21 January 2008
Tamer Gazioglu: I’m Proud Yet Sad To Be KKTC’s Sole Ambassador
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) Ambassador to Turkey Tamer Gazioglu
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) Ambassador to Turkey Tamer Gazioglu says he thinks it a great honor to represent his country in Ankara but that at the same time he is sad to be his country's only ambassador.
But Ambassador Gazioglu and his wife, Sevgi Gazioglu, underline that they are respected and that Tamer Gazioglu is socially accepted as an ambassador. Both of the Gazioglus have witnessed the Cyprus problem firsthand since childhood. Mrs. Gazioglu was taken captive by the Greek Cypriots when she was a child. In an interview with Today's Zaman, the Gazioglu couple speaks about their childhood and island life.
"On one side it is a great honor to represent my country in Ankara, but on the other, it's sad being the only ambassador representing my country," says the diplomat. "It is disturbing, too," he notes. "Since the dissolution of the Cyprus Republic in 1963, we have been deprived of all of our rights and international recognition. It will be so until there is an agreement or a solution on the Cyprus issue. However, Greek Cypriots don't want an agreement; but their status is not fully recognized, either. The United Nations notes that when there is an agreement reached on the Cyprus issue, the status of the Greek Cypriots will change and their rights will be equal to the rights of the Turkish Cypriots. The Greeks Cypriots want to postpone the solution as much as possible, though. It is illogical to expect the Greek Cypriots to make efforts toward reaching an agreement as long as the world recognizes the Greek Cypriots as being the representatives of Cyprus. We, as the Turkish Cypriots, say that we are ready for unification negotiations and a comprehensive solution. It is disturbing to be my country's only ambassador within this framework," he says.
According to Gazioglu, he is usually welcomed by other ambassadors in Ankara.
Relations with other countries
“Some countries do not establish official relations with us [the KKTC]; however, we are respected. I am socially accepted as an ambassador." he says. Gazioglu underlines that he tries to participate in all the social events that the embassy is invited to, in order to develop and improve relations with other countries. "My wife has the same attitude," he adds.
Sevgi Gazioglu agrees with her husband, pointing out that she participates in international charity organizations and takes part in the events of various societies.
"With time they learned about us -- they know we are representatives of the KKTC. This is why we are happy to be here," she says. Her husband adds: "We have good relations even with ambassadors whose countries are not very close to us. We are frequently invited to their residences. In order to establish relations with other ambassadors -- especially with the newcomers -- I explain the Cyprus issue to them," says Ambassador Gazioglu with a big smile on his face.
Both the ambassador and his wife have witnessed the Cyprus problem firsthand since childhood. Mrs. Gazioglu was taken captive by the Greek Cypriots when she was a child; her husband's personal history is not much different. They are both from Nicosia.
"I was confronted with the Cyprus issue in 1955, when I was four years old," says Ambassador Gazioglu. "My father was from Larnaca. He was a contractor. He got a deal to construct a primary school in Larnaca so we moved there for a year. My younger brother was born there. I vividly recall the women talking among themselves about how the Greek Cypriots had started to gather arms and would attack us. I remember very well the panic-stricken state of the ladies, too. Their concerns and fears deeply affected me. At that time, the EOKA [National Organization for Cypriot Fighters] was established as an underground organization and it began its attacks on April 1 of 1955. This is how I was introduced to the Cyprus problem."
For the diplomat, along with many other Turkish Cypriots, life became increasingly more difficult at the beginning of the 1960s.
"Until 1960, no one from my family had been kidnapped or killed. In 1963, the environmental setup of the Atatürk sculpture in Cyprus was under the responsibility of my father. We went to a Greek village [Kiraciköy] together to buy local marble. There, we received a warning from the marble seller to be very careful. The Greek Cypriots were in control of the Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia when the 1963 events emerged. Right across from the Ledra Palace was the Çetinkaya Club, which was one of the centers of the Turkish resistance organization. Our house was located behind it. When the clashes erupted, there were five to six families in our house. We heard the sounds of guns and news about the clashes taking place all day long. My father would occasionally come home. In Çetinkaya there was Ottoman-style artillery. Once, my father asked us to collect iron pieces to use in this artillery. The conditions were difficult; we did not have any ammunition to defend ourselves. The years of 1963 and 1964 were ones of constant conflict. Turks were migrating to more secure settlements because of the clashes. For a period of time movie theaters, schools and warehouses were devoted to [house] evacuees who had to leave their homes," he explains.
It was difficult to receive a proper education under these conditions. Education came to a halt because of the events.
"We didn't go to school for a year. The following year, thanks to an intensified curriculum, we managed to compensate for the gap," Ambassador Gazioglu says.
