Türkiye, UK two big powers on fringe of Europe: Envoy
SERKAN DEMİRTAŞ- Ankara
Türkiye and the United Kingdom enjoy excellent relations as two big powers on the fringe of the European continent, the British envoy to Ankara has said, describing the former as an important partner on wider issues in the region.
Here are the questions and answers:
Q- You are coming to the end of your service in Türkiye. It will be your second goodbye to Türkiye when considering your first term in this country in the early 1980s. Now, after all years, what can you say about Türkiye? What emotions you are leaving here and what emotions you are carrying with you?
A- I have mixed emotions to be honest. I’m sorry to be leaving so many good friends behind in Türkiye. My wife and I have so many great memories from our two postings here. It’s a huge privilege to be the British ambassador in Ankara and suddenly to lose such an interesting job with really excellent colleagues and the prestige associated with the role could be quite a shock. On the other hand, I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life and the opportunities that retirement may bring.
Q- What is unforgettable for you about Türkiye?
A- There’s too many unforgettable things to mention them all. The annual commemorations at Gallipoli where enemies of over 100 years ago meet in a spirit of great friendship are very moving. The view of the Bosphorus at night-time from a rooftop restaurant is pretty unbeatable. Skiing on Mount Erciyes or Kartal Kaya with a police protection officer for company is not something I’d ever done before. And I never tire of being part of the official entourage of a senior British visitor laying a wreath at the magnificent mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Q- You are one of the most travelled diplomats in Türkiye. What would you say if I told you to name your 3 favourite cities or places? Also, what places do you like archaeologically?
Gallipoli, Istanbul, Aphrodisias, Göbeklitepe…
A- Again, that’s really very hard as there are so many. I love the Gallipoli peninsula. It’s such a well-preserved natural site, with stunning landscape and lovely walks. And afterwards you can relax with a glass or two of a local wine, which is among the best made in Türkiye. It goes without saying that Istanbul must be on anyone’s list of the top places in the world to visit, let alone in Türkiye. Third would be the ancient city of Aphrodisias, which manages to achieve a beautiful harmony of the ancient works of man and the loveliness of nature. I like a lot of Türkiye’s ancient classical and pre-classical sites – Bogazkale has the magic of the lost Hittites, Gobeklitepe and Catalhuyuk are amongst the oldest constructions mankind ever built, Sagalossos and Termessos for their stunning locations…It’s a long list of places to admire.
Q- After decades-long service, you are about to retire from the Foreign Service, as well. And your very last posting was Ankara. When you look at all the countries and geographies you have served, how do you position Türkiye? What do you think makes Türkiye different?
A- My first and last diplomatic postings are Ankara. So Türkiye has been the bookends of my career. I have maintained an interest in this country and its region throughout. And there’s no shortage of issues for diplomats to get their teeth in here and plenty of surprises in Türkiye to keep you alert. I don’t want to compare Türkiye to other countries. Everywhere has its own particular challenges and characteristics. But the fact that I wanted to return to Türkiye is evidence of how much this country has meant to me.
Excellent ties, important partnership
Q- Ties between Türkiye and the U.K. seem to have earned a special status particularly after the Brexit. How would you describe the present and future of Türkiye-U.K. relations?
A- I know it’s a diplomatic cliché but relations between Türkiye and the U.K. are genuinely excellent. We are both big powers on the fringe of the European continent, in NATO and the Council of Europe but not in the European Union. We enjoy a really good dialogue, which is characterized by mutual respect and openness, with the Turkish administration on all the most serious questions and both sides benefit from that. Both governments have been making a big effort in recent years to strengthen our bilateral cooperation and increase two-way trade and investment. Leaving the EU has focused the U.K. more on its bilateral relations in Europe. Türkiye is a really important partner for us on wider issues in the region of which the most urgent and critical now is how to help the Ukrainians prevail against Putin’s invasion and how to minimize the damage it is causing in Ukraine and other countries.
Q-What would be your last message to the Turkish people as the British Ambassador to Türkiye?
A- I’d ask the Turkish people to see the West as their friend, not as their adversary. On a personal note, I look forward to coming back after retirement and continuing to enjoy this wonderful and fascinating country.