The following article was contributed to The Korea Post by Ambassador Arslan Hakan Okcal of Turkey in Seoul on the occasion of the two New Year’s Days, the Solar New Year’s Day on Jan. 1, 2016 and the Lunar New Year’s Day on Feb. 9 the same year.?Ed.
The year 2015 has been marked by devastating man-made events around the globe, which mainly originated across the southwestern borders of Turkey. The Syrian crisis has come under the international spotlights in 2015 with thousands of refugees seeking safe haven in Europe. The power vacuum in the Middle East enabled terrorist groups such as DAESH to find breeding ground and launch attacks in a wider geography, unfortunately including Turkey.
As readers will recall, Turkey has been a safe haven for Syrian refugees since the inception of the war. Their numbers have surged to 2.2 million last year. During the past five years of conflict in Syria, Turkey has unilaterally shouldered the economic burden of the refugees in the face of an almost non-existing international assistance.
As the conflict in Syria surged to parts of Iraq and entered into yet another severe stage without a credible solution on the horizon, these terrorist groups became bolder in their heinous acts and launched attacks to several cities in Europe, Middle East and North Africa, as well as in Turkey. By targeting innocent people, these groups aimed to instill fear into our free societies and cripple global stability, peace and economic development. However, Turkey has stood unified against all these onslaughts. Our resolute fight against terrorism and terrorist elements including PKK is stronger than ever.
Although 2015 has been a year marked by tragic events, it has been a fruitful year for Turkish-Korean relations. Last year, Turkey has successfully chaired the G20 and hosted H.E. President Park Geun-hye in Antalya on the occasion of the G20 Leaders’ Summit in November. Since MIKTA was coordinated by Korea in 2015, Turkish Foreign Minister H.E. Mr. Mevl?t ?avu?o?lu visited Seoul to attend the MIKTA Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in May. H.E. Mr. Park Sung-choon, Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, visited Turkey to attend the 100th Commemoration Ceremonies of the ?anakkale Battles of World War I, representing Korea. H.E. Mr. Nihat Zeybekci, former Minister of Economy, paid a visit to Korea for the signing of the Agreements on Investment and Trade in Services under the Turkey-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
Turkey and Korea will mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations in 2017, which has been mutually designated as the “Turkey and Korea Year” by our Prime Ministers in 2013. It is expected to be celebrated with a series of cultural, diplomatic, sports, academic and economic events throughout 2017 in both countries. The preparations are already underway; therefore, we will be working closely with our Korean counterparts this year to make the 2017 Turkey and Korea Year a success.
Turkey and Korea not only enjoy close and strong political relations, but also vibrant economic and commercial ties. The legal framework for economic and commercial relations has been completed last year with the signing of the Agreements on Investment and Trade in Services under the Turkey-Korea Free Trade Agreement in February 2015. Once these agreements enter into force, we hope to witness a more balanced bilateral trade with Korea.
Human contacts are rapidly increasing between our countries thanks to 21 direct flights between Istanbul and Seoul per week and the interest of Korean tourists for Turkey. In 2015, around 250 thousand Koreans visited Turkey. This has been the result of an increasing interest in Turkey’s cultural wealth and diverse geography.