The gateway between Europe and Asia, Turkey has been a friend of Bangladesh since independence, but the potential of their relations remains untapped for long. In an interview with Ziaul Karim, Advisory Editor of Colors, Turkish Ambassador Mustafa Osman Turan speaks of how he sees fruitful relations.
The slanting sunlight of January afternoon was pleasantly amusing as we arrived at the Turkish embassy in the Dhaka’s Baridhara diplomatic enclave. After a quick security check, we were let into the newly-built chancery building with distinctive features of Ottoman architecture. Designed by Uygur Architects from Ankara, the embassy is a modern interpretation of classical Turkish architecture where space is created to accommodate human interaction, introspection and ignite imagination at the same time. Further, the use of Mirpur red bricks is a statement to connect with the local material and establish harmony with the surrounding.
As we approached ambassador Mustafa Osman Turan’s office, we were subsumed into a Turkish ambience with furniture and chandeliers filling up the interior of the chancery.
We were greeted with a disarming smile and served Turkish coffee and delights to make ourselves comfortable. What was initially planned for half an hour interview meandered into an hour and a half.
Nation of Persistence
Mustafa Osman Turan entered as Turkish Ambassador to Bangladesh as a veteran diplomat. Being a part of the UN system, he was aware of various Sustainable Development Goals being implemented in developing countries. “Turkey is very active in catalyzing sustainable development in various countries. Before coming here, I had little idea about the country – most came from the Bangladeshis I interacted with in UN conferences. Seeing the pace of progress of Bangladesh, I am very optimistic about the nation,” he said. Bangladesh has been growing at what called an unbelievable pace, and his country also recognizes its potential.
Turan described himself as a diplomat by profession, and a social entrepreneur by passion, which, he pointed out, lies in forming sustainable solutions to complex issues. “I brought the SDG impact accelerator to Bangladesh, to help startups and gain momentum. Entrepreneurship needs to be connected to finance and information to grow. Our SDG impact accelerator enables us to connect entrepreneurs with investors and give greater focus on providing solutions, mentorship, experts matching, and sourcing investments,” he spelt out.
In collaboration with Bangladesh’s ICT Ministry, the Turkish government and the ambassador himself envision a fluid development of the startup culture in Bangladesh, when it meets necessary tools to grow, primarily financial inclusion.
Steps of Growth
Turkey considers Bangladesh as a land of opportunities. “Turkish investors see Bangladesh as a potential market to invest in. However, it needs to be visible to attract investors. The inherent entrepreneurial spirit is what pushes Bangladesh to be a prominent figure in the Asian region, and Turkish investors are involving themselves in it,” he observed. Saying that Turkey plans to increase its investments in Bangladesh across a variety of sectors, the diplomat mentioned that Singer Bangladesh has received investments from Turkish investors; Aygaz plans to set up in Chattogram for the LPG business, and the Turkish President is looking over the establishment of a Turkish hospital in Bangladesh.
All these points towards the growing relationship between Turkey and Bangladesh. Turkey is also looking into exporting defence resources, medical technology, and diversifying into other areas, Ambassador Turan added. He believes that Bangladeshi students can take opportunities in Turkish universities if more scholarships are introduced, which is part of the plan for Ambassador Turan.
“We want to build on the historic relation that Turkey and Bangladesh have always had. We want to create solutions from the challenges in front of us, building confidence in people and ensure that they can trust in the system over time. Even the concept of a diplomat has changed. We are more for the economic welfare and more inclined to public diplomacy,” he went on saying. In this day and age, Ambassador Turan wants to be known as the entrepreneurial diplomat, instead of a conventional one.
Increased Turkish Interest and Involvement
Ambassador Turan believes that rebranding Turkey to the Bangladesh people can be achieved when Turkish investors recognize the potential the country holds. “Turkey and its investors are seeing how Bangladesh has been growing. The agricultural sector is experiencing a digital transformation, with the introduction of digital credit, technological infusion and much more.”
Bangladesh exports around $300 million worth of jute and jute goods to Turkey alone. Greater financial inclusion and technological investment can allow the sector to flourish sustainably.
Turkey has seen a rebranding in terms of its technology in the defence sector, the diplomat said. The military-industrial complex had bogged down Turkish policies for years since defence imports include obligations to the country buying. These conditional buying has an adverse effect on policymaking of countries. “We had to fulfil certain obligations whenever we wanted to purchase defence systems from other countries. We felt we should develop our own systems so that the obligations do not affect our growth potential. Like us, other countries struggle with the same obligations. Alleviating developing countries from these obligations become easier when the relationship is strong from the start.”
The energy sector becomes a key player to peak investors’ interest, as Bangladesh possesses mineral fields. The energy sector is also overseeing infrastructure development to incorporate growth. “Aygaz will be investing in Bangladesh, especially with the opportunity to develop the liquified petroleum gas project that Bangladesh has been building, introducing necessary tools to catalyze the growth of the industry.” LPG is being planned to overtake CNG by the next 5-10 years, primarily for its mileage as a fuel alternative. This would eventually open up other doors to sustainable energy sources that Turkey and Bangladesh can collaborate to develop further.
Education, healthcare and innovation are all part of a larger ambition that Turkey has for Bangladesh. These facets have seen, somewhat of a stalwart over the past few years, and exacerbated further by the pandemic. Resources being constrained to have allowed Bangladesh to offer opportunities to nations like Turkey to help jumpstart and develop these aspects.
All these are the culmination of Ambassador Mustafa Osman Turan’s legacy of being the modern-day social diplomat, breaking away from the stereotypical typecast that has constrained diplomats. It’s a personality trait that Ambassador Turan relishes.
The Turkish Connection
Bangladesh has been garnering attention across the world as a hub for economic development, even during the pandemic period. Bangladesh has been one of the few countries to have been able to maintain a steady growth trend. “In order to build on the success already at hand, Bangladesh is looking into special economic zones. There are various models across the world; however, Bangladesh is unlike other nations. We need to see all the models and then come up with the best fit one that can enable Bangladesh to reach the next level,” he said.
Infrastructure development is taking place across Bangladesh. Ambassador Turan believes that these large-scale companies can only operate smoothly when the ancillary firms of Bangladesh can produce and provide to these large firms. Small and medium scale producers are the backbone of any economy, and especially for large scale producers. “Building, operating and transferring can only take place when all the wheels work in tandem and simultaneously. These visions can become a reality for a growing country like Bangladesh when it taps into the hibernating relation that it had with Turkey,” he said. The modern-day entrepreneurial diplomat Mustafa Osman Turan is the vessel that can substantially contribute to making these ambitions of Bangladesh a reality with his continued sharing of innovative ideas and collaborative projects.