Firat Sunel is the Ambassador of Turkey to India. A graduate of Istanbul University, he obtained an LLM from Bochum Ruhr University in Germany. He is the author of three novels, one of which was adapted into a TV series. Sunel served his country at various diplomatic missions before his appointment as Ambassador to India in May 2021.
In an interview with Ashok Tuteja, he said deepening ties with India was a strategic goal for Turkey and also spoke about efforts being made by his country to bring an end to the hostilities between Russia and Ukraine.
Q. How do you look at India-Turkey diplomatic and economic relations?
A: Türkey and India have a long history of close ties. We have many
commonalities based on culture and history and share fundamental values such as democracy and rule of law. Both are leading countries in their respective regions with their growing economies and increasing roles in the international arena. Naturally, it is a strategic goal for Turkey to further develop and deepen relations with India. There is significant potential for further cooperation in key areas especially commerce, trade, investments, culture, tourism and science.
During President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s official visit to India in May 2017, Prime Minister Modi and President Erdogan declared a target volume of US$10 billion by 2020. Despite the decrease in the trade volume ($ 5.7 billion) at the end of 2020 due to the pandemic, our business people continued their interaction and thanks to all our efforts, at the end of 2021 we were very close to achieving the target set by our leaders with a trading volume of $ 9.2 billion.
In order to be able to achieve our full potential, we need to focus on developing closer cooperation in business and trade and establishing a stronger framework for investors. Türkey closely follows the “Make in India Strategy” and sees great potential under the specified sectors. The number and value of Turkish investments in India have been increasing. We see an increasing involvement of Turkish engineers, technical consultants and constructors in EPC (Engineering, procurement and constructing) contracts in
India in many government and private projects. Similarly, Turkey has
been providing a convenient business environment for Indian companies and many well-known Indian companies have got investments in Turkey. Apart from bilateral relations, I believe that the two countries can also develop cooperation on numerous regional and global issues in the multilateral fora.
Q. Don’t you think the ties between the two countries have not achieved their true potential because of Turkey’s ties with Pakistan?
A: There is great room for further enhancing Turkish-Indian cooperation. We should not allow each other’s relations with third countries to hold us back from reaching that goal. While we may have differences in certain issues, we should not allow these to dominate the whole agenda of our relations and must focus on our positive agenda as well as common grounds and interests. In that way, we can discover our untapped potential on a win-win base.
Q. Turkey has played the role of a mediator between Russia and
Ukraine. Why has success eluded so far in ending the ongoing conflict?
A: Turkey is one of the most active countries working to ensure a permanent cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia. Having friendly relations with both Russia and Ukraine, we have kept communication channels with both sides open with the hope of expediting diplomatic efforts to find a solution and achieve peace in the Ukraine crisis. We have won widespread praise with our own efforts to that end. In a breakthrough, on 10 March Foreign Ministers Sergey Lavrov and Dmytro Kuleba came to Antalya and met with our Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum. Then, we hosted delegations from both sides in Istanbul in order for them to maintain mutual engagement. Despite setbacks due to developments on the ground, we wholeheartedly believe that a peaceful
solution can be reached through dialogue on the basis of the preservation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We will continue to work toward that goal.
Q. India has been strongly pitching for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Does Turkey support India’s claim for a permanent seat?
A: It has been a while now since Türkey believes that it is time to reform the United Nations. By aptly putting it as “the World is bigger than five,” President Erdogan points out on every platform the unfairness and exclusiveness of a system where the fate of the 193 UN member countries is determined by only five countries. His words do not reflect a pursuit of the interests of Türkey alone. As he stated during his speech at Jamia Millia Islamia University in 2017, it is not fair that neither a big country such as India nor 1.7 billion Muslims of the world is represented in the Security Council. I think that the war in Ukraine showed once again the fallacy of tabooing a system that was built completely according to the conditions of the era following World War II as well as the urgency of the need for a global security architecture that can produce solutions to today’s problems and meet the needs of the future instead of preserving the gains of the past.
Q. Turkey attracts tourists from all over the world. What are you doing to promote Turkey as a destination for tourists from India?
A: India is considered one of the most potential emerging tourism markets for our country. Hence, we have been conducting different marketing activities in India for a long time. We have been witnessing a great demand for different types of tourism namely cultural, MICE and weddings. Therefore, we conduct different types of promotional activities for FITs, MICE tourism and wedding
tourism in India. We have close relations with Indian tour agents and airline companies. We organise joint promotional and marketing activities with Indian agents and airline companies. Besides, we constantly organise familiarisation trips to Turkey for Indian influencers, bloggers, travel agents and wedding planners as they cater to a large number of audiences of potential tourists. We regularly conduct multicity roadshows in order to engage with Indian travel agents operating in different parts of India. We also participate in the tourism fair SATTE, which is held in Delhi every year. In addition to that, we have close relations with Indian tourism associations such as the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) and Outbound Tour Associations of India (OTOAI). I am glad to tell you that the 5th Annual Convention of OTOAI will take place in Antalya in 2022. Turkey has become a popular wedding destination for Indians.
In 2019 the well-known wedding destinations of Turkey namely Istanbul, Antalya, and Bodrum hosted 30 large Indian weddings. Therefore, promoting wedding tourism in India is also high on our agenda. In this regard, we conduct marketing and advertising activities in order to increase the visibility and awareness of Turkish wedding destinations among both wedding planners and Indian families.
Q. Any high-level visits planned between India and Turkey in the coming months?
A: The Covid pandemic has constrained many things in the past two years globally and holding such visits has been one of them. However, as the restrictive effects of the pandemic are waning, I am hopeful that we could resume high-level visits between our countries in the near future.