Growing up in KKTC
But it was not easy to acquire an education on an island in a state of constant turmoil. The ambassador, like many other Turks at that time, faced the tough realities of life there at an early age. His is not an exceptional case. He says he began working at an early age, but recalls those difficult years with a smile:
"When I was in the last year of elementary school, I worked at the school's cafeteria. I was compensated for my work with three pieces of cake (çörek), a piece of cheese and a Coke. I sold newspapers for a while, too. On the Turkish side of Nicosia, we had a field where I planted vegetables and sold them. I worked at a fabric shop, too. I went to Nicosia Turkish High School. I worked in the afternoons and on Saturdays while in high school as well. When we were at the end of the second grade I, along with my friends, decided to enroll as combatants [mücahit]," he says.
The diplomat underlines that despite the adverse conditions they were successful students. Most of his classmates, including himself, were able to gain entry to the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) in Turkey. He graduated from the faculty of urban planning in 1974 and then went to the US for a year on scholarship in 1981, earning a master's degree in urban planning. He later completed his doctorate in political science, at ODTÜ in 2003.
The ambassador says that he was a student in Ankara during the 1974 Turkish intervention in Cyprus. At that time he was involved with a Turkish Cypriot association, members of which wanted to return immediately to the KKTC; but this was not possible for some time. After a while they were able to return to Cyprus, before the second peace operation, and they enrolled in combat units. The ambassador began his work life in 1974.
Mrs. Gazioglu also remembers their days in the US. At that time they were newlyweds and she began looking for a job there in order to help her husband out.
"Although at the beginning I experienced a language problem, I was eventually chosen employee of the year. For them, it was surprising that I was working to support our family and my husband's education costs. They appreciated this very much," she explains. She also recalls developments following the events of 1963:
"When I was seven or eight years old, in December 1963, combatants told us that the war had erupted and they would use our house as a frontline -- and that we would have to evacuate our house. We complied and stayed in a coffeehouse with our neighbors. We heard gunshots all the time. Eventually Greek Cypriots, brandishing guns, came and took us outside. They separated the women and children from the men. The made the men line up. At that moment EOKA leader Nikos Samson came and gave them some orders, so they didn't go through with killing the men. They loaded us on trucks and sent us to an ice cream factory and kept us there for a while. From there they took us to a big monastery [Cikko] and again separated the men and took them somewhere else. We stayed there for a week and were later send to Nicosia before we were freed. When the events of 1974 started I had just finished high school. We were living in a place which was called Göçmenköy [Immigrants' Village]. There was a combatant division located nearby. Greek Cypriots were bombing that location; some of our neighbors were killed there. Some of our relatives fled. Those were very difficult days; we found peace after 1974."
When Ambassador Gazioglu is asked about the KKTC becoming a second home for Europeans, especially British citizens after retirement, he says their presence brings a livelihood to the island despite some problems:
"Some property regulations in the Annan plan have worked to increase foreigners' demand for property in the island's north. This trend continued intensively during the time of the Annan plan. The plan stipulated that the property owner was protected along with the property. So foreigners started to buy property in the KKTC. In the KKTC there are also foreign workers from Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Palestine. Voices are being raised by Greek Cypriots about the number of foreigners and students who are coming for an education and leading to a population change."
When it comes to family relations in Turkish Cypriot society, there are differences between the island and Turkey; it is said that women are more powerful within the family structure in the KKTC. When asked about this, the ambassador and his wife smile and clarify for us: "Men and women live in harmony in Cyprus. Usually, decisions are made collectively. But it is not possible to say that women are stronger than men or vice versa."
The ambassador has something to add, though: "The status of women in Cyprus is slightly different than that of those in Turkey. Women have property and have more rights within the family, compared to ... Turkey. But this is not always the case. We cannot say that they are totally equal in a social sense. However in work life they are totally equal," he says.
The ambassador doesn't know Greek. But he says his father knew the language because he grew up working with Greek Cypriots and some of his employees were Greek. Ambassador Gazioglu adds that the Greeks in his father's village were able to speak Turkish because the population was made up mostly of Turks. For the ambassador's wife however, it was just the opposite:
"In my grandfather's village there were only Turks, but they would speak in Greek. All the surrounding villages were Greek. My grandfather used to talk to me both in Turkish and in Greek. This is why I am familiar with the language. My parents were able to speak it, too" she says. The couple has one son, a freshman in high school. When asked if they ever share their memories of the past with their son, the Gazioglu couple responds with a "Yes," adding: "He has an increasing curiosity about that era; he reads and asks questions."
