İsmet Erikan: ‘Turks will certainly not be afraid to open the door to census workers’

The Consul General of the Turkish Republic in Kazan: about the census in his country, Russian tourists and his compatriots in Russia

İsmet Erikan: ‘Turks will certainly not be afraid to open the door to census workers’
Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov

The door-to-door census hasn’t been conducted in Turkey for many years already — it is only electronic. Moreover, citizens of the country aren’t asked questions about their nationality, mother tongue and religion. Foreigners are counted separately. Consul General of the Turkish Republic in Kazan İsmet Erikan told Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent in an interview within our online newspaper’s special project dedicated to the Russian Census. The diplomat talked about Russian fiancees in his country, the Tatar diaspora and the problem of refugees. The interlocutor also announced jubilee events devoted to Turkey’s 100th anniversary and upcoming visits of Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov and head of Bashkortostan Rady Khabirov to his country.

“During a census in Turkey, questions about a language, religion and ethnic background aren’t asked”

Mr Erikan, the preparation for the census is underway in Russia. What is this event like in Turkey?

The Turkish Republic was proclaimed on 29 October 1923. And the first census took place four years after the declaring the republic. In 1927, the country had 13,65 million people. The second census was conducted eight years later, in 1935. At the moment, the population of the country totalled 16 million people (the growth was 2,2 million people). After that, there was adopted a law according to which a census was carried out once in five years — during the years that end with 5 and 0. And such an order was followed through 1990. While the law was amended in 1990, and further censuses took place only during jubilee years (ending with 0). So the next census was performed in 2000.

These censuses were conducted on Sundays, all citizens were prohibited from going outside on this day. And thousands of responsible people went round to houses, from door to door. Of course, this event is very costly, then results are counted for long enough (3-5 years), a lot of staff is used — public servants, teachers — everybody had to deal with the census. The results didn’t always turn out accurate.

Such an order isn’t used in Turkey anymore, now the census is performed through a system of calculation of the population according to their residence registration. Corresponding electronic infrastructure had been introduced for this purpose. That’s to say, everybody is registered at an address. The person changes the registration if he moves out. All this is tracked by corresponding state statistics agencies. Today the population can be counted quickly enough — within several days because all this information is digitalised.

Information about the previous year is published in early February every year. And all interested organisations can easily use this information.

What questions is every citizen asked in this census?

The age, economic and social status (if he works, studies). So the general socio-economic and demographic image of Turkey is outlined.

Today the population can be counted quickly enough — within several days because all this information is digitalised

Who conducts this census? Is it a kind of analogue of the Russian Federal Statistics Service?

Yes, we also have the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK). Its reports reflect economic indicators, the unemployment rate, information about the working population is collected, inflation is fixed. The institute collects all statistical data that one can imagine. And the assessment of the number of the population is just a part of the work of TurkStat.

Does it find out if people speak languages, their religion?

During a census in Turkey, questions about a language, religion and ethnic background aren’t asked. The questions about one’s ethnic background were last time asked in 1960. They haven’t been asked since then. The main reason is that Turkey is a unitarian country, not a federation.

And Article 10 of the Constitution of Turkey reads that everybody is equal before the law regardless of the language, ethnic background, race, skin colour, gender, political and philosophic views, religion, religious school and so on. And nobody has an edge over anybody, everybody is equal before the law. It is one of the fundamental articles of the Constitution. And nobody asks anybody about religion, nationality and mother tongue in a census.

As I already said, the Turkish Republic was declared on 29 October 1923. The Treaty of Lausanne was signed that year (24 July 1923) — one of the key documents after the end of WWI and our War of Independence. Representatives of the Great Assembly of Turkey signed this document (the republic hadn’t been declared yet at that moment). Representatives of other biggest countries of the world also put their signatures to the document where Turkey’s borders were determined. Three groups of national minorities were defined in this treaty: Greeks (Rums), Armenians and Jews. Turkey provides their rights for education until they reach high school: they have their own schools.

During a census in Turkey, questions about a language, religion and ethnic background aren’t asked. The questions about ethnic background were last time asked in 1960. They haven’t been asked since then. The main reason is that Turkey is a unitarian country, not a federation

“There is no need to make them a separate category"

Does it turn out that Kurds aren’t mentioned?

Kurds aren’t a minority. They are free to speak their language. TRT broadcasting media holding has a separate TV channel in the Kurdish language. And it doesn’t matter to us what nationality our citizen has, if he is Kurd or Turk. As there is no difference between those born in the East or West. The mentioned Article 10 of the Constitution reads that no people have an edge or face discrimination and this is impossible.

Our laws (including the Constitution of the Russian Federation) also say about all citizens’ equality regardless of nationality, religion, race, gender, social status. However, this doesn’t impede from learning the same national and linguistic peculiarities.

