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Turkish Ambassador announces a new, historical stage between Georgia and Turkey

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, April 25
Levent Gumrukcu has just been appointed as a Turkish ambassador to Georgia. Despite his young look, the ambassador enjoys an impressive diplomatic career. However, Georgia is the first country he was sent as an ambassador. HE Gumrukcu feels lucky for that posting and states that from May 2014 a new and even more promising stage will start in Georgian-Turkish relations following the visit of Turkish President to Tbilisi.

Mr. Gumrukcu, just a few words about your career and activities.

In Turkey I started my career as deputy chief of the cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and later on worked in the Policy Planning Department of the Ministry for three consecutive terms until I became the Spokesperson of the Ministry in January 2013.

Abroad, and in between my internal assignments, I was first posted to Washington D.C. in 1993 and then rotated to Tehran in 1996 where I stayed for two years. My second posting abroad was our mission to NATO in 2000. There I first served as a Defense Counsellor and then as the representative of Turkey at the Political Committee until 2004. In 2006, this time I was sent to New York to our permanent mission in the UN. For two years I worked as a Political Counsellor, but also as the head of our task force for the Security Council elections campaign. When Turkey was elected to the Security Council in 2008 I became the Political Coordinator of our mission and served in this capacity in 2009-2010.

Finally in 2014 I was sent as Ambassador to Georgia. After 24 years in the Foreign Service it is my first ambassadorial post. I take it as a privilege to come and serve in Tbilisi as a Turkish Ambassador. It is only two and a half months since I arrived in Tbilisi but I feel happy not only because of the very good relationship between Georgia and Turkey, but also due to the warm reception extended to me and my family by both the Government and people of Georgia. I came here with my wife and daughter and they are also very happy to be in Georgia.

You have a serious experience in Foreign Policy. The current hottest issue is Ukraine. What is the position of Turkey concerning the recent developments in Ukraine?

We have indeed seen regrettable developments in Ukraine over the past few months and still remain very much concerned about the situation therein. It not just the problem in Crimea, but what we see in Eastern Ukraine is also very alarming. In this context, we have already expressed our firm commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and political sovereignty. We have stated that using force and annexing the territory of another state as such is unacceptable in the 21th century. It is for that reason that we did not recognize the referendum held in Crimea.

Now, everything should be done to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine and de-escalate the tension prevailing in the region. To this end and in particular, all avenues of diplomacy should be exhausted. It is with this understanding that my Foreign Minister has been one of the first politicians to travel to Ukraine after the formation of a new government there. We also try to use our channels of communication and good relations with Russia and give a clear message in that direction. We believe that diplomacy still has a chance to deescalate situation in the region and find a peaceful solution to the crisis through negotiations.

If you ask me whether I am optimistic or not, the job of diplomats is not to be optimistic or pessimistic. We need to focus on the task at hand and do whatever is required to help diplomacy succeed. That is what we are actively doing as Turkey. To this end, we are in close touch with all our partners in Ukraine, in NATO, in the EU, but also in Russia. We will continue to remain engaged to the situation and try to bring our added value to ongoing efforts to resolve the problem.

Turkey has a special attitude with Crimea due to the Turkish population living there. What role does this factor play in terms of Ukrainian conflict?

Due to historic relations and ties, we have a special attachment to the Crimean Tatars. Their security, stability and prosperity is of great importance for Turkey. We are in constant touch with their representatives and have a good dialogue. So far, the Crimean Tatar population in Ukraine have acted very responsibly as they refused to participate in the referendum and supported Ukrainian territorial integrity. I think it was a very wise and principled policy on their side. Now we are talking with all relevant parties so as to ensure that Crimean Tatars are not harmed and that their interest is protected.

However, as I said our concerns regarding the situation in Ukraine goes beyond Crimea and Crimean Tatars. The evolution of the crisis in Ukraine will have much larger implications for the entire region and beyond. This is why we think that all parties should respect, as an inviolable principle, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. All issues should be dealt with dialogue and negotiations. Turkey will continue to do its best for to facilitate such dialogue.

