L’eventail Interview With Ambassador N.murat Ersavcı

Brüksel Büyükelçiliği 15.04.2010

L’Eventail (April 2010) – “Istanbul 2010/La ville que désirait le monde

How would you define Turkey's cultural specificity?
What people in our country often say is that Turkey is a mixture -- the product of eight different civilisations in history, the heir to three world empires, the meeting place of two continents, -- a mosaic. I think I would add to that that it is now a vibrant modern urban metropolitan culture based on a strong and growing industrial society. (We are members of the G-20 Group and the 17th biggest economy in the world, 6th biggest in Europe). Images of 50 or a100 years ago are now anachronistic. If Latin America has Brazil, then perhaps you could say that Europe has Turkey that is we are a southern country with industry but also with great “joie de vivre”.

You were recently appointed Turkey's Ambassador in Belgium. What were the first initiatives taken by yourself and by the Belgian side in this context?

My first initiative was of course to get to know my Belgian colleagues and also the Belgian people well. In that context I am very happy to be able to have a direct access to both important political and cultural circles in the country, as well as to the prominent members of the press.

What is the relation in Turkey and in comparison with Western Europe in the following sectors ?
- men & woman regarding their family rights and obligations.
- men & woman with economy
- men & woman in education and cultures

I think in professional life, industry, administration, education, and sectors like that that we have much gender equality as there is in Western Europe. We scrapped quotas for girls in universities fifty years ago, before some western European countries did. Even before women in Turkey had the right to vote in the early 1930s earlier than some western European countries and frankly we are quite proud of that. We have had a woman prime minister a decade ago. In professional families, both husband and wife work and as far as I know there is total equality of remuneration which is perhaps more than some western countries can say. Women judges (first woman Supreme Court justice in 1934), engineers, professors, doctors, journalists --we have them all and they have been there for many years. Now when you go to rural society, things are bit less clear cut. There are some families who are not very eager to give daughters the chances that they give their sons. But this is not universal and it is fast changing. The message that people get from the media and television challenge such discriminatory attitudes. In the small town of Hasankeyf in Eastern Turkey for instance, the people will proudly tell you that they have around 80 of their children in university education and a good proportion of them are girls. There are many such communities: so the trend is clear.

Istanbul is the in all 2010 European Capital of Culture. What does it mean and the expecting impact of such an event for Istanbul and Turkey, in general?

It is a very exciting event for us and I think it is a chance to remind Europe of the great city and cultural centre on its eastern frontier --- a place which has so many historical associations. The people of Istanbul love to give a party and they are used to entertaining visitors from Europe. Now they are doing it on a grand scale and of course they have the heritage of several empires to dazzle their guests with. I think the serious underlying meaning which I hope that the rest of Europe will take on board is that Istanbul is a powerhouse, a vibrant place but also important in the arts, literature, painting, design, fashion, cuisine, and in intellectual life, and in industry and that it is going through a particularly exciting phase at the moment and will contribute a lot to the life of Europe, not just during the 2010 Capital of Culture Festival, but I think in the decades ahead. It is an important and exciting facet of the new Europe and no one should overlook that.

What are the challenges of Turkey regarding the accession of Turkey to European Union? Some people say that Turkish people are really disappointed about all the process. What are your thoughts and your personal feeling about that?

They are very disappointed but --partly because the 2000s were such golden years for the Turkish economy from 2002 onwards -- they have taken it stoically. They are aware perhaps that Turkey is always going to be important to Europe even if Europe does not yet appreciate this. I think that the prejudice and even racism which is felt towards Turkey in some quarters is particularly distressing for students and young people. They go abroad on a cultural exchange or conference and they find themselves meeting people who bombard them with false or hostile ideas about their country. They find that upsetting. As for myself, I am disappointed too. I think Turkey should have been accepted as a full partner by the EU countries by now. We will never give up on our accession, but if our economy gets even more strong and we are more of a regional power, then I think those who oppose Turkish entry may regret missing an opportunity.

A month ago, the very well know Italian “Corriere della Sera” published an article of the well know Sergio Romano called : “Turchia, un paese stanco di aspettare” with the meaning: “Turkey, a country tired to waiting for” . What does this sentence inspires you?

I am not sure that I quite understand this. Well who is waiting for whom? We have negotiations with the EU where in practice something like three quarters of the chapters we should be negotiating, like finance and energy are blocked. We are a patient country. But we are also changing and growing very fast. You don't wait long for change when you are living in Turkey. The country changes from day to day and if you compare today's Turkey with that of a decade ago or half a century ago, the changes are vastly greater than they have been in Western Europe.

Do you have any specific passion reflecting also some important aspects of Turkey?

Yes, I hope we do not change too fast in some respects, that we can preserve our environment, our beautiful places, and our cultural heritage including archaeological and historical sites. I hope that our unique tradition in cuisine for example is preserved and expanding. And in music too. The Turks are, perhaps not many realizes it, a very musical people and we have as always not one but several different traditions, including that of Western classical music which has a strong following in Turkey, as well as our own pop music, Ottoman Court Music and Folk Music. I hope that all those traditions are able to grow and expand and that none of them "fall off the back of the truck" as a result of rapid social and economic change. And I hope that the old Turkish arts of relaxing and enjoying life in leisurely conversation with family and friends, a Mediterranean way of life, won't get swept away in the busy new age we are in. There is a place for that too.

Something important to add?

Yes, you need to understand that we in Turkey are an immensely varied country and people and everyone has their own perspective and view on things. I have given you my personal views. But there are many millions of others! I think that is a good thing and certainly it adds to the zest of life. People in Europe seem to see us as monolithic and a bit solemn. Nothing could be further from the truth. Come and talk to us and you will get a rather entertaining surprise. The 2010 European City of Culture Festival is an excellent opportunity for people in Belgium and elsewhere to do just that.