Bangladesh-Turkey Relationship How Does It Matter? -By Md. Hasanuzzaman

Cover Story

Turkey has withdrawn its ambassador to Bangladesh following the execution of an Islamist party leader for genocide and other crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence. On 12 May, Motiur Rahman Nizami, head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was hanged under a controversial trial. International human rights groups say the procedures of the Bangladeshi tribunal that sentenced Nizami fell short of international standards. The government rejects all the international concerns. In Turkey, there have been a handful of protests against the execution in recent days.
According to the diplomatic source, Turkish Ambassador Devrim Öztürk, who has been Ankara’s envoy since 2015, was to report to Ankara for consultations in the aftermath of the hanging. Turkey Foreign Ministry had also strongly condemned the execution of Nizami in a written statement, saying it did not believe that “Nizami deserved such a punishment.” It said that Turkey, which has abolished capital punishment, feared that the use of such methods risked creating “rancor and hatred between our Bangladeshi brothers.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an strongly condemned Nizami’s execution. In a speech in Ankara he said his country had recalled its ambassador from Bangladesh in protest. Erdo?an also lashed out at Europe for not speaking out against the execution. “Weren’t you against executions?” Erdo?an said. “There was no noise because the person who was executed was a Muslim.”

According to the analysts, recalling the ambassador is a formal way of protest in diplomacy. It is more serious than summoning the ambassador of a country and less serious than suspending diplomatic relations, according to some former diplomats. With modern means of communication available, they said, it has few practical consequences or utility, but it is still indicative of a serious strain on bilateral relations. When a country is extremely displeased at a certain policy or action of another country, the former withdraws its ambassador from the latter to express its displeasure.

Bangladesh and Turkey are part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), World Trade Organization, United Nations, and Non Aligned Movement. Both are also Democracies which put on strong communication.

Turkey recognized Bangladesh on 22 February 1974 on the occasion of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) (formerly Organization of the Islamic Conference) Summit which was held in Lahore. The Turkish Embassy in Dhakka was opened in 1976 and the Embassy of Bangladesh in Ankara in 1981.

Relations between Turkish and Bengali nations have strong historical and cultural roots dating back before the foundation of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. The Muslims of South Asia including the Bengalis, had supported the Turkish War of Independence. The respect and admiration for Atatürk is reflected in the epic poem “Kamal Pasha”, written by Kazi Nazrul Islam, National Poet of Bangladesh, in 1921. This poem has been on the curriculum in Bangladesh schools. Besides, one major avenue in Dhaka and another one in Chittagong have been named as “Kemal Atatürk Avenue”. Furthermore, a high school in Dagan Bhuiyan, in Feni and a Turkish language center in Dhaka Cantonment were named as “Atatürk Model High School” and “Mustafa Kemal Turkish Language Center”. In the same vein, the support of the Bengal people during the Turkish War of Independence is still remembered with gratitude by the Turkish people.

Bangladesh’s relations with Turkey are excellent and mutually supportive, and they have been nourished by the successive governments of both countries through high-level bilateral visits.
Late President Zillur Rahman of Bangladesh visited Istanbul for four days from November 6, 2009 to attend the Economic Summit of Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation by the OIC, and had fruitful discussions with the Turkish president. On his invitation, Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Bangladesh in February 2010.

Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Madam Emine Erdogan visited Bangladesh on November 13-14 on 2010. Erdogan has been the prime minister since 2003 and President since 2014. During his tenure, Turkish engagement with the outside world and in the region has increased through its proactive political and economic policies, making the country a key regional player.

Bangladesh and Turkey are among each other’s key trading partners. The bilateral trade between the two countries is worth more than $1 billion. Bangladeshi export items to Turkey have been dominated by apparel products. Since 2012, Bangladesh and Turkey have been in talks to sign a free trade agreement, but signing of the agreement is halted due to the complications relating to Turkey’s bid for accession to the European Union. The shipbuilding industry of Bangladesh has also been identified as a potential sector for Turkish investment.

Bangladesh and Turkey have signed a joint protocol on trade and investment in 2012. The Bangladesh-Turkey Joint Economic Commission has been holding biennial meetings to discuss the ways for increasing bilateral trade and investment.

