Ismet Erikan: “One day we will see Bashneft in Turkey...”
What was the Turkish Consul looking for in Bashkiria?
Consul General of the Republic of Turkey in Kazan Ismet Erikan has returned from Ufa. Together with him, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Turkey Mehmet Samsar paid an official visit to the capital of Bashkortostan. The programme of the three-day trip of foreign diplomats was quite intense. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, Ismet Erikan revealed the details of his trip, told about large-scale Turkish projects in the region, diplomatic innovations in bilateral relations and the Islamic brotherhood of the Turks and Bashkirs. Besides, our interlocutor expressed his wishes to the business community of Bashkiria and the republican authorities.
Tunnel, cargo terminal, maternity hospital, hotel…
Ismet Bey, as I understand it, you have visited Ufa for the first time. What are your first impressions of Bashkortostan?
Yes, I've returned from your homeland. It is known that Bashkortostan also relates to our consular district. I have already visited all other regions as part of my study visits. After my appointment as Consul General, I immediately asked to coordinate a meeting with Mr. Khabirov. However, in the autumn, he had a very busy schedule (after his election as the leader of Bashkiria), so the meeting was scheduled for January. Besides, our Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Turkey to the Russian Federation, Mehmet Samsar, also wanted to visit Bashkortostan, so we agreed on our schedules and went together. First, I arrived at the Ufa airport, and our ambassador — half an hour later. And we spent the entire programme together. The first impression of the Republic of Bashkortostan: despite the cold weather, people there are open, sincere and hospitable. Even when the plane was landing, I noticed how beautiful nature is in the republic. When it gets warmer, I'll go there again. I wish to see the green hills, forests, and villages of this region. All cities are similar in one way or another, and I want to see life outside of large cities. The warm hospitality didn't surprise me at all — I expected nothing less. Just as we feel close to the Bashkirs, so the Bashkirs must feel close to us.
What is the trade turnover between Bashkortostan and Turkey today? Have you reached the pre-crisis level?
We have not yet reached pre-crisis indicators ($400-450 million). We closed the previous year at $250 million, but there is a tendency to increase. We are moving towards this goal (to reach the pre-crisis level — editor's note). Turkey's cooperation with the Republic of Bashkortostan occupies a special place in our relations with the Russian Federation. You know that the presidents of the two countries, Erdogan and Putin, have decided to increase their foreign trade turnover to $100 billion — and together we are moving towards this goal. We see that there is a great potential to increase this indicator, and I am sure this is possible. Besides, there is another point: Turkish business circles are keenly interested in this region. The personality of the region's leader, Radiy Khabirov, is of great importance here. Turkish businessmen are ready to actively enter the region and sign important investment agreements for various projects. While in Ufa, we met not only with Khabirov. We visited the Bashkortostan Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Bashkortostan and met with representatives of Turkish businesses.
Turkish businessmen are ready to actively enter the region and sign important investment agreements for various projects. While in Ufa, we met not only with Khabirov. We visited the Bashkortostan Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Bashkortostan and met with representatives of Turkish businesses
Bashkortostan is preparing to open its representative office in Turkey. I hope that the opening will take place soon and this will give momentum to our relations. Besides, we want to appoint an honourary consul in Ufa, and we are working in this direction — this will also give an additional impetus to our relations. As for the Turkish projects that exist in Bashkortostan, you probably already know.
You mean the operating plants Rusjam, Efes, and Evren restaurants?..
Not only them, there are also new ones. Limak company, which is going to build the eastern exit tunnel from Ufa. In the capital of Bashkortostan, the Turks will also reconstruct maternity hospital No. 3 and expand this institution so that there are more beds. These agreements have already been reached. The Turkish company Kozuva will build a transport and cargo terminal for the distribution of air parcels near the Ufa Airport — a kind of logistics centre. The Turks will build it themselves, and they will manage it. This project will also contribute to the development of the region's economy. The company also has plans to build a five-star hotel (near the train station).
Does that mean that the Turkish developers are once again returning to the construction market of Bashkiria?