22.01.2008 Ayse Karabat Ankara
Ambassador Ishtiaq: Turkey Is An Exemplary Modern Muslim Country
Bangladeshi Ambassador to Turkey Muhammed Ishtiaq
Bangladeshi Ambassador to Turkey Muhammed Ishtiaq, who has been in Turkey since August, says that for his country Turkey has a special importance.
They take Turkey as a model. He says there are many Mustafa Kemals in Bangladesh, showing the respect his people have for the founder of Turkey. According to him, political and economic relations between the two countries are developing very fast. He says his country is a Third World country but that it is trying to develop by implementing special programs, such as micro credit and "food for education." He emphasizes that the status of women in Bangladesh is improving, too. Ambassador Ishtiaq came to diplomacy from a military career, and he thinks this is a gift for him. He also offers some examples of his country's unique culture in an interview with Today's Zaman.
"[Mustafa Kemal] is a particular name that is very dear to the Bangladeshis. This is a very common name, and everybody wants to use it. You always want to name your children with the names of famous people. Mustafa Kemal's name is a very famous name for us," the ambassador says. According to him, not only Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's name, but also his ideas are important in Bangladesh. He says the history of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish War of Independence war are a part of Bangladesh's educational curriculum:
"I don't know how this relation developed. I really can't trace out the genesis of the relation. But there have been a number of people who have been interacting with Turkey for a very long time. And there are certain cultural traditions that are embedded in Bangladesh's culture, too. This is very surprising. You will be surprised to know that in our country the history of the Turks is being taught at schools. … You will also be surprised to know that in a very remote village called Dagunpia, we have a very big Bangladeshi school and college called Kemal Atatürk. Bangladeshi curriculum is taught there. It is very unusual to find such a school in a remote area. It is very encouraging," he says and adds that there are also some Bangladeshi students in Turkey. Some of them are doing post-graduate studies with scholarships from the Turkish government.
There are several Turkish schools in Bangladesh, too: "These schools are really doing a splendid job in developing our relations. They pursue their national curriculum in English. The students also have to study the Turkish language," he says.
Ambassador Ishtiaq also says that the diplomatic zone of Dakka, the capital of Bangladesh, is called Mustafa Kemal Avenue.
"The Bangladeshis like and respect foreigners, but when a foreigner is a Turk, they receive extra respect," the ambassador says. According to him, although Bangladesh and Turkey are far from each other -- the distance between the two countries is about 8,000 kilometers -- the distance hasn't hindered their developing relations.
"The first reason is our historical relations. The second reason is our mutual Muslim culture. The third one is that Turkey is very important in the eyes of developing countries, like us. Turkey is a Muslim country that is pursuing a modernistic outlook and acting as a bridge between Muslims and the West. So we look to Turkey for all this. That is why during the last six to seven years, the relations developed as the politicians came to understand their importance. And after the establishment of [the Developing Eight group (D8)], very frequent visits by the officials and leaders of these two countries have strengthened our relations," he says.
According to the ambassador, Bangladesh takes Turkey as a role model: "In fact, Turkey is a modern force, which is a very good example for how a Muslim country maintaining its intactness and identity can be modern; how a country can be suited for the advanced world. There is a good lesson for us in how things are being managed in Turkey, especially its economic development."
Ambassador Ishtiaq says that apart from Turkey's role as an example, the economic relations between the two countries are developing very fast: "Nowadays, as we have come to understand each other well, our economic relations are also developing. If we compare the present state of these relations with our relations two years ago, we can see there has been tremendous progress. … Moreover, there is an increasing interest in Turkish textiles, and some other labor-oriented industries have begun to build factories in Bangladesh. The wages of laborers in Turkey rose due to dollar-lira ratios and your candidacy for membership in the EU. To compete in the open market you have to lower prices, so low wages are important at this point. Bangladesh is a very nice country for labor-oriented industries, as the wages are low."
According to the ambassador, there are lots of Turkish investments in Bangladesh. He explains that visas are a good indicator of the countries' business relations: "Previously in a month we used to issue eight to 10 visas, which were tourist visas. Nowadays we issue about 12 to 16 visas every day, and they are mostly business visas. These Turkish businessmen have their partners in Bangladesh. There are also independent businessmen. So I see a very positive sign in the economic relations between these two countries. We can help Turkey tremendously. The Turkish people should aim at bigger business, modern issues and big automated textile factories. So Turkey can locate its industry in labor-oriented a Muslim brother country like Bangladesh, which values your friendship."
According to Ambassador Ishtiaq, the Bangladeshi people are an asset because they are very gifted: "One thing that is great in Bangladesh is that normal people can adapt and learn new things with little education so well that they can achieve perfection. That is why entrepreneurs are coming to Bangladesh for laborers."
