Ambassador Ahmet Demirok Gave An Interview To "the Peninsula" Daily Regarding The Relations Between Turkey And Qatar
“Common strategies push Qatar-Turkey ties to new levels
December 31, 2015 - 2:01:22 am
How would you describe the year 2015 in terms of the relations between Turkey and Qatar?
It was definitely a historic year for Turkey and Qatar. We can say that the relations have reached the highest point in 2015. It was also a year that the relations have became tangible rather than abstract. We witnessed historical developments throughout the year. Supreme strategic committee was established last year, and we held its very first meeting here in Qatar last month. It is very important to institutionalise our good relations. During President Erdogan’s visit last month, we signed a total of 17 agreements. In our region, relations are based on individuals. That is why initiatives such as the strategic committee are important for institutionalising the mutual relations. Besides politics, we also had a great culture year to the full extent. We had a total of 40 cultural events; 30 of those were held in Qatar and 10 in Turkey. We wanted this year to be different than the previous cultural years. We wanted to cover every aspect, from football to arts. Fortunately, we achieved what we wanted. As Qatar’s Minister of Culture, H E Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari stated, it was the most successful cultural year that has ever been held in Qatar. My only dream was the cancellation of the visa requirements between Turkey and Qatar. For me it was the only thing that was not in line with the excellent relations. Happily, we also solved this issue by cancelling visa requirements for both sides during Erdogan’s visit.
What is left for 2016?
There are still many. For instance, the first Turkish school will open in 2016. The construction is completed, the school manager has been appointed to Qatar already by the Turkish Ministry of National Education and now we are about to start the enrolment process. We have a project for higher education as well. Recently we made an agreement with Qatar University. Hopefully we will open Turkology department at Qatar University in 2016.
How about business and trade?
Trade volume between Turkey and Qatar has been increasing despite serious challenges in the region. It increased by 70 percent in 2014 comparing to 2013. We are expecting to see the similar numbers for 2015. Qatari people are now looking for Turkish products. We have some logistical problems, as transportation became a big challenge due to the conflicts in the region, particularly in Syria. After the conflicts are solved, I am sure that the trade volume will increase even more.
A military agreement was also signed. Turkey is planning to open a military base in Qatar.
We held the first ever mutual military exercise between Qatar and Turkey this year. It was named “Naser” (Victory). It was described by the Qatari authorities as the most successful military exercise that have been held in Qatar. Some of our military personnel who came to Qatar for the exercise have stayed till now for the establishment of the military base.
The US has already a military base here, and is protecting Qatar. What will be the mission of the Turkish base?
The negotiations about the activities of this base are still going on. Details will come out in the future. But of course the primary target is to increase military cooperation between Turkey and Qatar. Our goal is to exchange our experience with each other. Of course the base will be multi-functional. I think that comparing it to the American base is not true, since the purpose of the establishment of the American base and its functions are totally different. As I said, the mission and responsibilities of the Turkish base will develop in the near future after the consultations. It is important to keep in mind that Turkey and Qatar have same approaches in their foreign policies, they are the closest two countries in the world. Therefore, they have common threats. The biggest threat for the region is extremist movements, terrorism. In order to face these common threats, Turkey and Qatar are taking common measures.
Turkey has problems with some Gulf countries. How do you see the future of the relations with the rest of the Gulf?
Turkey has developed close relations with all Gulf states. Of course we can not expect from the countries to pursue the same foreign policy. It is very usual to have divergence. But Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have recently developed a close cooperation, especially due to the Syrian crisis. Erdogan’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia is a clear indicator of this. Common threats for Turkey and Qatar are valid for the rest of the Gulf countries. They should be united to take a common action in order to face common threats, it is not limited to Turkey and Qatar only.
The main reason behind the crisis between Turkey and the Gulf countries was the Muslim Brotherhood. Do you think it is over now?
The common threats I mentioned require close cooperation among regional actors. You have to put aside differences when there is a common threat. The situation in Egypt was perceived differently by countries. For Turkey it was not acceptable as the current government came to power by military coup. Qatar’s approach was also similar to Turkey. But also let me remind you this; friendships and hostilities are not forever in international relations. Egypt is an important regional actor. It would be beneficial for the region to have cooperation with Egypt.
Turkey is restoring its ties with Israel according to the latest reports. What does that mean in terms of the Palestine policy?
Turkey’s Palestine policy is not subject to change. Palestinian problem is the mother of all problems in the Middle East. Therefore, we can not turn our backs to our Palestinian brothers and sisters. The Israeli government is continuing to oppress West Bank and Gaza. Turkey had developed good relations with Israel in the past in order to find solution to the crisis. Turkey tried very hard to solve it. But our mediation did not work out due to Israel’s continuous oppressive policies towards the Palestinians. Of course Israel is a reality for the region and it is normal to have diplomatic relations. But especially after the “Mavi Marmara” flotilla incident, Turkey had some conditions for its relations with Israel to get back to normal again. These conditions were apology, compensation and lifting the blockade on Gaza. There is no change in these conditions. Especially the blockade is very crucial for Turkey, as it is totally illegitimate and unacceptable. Once the blockade is lifted, we will establish good relations with Israel again, as we had in the past.
Some people criticize Turkey for having no friends except Qatar. Is Qatar Turkey’s one and only friend?
I am completely refusing this claim. Turkey’s “zero problem with neighbours” policy, which was conceived by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is still a valid and viable policy. Those who claims Turkey has no friends except Qatar are aiming at attacking the current government, it is all about domestic policy. They claim that Turkey has no friends, but our Prime Minister watches a football match with his Greek counterpart Tsipras. They say Turkey has no friends but leaders of the neighbouring countries make official visits to Turkey, we have close relations with the European Union. Look at the countries that Turkey has problems with. Can you imagine that we are friends with Assad in Syria, who killed more than 300,000 innocent people, displaced millions? Shall we be friends with such a leader? Or take Egypt. Every county should have problem with Egypt now, because there is an anti-democratic rule and a dictator who came to power by a military coup. Shall we be friends with him? It is not fair to say that Turkey’s principled and dignified approaches are mistaken. We have very good relations with Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, even Iran despite problems, as well as Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, and many more. Yes, we have excellent relations with Qatar in particular, but it is due to the fact that we have a common history and similar foreign policies. But Qatar is not our only friend. Turkey has no problem with countries except a few. They say Turkey has no friend but according to the recent studies, Turkey’s foreign policy is the most appreciated one by the people in the region. The recent crisis with Russia showed that indeed we have great support from the Arab world. We should not forget that governments are temporary, while brotherly relations with people are permanent. Some people might criticize Turkey’s policies in the short term, but I think these policies will bring good results to the region in the long run.”