Ambassador Ahmet Demirok gave an interview to "The Peninsula" daily
“Relations between Qatar and Turkey are constantly growing particularly when compared to the ties with other countries. Turkey’s Envoy to Qatar Ahmet Demirok speaking to The Peninsula about a wide range of bilateral topics.
Qatari-Turkish relations have witnessed significant advances over the past few years. And many bilateral agreements were signed in different areas. What are the most important agreements in terms of promoting the strategic relations between the two countries?
Relations between Turkey and Qatar are flawless and getting stronger at all levels. Our ties are rooted deeply in our shared culture and history. We enjoy an outstanding, dynamic relationship. It is based on a solid foundation of mutual respect and a spirit of cooperation. Official visits have been supporting this trend. You know that President Erdoğan was in Qatar last December. In the course of this visit, we held the First Meeting of Turkey-Qatar Supreme Strategic Committee, where our ministers had the chance to talk about bilateral relations and how to improve them. We have signed 17 agreements in this event on economic, cultural, educaiton, energy, technology, science, visa exemption and military cooperation areas. All of these agreements are important in their capacity. All of them are covering areas that have a great potential for our relations.
What is the role being played by Turkey in implementation of infrastructure projects in Qatar and FIFA World Cup 2022?
Turkish construction companies constitute the driving force of Turkish investments to Qatar. There are 64 Turkish companies operating in Qatar and 36 of them are in construction business. I am proud to see Turkish construction companies going from strength to strength in Qatar. They assumed 119 projects so far, which corresponds to $15.1bn. Among these projects, Museum of Islamic Arts, New Doha International Airport, Qatar National Convention Center, Salwa Road, North Road, RasLaffan to Mesaieed Gas Pipeline project and Qatargas Onshore Facilities are the most prominent ones. Particularly for World Cup 2022, two Turkish contractor companies have signed a $4.4bn contract to deliver the Gold Line of Doha’s new metro. They are building more than 30km of tunnels and 13 stations on the line. Besides, Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy has paid a visit to Turkey last March. During his visit, he had a chance to observe capabilities of Turkish engineering and construction companies in the field. We, as Turkish public and private sector, are ready to assist Qatar in every field to make Qatar World Cup 2022 as the best World cup organization ever.
What is the nature of Turkish investment in Qatar and is there similar Qatari investment in Turkey?
As I said, construction sector in Qatar is the number one sector Turkish capital and expertise are sought for. Of course, the brotherly relations between Turkey and Qatar motivate the two nations to deepen their business and trade relations. Investment opportunities in our countries are also important. I am glad to say that our economic ties are getting stronger each day. Bilateral trade volume of two countries was nearly $1.3bn in 2015. The exports of Turkey to Qatar was $423m and imports of Turkey from Qatar was $835m. Yet, this does not reflect the true potentials of our countries. There is still room to advance our trade relations. We perceive that, Turkey and Qatar, as key players in the global markets, share common interests and opportunities. In this context, in the bilateral economic relations perspective, construction, energy, health, agriculture sectors and plastic and aluminum industries have particular potential for cooperation. Qatar has invested in several projects in Turkey, primarily in the real estate, banking and media sectors. Qatar has bought two of the biggest banks in Turkey. Turkey, with its updated, modernised and simple legal framework for foreign investors offers ample opportunities for Qatari businessmen. We expect to see more Qatari investment in Turkey. In terms of direct foreign investment in Turkey, Qatar is among top 20.
Recently the two countries signed a military agreement. What is the nature and aim of this agreement and does it seek the Turkish military presence in Qatar?
Turkey and Qatar face common problems and we are both very concerned about developments and uncertainty in the region. We confront common enemies and at this critical time for the Middle East, cooperation between Turkey and Qatar is vital. Corollary to this, military relations between our countries are continuously getting stronger. We have signed an agreement in 2014 and as part of this agreement Turkey will establish a military base in Qatar. Some of Turkish troops are currently in Qatar and more ground troops will be stationed at the base, as well as air and naval units, military trainers and special operations forces. The base will primarily serve as a venue for training and joint exercises. Stability of the Gulf is an important priority for Turkey. I believe this base will support this policy. It will also be an important foothold for Turkey and Qatar in their regional cooperation.
Many western countries have established health and education institutions in Qatar. Still we have not seen any Turkish hospital or university in Qatar. Is there any future plan in this regard?
Yes, there is. Turkish hospital and school are not future plans any more, we are about to realize them. Weare planning to open up the first Turkish school in Doha in September 2016. We have started registration for the 2016-2017 school year. I am confident that with its high quality, Turkish School will contribute to the quality of education system in Qatar. Moreover, Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Center in Doha, which was opened last December, signed an agreement with Qatar University to launch a Turcology programme at the university. We hope the programme will start this year. Besides, the first Turkish hospital is also going to be opened at the end of this summer. It will be a full-fledged private hospital with a hundred bed capacity.
How Turkey views the Syrian refugee crisis, if the Syrian crisis prolongs further?
Since the start of the armed conflict in Syria, Turkey pursued an “open door” policy for Syrians without any form of discrimination. Turkey strictly complies with the principle of non-refoulement. According to the UNHCR, Turkey is the biggest refugee-hosting country in the world with almost 2,5 million refugees or asylum-seekers. 260.000 Syrians are accommodated in 25 temporary protection centres and daily provided with food, non-food items, health and education services as well as psychological assistance, vocational training and social activities. 1.8 million Syrians who live outside these centres are also under our protection regime and they benefit from free medical services. Turkey has so far spent $10bn for all these efforts, whereas the total contributions we received bilaterally and multilaterally from the international community so far have been limited to $417m. This is not sustainable.”