As to the position of the Georgian Government, I believe they also acted very wisely and constructively since the onset of the crisis in Ukraine. We particularly welcomed Georgian Government’s principled and balanced statements regarding Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Let me use this opportunity to once again express Turkey’s firm commitment and support to Georgia’s territorial integrity as well. We also appreciate efforts of the Georgian Government to normalize relations with Russia while at the same time making progress in their aspirations to integrate with Euro-Atlantic institutions.

NATO summit is coming closer. How do you believe, will Georgia be granted MAP?

I think that the Georgian Government has made great strides in getting closer to integration with NATO and they deserve credit for that consistent effort. In this regard, there is a common view among the NATO member states that Georgia deserves recognition of its progress. But as of now, I cannot predict what would be the exact form of this recognition. As Turkey, we support Georgia’s quest for MAP (Membership Action Plan) but this would be a decision to be made by all NATO Allies in consensus. However, let me repeat that there is a wide spread acceptance within the Alliance that Georgia has come a long way in its relations with NATO and that this progress has to be recognized. I also note that although the Georgian Government is clear about its ambitions and expectations, they are not obsessed with a particular mechanism and that they are consulting with all NATO members with open mind as to the best possible way forward.

You are NATO member state. What did the membership change for Turkey, why should we strive to the membership of NATO?

We became a NATO member in 1952 at the peak of the Cold War. That was a very difficult period in terms of our security considerations and in NATO we found ourselves under a collective defense umbrella. It is without doubt that we benefited much from that collective defense guarantee. However, NATO is not just a military alliance but a political organization based on democratic values and principles. As such, our NATO membership also enabled us to focus on our economic and democratic development domestically and facilitated our democratic reforms throughout the years. Finally, NATO has always been the principal forum for trans-Atlantic consultations which is key to international security. So, through our membership to NATO, we both contributed to and benefited from these consultations where the basic principles of global security are upheld and promoted.

And today, NATO is still one of the most successful security organizations in our world. It provides security to its members, offers key assistance to its partners and help maintain the democratic values and principles of the free world. Georgia has the ability and right to become a part of this endeavor. In that sense, Georgia’s democratic reforms as well as contributions to NATO operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere is a clear case in point.

Alongside active steps to NATO, Georgia is going to sign the Association Agreements with EU that also means making serious control on imported and exported products. Turkey is one of the main importers in the country, how the AA might influence on the process?

My short answer is – only positive. Signing of the AA is a great achievement for Georgia and we sincerely congratulate you for that. Having a neighbor associated with the EU and thus embracing even more strongly the common values and principles that bind us could only be considered as an asset for Turkey. As to the economic aspects of AA, I think that from now on you will see even more Turkish companies investing in Georgia and thus joining their Georgian counterparts in benefiting from the dividends of the free trade agreement between Georgia and the EU.

One of the problems Georgia faces currently is illegal migration of our citizens abroad and in Turkey as well. How this problem in addressed by both Georgian and Turkish sides?

The Governments of Turkey and Georgia have excellent relations in every field. Therefore, I cannot speak of a particular problem that remains outstanding. However, there are millions of Georgians and Turks visiting each other’s country every year. When there is such an interaction, some problems are inevitable. The most important thing is whether the countries have the necessary mechanisms and collaboration to discuss these problems and resolve them. I believe that we have such means in every walk of our relations.

For instance, my president Abdullah Gul is coming to Georgia in May. The first part will be a bilateral visit and then there will be a trilateral summit meeting between Georgian, Turkish and Azerbaijan Presidents. During the bilateral part of the visit, the sides would certainly deal with current issues and review our relations in its totality. But I believe they will focus more on future perspectives and opportunities of cooperation as we still have a great potential to realize. As such, I think that it will be a historical visit. On the other hand, the trilateral summit will also be of great importance as the three countries crate a strategic bridge between Europe and Asia and have so much to offer to their region and beyond in every terms.