"Obviously, Bangladesh is a developing country. It belongs to the Third World. As you know, the population is very high in Bangladesh. The density of population is also very high. Bangladesh has twice the population of Turkey, while Turkey has seven times the land. So there are some smart intellectuals like [Muhammed Yunus, who won the Nobel Prize for his invention of micro]. He came up with the idea that if people can be made to become self-reliant, then we can overcome this poverty. He started with his own money from his own town. He gave money to one person, who paid it back every month in small installments. Then he saw that these illiterate people were doing something with that money and paying it all back," the ambassador says.
Social aid programs
Ambassador Ishtiaq says Bangladesh has also implemented a "food for education" program to increase the level of education in the country. He explains: "Children in the rural areas don't care about education much. They help their parents with their work. With this program parents get food if they send their children to school. In the last four years the education rate has gone up from 42 percent to 67 percent."
The ambassador says that Bangladesh is also trying to improve the status of women in the country. "In Bangladeshi society, just like all Muslim societies, women do not participate much in the working sector. But in our recent history we have reversed this. Since 1991 we have had two female prime ministers. … You can't develop unless the whole population participates in development activities. So people are convinced. Women are working in all fields, even in the army," he says.
"Bangladesh has been a seat of many ancient cultures. Since the time of Alexander the Great, rulers have passed over our country on their way to the East, as we have very fertile land. These visits by the Westerners enriched our culture. We have diversity in our culture," the ambassador explains.
He offers the Bangladeshi New Year, Pohela Baishakh, as an example of his country's rich culture: "It starts in the summer. Everybody dresses differently, especially in yellow and red, which is the symbol of Baishakh, and we have morning festivals in which we sing songs early in the morning outdoors. We display our crafts and cakes of different types. … This is a very nice celebration," he says.
Another example of this cultural diversity is the "Night of the Moon" festival. It is celebrated by the Buddhists but it sometimes coincides with Ramadan: "They wait for the full moon. They select the moon, which may coincide with Ramadan sometimes, as the lunar year doesn't coincide with the Gregorian calendar. The Buddhist population makes up 1 percent of our country, they live mostly in the southeast. This is a religious festival."
Turkish culture has also inspired Bangladesh's art, according to the ambassador. He says one of their most famous poets, Nuzr-ul Islam, wrote several books about Atatürk. He is one of Ambassador Ishtiaq's favorite poets. The ambassador likes reading poems and singing songs.
"I like to listen to national songs, country music in English and slow songs. I am a big fan of Kenny Rogers," Mr. Ambassador says. He likes Turkish music, too: "I'm listening to Turkish music. I have a big Turkish connection with Turkey in my family. We are three brothers. All of us are in the army, and we all had the opportunity to visit Turkey. My youngest brother was here for two years; he can speak, read and write fluently in Turkish. We call him Turkish in our family. He was trained here. My middle brother stayed here for six months for training, too. He speaks a little bit of Turkish. I was also here for training as a soldier twice, and now as an ambassador. I was given the option to choose either Turkey or Morocco. I chose here because I've been here before."
Like some other ambassadors in Ankara, Ishtiaq misses being able to play golf. "Bangladesh has the cheapest golf facilities in the world. Playing eight holes costs about 10 euros, which is impossible in any other part of the world. We are always discussing with the other ambassadors why Turkey only has golf facilities in Antalya," he says.
Despite the lack of golf courses in Ankara, Ambassador Ishtiaq finds many things to admire in Turkey. "Very interestingly, I found that Turkish people don't raise their voices or get angry easily. This is something that I wish we did at home. We get angry easily in Bangladesh," he says.
Ambassador Ishtiaq left a military career to pursue a diplomatic one, but he says moving from the military to diplomacy is a gift. "You have to keep something in your pocket in diplomacy. Normally it is said that diplomacy comes first and then the army. In our country some of the senior officers in the army like me have this assignment. This is a very big pride for us. Interacting with people from different countries is a great opportunity that you can't afford as a military officer. I don't have any problem serving as a diplomat. It is a gift to do this job," he explains.
Ambassador Ishtiaq summarizes his main principle in diplomacy by saying: "Friendship to all is the essence of foreign policy. If you act with your heart, your feelings will be reciprocated."
15.01.2008 Ayse Karabat Ankara
Egyptian Ambassador El Hadidi: ‘Turkey Is My Second Home’
The ambassador and his wife Randa El Hadidi
Dr. Alaa El Hadidi, the former spokesperson of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and now the ambassador to Turkey, feels that he is returning to his second home because his late father served in Turkey as an ambassador, too.