You're right. Limak has already signed the contract. Khabirov said that the advance payment has been paid and the works on the tunnel begin in the near future. They are opening an office in Ufa. Once settled, they are unlikely to want to leave the familiar spot: they will complete one task and look for a new one. Yes, this project is difficult and very important, its cost is more than 650 million dollars. There are not many construction companies that are ready to take up such work. Limak is one of the largest developers that carry out very important projects all over the world.
SMK will reconstruct the maternity hospital, which I have already mentioned. Now it is designed for 90 beds. Initially, only reconstruction was planned, but Khabirov demanded an increase to 200 beds. Therefore, a new part of the medical complex will be built. The project has already been signed, and the works begin soon. At the end of this month, Kozuva arrives, which will build the terminal. They are continuing their negotiations. I hope they will also sign a contract soon and start working.
Limak is going to build the eastern exit tunnel from Ufa
Bashneft in Turkey, Shihans, ecology
During our last interview, you wondered why Tatarstan companies such as Tatneft, KAMAZ, and Kazan Helicopters do not invest in Turkey. Have you raised this issue with the Bashkir authorities? There are also major players there — Bashneft, Gazprom Neftekhim Salavat, Ufa Engine Industrial Association (UMPO).
I agree the same issue is relevant for them, too. Just as they want our companies to invest in the region, we want Bashkir companies to enter Turkey. Bashneft is a large international company. Turkey has a need for petrochemical facilities. Petrochemistry accounts for a large share of our imports. I hope one day we will see Bashneft in Turkey. I can list 10-20 reasons for them to come to us in 3 minutes. If I ever meet with the head of Bashneft, I will ask him to give at least three reasons not to invest in Turkey. And if he does, then he can change my mind. I understand that this is a large company, and it takes more time to make a decision. However, look at the example of the Azerbaijani corporation SOCAR, which came to Turkey with large investments: in the end, they are happy, and we are happy. Everything should be mutually beneficial.
We're not that far apart. Geographical location is no longer as important as it used to be. American companies are quietly entering China, China is entering Brazil, and Turkey is coming here. Everything has become mixed up, everyone is looking for their own benefit. I repeat it every time: investments are not one-way traffic, everything must be mutually beneficial. A long time ago, large companies came to Bashkiria: Şişecam, Efes, contributed to the local economy, gave jobs. I can't insist and say: since we did it, now you do it. But when considering investment options in other countries, they should first consider Turkey. Investments must be mutual. I hope that Bashneft's management will also read this. This is also relevant for other companies, including Gazprom Neftekhim Salavat and the Ufa Motor-Building Production Association.
You've probably heard about the conflict between defenders of Toratau and Kushtau Shihans with Bashkir Soda Company (BSC). Has this issue been discussed?
No, this topic has not been discussed. This is also happening in Turkey, and the issue of protecting the environment is being raised quite sharply by the population. I myself hold the view that environmental responsibility is very important. We have one world, common to all, and we don't have another. And we must preserve what we have. Yes, we use something. We certainly should care about the issues of clean air, water, and soil. There are already opportunities to engage in the production, without causing or at least reducing the harm to the environment. Maybe it will cost more for now, but it is possible. Not everything is about money.
You have your own companies that produce soda ash — Eti Soda, Şişecam. Could they share their technologies with BSС?
Yes. But I am not competent to comment on this...
If I were in the loop, I would sincerely share my vision of the situation. However, I do not fully know the topic and am not ready to answer your question in detail.
We certainly should care about the issues of clean air, water, and soil. There are already opportunities to engage in the production, without causing or at least reducing the harm to the nature. Maybe it will cost more for now, but it is possible. Not everything is about money.
Leather, halal and honey future
You have met with the leaders of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Bashkortostan (Timur Khakimov) and Bashkortostan Development Corporation (Rail Sarbayev). What areas are Turkish businessmen willing to go to in Bashkiria and Bashkir businessmen in Turkey?
Mr. Sarbayev spoke more about the leather industry. He said that there are a lot of large and small cattle in Bashkortostan. At one time, the company started working with them, processing leather and making leather products. But after the situation with the plane, everything stopped. He said that he would like to resume the project. We will consider it. As far as I understand, many major projects are being implemented in Bashkortostan. We would like Turkish companies to get their place in these projects — the construction of roads, hospitals, airports, etc. We are planning to gather contractors and discuss opportunities with them. The meeting also discussed opportunities for cooperation in the production of halal products: there is potential in this segment.
