07 August 2007

1853) "We Prefer Turkish Participation In UN Force" Sudanese Ambassador to Turkey

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians  Site ©  Mrs Leyla Elhaj, the ambassador’s wife, says she had a very difficult time when Mr. Eljah was put in prison after the regime change in Sudan in 1985. “I knew they would release him,” she added.

Sudanese Ambassador to Turkey Muhamed Elhassan Ahmed Elhaj thinks that Ankara nowadays is too hot, even for a Sudanese person.


He and his wife Leyla Elhaj are little sad about their garden, yellowing due to lack of water. The Elhaj couple recently became grandparents and are proud of their five children; all of them have successfully finished their education and have built their own lives. Ambassador Elhaj is also proud of his students who went on to become ministers. He says that after finishing university he was about to apply to the foreign office, but instead he found himself teaching English -- a lucky turn of events, for this led him to meet his wife. "I studied political science. My wish was to be a diplomat. I was planning to apply to the foreign office, but there was a turning point in my life then. It is funny," he said. Later he was to become a technocrat and even a political detainee before finally becoming a diplomat.

Mr. Ambassador says that in the UN force which will be deployed to his country, Turkish participation will be very important because with the West, his country shares only a "history of colonization," but with Turkey it shares a "history of civilization."

Ambassador Elhaj says that at his high school the language of instruction, outside of Arabic and religion courses, was English. “Our generation has a reasonable command of English,” he says. Just after Ambassador Elhaj finished university, his high school headmaster asked him to teach English for a year due to a shortage of English teachers. Ambassador Elhaj was unable to refuse his old headmaster, and ended up liking the profession so much that he stayed on an extra year.

“In that year, the British Council in Sudan introduced teaching via television because they wanted to strengthen the knowledge of English; and they choose me to write the script with an English expert who came from London. I wrote the script because I wanted to support the Sudanese spirit. In the show an Englishman came to Sudan to visit his friend. The English expert who came from London directed the series and I played his friend Hasan. Then, in the series, Hasan went to London. The program continued, playing for one hour every week -- it was very successful. The third year, I was lucky to get a scholarship and went to Leeds University for my post-graduate [studies] and came back as the head of the English department of the school,” he says.

But then there was another turning point for Ambassador Elhaj. One of the senior English teachers had to leave. Ambassador Elhaj was asked to replace him, even though he did not have the seniority, but only for one year. While he took on the class, he met Leyla, who was a student. When Ambassador Elhaj comes to this part of the story, he and his wife both laugh. Amongst his other students were a future deputy vice president, a future foreign minister, three future advisers to the president, and a current minister of foreign trade. “I am very proud of that,” he says.

The Elhaj couple has four sons and one daughter; all of them are university educated. The children studied in Canada, Egypt and Khartoum. The Elhaj couple says they feel very lucky and thank God that their children finished their academic studies so successfully.

“What comes after academic studies is destiny. After completing their studies, everyone is free to decide his or her interest and future. Everybody chooses their own direction and life,” the ambassador said, his wife nodding in agreement.

When Mr. Ambassador speaks about his first grandchild, two-month-old Maya, his voice suddenly changes to a grandfatherly tone. The couple has not yet been able to see Maya except for in pictures. “I am very happy that we have a grandchild,” he added.

A coup in Sudan that resulted in a new constitution for the country was another turning point in Mr. Ambassador’s life. When the negotiations for the new constitution began, the government needed a translator to translate between the Arabic-speaking north of the country and the English-speaking south. Both languages are official languages of Sudan and though Ambassador Elhaj was selected for the job, he says he still does not know who suggested him to the constitutional committee. He says that the experience was very hectic and difficult, but that at the same time he gained a familiarity with politics, ultimately becoming the secretary general of the Parliament at the age of 27. “I was very lucky to get such a big post at such a young age -- and I was very unlucky to have to assume such great responsibilities in my youth. I don’t say that I served very successfully, but satisfactorily,” Ambassador Elhaj says.

Later Ambassador Elhaj became the minister of state to the presidency, a post he served in until 1985. He says that after the regime change in Sudan that year, he was imprisoned for one year. However, no charges were found to bring against him and so he was not taken to trial. Mrs. Elhaj noted that those were very difficult days. But, “I knew that they would release him.”