His wife, Randa El Hadidi, who was educated as a medical doctor but prefers to be a diplomat and who also joined the foreign ministry, tells the story of how they met and discusses their plans in Turkey. According to the ambassador, political relations between Turkey and Egypt are very good and economic relations are booming, but there are still significant challenges facing cultural relations.
"My father was an ambassador here, too" says Ambassador Hadidi. Then he turns to his personal assistant and notes, "Mehmet served for my father, too." Mehmet smiles and says that former Ambassador Hadidi was a very nice person. He adds that he loved him as if he was his father and that Ambassador Hadidi is like a copy of his father. Ambassador Hadidi mentions that his late father was one of the reasons that he wanted to be appointed to Turkey.
"I was the spokesperson of the foreign ministry for two years. When I knew it was my time to be released, I asked to come here. It was my first choice for one simple reason: My father was an ambassador here between 1985 and 1987. When I used to come to visit Turkey I felt Turkey was my second home. This house is really a second home. I mean it when I say this -- I don't say it out of diplomacy or kindness," he says. When his father was an ambassador they lived in the same residence -- built and owned by Egypt. According to the ambassador this is not common because most of Egypt's embassies are rented. The residence and the embassy, which are in the same garden, have an Egyptian Islamic style.
Changes in Turkey
Ambassador Hadidi says Egypt admires the many changes that have taken place in Turkey since the time of his father's service as ambassador. "I came to Turkey in 1986. I stayed for about three months and visited Ankara and several other cities with my father. From 1986 until today I've been in Istanbul about 10 times for diplomatic meetings. I came to Ankara in 2007 to accompany the minister of foreign affairs for a bilateral visit. That was my first time after 20 years. I was astonished by the development in Ankara. Ankara is completely different, it has changed, expanded and modernized significantly. I could see it just by walking through the streets. The standards of living are high. It is a testimony to what Turkey has become in the past 20 years and how Turkey was able to transform itself into the 16th largest economy in the world," he says.
The ambassador adds that when he is going somewhere in Ankara he is always asking his driver if one or another building they pass by existed before. The driver, who was also his father's driver, tells him that these places are new, that they were built five or 10 years ago.
"We follow Turkey in Egypt and there is great admiration on our part. When I speak to my friends, I tell them that they will be more admired when they come here. Because when you are here it is different," says Ambassador Hadidi.
The ambassador also has links with Turkey from his mother's side. His mother's family name, Topsakal, means goatee. "I have Turkish blood from my mother's side. You will find many Egyptians that have Turkish origins, whether very close or very old. They take great pride in having Turkish blood. After coming here I discovered that there are many Turks who have Egyptian blood because their families were in Egypt," he says. He smiles as he tells a story: Once when he was in a meeting, there was a man sitting in the Turkish delegation who looked very Egyptian and the man spoke Arabic to him. "There are many other Turkish people who look Egyptian. There are so many similarities. Even down to their features. This shows how close we are," he says.
The Hadidi couple is very young and their faces are always warm and smiling. When they are told that they are young, they laugh. "We wish we were as young as people think," says the ambassador. His wife adds: "I was once told that getting old is a decision. So we haven't decided yet."
Mrs. Hadidi says that when her and her husband met in 1990, they did not like each other at all. They smile in amusement at the memory: "We both work in the foreign ministry. I am also a diplomat. We first met in 1990. I was coming back from Canada, where I had been studying and he was leaving for Washington. We had a mutual friend who was one of my best friends. We didn't like each other at all. Then we met again in 1996. Then we liked each other. We found out that we had many things in common to talk about, like political science. Then we started to see each other properly. We got engaged in 1997."
Ambassador Hadidi adds: "'Go, go, go,' this is all my friends were saying to me about her. Of course, when you have a single person in the workplace, they encourage you. They were pushing so hard." Finally when they decided to go out together, for the first date they picked one of the most famous buildings of Cairo, the opera house. According to Mrs. Hadidi, at that time, all of their colleagues -- the whole foreign ministry -- were there. The ambassador adds: "The following day, everybody was talking about us. Anyone who didn't knew about us, learned"
A diplomatic couple
Although Mrs. Hadidi is a diplomat, too, because of the regulations of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, they cannot be appointed to the same place, they may be appointed to places that are close to each other, but that depends on luck. This is why after getting married she did not serve out of Egypt, and when her husband in abroad she is not planning to work.
"My husband is four years older than me. So when he retires, maybe I can serve for four years abroad. Actually, we are allowed to serve in different countries, but I am not very enthusiastic about that," she says.