There is another interesting area where we could take certain steps — the promotion of Bashkir honey in the world. The Apimondia Congress was held in Istanbul 3 years ago. Bashkir colleagues were present there. And in 2021, the forum takes place in Ufa. The Bashkir representatives thanked us because our contribution was also invested in the decision to hold the conference in Bashkiria. The certification is very important for promotion on the world market, private laboratories are required. So far, there are no such laboratories in Bashkiria. We could help create them and train employees. Everyone can see that Bashkir honey is good, but it can't advance in the world market. And we have a lot of experience in this regard since Turkey is one of the world's largest honey exporters, so we could work together in this direction. Bashkiria has conditions for beekeeping. We just need to inform the world community about this. By the way, I've returned from Ufa with a lot of honey. The ambassador bought it for himself, too. We even got the seller's phone number. Bashkir honey is really different from other types of honey that I tried earlier. It is no coincidence that it is included in the diet of astronauts on the ISS.
Islamic brotherhood, cultural exchange
You have also met with the сhairman of the Central Muslim Spiritual Board of Russia, Supreme Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin and Mufti of Bashkortostan Aynur Birgalin. It turns out that there will be some interaction on the Islamic line?
I meet with muftis in all regions I visit. We have a spiritual brotherhood with the Bashkirs. Ufa has its own Islamic university. A madrasa is being built (near the First Cathedral Mosque) — 90-95 per cent of the work has already been completed, and it is planned to open on June 19. They (Central Muslim Spiritual Board of Russia — editor's note) cooperate with the Turkish side.
It is gratifying that the Muslim community (Jamaat) in the region is quite active. And our citizens actively visit local mosques
We have also met with Aynur khazrat Birgalin. He is currently engaged in the construction of Al-Rahim Mosque. I've seen it outside: the building is really impressive (designed for 6,000 people), a good place has been chosen. The construction is 30 per cent complete. According to the management of the Muslim Spiritual Board of Bashkortostan, they plan to complete the construction by 2024. Certainly, they interact with the Directorate of Religious Affairs of Turkey (Diyanet). If possible, we are ready to support them — to send religious figures, train their specialists, and join various projects in Ramadan. It is gratifying that the Muslim community (Jamaat) in the region is quite active. And our citizens actively visit local mosques.
Will Diyanet send Quran hafizs to Ramadan this year, as it was in previous years?
They came last year, too. If there is a need, they will come this year as well. Management communicate with each other, negotiate. We don't interfere much.
Do they contact directly, bypassing the Embassy and the Consulate General?
Yes, they communicate directly, without our mediation. We simply find out through our channels that guests are coming, and specialists are sent in the month of Ramadan.
You saw the Al-Rahim Mosque under construction on Salavat Yulaev Prospekt. Are Turkish specialists ready to take part in the decoration of the mosque? Has this issue been raised with the mufti?
Yes, the mosque is spectacular. No, this topic has not been discussed. Turkey has extensive experience in these matters. If there is a request regarding decor, materials, we will consider it. Probably, Bashkir companies will also want to participate in finishing works.
Ismet Bey, what else would you like to add about your visit to Bashkortostan?
I would like to add that Bashkortostan is a great place. I will definitely go there again. I saw very beautiful photos. There are many beautiful sanatoriums and recreation places. I would like to attend opening ceremonies and events. We will develop our cultural relations. The events that we hold in Moscow, here in Kazan and in other cities, we would like to bring to Ufa. Last May, the Days of Turkish Cinema were held in Ufa. I was informed that the local public showed great interest in Turkish films and asked to come again. We want to make the Days of Turkish Cinema a tradition. I would like to see Bashkir cultural events in Turkey. As you know, 2019 was the bilateral year of culture and tourism in Turkey and Russia. The ambassador told me that during the closing ceremony of the Year of Culture and Tourism, one of the groups that performed on the stage was Bashkir and aroused great interest. Radiy Khabirov has promised me that when he goes to Turkey, he will definitely take such groups with him.
I would also like to note that our citizens are happy with everything in Ufa. Many Turkish restaurants and cafes are successfully operating. Our diaspora lives in peace and harmony with the local population. As Consul General, I am very pleased with this.