Human life has no price tag, Ambassador Bagis says about the war. Why do the Turks and the Czechs understand each other?

www.cnn.iprima.cz Filip Kalčák

The Turks used to defend Europe against the Russians, now, history is repeating itself. Also because Turkish drones Bayraktar, about which a celebratory song has even been composed, operate in Ukraine. This parallel was recalled by the Turkish Ambassador to Prague Egemen Bağış in an interview for CNN Prima NEWS. He also talked about the relations between the Czech Republic and Türkiye, his work, and Ankara’s position on the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO. Since November 2019, Prague has been its second home. Prior to his diplomatic mission, Ambassador Bağış served almost 15 years in the Turkish Parliament, was the EU Minister for Foreign Affairs, and advised President Erdogan. In 2015, he briefly left politics to teach at university. But Ankara called him back after a few years. Subsequently, his steps were directed to the heart of Europe. How did you react when President Erdogan sent you to be an ambassador to the Czech Republic? I asked: Why Prague? He told me that in 2013, at a press conference with then-Prime Minister Petr Nečas, he said he would increase the volume of mutual trade from $3.5 billion to $5 billion. (President) Erdogan told me it’s been six years, and the number is still 3.5 billion. That he wanted to change it and keep his word. My main mission here, therefore, was to improve mutual trade. But three months after I arrived in the Czech Republic, a pandemic broke out. Despite this, we have been able to meet our commitment. At the end of 2021, the volume of bilateral trade between Türkiye and the Czech Republic was $4.5 billion, and it is clear from this first quarter that we will exceed five billion in 2022. What are the main features of Czech-Turkish cooperation? It is mainly about transport, we sell many vehicles and automotive parts to the Czech Republic, for example, Turkish buses run in Prague. We also export textiles, minerals, jewellery and we see a great opportunity in tourism. We hope that Türkiye will be the first or second most popular destination for Czechs this year. We also cooperate significantly in the field of defence. One of the interesting projects is that we install Turkish rockets on Czech Tatra trucks and sell this defence system to Indonesia. What do you think about the relations between the Czechs and the Turks? I have always appreciated Czech support, I have never felt any negative energy from Czech citizens, politicians, or businessmen. We have a good relationship because our
nations have never fought together in history. The Ottomans tried to conquer Vienna twice, but Prague was never on their radar. At the time, they probably didn’t know what they were missing, Prague is much more beautiful than Vienna. Today, you will find a person with the surname Turek in every Czech city. The fact that people in your country use this surname proves that the word has no negative connotation. Our cultures are intertwined in many ways. Goulash was originally Turkish food for soldiers, few people know about it. The Ottoman Empire then sent 30,000 troops during World War I to help our ally, Austria-Hungary, and protect your great-grandparents from the Russian invasion. At that time, the Russians wanted to conquer Europe. Three cemeteries with Turkish soldiers, which are in Valasske Mezirici, Pardubice, and Hodonin, are a reminder of this period. About 1,300 soldiers are buried there. Now history repeats itself, Russia has invaded Ukraine, and our Bayraktar drones are trying to stop it. Human life doesn’t have a price tag. The more people we save, the better. The war in Ukraine has been the main topic of recent months. What is Türkiye’s position on the conflict? Our top priority is to ensure a permanent ceasefire. Every fourth tourist coming to Türkiye is Russian or Ukrainian. We have good relations with both countries and we would like them to stop fighting. That’s why we organize diplomatic negotiations. This conflict costs not only Russians and Ukrainians, but all of us a lot. We see it on energy bills. We are in the same situation as these countries, we are dependent on wheat from Ukraine and on raw materials from Russia. Türkiye’s approach is based on the idea that human life does not have a price tag. The more people we save, the better. We are also members of NATO, we have the second largest army there, we know and respect our duties, as well as we respect the UN sanctions. However, we are not members of the EU, which is why we are not joining the sanctions of the European Union. Ukrainian refugees are often mentioned in the context of the war, but the Russians are also fleeing their homeland. And they often go to Türkiye… In our country, Russians and Ukrainians swim in the same pool. It is not a war between ordinary Ukrainians and Russians, it is a policy issue. And there’s always a way to end the war. The only question is whether there is also a will. In any case, peace is more economically advantageous than war. Even if one side wins, will it be worth it? This war affects all of us, we all have a responsibility and we must try to end it. Türkiye cannot do this alone. Due to the strained security situation in Europe, Finland and Sweden want to join NATO. But your President disagrees with that. How does he perceive the
issue? It needs to be made clear that my President is not opposed to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. However, it is against their positions on security, because NATO is primarily a security organisation. Erdogan doesn’t mix apples with oranges. NATO is a security organization, so if they join NATO, they must guarantee that they will also take care of Türkiye’s security. This means that they must stop sending weapons to terrorists, led by the PKK organization, which is on the list of terrorist organisations of the European Union, NATO and the US. PKK use weapons from Sweden and sometimes also from Finland. If these countries are to be our allies, they cannot impose any sanctions on us either. We are not asking too much. We do not ask the Czech Republic for such a thing, because the Czechia does not send any weapons to terrorists. They have to choose. Either they’ll be our allies, or they’ll be friends with a terrorist organization that’s against us. NATO believes that Türkiye’s demands must be heard. The ball is now in the court of Sweden and Finland, they must decide. What Türkiye demands is normal and natural. Türkiye changed its English name from Türkiye to Türkiye some time ago. Why? The name change was long on the wish list, only there was no political will to do so. Now Erdogan has turned to the UN, and there’s been a change. The word “Türkiye” was pronounced in English in the same way as a bird, a Türkiye, and there was confusion about it. Especially the young population wasn’t happy about it. We are now rewriting the name in all necessary publications. What is the difference between Czech and Turkish politicians? You know, politicians are the same everywhere, trying to understand what people want. In Türkiye, we have an exceptional leader, Erdogan. He’s been elected so many times because he understands what people want, and he has the ability to shape public opinion and convince people that something is right. Citizens like his honesty. Sometimes he may seem too strict, but his people have faith in him, he says things straightforwardly. I believe that he will be the best candidate in the next election. As for the Czechs, I especially like that they do not fight, they are very calm. I enjoy living and working in Prague, there are no car drivers blowing their horns, no crazy traffic, it is very safe here and the city has beautiful nature. And if I miss something, I can fly to Türkiye and come back in the evening.

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