Originally Mrs. Hadidi was a doctor. She went to medical school but decided against staying with that profession -- a decision she says she does not regret. She says that in Egypt it is enough to be a university graduate to take the foreign ministry examination: "As long as you are a college graduate, you can participate in the exam of the foreign ministry. The exam includes politics, language and economics. So you have to study hard for it. Thus we have engineers, doctors and dentists," she says. She adds that she is not missing practicing as a doctor.
Ambassador Hadidi is not a typical career diplomat, either. He joined the foreign ministry at mid-level as a second secretary.
"When I joined the foreign ministry I worked for the cabinet of ministers. I didn't go abroad a lot because of this. I served only in two countries, Jordan and the United States. I spent my last five years in Egypt after I came back from Amman in 2002, which is unusual in our career. … Some of them [my peers] are finishing their first posts as ambassadors as I am beginning my first post. So I am not a typical Egyptian career diplomat," he says.
Hadidi says being an Egyptian ambassador is a privilege: "Egypt has several roles. One of them is being the headquarters of the Arab League. So the Egyptian diplomats are regarded as the representatives of the Arab League when they meet officials from other countries. I can also tell you that the University of al-Azhar is a privileged place in the Islamic world. For example, people regard me not only as the ambassador of Egypt but also as the representative of the University of al-Azhar. These add to the definition of an Egyptian diplomat. It represents secular Arab countries and a religious heritage like al-Azhar. Recently, I was in a meeting with African ambassadors as a representative of one of the founding members of the Africa Union. That shows Egypt's African dimension, and we also have a Mediterranean dimension."
When the subject comes to similarities between Egyptian and Turkish culture, the Hadidis mention many things, from nargile (water pipe) -- which is called shisha in Egypt -- to music. The ambassador is one of the few Egyptians that don't smoke shisha. The food is similar, too, but not quite the same. But there are also many other cultural similarities that must be promoted. Actually, Hadidi says that one of the challenges that he is facing is cultural relations: "We assume that our food, music, families and cultures are all the same. It is not like a political or economic issue that we would sit and discuss. I discovered that we have more things in common between us that we need to accomplish than sitting and saying that we are similar. Our bilateral archives must be explored, especially the ones from the Ottoman era. Our relations do not only go back to the Ottoman era, but all the way to 4,000 years ago."
Turkish- Egyptian relations
To promote cultural relations between the two countries, Egypt opened a cultural center in Istanbul four months ago. However, he says, "It is still new and not functioning at 100 percent." He adds: "It is run by a professor from Cairo University. One of the first activities was to organize a round table discussion between Cairo University and Bilkent University, which we held here about a month ago. It was very fruitful and very interesting. We want to organize more of them."
He adds that Turkey and Egypt want to increase the number of exchange students between the two countries. "Though there is will, the implementation will take time. You would be surprised at the number of Egyptians studying Turkish in Egypt and we are surprised by the number of Turkish businessmen and officials who speak Arabic. But, for some reason, they are not connected to each other very well. These are things that I really want to pursue..." he says.
The ambassador points out that political relations between the two countries are very good and that this is reflected in their economic relations, which he says are booming: "Businessmen always know where the profit lies. After signing the free trade agreement between Egypt and Turkey last year, Egypt gave Turkish businessmen an area which of about 2 million square meters outside of Cairo to build a special Turkish industrial zone. Now many Turkish businessmen are coming to Egypt for joint ventures with our businessmen. The energy prices in Egypt are cheaper than Turkey. Egypt has also free trade agreements with all the Arab countries, with 13 African countries and with the United States. So any businessmen who invest in Egypt can export their products to Turkey and these larger markets. Egyptian and Turkish businessmen can compliment each other because the opportunities are beyond the imagination."
Hadidi points out that Egypt moved its tourist office from Athens to Istanbul.
"This reflects the relations between our countries. The office was transferred here because of the market opportunities in Turkey. This year the embassy has grown in size. We now have culture and tourism offices. On the one hand, Turkey doesn't need promotion in Egypt because they love Istanbul in our country, but I want them to visit other places in Turkey too. On the other hand, many Turkish businessmen are discovering Egypt. I know that many Turkish businessmen visit Sharm el-Sheikh. Hopefully they will take their families with them. There are also a great deal of Turkish monuments in Cairo and elsewhere for Turkish tourists to visit. Turkish pilgrims can visit our country on their way [to Mecca]. So the horizon is wide open --Egyptians feel very comfortable in Turkey and, I hope, vice versa. Some of the Turkish people may think it is unnecessary to see Egypt, as we are so similar..." he says.