There are certain differences between Turkey and Russia. While your name includes the political structure — the Russian Federation. While we don’t present ourselves as a state consisting of parts of the federation. Our republic is unitarian. The state of affairs is similar in Belgium where Flemish and Walloons live.

On the other hand, Turkey doesn’t have obstacles to speak one’s mother tongue, profess a religion. Our compatriots of Kurdish origin are also Muslims, and there is no need to make them a separate category. And Kurds live compactly — they are spread across the country.

Does it mean that Turkish authorities don’t consider the same Kurds and national minorities in their research?

No.

The opportunity of participating in the upcoming census in Russia online via State Services will be a novelty. Can we consider Turkish MERNİS an analogous service?

There is e-Devlet system in Turkey, almost the same as State Services in Russia. This service provides a wide range of public services. And public structures can use some information from this system. And MERNİS is just a service to register an address. While e-Devlet is a system allowing citizens to receive services remotely, without going to some agencies in person.

Every Turkish citizen has an 11-digit individual identification number. And every person makes up a password and then can make an appointment with a doctor to receive a vaccine, make a purchase, cancel phone numbers, pay taxes (everything is visible there). All information from different structures — ministries, municipal agencies — open to you.

The president repeats all the time: “Every family should have at least three children”. Three children in a family allow maintaining the reproduction of the population. While more children should be born for growth

“We see what refugees face...”

The press writes that ageing of the population, a fall in natality are one of the demographic issues of Turkey. What other problems didn’t the last census in the country detect?

Indeed, what you have said is true. Information for 2019 was made public in February 2020. The population of Turkey amounted to 83,154 million people. The annual growth is over a million people. At the same time, we see the population gets older, natality reduces.

However, compared to European countries, our population is relatively young. 23% of the population are in the group from 0 to 14 years. People from 15 to 64 years (workable age) account for 67%. There is another demographic process — a change in the urbanisation rate. The share of the rural population reduces, while the number of citizens rapidly grows (76-77% of the population live in cities).

How are indicators of emigration, refugees considered?

Refugees aren’t citizens, this is why they are counted separately. Now more than 5 million foreigners have found temporary shelter in our country. People from Syria account for a considerable part (3,6 million people). There are also hundreds of thousands of refugees from Iraq, Somali, Afghanistan. There are representatives of 192 nationalities among these people temporarily living in Turkey.

Moreover, around 150,000 foreign students study in Turkey, about 100,000 Russia citizens live there. Russians arrive in Turkey for three reasons. Firstly, to work: Russian specialists work in Turkish enterprises, including they are involved in such projects as Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant. Secondly, it is a family: there are a lot of mixed marriages in Turkey. A lot of unmarried people come here to work first, but then they meet their half here and create a family. We especially have a lot of Russian brides. Thirdly, it is simply life in comfortable conditions. Our weather is good, foodstuffs are cheap, realty prices are accessible.

One can buy quite a good flat in Turkey for the half value of a flat in Kazan and settle down somewhere in Antalya. While you are cold here at -38 degrees, your compatriot lives happily at +20 degrees. While you buy a kilogramme of tomatoes for 350 rubles, he buys them for 50 rubles (I am not talking about tourist areas). We are very glad to see Russians: might they keep coming and live here.

Refugees aren’t citizens, this is why they are counted separately. Now more than 5 million foreigners have found a temporary shelter in our country. People from Syria account for a considerable part (3,6 million people)

You said about the population of Turkey reached 83 million people. What factors facilitated such sixfold growth since 1927?

High natality. The current ruling party (the Justice and Development Party) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have taken a lot of measures to support natality in the last 18 years. The president repeats all the time: “Every family should have at least three children”. Three children in a family allow maintaining the reproduction of the population. While more children should be born for growth.

The economic future of the country is linked with the share of the workable population. And to provide old citizens’ good life we need more workable population providing for their old age. Social protection agencies, pension funds should timely receive money for a decent pension, quality medicine for the elderly. Who will develop the state if everybody gets old? The youth are always a plus for the country, they provide dynamism and develop society.

Moreover, young population helps attract additional investments in the country. Precisely the young promising population gives companies from developed countries a stimulus to invest in different projects. And if an investor doesn’t see workable citizens who could work in his enterprises in the country, he will see no sense in investing his money there. And the population should be educated.

As I understand, emigration is also an important factor for the population’s growth. What attracts young workers to Turkey?

As for migration, these 5 million refugees don’t have a status as citizens of Turkey because they arrived here temporarily. They found shelter here from the civil war, oppression in their country, economic hardships. And most Syrians come to Turkey only for further migration. Our country has been a transit zone due to its geographical location. Even flocks of migrant birds moving from a cold area to warm places and go back stop by in Turkey’s natural zones. Refugees enter Turkey in the same way, legally or illegally. Everybody’s story is individual. But it is important to understand that every refugee is a person.

