06 October 2007
2025) Pakistani Ambassador to Turkey : 'Our Countries’ Friendship Is Difficult To Describe In Words'
Pakistani Ambassador to Turkey Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah, who is a retired general, says that he and his wife Shamim Akthar always feel at home when they are in Turkey and they try to give the same feeling to their guests.
Ambassador Shah and his wife are both thankful to the Turkish citizens who make them feel so at home and the couple does their best to provide the same hospitality to those who visit them at their residence in Ankara.
According to Mr. Ambassador, the greatness of the Turkish nation derives from the fact that Turks do not forget a good deed from another nation. He recalls that during the Turkish War of Independence Pakistanis were there to help; subsequently when there was an earthquake in Pakistan one could see banners all over Ankara declaring "It is our turn." Ambassador Shah continues by citing other commonalities between the two countries like 7,000 words shared between Turkish and Urdu.
"It is very difficult to describe the friendship between Turkey and Pakistan in words," says Pakistani Ambassador Shah and his wife nods in agreement.
They have a point. Almost everyone in Turkey, even those who are not interested in international relations, have some idea about this old and deep relation between the two countries. Turkish history textbooks mention the solidarity and help from Pakistanis during the War of Independence. Most Turks in their 30s know the song "Cive Pakistan" because during the 1980s, when both countries were ruled by military governments, the heads of state Gen. Kenan Evren in Turkey and Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq frequently visited each other. The song was played widely on TV and in the streets during such visits.
Ambassador Shah and his wife say that whenever they go to Turkey, they always feel welcome. They are both thankful to the Turkish citizens who make them feel so at home and the couple does their best to provide the same hospitality to those who visit them at their residence in Ankara. The doors of their home are open to everyone. From the first moment their guests arrive, they are made to feel right at home.
Mrs. Shah receives us at the door; she does not hesitate to kiss me although this is our first meeting and she speaks to and welcomes me in such a way that an observer might think we have known each other for a long time. Despite her traditional clothing, she does not fit into the stereotypical view of Pakistani women because of her very pale face. She smiles warmly after I impolitely ask her about this.
"Pakistan is a very big country; it has different regions and in the region I come from there are many Pakistanis with colored eyes [as opposed to brown-eyed]," she explains.
Not only Mr. Ambassador, who enters the room wearing a broad smile, but also the other embassy staff have the same attitude -- everyone is very polite and tries their best to make sure that guests feel at home. They were even willing to let our photographer have a look around, including the private parts of their home, in order to find the most suitable background for taking their pictures. When we mentioned the fact that photographing them has almost become a form of torture for our hosts because of all the preparations, Mr. Ambassador and his wife laugh and once again ask us to feel at home -- and we do.
"I am very surprised and rather saddened by the fact that although there are so many communalities of language, culture and history [between our countries], somehow the younger generation in Turkey is unaware of them," Mr. Ambassador says, when we are discussing Urdu, the language of Pakistan.
"Urdu is actually a Turkish word. How did this language come to be? When the Mongolian Emperor Babur invaded [the area that includes modern-day Pakistan] all his soldiers were Turks and spoke Turkish. Babur also had Turkish origins from one of his parents. Once they came, they started to interact with the locals, who were speaking their own local language. Because of this interaction, some words from the local language and the Turkish language were taken up and a new language emerged which was spoken only by the soldiers; this is why it is called Urdu, meaning ordu [the Turkish word for army]," he explains, adding, "Some of the soldiers stayed, married locals and had a very strong cultural influence."
Mrs. Shah mentions that there are many common words between the two languages, and her husband continues, saying: "There are about 7,000 words in common. Some of them are not of Turkish origin but come from Arabic. The scripts were also the same until the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic. We can read, although we don't completely understand, some of the [inscriptions on] old monuments [in Turkey]," he says.
Then Ambassador Shah and his wife give some examples, saying: "You say Kemal, we say Kemal, you say Ayşe we say Ayşa." They mention that not only the name of the language but also the name of Pakistan has Turkish origins; pak means pure in Turkish and has the same meaning in Urdu. So the meaning of Pakistan is the land of the pure. "This is a linguistic cultural [connection]. This is [found] nowhere else; this sort of linkage you don't have anywhere else," he says.
When asked if it is difficult to learn Urdu, they say that it is not and turn to one of their staff, Güneş Hanım, who is Turkish but speaks Urdu. When she says in Turkish, "There are many similarities but the pronunciation is different," Mr. Ambassador laughs -- all the words used by Güneş Hanım are also words in Urdu.
Turkish-Pakistani marriages and the magic of Turkish girls
Turkey and Pakistan are trying to develop this very deep-rooted relation in every field. One means of doing this is through student-exchange programs, especially military cadets. So far more than 5,000 cadets have participated in the exchange program. Ambassador Shah says that the aim is not simply training:
"We have regular exchange programs for our officers who attend the army academies. Turks are also going to Pakistan to do mid-career and advanced courses. This is a matter of reciprocity. The purpose is not only education, because what you are teaching here has been taught in Pakistan and what has been taught in Pakistan has been taught here, too. The main purpose of sending these officers and having these courses is to allow these officers come here, live here and make friends with their Turkish brothers, sisters and families. They should have this experience as a lasting memory," he says.