The Hadidis feel the same about Turkey. They say there are many things for them to explore here:
"When we came it was Ramadan, and now it is winter. So we are waiting for the warm weather -- We want to go everywhere we can in the coming four years. For example, we enjoyed Konya very much and want to visit there again. Hopefully we can realize our plans, because Turkey is a large and lovely country and we don't want to miss it."
08.01.2008 Ayse Karabat Ankara
South African Ambassador Sobizana Mngqikana: A Singing Ambassador With The Spirit Of A Freedom Fighter
‘I spent a great part of my youth for the cause: I am happy that finally we succeeded in it. We laid the ground for the future of South Africa, where there will be less antagonism between its people.
But it will take time’ South African Ambassador Sobizana Mngqikana, who is about to leave for Finland after six years in Turkey, says he has the spirit of a freedom fighter. He spent many years struggling against apartheid in his country and is happy about the success in that regard, but according to him it will take some time for South Africa to truly become a nation of peace. He mentions that there is some reluctance to this end among the nation’s citizens, that it is an on-again, off-again process. But he stresses that South Africa should succeed in this goal, not only for itself but also as an example to Third World countries where antagonism exists. Mngqikana says that he contributed to the normalization of relations between South Africa and Turkey, relations that were once sour but are now very fruitful. In an interview with Today’s Zaman at his office, obviously undergoing the process of packing, he spoke about his life and experiences in Turkey.
“I am the singing ambassador,” says Ambassador Mngqikana, laughing. At one point in his life Mngqikana had to make a choice between a musical career and being a “freedom fighter.” He picked the latter option, but never severed his relations with music. When he combined both of these inclinations, he became known as the “singing ambassador in Ankara.” He tells how this happened:
“Once there was a reception at the Swiss Embassy; there I met a Polish jazz pianist [and other musicians]. I asked them if I could join them. They answered me, ‘Why not.’ I sang there. Then my colleagues asked me if I could sing [for them]. Since that day, I have been the singing ambassador. Every time there is an occasion, they ask me if I will sing. I am not a professional singer,” Mngqikana laughs once more.
One of the latest occasions that the ambassador sang at in Ankara was a charity organized by the German Embassy for the benefit of the handicapped. “Given my background as a political person, here comes the picture of political understanding again; I felt I had to make a contribution. This is a cause I had to support,” he says. The diplomat says that if the political situation of the South Africa was different in his earlier days, he would have chosen music as a career. “But I had to make up my mind. I mean, the whole [political] setup was just disgusting. I was in between pursuit of an academic career and politics. While I was dealing with politics, I maintained an interest in music on the sidelines until one of the band leaders told me to choose either politics or music -- it is up to you. I said, ‘Ok, fine. I will leave the band,’ he explains.
Ambassador Mngqikana comes from an intellectual family; his mother was a teacher and his father a composer. From his early youth he was involved in politics and struggled against the apartheid regime in his country: “I was deeply involved with politics. I had been in prison for a year because of my underground activities. Since I was involved in politics I was not accepted at universities; so I left South Africa in 1965 and went to Britain to study on scholarship. This is how I came to Europe. Otherwise I would never have been able to afford it. I joined the African National Congress (ANC) external mission. I was active in both the ANC external mission and also in the ANC’s youth branch. Together with today’s President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki, we had formed the ANC youth organization. In 1969, I was sent to Sweden as a deputy representative to take care of information facilities -- informing about apartheid and how to support freedom,” he mentions.
Mr. Ambassador says he learned Swedish during those years and gained experience in establishing relations with other cultures, despite the fact that he says he did not have any tangible experience in diplomacy. He was not a career diplomat, he says, adding: “Well I still have the freedom fighter’s spirit -- forgetting orders...” he smiles as he explains that in the Foreign Service the usual term is four years but he stayed in Turkey as an ambassador for six years.
Mngqikana says he is happy to have spent a great part of his youth in the cause of fighting injustice: “I am happy that finally we succeed. Hopefully that the sprit of, fighting injustice and unfairness will be there,” he says and adds that he thinks they laid the groundwork for the future of a South Africa in which there will be less antagonism between its people. But he adds that it will take time: “Of course it is going take time before we can resolve this contradiction, and I think it is also a duty that we must succeed,” he says. The diplomat says he is not pleased with South African society’s stance in fighting the heritage of the apartheid regime. When he was asked how many generations will be needed to solve this contradiction, he says that he very sincerely does not know: “It depends on to the responses. At present, it is sort of on and off,” he says and gives the example of the Rugby World Cup in 1985: “The country was very united. It was a real South African gathering. Everybody, black and white, was enjoying it. But it was in 1985,” he smiles again.
