The deep-rooted relations between Turkey and Bangladesh traced back to the 13th century, as again stressed by the current Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent speech in an inauguration of Bangladesh’s new embassy complex in the Turkish capital Ankara. As she highlighted that the informal relations between Bangladesh and Turkey started since the 13th Century “when Turkic General Ikhteer Uddin Muhammad Bakhtiar Khiljee, conquered Bengal”, however, since 1974, the two nations initiated their formal diplomatic relations. Extensive relations between Turkey and the Bengali (Sultanate, Mughal, and British periods) peoples have existed since the medieval period through modern times. Apart from the Mughal-Ottoman relations, Bengali Muslims supported Turkey during the Turkish War of Liberation (1919-1922).The interactions and cultural exchanges throughout history have resulted in substantial influence on different aspects of cooperation. Turkish political and foreign policy strategic importance seemed to be exposed to the world after the Cold War?. Since the 2002 AK party ?period; Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy have enormous impacts on each and every corner ?of the world where especially in terms of the ‘multidimensional foreign policy’, Turkey plays a significant ?contribution whatever it is from exporting cultural influences, economic cooperation, diplomatic engagement, ?humanitarian aid or historical ties and maintaining old allies.
Key Areas of Cooperation
On August 5, 2019, the new multidimensional foreign policy approach taken by Turkish foreign minister, Asia Anew, which emphasized the cooperation on trade, investment, education, defence industry, technology, culture, and political dialogue between Turkey and Asian countriesto diversify ‘Turkey’s geographical distribution of financial investments, expanding trade capacity of the private sectors, improvement of academic cooperation and expanding social interaction.’ In there, Bangladesh is one of the key actors for its economic blooming and strategic importance, as what Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavu?o?lu clarified- “Bangladesh is one of Turkey’s key partners in the Asia Anew Initiative with its vibrant economy and young population”. The last decade was one of the new dimension for growing partnership between Turkey-Bangladesh after the former Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s visit to Dhaka in 2010 and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Turkey in 2011, bring about the formation of the “Turkey-Bangladesh Business Council and the development of a broad agenda for diversifying cooperation”.
After a couple of years of political crisis and misunderstanding between Turkey and Bangladesh, the normalization process started through the mutual visits of Bangladeshi President Md. Abdul Hamid and his Turkish counterpart Binali Y?ld?r?m in 2017. Since then to now, both nations have described the current relationship as the best it has ever been between these two brotherly states. The current foreign minister of Bangladesh recently point out that Bangladesh could be an excellent economic market for Turkey because of its large population size, the strategic importance of Turkey, as it is in the center between two Asian emerging powers, including China and India, and also for the common objective for peaceful world through the view of Muslim Ummah.
Bangladesh’s first target to attract Turkey is economic cooperation and foreign direct investment from Turkey. Last year, Turkey and Bangladesh’s trade volume reached $936 million in 2018, where the garment sector was the main area to boost the trade relations; however, the following table shows, after India, how Bangladesh has emerged as Turkey’s second-largest trade partner of Turkey in South Asia.
Although the bilateral trade volume has been stuck at around $1 billion since 2010, but Turkey wants it to go up to $2 to $3 billion. Currently, Bangladesh approached Turkey for a proficient trade agreement (PTA) to expand the economic partnership, as the EU vetoed the earlier initiative of free trade agreement (FTA) in 2012.
With reference to the Turkish soft power, notably the Turkish TV drama series like Ertu?rul, Payitaht Abdulhamit, Mehmetçik, Kurtlar Vad?s? Filistine; Turkish media like TRT World, Anadolu Agency, Daily Sabah; Turkish govt. scholarship such as YTB; Turkish Embassy in Bangladesh; Turkish innovation in science and technology such as TOGG’s electronic car, Cezeri’s flying car, UAVs drone technology; and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s charismatic presence towards Rohingya issue, played an instrumental role to put a vast impact on people-to-people relations between Bangladesh and Turkey.
In the last couple of years, the Turkish defense market received a considerable attraction for Bangladesh. In that way, Bangladesh purchased Otokar Cobra light armored vehicles for the military of Bangladesh. Followingly, in 2017, a Turkish firm made a contract for 680 light armored vehicles. Turkey’s ROKETSAN Company contracted to supply for “regiment of medium-range guided multiple rocket launchers to Bangladesh”. Besides, more than “3,000 Bangladeshi military officers have received training in Turkey”.
Turkey’s role for the Rohingya refugee placed Bangladesh and Turkey in a trustable brotherly relation when Bangladesh lost their support from two friendly nations- India and China. Turkey’s multilateral diplomatic fight for the Rohingya refugees, including in UN, the G20, MIKTA and the OIC helped Bangladesh and Rohingya to put their legitimate demands in the world. Most importantly, the Turkish first lady, Emine Erdo?an, former prime minister, current foreign minister, former family and social policy minister’s visit to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh emphasized the issues legal and humanitarian importance to the global community. Besides the diplomatic and humanitarian campaigns, Turkey government and non-government organizations, including TIKA, AFAD, Turk Kizilay, Turkish Diyanet, constructed hospitals, camps and food programs for the Rohingya refugee.
In Asia Anew initiative, Turkey and Bangladesh, as emerging economies, are looking formore intensive cooperation with each other where two fields, including defense and economy, are the key areas that should be prioritized to boost their mutually beneficial relationship based on faith and traditions, trust and confidence.
The writer is a Senior Researcher of Bo?aziçi Asya Ara?t?rmalar? Merkezi (BAAM) and Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University, Ankara, Turkey.