, more of Turkey in Ukraine.

In this regard, I would like to commend on the professional work of the Ukrainian Ambassadors to Turkey,  including the new Ambassador Mr. A.Sybyga. Turkey is set to be more visible in cultural scene in Ukraine. For example, the Embassy is going to open Turkish Cultural Center,  the Yunus Emre Cultural Center in Kyiv soon. We are currently in the process of finding appropriate building  to host this Center. We expect that it will be very popular as there is a great interest towards Turkish language, history, culture and art in Ukraine.

We are also trying to bring our common cultural heritage into the spotlight. The Ottomans with the Crimean Tatars were active in the whole region, not only in Crimea.

We have many common points. We have a common historical heritage going back several centuries which we need to bring more to the surface. Also, during the First World War 8 000 Ottoman Turkish soldiers perished at the battlefields in Galicia, Western Ukraine. There are 6 cemeteries where the remains of this soldiers rest. Ukrainians have been taking very good care of this cemeteries which are important for Turkey . This unites us in historical terms.

Is such closeness of cultural ties supported by solid economic cooperation?

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the population of Ukraine and Turkey together form  120 million. It is an impressive figure. However, today our trade doesn’t measure up to its potential. In our trade volume we reached the benchmark of 8 billion UDS in 2007-2008. The economic crisis that broke out had a negative impact on our trade. We are still in the negative trend, as our trade with Ukraine shrank to less than 4 billion USD.  But, our declared aim is to reach 10 billion USD as interim benchmark, with its gradual growth to 20 billion. This is a realistic, achievable aim, I am sure that we can do it. But we have to work for it, including the conclusion of the Free Trade Agreement.

There are Turkish investors who turn to me with the question whether they should stay in Ukraine or relocate their business to somewhere else. Some potentials from Turkey come and ask me if they should invest in Ukraine. I encourage them. There are certain problems and risks. However, I would suggest to concentrate not on problems but opportunities. The Government of Turkey and I personally believe in the future of Ukraine. The new Ukraine is being built. This process might be not as fast as  we all prefer it but things are definitely changing.

What are the main calls and requests of the Turkish potential investors nowadays?

Our investors are looking for business-friendly environment, fair competition. They expect that the free-trade agreement between Ukraine and Turkey will be signed soon. For them, such a treaty  is a sign that the Turkish government believes in Ukraine. The negotiations are continuing, there are a few issues to be settled. I hope that we reach the agreement soon. It  might not be possible to reach a comprehensive agreement with the liberalization in all fields. We have more than 30 agreements of this kind with other countries of the world and there are always areas, which cannot be fully liberalized. However, we can start with a modest agreement and then expand it afterwards.

In our bilateral trade, Ukraine has always had an advantage – Ukraine  sold to Turkey more than it bought. The accumulated Ukrainian trade surplus in the span of 15 years amounts to more than t 30 billion USD. This is  fine. This is what trade is about. If the free trade agreement is signed, this gap might became even larger, but it is still good for both sides: Turkey could buy more but we could also sell more. The important thing is to make the pie bigger. That is why we  our Ukrainian friends to  see the bigger. In my opinion, with the free trade agreement the investments into the Ukrainian economy will grow significantly.

Would you please mention the most successful examples of Turkish business presence in Ukraine?

There are about 500 Turkish companies registered in Ukraine. Not all of them are active and not all of them are very big. As Ambassador I have to treat them equally and not to  discriminate between them. However, I would like to share with you with some positive stories. Mobile services provider Lifecell is one of such successful companies. It has already invested more than one and half billion USD in Ukraine.. They deliver world class services under the terms of fair conditions and fair competition.

The Turkish Airlines is another company that we are very proud of. It has potential to fly more to Ukraine, it can connect Ukraine with the world. The Turkish Airlines doesn’t view Ukrainian airlines as competitors but as partners. It is a global company and they are set to cooperate with their Ukrainian partners and do business together.

Onur construction company is another successful example of working in Ukraine.

Doğuş is one of the renown Turkish companies, though currently is in process of settling some of its problems remaining from previous years, is still keen on investing into Ukraine.

We work to have more of such positive stories. Realistically, these positive stories are not numerous as we desire them to be.

In my opinion, Ukraine and Turkey both have a great potential. We can help each other because we understand each other. We have had similar structural problems. For example, during the crisis of 2001, we had to radically change our banking and financial system. Due to this success, our financial system is able to withstand international problems until today. Ukrainian authorities know about our experience and benefit from it. Turkish experts have been helping Ukraine to overcome some of its problems.

As Turkey, we need a strong, well-reformed Ukraine, moving towards integration with Europe. We also hope thatUkraine’s problems with Russia will be resolved eventually, in line with international law, preserving Ukraine’s territorial integrity. We need this region to generate  cooperation, stability and peace . We are ready to support Ukraine to achieve that level.