06 October 2007
Mexican Ambassador to Turkey Salvador Campos Icardo seems to have confidence in the future of Turkey as well as that of relations between his country and Turkey. He believes that Turkey and Mexico can benefit from each other in myriad ways.
Ambassador Icardo is excited about the great potential of the relationship between his country and Turkey. He talks of reciprocal political visits and the exchange of knowledge in a wide range of fields.
“You form a greater appreciation of the development, tremendous change and progress that your country has experienced when you talk to countries similar to your own,” says Ambassador Icardo. He mentions that the first time he visited Turkey was in 1970 when he was a young diplomat working in Europe. With his great passion for history, he could not pass up a chance to visit Turkey. Since then he has returned on many occasions and witnessed significant progress, however he finds the development that Turkey has experienced during the last four years “spectacular.” He explains: “All of the infrastructural developments, universities, amazing possibilities of GAP, large holdings, airports... I have had a vision of what Turkey could become all my life, but I never could have imagined development on this scale.”
Ambassador Icardo is excited about the great potential of the relationship between his country and Turkey. He talks of reciprocal political visits and the exchange of knowledge in a wide range of fields; he notes as an example the structural reforms in the public insurance sector that are taking place via collaboration of officials from the central banks of the two countries. Additionally, he is planning several exhibitions of Mexican art and culture for Turkey; one of them will be the works of famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Another will cover Mayan archaeological finds. Ambassador Icardo believes all these efforts will help to further relations between the two countries. “We have so many things to share,” he emphasizes.
Perhaps it is a positive sign that there is a street named Mexico in Ankara, but it lies on the outskirts of the city in the newly established neighborhood of Çayyolu. Ambassador Icardo laughingly admits that he has never visited the street, adding: “Perhaps I was never curious enough. In the same way, we have a square in Mexico called Kuğulu Park, but nobody knows about it. We need to make it more visible. Maybe we can add a monument or something. Though, unlike the street in Ankara, this park is actually in the middle of the city.”
Also, on the wall of Ambassador Icardo’s office hangs an important memento -- the treaty of friendship between Mexico and the Turkish Republic. It was written before the alphabet was changed in Turkey, so it appears in graceful Arabic letters. “We do not know the exact date of the treaty, however we do know that we were one of the first countries to recognize Turkey. The king of Italy was one of the witnessing parties. It is the original but I think the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should have a copy on its walls as well,” Mr. Ambassador says.
He explains that during the period of Mexico’s revolution, it became interested in all wars of independence. “All these newly independent states were very much admired. Mexico wanted to have relations with all of these countries,” Mr. Ambassador underlines and compares the two countries saying: “We are quite similar; we have both faced many structural problems. However we were never an empire, apart from the Aztecs. We are generally a peaceful country, but in the Mexican-American War we lost 60 percent of our territory.” Mr. Ambassador also mentions that unlike other Latin American countries, there have been no military coups d’etat in Mexico; however the country was ruled by generals until 1945, when the first civil government was established.
He goes on to say that the military has close relations with the public. “They are the ones performing rescue operations when there is a natural disaster. Military medical doctors are contributing to improvements within the healthcare sector. Military teachers are sent to remote locations to teach basic skills. Overall, the military plays a key role in society and people have a very positive view of them. We don’t have mandatory military service like in Turkey, so the men serving are there by choice. Our army is medium-sized and we don’t have a very big military budget,” he says.
Legends of Mexico
“The snake represents wisdom and the eagle is the bird that soars high,” he says, giving information about the meaning of the two animals found on his country’s flag. He goes on to explain the legend behind it: “Aztecs arrived in Mexico in the fourth century. They were nomads coming from the north. There was a belief that they would settle at the place where they found an eagle eating a snake. Mexico valley is full of lakes and they found the eagle there. It means that wisdom will rule over all.”
On the Zorro legend, Mr. Ambassador does not seem as excited as me. When I first mention it, he smiles, “He was a Californian, although at that time California was a still part of Mexico.” There is another story; this time one that will interest us both -- the story of Elias Calles, who was one of the presidents of Mexico and the son of a man from İzmir. “He was known as ‘the Turk’. He was a general and the founder of the new Mexican Republic. He was similar to Atatürk. In a way we could always be considered a republic, but he created institutions that modernized the country, shifting the base from agriculture to industry. He was also the founder of a political party which ruled the country for the next 72 years, although under different names.” Mr. Ambassador was not sure when the Calles family arrived in Mexico, but recalls that at the time anyone who arrived in Latin America with an Ottoman passport was called a Turk. He says as a reminder of those days, they have an ornate clock which was a gift from the Ottoman Empire.
