Latvian President Andris Berzins has said that Turkey and Latvia enjoy active and productive relations in all fields, adding that President Abdullah Gül's visit to Latvia last year played a significant role in boosting economic relations, in particular.
“It [Gül's Latvia visit] was a good start to speeding up our business relations. Before this meeting we met in Chicago and discussed future joint activities,” said Berzin in an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman on Jan. 18 in Riga.
President Gül met with his Latvian counterpart in April 2013 for talks on various regional and international issues as well as Turkey's decades-long bid for EU membership as a part of his tour of two Baltic countries, Latvia and Lithuania.
According to figures from the Baltic Turkish Trade Association (BTTA), foreign direct investment (FDI) from Latvia was around $62 million between the years 2002-2012. Turkey's FDI in Latvia was $13 million for the same period. BTTA data also show that there are 51 registered Turkish companies in Latvia and 17 Latvian companies in Turkey.
The Latvian president underlined the importance of the location of the two countries and that the route between them connects the Black Sea region to the Baltic Sea. Berzins noted that he had visited some countries in the region before Gül's visit last spring to meet with local officials in the Black Sea region to strengthen Latvia's role as a transit point on that corridor to the Baltic Sea.
President Gül visited Latvia with his wife, Hayrünnisa Gül, at the invitation of his Latvian counterpart in early 2013 and was welcomed by President Berzins and Latvian first lady Dace Seisuma with a formal ceremony in the capital Riga.
Gül had a private meeting with his counterpart and then both presidents joined an inter-delegation meeting with Turkey's then-EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış and then-Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım.
Speaking to the media at a press conference after the talks, President Gül said Turkey has recognized Latvia as an independent state since 1925, adding, “Turkey and Latvia have a long-standing friendship.”
Diplomatic relations were established between the two sides in 1925. Since then, Turkey has never recognized any act of aggression committed against Latvia, or any policy of annexation. In 1940, Latvia was occupied by military forces from the Soviet Union under the provisions of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany. Bilateral relations between Turkey and Latvia grew after Latvia regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Potential for trade volume to increase
Noting that Turkey has always supported Latvia in its EU and NATO bids, Gül also said that the trade volume between the two sides was $300 million and has the potential to increase. He also noted that Latvia and Turkey are both countries that were hardly affected by the recent European economic crisis and that the aim of his visit was to take advantage of their mutually strong positions.
Expressing his gratitude to Latvia for extending its support to Turkey in its EU bid, Gül also referred to the fact that Latvia will take up the rotating presidency of the EU in 2015. Gül added that during their meeting, the two leaders talked about Turkey's roadmap to join the 27-nation bloc. Turkey also reportedly asked Latvia to express the main arguments in Turkey's favor during EU meetings.
In turn, Berzins thanked Gül warmly for Turkey's support in Latvia's NATO bid. Mentioning that there were 114 Turkish students studying in Latvia, Berzins said Turkey and Latvia should also increase their partnership in the fields of culture and education.
“Turkey's willingness to be one of the 10 fastest-growing economic powers in the world is of great importance for us, too,” Berzins said, adding that Turkey and Latvia should cooperate on energy projects as well.
Prior to the press conference, the two nations signed a letter of intent regarding cooperation in the fields of transportation and logistics.
Speaking with Today's Zaman on Jan. 18 in Riga, Berzins addressed several topics:
1-What can Latvia offer Turkey and what does Latvia expect from Turkey in return?
There are so many different activities. The current state of Afghanistan is one of the very important issues [for all countries to cooperate on]. We see a very important role for Turkey in resolving this issue and our involvement of providing help and support, particularly to our strategic partner the US in this final stage of [US military presence in] Afghanistan is so important.