After prison the ambassador worked in the private sector for six years until he was again approached by the government and appointed as an adviser; later he became the permanent representative to the UN for his country. After serving in Geneva for two years, he came to Turkey. He says he didn’t think twice about returning to politics after being a political prisoner. Quite the opposite, he says: “Actually I am more determined now. Political detention gave me more power. We were doing the right thing for the country. I never belonged to any party. I am an experienced technocrat with a nationalistic outlook and this carries a great responsibility; I was invited to join many parties, but I want to serve and learn without falling into dogmas or ideologies -- this is how I have pursued my life until now,” he says.

The Elhaj couple offered me a dark burgundy-colored, cold drink with a delicious sweet-and-sour taste. It is called karkadeh in Sudan; hibiscus.

“This comes only from Sudan. Germans import karkadeh in huge amounts; they use it in medicine and cosmetics. Since I came here I’ve distributed karkadeh in diplomatic circles. Everyone who’s ever tasted it liked it very much. Now they keep asking me about it,” Ambassador Elhaj says.

He and his wife underlined that hibiscus is very good in the heat and that it also helps to lower blood pressure. The heat is getting to the Elhajs, as the ambassador says: “The weather here is hotter than Sudan because of the high humidity. You don’t feel the heat in Sudan as you do here. It is extremely hot here for us, not because of the temperature, but because of the humidity.”

Since everybody in Ankara talks about the water shortage nowadays, our chat came around to this topic. “I am very sad for one reason,” the ambassador said and with his wife took me to their relatively large but yellow garden. They told me that they were no longer able to water it.

According to Mr. Ambassador, the Nile is the eternal lifeline of the Sudanese people. “It is the river that runs the longest distance through Sudanese soil. The Blue Nile and the White Nile merge in Sudan, in what we call an eternal marriage that never breaks -- no divorce. The Nile is the heart and blood; we as Africans should benefit more from it. The Nile is the promise for the complete integration of the African countries,” he said, adding that African countries should carry out joint projects in tourism, electricity, hunting and anything else related to the Nile.

Mr. Ambassador underlined that he did not want to talk about politics, mentioning instead the richness of his country at every level: agriculture, gold, cotton, uranium and Chinese investment in Sudan. “Fighting in Sudan should be looked as a fight between superpowers,” he said. He added that while he was working in the UN, his strategy was to get the support of other African and Muslim countries and groups formed by them.

He says one of the main issues he faced at Geneva was the issue of human rights. Ambassador Elhaj mentioned the issue of female circumcision in the Sudan, saying that the practice exists, but is gradually dying out and the issue is exaggerated by Western media. “This is a tradition from the era of the pharaohs. We call it pharaoh-circumcision; this is a tradition belonging to the olden days that is dying gradually. Among the new generation it is not at all commonly implemented. This is a problem of rural areas where people need to be educated on the matter. In the past it was not even possible to talk about it. But now awareness is increasing. Because of education, now only one in every 1,000 women, maybe less, is circumcised,” he says and his wife adds: “It is forbidden by law and has been for a long time.”

When we are talking about the latest UN resolution, which envisages the largest UN peace troop to-date to be sent to Sudan, I ask him if they want Turkish participation in it.

“We like Turkey, and we prefer Turkish participation,” he says and explains why: “We prefer Turkey because their social values and traditions are very close to our own. If they will go to Darfur or anywhere in Africa, they will not be committing the atrocities that the Europeans did in Europe, in Srebrenica, in Kosovo. I say this very proudly and loudly. We share a common history. History that we share with other European countries is the history of colonization, but with Turkey is the history of civilization.”

Not only that, but, “economic relations are developing very rapidly,” he says. “Two years ago there were only 17 Turkish companies working in Sudan, but now we have more than 112. Every month, there is at least one delegation from Sudan to Turkey or vice versa. We were honored by high-level visits from Turkey to Sudan. We have cooperation in the fields of agriculture, education and health. We want to benefit from Turkey’s experience in economic development. Our trade volume is half a billion [dollars] now, but next year we are aiming to at least double that,” he says.


07.08.2007
AYŞE KARABAT ANKARA - Zaman

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