“It is difficult to judge to how far this can go. The question is how to sustain that. This is a constant challenge. We should not lose a moment; this should not happen only in rugby or football matches. There has unfortunately sometimes been reluctance from our white compatriots to see themselves as a part of the solution. A typical example of this is national holidays. Only a few of them observe them; they think why this is holy, why should I observe that? This is not encouraging at all,” he emphasizes. Mngqikana points out that for the blacks of South Africa it is also not easy to forget what happened during the apartheid regime. To remember those days, according to the ambassador, is a chilling experience for the blacks of South Africa, and most of them think that somebody should pay for this: “This is a very valid and relevant point. But if you have people like Mandela, who stayed in prison for 27 years but is prepared to forgive, then who am I to not do so? We try to convince our people by saying, ‘Yes, you cannot forget, but just forgive and move forward’.”
When reminded of Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness Movement leader who was killed in police custody and whose life story was made into a movie called “Cry Freedom,” Mngqikana says that some people do not even bother to think about the problems plaguing South Africa: “Some of them don’t care. This attitude does not leave room for reconciliation,” he says, giving the example of land transformation: “We decided that there should be a legal mechanism to transfer some of the land to landless blacks. There has been some reluctance from white compatriots to bargain with the government. This influenced prices. The government is forced to introduce a law and set the bargaining bases,” he says.
In order to explain the situation in his country, the ambassador quotes the analogy of a South African journalist who said the country looks like a double-decker bus. At the top there are whites and a few blacks, but the bottom is full of blacks who are not able to go to the upper deck, so the bottom deck can explode any time. But if this happens, the whole bus will be affected.
The South African diplomat thinks that unless there is an improvement in the people’s economic situation, the danger of revolt exists. But he thinks that it is more appropriate to look to the future and not to the past: “The future generations have a very decisive role to play, [one] which should be positive. We are a part of Africa; we always emphasize the issues of good governance, transparency, women’s freedom, equality before the law. These are in our constitution; you cannot fiddle with them,” he says and underlines an important mission of South Africa not only for itself but also for Third World countries:
“If we fail, then it will have repercussions on the Third World and the [rest of the] world. So I think for South Africans, both black and white, it is a challenge that we have to meet and see South Africa as an ideal country where people can coexist and can be a rainbow nation [nation of peace],” he says.
There are 11 official languages in South Africa; the ambassador knows three of them, plus Swedish. He tried to learn Turkish, too, but gave up because he was not able to attend courses.
Mngqikana says he cannot judge himself, when asked about his biggest contribution to Turkish-South African relations. But he reminds us that the relations were sour for a while and that there were some sorts of suspicions; South Africa refused to sell arms to Turkey and Turkey was offended when South African President Nelson Mandela did not accept the Atatürk Peace Prize in 1995 with the explanation of “Turkey’s bad human rights record” at the time. Mr. Ambassador underlines that Atatürk is a respected figure in South Africa because of his fight against imperialism. After recalling those days of lackluster relations, the ambassador adds that the bond between the two countries is now normalized and fruitful. According to him, the trade volume between Turkey and South Africa had reached approximately $2 billion in favor of South Africa. Turkey buys gold from his country:
“If you cut gold out, Turkey [has the advantage],” he says, and adds that the free trade agreement between the two countries is on its way but not before he leaves Turkey:
“Unfortunately I leave this country without a free trade agreement. I established good relations at all levels -- with society, with government -- but I feel so sad that the free trade agreement could not take place before I left,” he underlines.
The ambassador adds that there are different fields that their embassy operates in, including politics, business and culture. But the embassy cannot do much more than prepare the groundwork because there are prejudices and a lack of information on the part of the businessmen of both countries.
“There is a lack of information on both sides, which I call an information deficit. South Africa doesn’t know much about Turkey; Turkey doesn’t know much about South Africa. We organized meetings in places like Kayseri, Trabzon, Bursa; we met with businessmen over there and sent some of them to South Africa,” he says.
He adds that during these visits one of the things he enjoyed very much was the humility of Turkish businessmen. “One of them in Kayseri used to call me uncle,” he laughs and notes that he has really felt at home in Turkey.
The ambassador indicates that one of the things that impressed him about Turkey was the cleanliness of its cities. According to him, this is something South Africa needs to learn. But Turkey’s traffic and the non-adherence of its drivers to traffic rules are negative aspects of the country in his eyes. He says he thinks that it would be a very good idea to make drivers pay heavy fines and use this money to hire more staff who are responsible for the orderliness of traffic. But apart from the traffic Mr. Ambassador is leaving Turkey with very good memories: “The culture of Turkey is very enlightening. I read a lot about it, but to see is something else. Turkey should be proud of its history,” he says.
25.12.2007Ayse Karabat Ankara