Mr. Ambassador mentions very proudly that he recently participated in two different graduation ceremonies and in both cases the foreign students which were picked to give speeches were Pakistanis. "They delivered their statements in Turkish. The people told me that their pronunciation was absolutely perfect," he says, adding with a smile, "The wife of one of them is Turkish, this probably had an influence."
Mr. Ambassador has military origins too; he is a retired lieutenant general. He is a pilot and served as an instructor at the Pakistani Military Academy, School of Army Air Defense and Air Force Staff College. He also served as a communications minister. Turkey is his first post as a diplomat.
"Well, you see I am not a diplomat. I am basically from the army which has made me straightforward and frank. In diplomacy you have to be diplomatic in saying things. As a diplomat you have to project your country's point of view and interests if there is difference of opinion. I am not talking about Turkey, we have no problems at all. I am just speaking generally; if you want to convince people, you have to be careful with your language. Diplomacy is for developing relations and removing misunderstandings," he says.
When the conversation shifts to the topic of Turkish-Pakistani marriages -- which are not common but not totally unheard of either since so many Pakistanis come to Turkey for higher education -- Mr. Ambassador says, "The magic of these marriages does not come from the Pakistani boys, but from the Turkish girls." Everyone in the room laughs at this comment. Mrs. Ambassador adds that the marriages between Turks and Pakistanis are happy ones.
"I will give you the reason," Mr. Ambassador says, and continues: "Turkish girls are very beautiful, no doubt. Although you dress like Westerners, your family values are the same as ours. Respect for parents, keeping children at home until they marry… Turkish girls are hardworking wives, but obedience is the question mark," he says, and everyone laughs again.
Mr. Ambassador and his wife also speak about their own love story. They had known each other for a long time before they married because their families were friends. "When I reached an acceptable age to marry, my mother asked me if I had someone in mind. I was given one requirement - that the girl I marry be educated. She was doing her political science masters degree. I provided her name, and then it was left to her," Mr. Ambassador says.
Ambassador Shah and his wife have three children; the eldest is 32 and two are doctors. The Shahs also have four grandchildren. Since they have come to live in Turkey, every year their grandchildren have come to visit them. "This year I told them to go to somewhere else. But they are so fussy about food. When they go to Europe, it is nightmare for them. Here, everything is halal," Mrs. Shah says, referring to food permitted by Islamic tradition.
Mr. Ambassador adds that he admires the cleanliness of Turkey. "What struck me and my wife is that individuals and society are very clean. I like it," Mr. Ambassador says. He adds that another thing which has impressed them and that they wish they had in Pakistan -- and are actually working toward -- is the good education system.
The Pakistani Embassy in Ankara has a study group attended by Pakistani children and those of diplomats from other countries; even some children from prominent Turkish families attend. The ambassador says that the Pakistani study group had been meeting in an apartment but Turkish officials decided to grant them the necessary land to build a school. The language used for teaching is English and graduates received a Cambridge certificate.
Mrs. Shah adds that there are nine Turkish schools in Pakistan.
The greatness of Turkish people: not to forget
During the last earthquake in Pakistan there was a story in the Turkish national press that the Pakistani Embassy received a letter from a Turkish citizen saying the sender had only two lira and was sending one to Pakistan. When Ambassador Shah and his wife were reminded of the letter, they become sentimental.
"That was just one case; however, there were so many more. The friendship between Pakistan and Turkey is so deep-rooted. It is very difficult to describe in words. Let me tell you, the people of the subcontinent -- when there was no Pakistan -- took part and sent help to their brothers and sisters in Turkey for their independence. Some volunteers, including doctors, came. The greatness of the Turkish nation is apparent in that they have not forgotten these deeds, although more than 80 years have passed. They remember it as vividly as if it had happened yesterday. We are also impressed when we tell a Turkish person that we are from Pakistan and he responds by telling us what our ancestors have done for his country. You often do a good deed for a man and have him forget by the very next day, but the Turkish nation does not," Mr. Ambassador explains.
Ambassador Shah says that the Pakistanis will also remember the aid that was sent from Turkey during the earthquake: "During the earthquake in Pakistan you must have seen the banners all over Ankara which read 'It is our turn now.' I saw children coming to the embassy and ladies in tears. The tears were streaming down their cheeks. You cannot fake that. This is the phenomenon that we witnessed. The people were coming to donate their personal jewelry. All of the jewelry that we collected, instead of selling it in the market, we put it in a frame and presented it to the president of Pakistan so that future generations can see what their brothers and sisters in Turkey did for them," he says.
AYŞE KARABAT ANKARA