When it comes to the basic knowledge that Mexicans have about Turkey, Ambassador Icardo says that most will know where Turkey is geographically and that it wants to be a member of the EU. According to him, their cultural reference is the Ottoman Empire. “But they will not have a clue about recent development in Turkey. Those who are interested in world affairs will know that our economies have several similarities; they have both passed through crisis periods and developed quickly. I believe that the task of ambassadors is to promote relationships between countries. We need to get to know each other so much better,” he points out.
Ambassador Icardo notes that Mexicans also know about Turkish food. He said only recently have Turks become interested in Mexican cuisine, adding that he is very pleased to see Mexican restaurants springing up in Turkey. “They are making a tremendous effort because it is not easy to find all the ingredients necessary for Mexican food. Mexican restaurants are very well known among young people. Perhaps it is becoming trendy. I admire these restaurant entrepreneurs and definitely want to encourage them to expand their efforts,” he says.
The image that Turks have of Mexico mainly comes from the western movies that Ambassador Icardo referred to, showing the country as a dusty place and a safe haven for criminals. When asked about this image, he laughs: “They are still picturing us as if we were still in the 19th century. It is amazing,” he says, adding: “Of course we are disturbed about this image; a dusty old town with beautiful senoritas, everybody has a gun, killing is rampant and it is always dirty. This is a stereotype. In the 1930s American movies were trying to promote this view of the west. I am not sure how much they really knew about the country, but I have a feeling it was very little.”
Mr. Ambassador underlines that after the war with the US, there was a deliberate decision to ignore development in the northern part of the country while the urbanization of the central and the southern regions continued. Ambassador Icardo says that after the war, Mexico wanted to distance itself from the US. “They didn’t even build railways to the north,” he points out, noting that this has now changed: “the population started to grow and development began. The economy has also developed. It is obviously a very important border for us, a very long border. At the same time it is economically [a] key [border] for both Mexico and the US. We have a trade volume between the two countries of over $300 billon. Four-hundred million people cross this border every year. You cannot continue to give the image of banditos and senoritas in a dusty town. It is time to show the real Mexico,” he says.
Thanks to popular soap operas, the Olympic Games and the World Cup, Mexico’s image in the world arena has changed. “When the phenomenon of the soap opera appeared, people started to talk about Mexico in terms of the TV images. Their impressions were again skewed. After the Olympic Games, however, people really began to develop a different view. The World Cup has really helped also,” he says. Mr. Ambassador talks about the many ways they have tried to change the image of their country. He thinks that Turkey has a similar image problem. He thinks that Turkey perhaps should do more to promote itself from the cultural standpoint and especially in the tourism sector.
Mr. Ambassador says that between Turkey and the Mexico there are tourism relations but to come to Turkey is expensive -- and unfortunately there are no direct flights. “In the last 10 years Turkey has become a popular destination for Mexicans. Not for the beaches, we have our own beaches and plenty of sunshine, but rather for the culture. Many of our citizens take cruise ships to İstanbul and travel around the country,” he says and laughs when he explains that he has some difficulties in convincing people to visit Ankara, despite the draws of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and Anitkabır, Atatürk’s mausoleum. However Cappadocia is close by, so sometimes people decide to stop in Ankara, too.
Mr. Ambassador mentions another similarity between his country and Turkey; both of the countries sometimes vie to host the same conferences. “The world congress of one thing or another takes part in İstanbul then later in Mexico or first in Mexico then in Turkey. We are both eligible because we are large countries that both boast the [necessary] facilities and rich cultures. We sometimes get into disputes over who will host these conferences,” he says, laughing. Apart from these minor disputes, our countries really don’t have any problem with each other, he points out. “I am convinced that our countries will continue to grow closer and experience the mutual benefits of collaboration,” Mr. Ambassador concludes.
AYŞE KARABAT ANKARA