Ismet Erikan: “It is hoped that some facilities in Turkey will be opened by the end of Ramadan”
Interview with the Consul General of Turkey in Kazan: about life in the conditions of COVID-19 in the homeland and in Tatarstan
The planned trip of Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov to Turkey fell through due to the coronavirus. Online and other important activities had to be postponed or moved to online, said Consul General of Turkey in Kazan Ismet Erikan in the interview with Realnoe Vremya. In his opinion, today we are witnessing the formation of a new world order. In the interview with our correspondent, the diplomat told how the Turks in Tatarstan are experiencing the epidemic and what quarantine measures have been taken in his country. He also shared a forecast of when Turkey will begin to remove the restrictions imposed on citizens and companies.
“There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus among Turkish citizens in Tatarstan”
Ismet Bey, coronavirus has taken the whole world by surprise. Could you tell us how the Turks living in Tatarstan are experiencing the pandemic and related quarantine measures?
The life of the Turks here is not very different from the life of local Tatarstan citizens — Tatars or Russians. We continue to constantly remind our citizens to follow the rules and comply with the measures imposed by local authorities. The most vulnerable segment is students. But they are also isolated in their halls of residence, and we keep in touch with them. So far, according to our data, Turkish citizens in our consular district have no confirmed cases of coronavirus. Some students had problems with the availability of masks, so on Friday we distributed them a number of protective masks. Given that Friday was the first day of Ramadan and most students observe fasting, we added small gifts to these masks — baklava, pies, to somehow make their days more endurable.
In March, when the whole COVID-19 situation was just beginning, I created a WhatsApp chat that included the heads of Turkish businesses and organizations that work here. When news comes that we want to urgently convey to our citizens, we inform them in this chat. Because, as you know, hundreds, thousands of employees work in these companies — Polimeks, Coşkunöz, Şişecam, Kastamonu, Hayat Kimya, ENKA, Gemont, banks… We regularly communicate with the heads of large companies by phone, inquire about their affairs, and ask about the measures taken. So far, everything is quite encouraging, no incidents have occurred, no difficulties have arisen.
Besides, we did not close the Consulate General but just took some additional measures of protection. We have reduced the number of employees permanently being in the Consulate General building. Many are working from home. Besides, we continue to operate a hotline that you can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Citizens can contact us with any questions.
Hundreds, thousands of employees work in these companies — Polimeks, Coşkunöz, Şişecam, Kastamonu, Hayat Kimya, ENKA, Gemont, banks…
You may have heard that on April 22 two special flights to Turkey with our citizens took off from Moscow. Two more flights will be organized on Thursday. Our consular district, which includes Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Mari El, Mordovia, the Chuvash Republic, and Samara Oblast, is well coordinated. We are collecting applications from our compatriots, send them to Moscow, where they are processed, and then organize such special flights. Of course, upon arrival, all these citizens undergo a two-week quarantine.
So for now, everything is under control. We are closely monitoring the measures taken by the local authorities. Of course, we inform all our staff and Turkish citizens about these rules — about social distance, hygiene, etc., and try to follow them ourselves.
Has the work of Turkish companies stopped in Tatarstan? Or are they continue to work?
All companies continue to work in accordance with the government's decisions.
Did any of the citizens of the Republic of Turkey leave Tatarstan for their homeland?
Yes, not a very large number. Those who do not have an urgent need to stay here permanently have returned home. You know that students have been switched to distance learning. Therefore, some of them also returned to Turkey and continued their studies there, and we helped them return. Those who were forced to stay here due to their studies or personal circumstances remain under our supervision, and the universities themselves also control them.
Are there any cases among Russians living in Turkey?
I don't have that data. I learned from the press that the Russian diplomatic missions are doing similar work to export their citizens by special flights from different countries, including Turkey.
All companies continue to work in accordance with the government's decisions
“The visit of Rustam Minnikhanov to Turkey was planned, but now it has been cancelled”
Do I understand it right that you continue to come to work and are not self-isolated?
As necessary, we come to work. The number of staff and the working day have been reduced. But we didn't put a lock on the Consulate door. By the way, I am now talking to you from the office because there is a continuous work that cannot be interrupted.
It turns out that the Consulate General is not receiving citizens?
Only in emergency situations. People make an arrangement in advance, let them in one at a time: while one person prepares documents, the next one does not come in. Again, this is only for emergencies. There are not many visitors: everyone understands that we are going through a special period now.
Did you have to cancel many events and meetings?
Yes, of course. Some of the events are held online. April 23 was an important date for us — the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. April 23 is also National Sovereignty Day and Children's Day in Turkey. On this day, the embassy first organized a programme for children and their parents — everything was held online. Also, the Yunus Emre Institute held a holiday: about 200,000 participants joined the celebration. We also had our own event. There is a Sunday school at the House of Friendship of the Peoples of the Republic of Tatarstan, where more than 40 children learn Turkish. And these children prepared their own programme: we connected and watched it. The event was attended by our Ambassador in Moscow, he delivered his speech, and I also delivered a speech. We listened to the songs and poems of the children.
