Turhan Dilmaç: ''Whatever outcome of the referendum is, Turkish democracy will get stronger''

Interview with Consul General of Turkey in Kazan about fascists in Europe and tomatoes on the shelves in Kazan

Turhan Dilmaç: ''Whatever outcome of the referendum is, Turkish democracy will get stronger''

The national referendum took place in Turkey on Sunday. The question on approval of 18 amendments to the Constitution of the country was put to the vote. Correspondents of Realnoe Vremya met with the chief Turkish diplomat in Tatarstan before the referendum and learned that in Kazan the vote on these amendments had already taken place and found out that the main exotic thing for guests is winter fishing. Read more in the interview of Realnoe Vremya.

Ottoman tradition of democracy

Mr. Consul, a constitutional referendum takes place on Sunday in Turkey. How important is this event for the country? Do Turkish citizens in Kazan have the opportunity to vote?

Our citizens already voted last weekend. Compared to the previous election, the turnout is much higher. However, comparing with our other European offices, where the turnout is hundreds of thousands, in our Consulate General the turnout was less — about 280 people. The tradition of democracy has already thoroughly been formed in Turkey, the institution of elections is also strong enough. This tradition originated in the last years of the Ottoman Empire and continued in the Republican period. Every time there is a very high voter turnout. If to compare with other countries, in Turkey the turnout is high enough, it reaches 90%. We assume that the upcoming referendum will also have a high turnout.

The referendum concerns amendments to the Constitution, it is associated with the redistribution of powers. Whatever result will be, we hope that the results of the referendum will make a significant contribution to the development and stability of our country. Will of our people is never disputed. They very closely monitor an electoral process, in this respect complaints never arise, they are responsible for ballot boxes and ballots. We together with our people will know what the result will be of the upcoming referendum.

The tradition of democracy has already thoroughly been formed in Turkey, the institution of elections is also strong enough. This tradition originated in the last years of the Ottoman Empire and continued in the Republican period

You have said that Turkey has a deep tradition of democracy. However, part of political forces perceive this package of amendments to the Constitution as an infringement on democracy and turning a parliamentary Republic into a presidential one. Will democracy remain in Turkey?

As you know, different countries in the world practice amendments to the laws. At the referendum there will be offered the options. These amendments will relate only to the issues of executive power, not to the regime in the country. As for democracy, we can remember how during the coup attempt on 15 July the Turkish nation defended its democracy and showed how they value their diplomacy. Our nation is the guarantor of democracy in our country. Whatever outcome of the referendum is, Turkish democracy will get stronger from this process.

A number of European countries, particularly Germany and the Netherlands, did not allow to campaign the referendum. Will the relations between the EU and Turkey worsen after the vote?

Yes, we have felt from some European countries anti-democratic approach to the preparatory political campaign. The diaspora in European countries is big enough. Both parties, who wanted to reach their constituents, could convey an opinion but they were prevented from doing it. Especially in the Netherlands, a party with fascist tendencies put pressure on the government, which was forced to take such measures in relation to the electoral process. In the Netherlands, there were about to start their own elections, but there appeared extremist forces with Islamophobic slogans. In order votes did not go to this party at the pre-election period, they took actions contrary to international rules of diplomacy. The police even blocked the way to the Consulate General to one of our female minister. Working here Consul General, whom I personally know from work in Moscow, could not even go outside of the Consulate, which is contrary to the Vienna Convention and the overall diplomatic etiquette.

I am sure that the friendship and good-neighbourly relations of Russia and Turkey are not short and not opportunistic. History and geography push us to good-neighbourly relations

As for the way to the European Union, the path to this community has become quite long and narrow. We observe the policy of double standards from countries of the European Union, we feel that they act insincerely. Very often, they do not comply with many conditions of the signed agreements. All this was the reason that the Turkish people began to doubt the sincerity of the EU. In the process of negotiations on accession to the European Union we did not demand any special privileges. The requirements to other candidates for membership should also apply to us. The European Union itself must come to a definite opinion of what it wants: to close in its development, to seek external enemies or to freeze the status quo.

But does the dream to enter the EU still remain?

It's not a dream but a goal – yes, it does. Our president himself has repeatedly said: ''The EU will vote to accept Turkey or not, but the Turkish people will also vote — for or against joining the European Union.'' Maybe the Turkish people do not want to join the EU under existing conditions because there are those who joined but then was disappointed in this step. We acted sincerely in this process, rebuilt ourselves under the required criteria, but from the opposite side we have not felt such a sincere, friendly attitude.

Once more about infamous tomatoes…

We understand that Russia and Turkey can have quite complex relationship. But our inhabitants, and perhaps Turkish citizens, are confused: after all, have our countries reconciled or not? We see how there are protective tariffs on Russian wheat, apparently in response the Federal air transport agency ban charter flights to Turkey. We are friends or not?

I am sure that the friendship and good-neighbourly relations of Russia and Turkey are not short and not opportunistic. History and geography just push us to good-neighbourly relations. It is unrealistic to move one of the countries somewhere, to divide them. In any case, we must find the best model of these relationships. We have achieved a lot over the past 25 years. In any way, there may be some deviation from the planned route. The last short difficult period we perceive only as a small digression from the main road, while we continue to remain friends and neighbours, there is no doubt. Some details can be discussed in the process of development of relations. The day before our President had a telephone conversation with Mr Putin. Along with issues concerning Syria, they discussed details of the implementation of the points of the agreements that were reached during the work of the Cooperation Council in Moscow. Therefore, the determination at the highest level to establish relationships exists. There is an understanding that at the lower levels some progress is required. Recently, our Ambassador reported that Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek will come next week in Moscow to meet with Mr Dvorkovich and discuss the issues of bilateral economic cooperation.