Regular Cooperation Mechanisms on economy and trade between two countries are Joint Economic Commission and Turkey-Bangladesh Business Council. The last JEC (4th session) Meeting took place in Dhakka on 11-12 November 2012. The 5th JEC Meeting is planned to take place in Ankara in 2016. The first meeting of Turkey-Bangladesh Business Council was organized in 11-13 April 2012 in Istanbul.

Turkish direct investment in Bangladesh has reached 8,16 Billion USD in 2015 according to the data released by Bangladeshi Central Bank.

In recent years, especially Turkish textile companies have been increasing their investment to Bangladesh. Some of the companies prefer to establish their factories there due to low-cost labour and liberal investment policies. The others have perminent offices, branches in the country. Consequently, there are almost 100 Turkish companies working in the sectors such as textiles, ready-made garment, carpet production, education and programming.

Banhladeshi authorities express their desire for joint ventures between two countries especially in the sectors such as shipbuilding, building of power- stations, pharmaceutics.

Turkish construction companies are not yet active in Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stated in some occasions that her Government will be happy to see Turkish companies in her country.

Official Development Aid given by Turkey to Bangladesh between the years of 2004-2014 amounts to 13 million USD. The important part of the money is used for education, health, and vocational projects. TIKA (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency) established a Programme Coordination Office in Bangladesh in 2014 to better plan and coordinate its aid activities in the country. While only 280 Bangladeshis visited Turkey in 2000, this figure has risen to 12.500 in 2014.

In 2013, Turkey supplied Otokar Cobra light armored vehicles to the Bangladesh Army. Bangladesh signed an agreement with Turkey on Military training, education and joint cooperation between forces of both nations on 10 March 1981 at Dhaka. As per agreement Turkey’s Naval special forces trained Bangladesh Navy’s special forces Special Warfare Diving and Salvage.

Bangladesh and Turkey have renewed pledges to work closely in different international forums to maintain world peace and security as well as combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

Turkey, bigger than France, is a part of Europe and Asia, adjoins oil-rich Iran, and sits astride the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits. Its geopolitical importance is recognized by all big powers. The core aim of Turkish foreign policy is to pursue friendly relations with neighbors coupled with removing regional and global tensions.

Turkey is also a modern Muslim country and culturally stands as a bridge between Western and Islamic world.  Turkey is also playing big role in the distribution of energy from Middle East to Europe.  Turkey is playing a very affective role in the region as a leader, mediator and in the betterment of the foreign policies of Islamic and Western world.

Turkey has adopted diplomatic initiatives to offer mediation in regional disputes — such as between the US and Iran, Iraq and Syria, and between Israel and Syria. Turkey has also played a positive role in trying to remove misunderstandings between Pakistan and the Karzai government in Kabul.

The Turkish government’s constructive relations with Iran, its outspoken criticism of Israel’s Gaza policy, the Turkish-Brazilian swap deal for Iran’s low-enriched uranium in May and its “no” vote on the fourth round of sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council demonstrate its pragmatism in the conduct of its proactive foreign policy.

Turkey is a country that is rapid developing, urbanizing, carrying on economical and cultural integration with the world and has a continuously growing 70 million market.  Besides, the developing technology and entrepreneurship opening to the world, not only makes Turkey a market at the same time an economical power that is producing.  The economical relationship between Europe and Turkey is increasing.

Upon all these factors, the most important of them is that Turkey being an Islamic country. The most significant cause is that Turkey is the only secular and democratic Islamic country. With this characteristic Turkey, in the light of both transition and developing potential, as an economical, military and political power building on credibility and importance and also more importantly generating a different model for the Islamic world.

Turkey is highlighted as a model for those countries with an Islamic heritage which choose to be -and work to be- modern, secular, democratic, and true to their faith simultaneously. Those of us who have admired Turkey for this vision for years now find we are not so alone in wishing that your great endeavor succeeds.

As a Muslim democratic country, Bangladesh can follow the Turkish model in both Islam and development. Of course Bangladesh will punish the criminals but should have to maintain judicial and ethical standard. It must establish the democratic values for justice and welfare of the people.

The writer is geopolitical analyst.