Besides, I spoke online with students who study here. They told me about their needs and difficulties. And, as I've said, on Friday, we gave them small presents: I went to the halls of residence and gave them our gifts.
Every year in early August, the city hosts the Fanfare of Kazan festival. An orchestra from Turkey was supposed to come here. But it is not clear what the fate of this festival will be
There are students who are studying in the Kazan Federal University in various departments and studying Turkish language. They have created a conversation club. We also talked online, and I answered their questions. On Tuesday, together with the Yunus Emre Institute, we held a lecture on ancient Turkic epitaphs. Rector of the Alanya Alaaddin Keykubat University (Alanya) held an online seminar on this topic. In early or mid-May, the lecturer at the International Relations Department of the Technical University of the Middle East (Ankara) and director of the Institute of Foreign Policy will also hold an online lecture for students. We organise various online activities for children, master classes in painting. In short, we are not sitting idly by.
Thus, events are held only in virtual reality.
Did you have to cancel or reschedule many meetings?
Yes, a lot. I will not say “cancelled”, we will consider that postponed. The first event that I had to cancel, which made me very upset, was an exhibition of kaftans in the Ottoman style, which was planned in the exhibition hall Manege of the Kazan Kremlin. We had invitations and posters ready... Let's hope that this exhibition will take place later. In August, we had to hold an exhibition of a modern Turkish artist — and it had to be cancelled, too.
Every year in early August, the city hosts the Fanfare of Kazan festival. An orchestra from Turkey was supposed to come here. But it is unclear what the fate of this festival will be. As you know, Russia-Islamic World: KazanSummit 2020 has been cancelled, which was supposed to be attended by a Turkish delegation. The most important thing is that the visit of Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov to Turkey was planned, and now it has been cancelled until the situation improves. I emphasize that I do not want these meetings to be cancelled, and I hope they will take place at a later date. For now, the events scheduled for October are listed in the programme. We will see how the situation develops further.
All flights in Turkey have been suspended
“These days we are going through the peak and approaching the plateau”
Ismet Bey, could you tell us what restrictive measures have been introduced in Turkey to prevent the spread of the virus? Are they similar to Russian ones?
In Turkey, it is going somewhat different. Stores are mostly being closed. But for people over 65 years of age, a complete ban on leaving the house has been in effect for more than 5 weeks. And those under the age of 20 are also strictly forbidden to go outside. In 31 provinces, a complete ban on going out is periodically imposed — from two to three or four days (if combined with weekends). All flights in Turkey have been suspended. Intermunicipal transportation is only available with special permits.
Every day, the ministry of health announces recent figures. Recent data show that the number of deaths from coronavirus is decreasing. 35-40 thousand tests are conducted daily. In recent days, the number of recovered people has started to exceed the number of infected people. As we can see, the measures are taken correctly. A scientific council has been formed under the ministry of healthcare, which consists of specialists. Their reports are sent to the president and members of the government. And depending on the received data, appropriate state decisions are made.
As for the economy, the necessary measures have also been taken in this area and are already being implemented. More than 4,5 million families have received financial assistance. Financial support is provided to those who lost their jobs due to this situation for various reasons. Some enterprises that meet certain conditions also receive state support.
Can we say that the peak has already been reached in Turkey?
Some specialists say that these days we are going through the peak and approaching the plateau.
Which sectors of the economy have been most affected in Turkey?
As in other countries — transportation, transport, tourism, small and medium-sized businesses, hairdressers, services, restaurant business.
The share of tourism in the Turkish economy is quite large…
You're right. The minister of culture and tourism believes that by the end of Ramadan (May 23 — the last day of Ramadan — editor's note), some objects will be opened in compliance with all necessary measures. For example, sun beds will be located far from each other. Tables in restaurants will be spread out over wider distances and the number of seats will be reduced, and open buffets will be removed at all. But this is all speculation so far. By the end of May, there will be some clarity. It is believed that shopping centres may open in mid-May.
Timur, a new world order is emerging in this situation. I'm probably not the first to say this: the world will change, everything will not be the same as before. As other terrible diseases have entered our lives and changed it, so the coronavirus will probably enter our lives, affect our worldview and our world. And here it is not so important what measures you have taken on your land, how you try, because measures must be taken by the whole world to make something move and to reduce the number of these cases. Even if the virus is reduced to zero in one country, and the infection flourishes in another country, it may be good for your country, but you will not be able to open the borders. The world is already different. There is no difference between rich and poor, between a large and small country — everyone is equal.
You see the situation in Europe. The countries that have been most affected (Spain, Italy, Germany) are developed and quite rich states. But compared to them, Turkey has turned out to be more prepared. When others didn't take seriously the situation we have already started to take action. Besides, Turkey is the leader in the production of personal protective equipment — masks, disposable coats, etc. We have provided these medical devices to the affected European countries and continue to help them.
We have taken more than 60,000 Turkish citizens from different countries to their homeland. For example, last weekend, Turkey got its citizen out of Sweden who could not receive timely medical care: he was diagnosed with coronavirus, and Turkey sent a special flight for him.
Are the military actions of Turkey in Syria being continued, including Operation Peace Spring?
A cease-fire has been declared. As far as I know, everything is quiet there.