H.E. Murat Ahmet Yörük has completed two years in Mumbai as the Consul General of the Republic of Turkey and he shares his experiences of the increase in trade, tourism and cultural exchanges between Turkey and India.
You began your role as the Consul General of Turkey in Mumbai in February 2009. How do you see the role of your office in areas of tourism, trade promotion and cultural exchanges during this period?
I was appointed to Mumbai to establish a new Consulate General. This move was the natural result of the rapidly developing relations between India and Turkey. There is a strong political will between the Turkish and Indian Governments to further our ties and cooperation in every possible field. In the last three years, we have witnessed mutual high-level visits between our countries. H.E. Ali Babacan, then Turkish Foreign Minister, and H.E. Kürşat Tüzmen, then Minister of Foreign Trade, have visited India in 2008. Towards the end of 2008, H.E Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey, visited India as well. More recently, in February 2010, H.E. Abdullah Gül, the President of the Republic of Turkey, paid an official visit to India. These visits were usually accompanied with large delegations of Turkish businessmen to encourage economic and commercial ties.
In 2011, this positive momentum will continue through official and business contacts. There are also additional bi-lateral cooperation agreements and exchange programs across different fields between Turkey and India being discussed as well. Parallel to this positive momentum, our Government decided to open a Consulate General in Mumbai in 2008. Since then, the Turkish Government has also decided to open Consulate General offices across India including Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad. When we finalize the establishment of these Consulates across India, then Turkey will be among the most officially represented countries in India.
The Turkish Government has also decided to change the visa regime towards India. Since May 2010, we have put into practice a new measure providing entry visas for Indian citizens upon arrival into Turkey with the condition of having a valid Schengen, U.S. or U.K. visa.
With regards to the role of my office, we started providing basic consular services in January 2010 and the office was officially inaugurated by the Turkish President in February 2010. Since then we have started providing full-fledged consular services. During that time, my efforts were basically focused on establishing the Consulate; and creating the interaction and networks between Turkish and Indian business communities. We also organized and participated in cultural and trade events. In fact, approximately 65000 Indians travelled to Turkey in 2010 and the Mumbai Consulate issued approximately 23000 of those visas. I believe that a lot was accomplished in one year. But of course, there are still new targets and goals left to reach and achieve.
Before being posted to Mumbai as Consul General, you were at the Turkish Embassy in Delhi for one and a half years. How has India changed during your time here and how is Mumbai different from Delhi?
It is a well known fact that India is one of the rising stars on the global stage. It is also known by the international community that India is one of the major contributors to the growth of the global economy and trade. As a career diplomat, I considered myself lucky to be posted in India. I have arrived India in August 2007, and in the past 4 years in India, I have been witnessing a tremendous transformation in India. I have observed the dynamism of the economy, and the drive and enthusiasm of the youth to achieve more. It has been amazing to see this transformation happen so rapidly across the country.
What were the major highlights of interesting events organized both professionally and personally in 2010?
Within the first year of setting up the Consulate General, we tried to cover a long distance. We were able to organize a few cultural events to promote Turkey and our official presence in Mumbai. Among these, the most important to me was the “Turkish Movie Days Festival”. Mumbai is not only a financial and economic hub of India, but also the heart of India’s film industry. Of the main cultural activities, I decided to start with the Turkish Film Festival. I believe that cinema is one of the best ways to communicate with other cultures. We chose as the opening movie a film whose leading actor is also taking part in one of the forthcoming Bollywood movies. I wanted to highlight the connection between the Turkish and Indian movie industries. In fact, the producer of that opening movie is also the President of the Turkish Movie and TV Producers Association. We invited them for the opening of this festival so that the representatives of Turkish and Indian cinema could meet, and come together to explore business opportunities. This was certainly one of the most significant cultural activities that we organized last year.
The photography exhibition conducted with my wife in September 2010 was also a very special event for me, not just as a Consul General, but as a photographer as well. It was special because the exhibition was a compilation of our photographs of India. I think many people were expecting us to showcase photographs of Turkey. Since we had lived in India for about 4 years, we wanted to share our experiences and understanding of India with the community.
What are the interesting events lined up in 2011 in India and in Turkey to increase awareness between the two nations?
As a result of the high-level visits of political dignitaries between our countries, there will continue to be high-level exchanges between our countries in 2011. There will also be many events and road-shows taking place. For example, “The India Show” with the collaboration of the Engineering Export Promotion Council and the Indian Ministry of Industry and Commerce will take place in Istanbul in February 2011. Also, the Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC) will hold their international conference which is called “India Calling” in Turkey in April 2011. Their local counterpart in Turkey which is the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (İTO) has also taken a decision to support this international conference in Istanbul. We are also planning to organize an exhibition of Turkish products in Mumbai before the end of 2011.