For development around the Black Sea, Georgia and Turkey, we see a perfect future for business development, not just for us. We have always been interested in [taking advantage of] crossroads and strengthening transit routes. We are working not only with Turkey, we have [relationships with] Ukraine and we are trying to improve relations with Belarus. This is very important. Belarus is the shortest route to connect Riga to the Black Sea. Again, having Belarusians as the biggest minority group in Latvia, we are working very hard to improve our relations with them; we have a very long border with Belarus. In many aspects, Latvia is doing its best to promote itself.
Regarding Turkey's relations with the EU, we always supported your country as [a potential] member of the EU and we are trying our best in such sense. Having direct contacts [bilateral visits] improves relations. But of course, the decision to be or not be a [EU] member is up to your country.
I don't see any point where we [Turkey and Latvia] have differences in opinion. Our countries have always been very friendly, particularly after the restoration of independence in 1991.
When we started the process to become fully independent, we always got the necessary support from your country. Considering that our histories are similar in many aspects, we understand your country better [now]. More or less, we have gone through the same history.
Personally, I like to spend a week in your country during our very short summer. I take one week in September to be in your country. I feel so good in Turkey. Your country is very friendly and we are using such advantages as visiting your country, particularly in September or the first couple of weeks of October, to prolong our summer.
Relations between our countries are all very friendly at all levels, not just politically or for business. The business field has enormous future prospects but we are using all opportunities to be in different parts of the world to be much stronger, not only on the West side but also the East side [of the world].
Considering our foreign policy for the last two years, we have focused more on the East side. Now we are focusing on the Caucasus countries, particularly Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Central Asian countries, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan. As a member of the EU, we use the advantages of being in the EU and our past experiences.
We are planning to pay visits to many other countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as we have plans to work much closer with them. All those countries are closely connected to your country. Putting all those things together, it's very good for our future relations.
2-Do you see any possibilities to cooperate with third countries?
We think it is very important to work together. In terms of business, we are very small but we are using our strategic location and also our past experience, as we were in the Soviet Union for 50 years.
We are similar to your country in terms of natural resources. We don't have gas or oil and we have to cooperate closely with those countries that have all those resources. We have good agriculture and forestry products.
Looking cooperation in fields of forestry and agriculture
3-What agreements are you contemplating to facilitate trade and investment?
During the visit of Gül there were several agreements signed in the fields of transport and double taxation, etc., but this is a process. Being small and not being an industrial country, we are looking to other fields where we have very good experience. Especially areas like forestry. Being close to Scandinavia and Finland in particular, we have the necessary capacity to work much closer with your country to give you our products and experience. And agriculture is the same. We have different products.
We hope to get good results from Riga being the 2014 European Capital of Culture (ECOC). We have a very rich centuries-old culture; we have not only European but other cultures as well. We have a perfect education system for the arts, with music [instruction] from kindergarten through to high school; our art and music academy is popular all over the world. Our art academies are very famous with very good reason. They have students from 75 countries, including yours. This is about knowing your cultural heritage, as well. This is a perfect exchange. We are not competing in industry or maybe high technology, but in this field we are strong.
Latvia celebrates being European Capital of Culture 2014
The official inauguration of the 2014 European Capital of Culture (ECOC) took place on Jan. 17 in Riga with about 200 events, including various exhibitions, festivals and shows.
The opening ceremony took place at the Latvian National Opera, with a multimedia performance of Richard Wagner's masterpiece “Rienzi.” Latvian President Andris Berzins gave an inaugural speech at the event.
“This noteworthy cultural event, which will resound throughout the year in various art forms, is a testament to the fact that Riga has legitimately earned the title of European Capital of Culture 2014,” said Berzins.
Diana Civle, director of the Riga 2014 Foundation, also noted that beginning the year's musical program with Wagner's opus in images was not a coincidence, but rather a natural choice, as the composer started working on his third opera in Riga. It is the story of a revolution against the nobility and the protagonist's journey from liberator to absolutism to despotism and ultimate downfall. “During the Capital of Culture year I invite you to give yourself up to the message of the musical tale, conveyed so bravely by the artists on stage,” said Civle.