Why do people have to buy tomatoes for 300-400 rubles when they can be purchased much cheaper?

As for economic constraints, I must say that these restrictions harm people of both countries. Turkey has never imposed any economic measures to Russia — this is our common position. No matter how different our positions and opinions regarding Ukraine are, our country has never applied and supported sanctions against Russia imposed by other countries.

Until now we have expected that the constraints applied by the Russian side against Turkey and harmful to peoples of both countries would be removed. We do not understand why all restrictions are not being removed at once, they do it in parts.

A few words about tomatoes, which are so often discussed. I myself go to the market. Why do people have to buy tomatoes for 300-400 rubles when they can be purchased much cheaper? Both domestic and Turkish ones. The export of tomatoes from Turkey after the events have increased by 100-200% in other countries, but not because people eat them more here but because they just started to re-sell. Of course, they are sold here at higher prices.

As regards agricultural products, perhaps there is the wrong idea that only Turkey exports to Russia agricultural products. Russia is exporting products at $ 2 billion to Turkey, while Russia buys in Turkey products at $ 1 billion.

We have not imposed restrictions on wheat. It was a technical point. Russia was in the list of countries to which we applied a zero tax on import of wheat. But the buyers said that it is not so difficult to find wheat, and they are ready to buy it from other sellers on more favorable terms. They asked to exclude Russia from this list. That is, the export of wheat from Russia is not prohibited, it's just there was no tax on it before, but now it has been introduced.

It is called a protective duty...

No, it's exactly the same tax that applies to others, just Russia was in the exceptions list. Since we have raised the issue of the exclusion lists, I must say that it's been so much time, but restrictions on attraction of foreign labour power so that the Turkish citizens could work here have not been lifted. If someone comes here to work, he cannot bring either a deputy or other professionals with him. To do this, he needs to get to the list of exceptions. I know those willing to come and invest 200-300 million dollars, but they will think about how best to carry out their activities here because they need to get to the list of exceptions, and for this they need two or three month to wait. All these difficulties slow down, while other countries can offer favorable conditions and privileges. It is clear that benefits and harms will be bilateral.

You can hear a lot of rumours around charter flights. Here not only Turkey gets some profit here. This is a huge network of travel companies and agencies throughout Russia, moreover, it is Russian tour operators, guides, hotel staff, going to work in Turkey.

The same can be said about tourism. You can hear a lot of rumours around charter flights. Here not only Turkey gets some profit here. This is a huge network of travel companies and agencies throughout Russia, moreover, it is Russian tour operators, guides, hotel staff, going to work in Turkey. There were news that there was a lot of vouchers for holidays in May at millions. But here comes the information about a cancellation of charter flights. Imagine in what situation are these companies? What losses they will suffer…

Yesterday in Kazan there was the exhibition ''Tourism and sport''. For the first time we participated in the exhibition with our own stand. The interest of the visitors was great. There are no other options in terms of ''price-quality'' range of services, not very long flights, in comparison with Turkey.

About Kurdish communists and Gülen's high schools

Maybe Russia just doesn't trust, that is why there are bargains...

It is just Russian public opinion should know better Turkey. Our country makes decisions independently based on its interests and priorities. Russia has repeatedly said that it should be respectful attitude, which it deserves. The same can be said about Turkey. In the federal and the local press I see different opinions. I have an impression is that there people do not understand that Turkey makes its decisions independently. In Syria we have our own opinion, our priorities that we have expressed initially. We were surprised that the Russian public was surprised at how Turkey reacted to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. And this have repeated for five or six years. Turkey has reacted to the deaths of children, it is not associated with the Astana process and other earlier decisions.

We have repeatedly said that this is not the best idea to fight with terrorist groups using other terrorist groups.

We need to fight against terrorist groups, who in their wickedness are covered by Islam. We should also resist such terrorist groups such as the YPG and PKK that use different ideological slogans

You mean the Kurds? Don't the U.S. use them?

I mean the terrorist group YPG in Northern Syria, associated with the Turkish terrorist group PPK (Kurdistan workers' party — editor's note). We do not call them Kurdish, it is Marxist-Leninist gangs that encroach on people's lives. We call them atheists. Using these killers in the North of Syria, it is impossible to fight against other killers. The Americans and Russians may have their own point of views, but our own opinions and priorities are important for us, we try to convince our partners. We need to fight against terrorist groups, who in their wickedness are covered by Islam. We should also resist such terrorist groups such as the YPG and PKK that use different ideological slogans.

However, there has been the news that Turkey has extended the state of emergency. Is it still dangerous in the country?

It is good that you've touched on this subject. Everything is happening on the basis of the law. By the way, in France since 13 November 2015 until present day there operates a state of emergency. And it was extended until July 2017. Did you know about this? In France, there was no attempt of a military coup, they fought with organizations such as FETO (a terrorist organization of Fethullah Gülen). Turkey is seriously trying to do everything as gently as possible. Later they will discuss whether to extend the state of emergency again. This state of emergency does not affect the normal life of our citizens. Everything flows in the same direction, this does not affect the economic activities of companies. There is nothing unusual here. Once this struggle ends, the state of emergency will be canceled.

How strong are the positions of the supporters of Gülen in Turkey?

There have been taken certain steps and there are visible results in the fight against this organization, which attempted the military coup in Turkey, when the victims were 248 dead. Their supporters have considerably weakened in recent times. We always try to explain how dangerous this organization is, which operates in many countries of the world in the guise of educational organization. Still in force before 2008 in Russia, the high schools continue sometimes called ''Turkish''. Taking this opportunity, I would like to say that we disagree with this name.

By Timur Rakhmatullin, Arslan Minvaleyev