Of course as we attach significant importance for cooperation in the tourism sector, we also continue to organize tourism workshops in different cities throughout India.
We have also planned a few cultural activities such as bringing a troupe of Whirling Dervishes to attend a Sufi festival which is organized annually by the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA). I know that Sufi culture is very well understood and highly popular in India. In addition to that, I would also like to bring to Mumbai a lively and colorful group of folk dancers from the different regions of Turkey and arrange exhibitions of well known Turkish artists – and perhaps even have another photography exhibition with my wife.
How well known is India in Turkey and what is the perception of Indians and India in Turkey?
I can say that the perception of India and Indians in Turkey is very positive. For example, a generation of Turkish people born between 1940 and 1970 all know of the famous Bollywood classic Awaara with Raj Kapoor. Till now I can still hum the melody of the popular song of the movie.
Actually, the relationship between India and Turkey dates back many centuries. When you look at the daily lives of Indians and Turks, you will see many commonalities. Throughout our relationship, we have mutually affected each other’s traditions, costumes, cuisines, architecture and even languages. In fact, this relationship is underlined very well by a common word which is shared between our languages: “dost” meaning friend in both Hindi and Turkish.
TURKISH = HINDI
(and the English translation)
dost = dost (friend)
çay = chai (tea)
dünya = dunya (world)
kitap = kitab (book)
kalem = kalam (pen)
canım = janaam (sweetheart)
adalet = adalat (court)
taze = taaza (fresh)
sebze = sabzi (vegetables)
nar = anar (pomegranate)
badem = badam (almonds)
Interestingly, spices are called “baharat” in Turkish, perhaps derived from “Bharat”, India being the only source of spices in the world then.
The year 2010 was very important for Istanbul as it was a European Cultural Capital. What are some reasons why Istanbul is one of the most significant cities in the world for tourism, trade and events?
It has been said by Napoleon Bonaparte that; “If the world were a unified State, Istanbul would have been its capital”. Istanbul has been the capital of empires and the meeting point of cultures and civilizations. These are some of the phrases that describe Istanbul. Yet there are no words or stories about Istanbul which would be sufficient in describing the spirit or charm of Istanbul. I encourage everyone to experience the beauty of Istanbul for themselves.
Istanbul is also the largest and most developed city in Turkey with a population of approximately 13 million. In fact, when I first came to Mumbai I discovered some similarities between the two cities in terms of their vibrancy and dynamism. Of course, like Mumbai for India, Istanbul is also Turkey’s capital of finance and commerce.
Istanbul also has an optimum geo-strategic location being between Europe and Asia. Most of the international companies conducting operations in southeastern Europe, the Middle East, western Asia and central Asia have chosen Istanbul as their headquarters.
With its historical and cultural background, prime trade and commercial location, panoramic vistas, shopping opportunities in some of the largest malls in Europe, the high velocity of nightlife, the distinguished restaurants and hotel chains and the international events , Istanbul is a city like no other.
Recently Mumbai hosted another edition of the Mumbai Marathon. Are there any such interesting events that take place in Turkey and when?
The Istanbul Marathon – officially called Intercontinental Istanbul Eurasia Marathon – is an international athletics event organized by the metropolitan municipality in Istanbul, Turkey, every year on a Sunday in October since 1979. The marathon starts on the Asian shore of Istanbul, first crossing the Bosphorus Bridge and then the Golden Horn Bridge and passing under the Valens Aqueduct on the way to the beach on the Marmara Sea. For professional athletes, the marathon finishes on the European side at the Hippodrome – one of the oldest racetracks in the world, situated in the historic district of Sultanahmet, which has an abundance of ancient monuments and sites.
Although Istanbul is a fascinating city, there is much more to Turkey. Can you elaborate on this?
When you compare Turkey with India in terms of land size, Turkey is perhaps equal to the size of Maharashtra State. But, when you compare Turkey to European countries, Turkey is one of the largest in her respective region. Of course, there is much to be seen in the other parts of Turkey, which is geographically called Anatolia. Also, considering the fact that Turkey has been a cradle for more than 400 civilizations in over 5000 years, it is not a surprise that Turkey has been referred to as the largest open-air museum in the world. Accordingly, where ever you go in Turkey – not only in Istanbul – you will find this history and culture in abundance.
