Despite Charles de Gaulle’s famous quote, ‘Diplomats are useful only in fair weather,’ Turkish-British diplomatic relations have been producing useful results for centuries whatever the weather. As the 54th Turkish Ambassador to the UK, next year I will have the privilege of commemorating the 220th anniversary of the arrival of the first Turkish Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, as well as the 430th anniversary of the arrival of the first British Ambassador to the ‘Sublime Port.’
The first ever Imperial visit abroad by an Ottoman Sultan was paid to the UK by Sultan Abdulaziz in 1867, indicating the importance we attach to Britain. Nearly 150 years later, the President of the Republic of Turkey Abdullah Gül’s visit last year built upon the commitments inherent in our historic relationship. This relationship was crowned by the second visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2008. During President Gül’s visit it was a tremendous sight to see our friendship symbolised by the colours of the Turkish flag on the London Eye and the Union Jacks and the Turkish flags displayed together down The Mall.
It came as no surprise that Prime Minister Cameron visited Turkey within weeks of taking office. During this visit, a strategic partnership was launched committing both nations to strengthening bilateral relations, increasing trade and investment, and revitalising cultural interests. Prime Minister Erdoğan reciprocated this visit in March 2011 and visited London once again this past summer to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Frequent high level visits are testimony to our common interests and will further strengthen our privileged relationship based on strong bonds of alliance, friendship and mutual trust.
Turkey and the UK share a vision of peace based on respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Both countries have a strong interest in stability in the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans, the South Caucasus and Afghanistan, as well as in finding a comprehensive solution in Cyprus. The foreign policy efforts of both countries are directed towards the same ultimate goals. In an increasingly unstable and unpredictable global environment, the friendship and alliance between Turkey and the UK becomes even more important.
We appreciate the support the UK has given to Turkey in our quest for membership to the European Union. While Turkey’s EU accession is subject to partisan disputes in some EU countries, it receives cross-party support in the UK. The UK recognises the strategic importance of having Turkey within the EU family. In Foreign Secretary Hague’s words, ‘Turkey is a vital NATO ally, a strategic partner for the UK, Europe’s largest emerging economy, and has a unique character as a place where East and West meet together.’ Referring to their own experience, our British friends remind us that the path to the EU is not always smooth. Nonetheless, Turkey belongs in the EU. As a matter of fact, Turkey’s vibrant economy will be an asset to the EU. In a global environment where many countries registered either little or no growth, Turkey grew 8.5 per cent in 2011, achieving the second biggest growth rate in the world after China.
With renewed perspective and increased means and capabilities, annual trade volume between Turkey and the UK has reached US$14 billion despite the financial crisis. We are committed to reaching US$20 billion of trade volume by 2015. The UK is Turkey’s second largest partner for imports and the second largest investor in Turkey; major British investors already have a strong presence there. This clearly resonates well with the trend of sustained growth of the Turkish economy. Turkey also has an active presence in the UK.
Turkish Airlines, the national flag carrier of Turkey, has recently launched regular flights to Edinburgh in addition to its existing services to London, Manchester and Birmingham. Increased flights make an important contribution to boosting investment and trade cooperation as well as tourism and cultural exchange. As tourism and travel links grow, so does the understanding between our two nations. Every year, nearly three million British tourists visit Turkey and increasing numbers of Turkish students study at prominent British universities. In recent years there have been more UK citizens who have gone to live in Turkey than Turks who have come to the UK. However, the presence of a Turkish community of some 400,000 people in the UK forms a strong human bond and cultural bridge between the two countries. There are an increasing number of ‘Turkish Studies’ chairs and courses run by esteemed universities in the UK, providing the opportunity to broaden understanding of Turkish culture, history, politics and values.
As two concurrent grand empires in history and as two modern democratic states at opposite edges of Europe today, Turkey and the UK have a long shared history, an entrenched state experience, shared values, and a common vision for the future. As Turkish and British diplomats, we will continue to do our utmost to exploit the huge potential of our relations regardless of the weather!
Taking this opportunity, I would like to extend my appreciation to Diplomat magazine for dedicating a special issue to Turkey, during which we are celebrating the 89th anniversary of our Republic.