13 August 2007
What does a country do if it can't afford to set up an embassy or a consulate in Turkey; or if it needs to be represented in more than one city, but at the same time, not hurt its budget too terribly? . .
The best, and probably the only way, is to find a Turkish citizen who is rich enough to sustain consular activities, charitable enough to devote his time and most importantly, is sufficiently reputable and respected to be a "diplomat." The rest is then easy. The country doesn't have to pay rent for a consular office, or a salary. The "honorary consul" takes on the entire responsibility of the country he or she represents after correspondence between the presidents and foreign ministers of the host country and the country to be represented. Official dinners to mark the country's national holiday that cost thousands of dollars or helping out a citizen from the country in question when they get in trouble are now the responsibility of the honorary consul. Certainly the deal is great for the country that seeks representation in a foreign country the easy way, but what is in it for the honorary counsel? What is so great about this job that the employee actually has to pay for? How do you even get to be an honorary consul?
Being an honorary consul is a profession of prestige and reputation. It is a method resorted to by business people who are well known even outside the borders of the city they live in and who have reached the peek of their career to maintain social ties with the elite and enhance their reputation.
It is a method resorted to by business people who are well known even outside the borders of the city they live in and who have reached the peek of their career to maintain social ties with the elite and enhance their reputation. These people use their social status to help the country they represent, without brooding too much over the difficulties they run into. In return for all the time, effort and the expense they go to, they get invited to official state dinners as members of the protocol and some even get to travel with diplomatic passports. Most don't have the authority to issue visas, but they make getting a visa much easer for the people they give references to. However, for honorary consuls, what matters most is the honor and prestige of being trusted with the duty of representing a foreign country.
Most of the time the post of honorary consul is offered and not sought after, although some people try their best to be considered an unofficial candidate, seeking people of influence to recommend them. So what do you do when a visiting power asks you to represent their country? Once you say yes to the offer, your name will be referred to the president of the Republic of Turkey and then to the foreign minister. After the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) examines your past in detail you are appointment by a decree signed by the heads of state and foreign ministers of the host country and the visiting power. An order issued by the president of the Republic of Turkey entitles the new honorary consul to act as the person responsible for carrying out consular activity and recognizes the appointee as the honorary consul of the visiting power.
Call him if you are from Senegal
Since being an honorary consul is something that is awarded as a rare opportunity given to the few, most honorary consuls have astonishing personal stories. Nihat Böytüzün, honorary consul of Senegal and also the Maldives, has an exhilarating background filled with exciting memories.
Born to a not-so-well-to-do family in 1930, Böytüzün started his career as a sports reporter. However he decided not to continue in that vein and struck a deal with TRT Radio. In the 15-minute show, he was to play music for 13-and-a-half minutes and then had one-and-a-half minutes, roughly 240 words, to take in a commercial. His little program earned him some money, and also gave him his first chance to tour the world. "At that time they called me from Pan American Airlines. They said they were ready to place an advertisement on the show, but they said instead of paying in cash, they would pay with first class round-the-world plane tickets for me and my wife. I asked them how I could possibly go on a tour of the world with no money in my pockets. Their answer was simple. "Take it or leave it!" they said. I took the offer and placed their ad. We had one year to use the tickets. At the time, I hadn't even taken my wife on honeymoon. I couldn't buy her any jewelry," Böytüzün remembers.
Then one day he gets a great idea, "I took a bus to Ankara. I went to the most expensive hotel there, for I was going to receive calls from ambassadors. I started calling embassies, offering to promote their country on my weekly radio program for 13-and-a-half minutes, in return for arranging a place to stay during my visit to their countries." Luckily all the embassies he called approached positively. He was able to organize a three-and-a-half-month world tour. "'Get ready, we're going on a world tour!' I told my wife." Böytüzün's first stop was Beirut. "I am recording my impressions of a tavern into a recorder, 'Girls are getting on the stage in feathery skirts. You can hear the orchestra. Now they started dancing'. I also had interviews and made detailed descriptions of the food on our table," Böytüzün recalls the initial stage of the adventure.
He was met by journalists and reporters in every country he visited the minute he got off the plane. "'Look, a reporter from Turkey!' In those years everybody was struggling hard to promote their countries. When we arrived in Lebanon they gave me $500 in an envelope. I nearly lost my mind!" By the time he and his wife arrived in Hong Kong they had nearly $10,000. They had only $150 in their pocket when they started.
In Hong Kong he noticed that billboards were used across the country for street ads. When he came to Turkey, he introduced the same idea in Istanbul. Böytüzün's life is filled with many firsts. As an entrepreneur, he was the first person in Turkey to ever buy a yacht. He became the representative of an oil company in Turkey after he returned $50 borrowed -- coincidentally -- from its owner during a plane flight.
His first experience as a consul was with India, a country that he tried to promote for the longest time as a sign of gratitude for the time he spent traveling there and also his empathy for this impoverished nation.
Later India improved relations with Turkey and opened its own embassy here. Luckily, Senegal and the Maldives were quick to seek his help and appoint him as a consul.
Singapore and more
Businessman Pinar Aran is the honorary consul for Singapore, a country of 4 million. Aran, 68, was born in Ankara as the son of an opera singer mother and a public servant father. After finishing high school, he majored in mechanical engineering in Munich thanks to a scholarship. When he returned to Turkey he worked for Koç, then as general manager at Parsan Inc. until the mid-90s. Later he set up his own foreign trade company.
In 1992, he was approached by officials from Singapore, which was in need of an honorary consul in Turkey. The first time he saw Singapore in the '80s, he recalls having said to himself, "This must be heaven." He took up the job in 1993, and now he spends most of his time running to and from official receptions and dinners, as well as rushing about for consular work. Luckily for him, Singapore does not require a visa from Turkish citizens, something that somewhat lightens his workload.
A few months ago, he was awarded a gold medal by the president of Singapore because of his great contribution to promoting Singapore in Turkey. Aran believes that Turkey has a lot to learn from the country he represents here since this multicultural island nation has united its different minorities in a culture of mutual respect.
Aran is also the head of the Foundation for Children in Protection, which runs villages that take care of orphaned children until they are in their early 20s and completely able to stand on their own two feet. He also contributes to many other charity organizations. He apparently does not need any more prestige than he already has. Why then, is he, spending such a significant amount of his precious time as an honorary consul? Aran's answer is simple: "I enjoy doing this job."
E. BARIS ALTINTAS ISTANBUL/Zaman