We see what they face when they try to get to a European country through our country, first of all, to Greece. Some of them faced a truly inhumane attitude to themselves. There were cases when Greek militaries punctured their inflatable boats, people drowned. The press described a plot a couple of years ago when a correspondent of one of the EU countries (Hungary) beat a refugee — a father with a kid in his arms.

Some migrants probably intend to stay in Turkey, become citizens and integrate into society.

Of course. Some people show they are ready to work. Somebody set up a business and became an employer. If they don’t violate the order in the country, we have no complaints about them.

A big part of emigrants began to work because they also have to feed themselves and their families. Somebody came with their capital, some had their own business in their homeland: cafes, restaurants. And here they continued running the same business.

Our country has been a transit zone due to its geographical location. Even flocks of migrant birds moving from a cold area to warm places and go back stop by in Turkey’s natural zones. Refugees enter Turkey in the same way, legally or illegally

"We hope Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov will visit Turkey this year. We are also waiting for Rady Kabirov”

You said that around 100,000 Russian citizens live in Turkey. Are there any statistics on how many people of them are Russian, Tatar, Bashkir?

We don’t collect such information. A variety of different ethnic groups has been living in Turkey since the Ottoman Empire. Representatives of some nationality, for instance, a region is densely populated by the same Tatars. We know that a lot of Tatars live in Ankara, Eskişehir. But I can’t say the percentage of the total population, their amount.

They save their language, culture, traditions, celebrate national holidays, talk with each other in Tatar. The majority of them have Turkish citizenship.

How many Turks, Turkish citizens live in Tatarstan and the regions that are within your consular district?

By our estimates, around 3,500 citizens of Turkey live and work in the consular district, perhaps more. But not all of them timely update their address. Some of them don’t report on their arrival here. While some have already gone but haven’t notified about this and checked out. The number constantly changes. For instance, such large companies as Gemont work here, Enka implements a big project, Limak firm operates in Bashkiria in the construction sphere. Thousands of Turkish workers come to such projects. A facility was built, commissioned, and a lot of Turks go back. It is at times impossible to learn the accurate number. We aren’t a police state, we don’t pursue a goal of tracing everybody. When people come here to register, a person’s data is written down. If he didn’t turn to us, there may be no data.

Mr Erikan, do you do any work here to inform your compatriots living here about the upcoming census in Russia?

There is no such thing. They will do what the state’s internal orders dictate. In any case, ours will certainly not be afraid to open the door to census workers. On the contrary, if they knock the door of his neighbour and not his door, ours will be indignant why he was forgotten.

As I understood from your words, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic will be celebrated in 2023. Are any jubilee events prepared in Tatarstan?

The work in this area in Turkey is done. All public structures began to prepare. Instructions in this regard will start to be received soon. But as you know, we didn’t manage to hold many scheduled events last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The dates of some events have already been determined, some are still in work. But everything depends not only on us but also local governments.

Moreover, the pandemic goes on, and I don’t completely realise at what stage it is now. I understand it hasn’t ended yet. The anti-COVID-19 measures in Russia aren’t as strict as they are in Turkey. According to official statistics, the number of COVID-19 cases in Tatarstan is lower than in Moscow or Saint Petersburg. In any case, the health issue is a priority for us.

We hope Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov will visit Turkey this year. We are also waiting for Chairman of the Tatarstan Parliament Farid Mukhametshin, head of Bashkortostan Rady Khabirov in Turkey (his visit last year failed because of the pandemic)

As for the jubilee, we wouldn’t like to be limited to cultural events, we also want to strengthen commercial and economic cooperation, collaboration in health care. And we have already asked to organise meetings with the republican Ministry of Health Care, Ministry of Industry and Trade, they will take place soon. We have also started working on a meeting with the management of local big companies to invite them to invest in Turkey. Yes, the pandemic is evil, but life goes on.

As we know, the leaders of both countries — Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin — planned to augment external commercial turnover to $100 billion. We are very far from this objective. But the potential is very high. And if we work hard together, we can achieve these indicators.

We would like the turnover between Turkey and Tatarstan to increase too. We hope Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov will visit Turkey this year. We are also waiting for Chairman of the Tatarstan Parliament Farid Mukhametshin, head of Bashkortostan Rady Khabirov in Turkey (his visit last year failed because of the pandemic). Bashkiria is a very important region for us. We want to develop commerce with this republic, invest in each other. And we would like to hold some events we host in Kazan in Ufa and other cities of the consular district. But this small, disgusting, invisible virus ruined all our plans. We really hope that we will implement all plans this year and in the future. I wish everybody health.

By Timur Rakhmatullin. Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
BashkortostanTatarstan