Of course, other parts of Turkey are also popular with tourists such as Antalya, Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Ephesus. There are still however places in Turkey which are not frequently visited, but well worth the visit. In the north along the Black Sea coast for example, you will see different charms such as the virgin forests and the high plateaus.
In fact in 2010, Turkey placed as the number one destination across the world in the highly reputable Condé Nast Traveller reader’s travel awards.
Of course, tourism is a very important sector for Turkey which generates almost 3% of the GDP. According to the statistics, approximately 29 million people visited Turkey last year. Therefore, it is not a coincidence or a surprise that Turkey is one of the top ten holiday destinations across the world.
What do you think of the concept of http://www.namasteturkey.com, a dedicated website to encourage tourism amongst the Indian outbound traveller?
I think that as the website is dedicated to Turkey, so is the owner dedicated to Turkey. I was actually aware of the website when I came to Mumbai. I went through each and every item that was displayed on the website and I think any person who wanted information about travelling to Turkey would be more than satisfied. It is very easy to navigate and user-friendly. The information that has been conveyed to the user is very well compiled and presented. I found it very useful and highly attractive.
TRADE & INVESTMENT
In terms of trade and tourism, what has been the growth in these areas between the two States in 2009-10 and what is the estimated growth expected in 2010-11?
We have observed a significant increase in our trade volume and private sector ties for the last 6 years. The trade volume between Turkey and India has almost tripled between 2003 and 2009 from 795 million US dollars to 2.3 billion US dollars. As of November 2010, though the figures have not been officially announced, the trade volume reached 3.1 billion US dollars. Also, during the official visit of the Turkish Prime Minister to India in November 2008, a target of 6 billion US dollars by the end of 2011 was mutually set by the respective heads of our governments. As a Consul General, I am very glad to see that during 2010 about half the visas issued by my Consulate were for business purposes. It is a tangible representation that the commercial and business ties between our countries are strengthening rapidly.
Lastly, in order to give a greater thrust to our economic and trade relations, we are expecting the signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Turkey and India. With the prospect of this agreement, Indian companies will be able to easily enter the Turkish market. If you consider the population of Turkey which is over 70 million and the benefits of preferential market access, Indian companies will also be able to obtain industrial inputs necessary for the export of some of their products to the European Union and other markets. We hope that the negotiations towards the Free Trade Agreement will be finalized soon and then we can expect a tremendous boost in our commercial activities.
In terms of tourism, we have a total of 14 weekly direct flights between India and Turkey. We do not however consider this to be enough to increase the business interactions between our countries. Our civil aviation authorities are planning to add 7 more destinations from India to Turkey in addition to Delhi and Mumbai.
The new visa provisions for the Indian traveller are also meant to facilitate the needs of the Indian businessman. For example, if you are a businessman in Chennai and you need to attend a meeting in Istanbul in 2 days, you would have to send your passport to Mumbai which would take a minimum of 2 days to be processed and delivered. With the new provisions, you can immediately take the first flight to Istanbul and collect your visa at the airport. We are trying to eliminate the barriers for commercial and trade activities between our countries. We would also like to strengthen the presence of our Consulate General and we are expecting the opening of a trade office affiliated to the Consulate. This is supposed to take place before the end of 2011.
I am also so happy to observe that as of 2010, the number of annual visitors to Turkey from India has reached almost 65000. Considering that this number was approximately 5000 as little as 7 years ago, this is a significant achievement. Of course, we are targeting 100000 Indian visitors to Turkey in the near future.
ABOUT THE EXPERT
This is your first posting as a Consul General. What were the challenges and what is your general perception of India and Mumbai in particular?
Before coming to India, I was the Head of Department for Bilateral Political Affairs for South Asian countries at my Ministry. So I was quite familiar with India before my arrival, especially regarding the key facts and figures. I cannot say that when I came to India that I faced a lot of challenges because I was mentally ready to deal with the bilateral files.
When it comes to Mumbai, I feel it is the most vibrant city in India and it is not a secret that the heart of India is beating in Mumbai. In that sense, opening and establishing a Consulate General in Mumbai was a significant challenge in terms of finding a suitable location; and recruiting and training the local staff. As a whole, the process was very challenging. However, the most challenging part for me was when we moved into our official buildings and signed the leasing agreements, it was the beginning of the monsoon season. And of course, during the monsoons, the city takes on a new rhythm and things slow down considerably. I was trying to push and move things quickly, but the circumstances made expediting tasks difficult. I decided to take it easy and enjoy the rains.
When did you start taking interest in photography and what are the standout experiences of capturing moments in India?
Actually, my interest in photography began almost 15 years ago as my wife began taking interest in photography. Since then, photography has always been a part of our daily life, whether it is discussing her work or exhibitions. On occasion, I have even accompanied her on photography shoots and observed her carefully.
My personal practice of photography has been for about 2 years since I have been in India. This is because India is a very photogenic country and is like an open buffet in terms of visual experiences. I could not resist the temptation of practicing photography in India. Now my wife and I are enjoying photography together. When we find time, mostly during the weekends, we go out together for shootings.
The most exciting and standout experience of practicing photography in India was after a 19-hour trip with the entire family from Mumbai to Jabalpur by train and Jabalpur to Bandhavgarh by road. It was our first trip to a wildlife sanctuary in India. We visited Bandhavgarh National Park. We went there on the recommendation of our dear friend and famous wildlife photographer, Mr. Kakubhai Kothari.
We spent the morning looking for tigers and it was not until the evening when we were about to leave that we came face to face with the most well known tiger of the park called B2. He is very famous and popular among wildlife photographers. He was going to a small river bank by himself. It was our pure luck. We started taking photographs, but that moment will always be remembered. It was my first time to see a tiger in its natural habitat. And our luck continued during that trip as we saw 8 tigers including mothers with their cubs. That was truly anunforgettable photography moment.
Which is your favourite destination in Turkey and in India?
As a photographer and a person who likes all outdoor activities, I cannot confine myself to one or two destinations either in Turkey or in India. One of my favourites however is the Black Sea region in northern Turkey. I would like to encourage everyone to visit the Black Sea region because it has a geography like no other. Very roughly, I can compare it to the Swiss Alps. It is filled with mountains running parallel to the Black Sea coast and virgin forests. The local people are very warm and friendly. Even in the remotest of areas in the region, people will still open their doors and offer to share their food with you. It is an amazing place and whenever I go there, I find myself at peace with a spiritual satisfaction.
In India, there are still many places that I would like to visit. India is more like a continent than a country. Before I leave this beautiful country, I would really like to visit the northern part of India such as Ladakh. As a photographer, I would also like to see the northeastern tribal areas because these regions are not usually visited by the average traveller. I am also very eager to visit Lakshadweep or Andaman islands. I would really like to visit these places if my time in India permits.
What has been your children’s experience of travelling around India and how have they adapted to staying in India?
Like all children of diplomats the country they live in becomes their second home. Our children enjoy their stay in India very much. They go to a local school with an IB curriculum so they have a more local experience. Their knowledge of Hindi is much better than ours, so during our travels we sometimes ask for their assistance as translators.
What is your message to the readers and why should they visit Turkey in 2011?
For the readers who are in the business and commercial sectors, I would like to convey that as India is a rising star, so has Turkey become a centre of attraction for the global economy and trade in its region. When you look at the statistics and figures, you will see that Turkey has the 16th largest economy in the world and for the last 5 years, Turkey has had an average growth rate of 7% with a GDP of approximately 750 billion US dollars. Like India, Turkey also has a young and well educated population with a motivated and qualified labour force. Turkey is one of the best places for making investments or conducting business. For Indian entrepreneurs, Turkey also provides a good opportunity for selling and promoting their products to the European Union market. Since 1995, Turkey has been enjoying the Customs Union with the European Union which means if an Indian entrepreneur manufactures their product in Turkey, they will be able to sell their product to the European Union without any tariff barriers or customs duties. Also the geostrategic location of Turkey allows you to reach over 50 countries, or a quarter of the world’s population, within a 4-hour flight time. Ten years ago, the number of foreign companies which were functioning in Turkey was around 5000. In 2010, this number has approximately reached 25000. These companies are managing their operations through Turkey. Among these, approximately 80 Indian companies have established their business in Turkey. I would like to invite your readers to look to Turkey for developing their business.
For the travellers, I would like to remind them that we have 4 seasons in Turkey and they should not confine themselves to a single season. Turkey provides opportunities for all types of travellers and their interests whether from cross-country skiing to relaxing on the beach. Turkey also hosts many events for the corporate traveller.
I would also like to bring to the kind attention of your readers that there is a misunderstanding that vegetarian travellers will not be able to find suitable food in Turkey. I would like to underline the fact that Turkish cuisine is based on Mediterranean cuisine so there are many exciting vegetarian and healthy options available.
Lastly, the Turkish people are renowned for their warmth and hospitality and I assure you that you will feel at home no matter where you are in Turkey.