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Why Bangladesh aims at building closer ties with Turkey

SAM SPECIAL.29.03
Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen (L) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pose for a picture at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey, Sept. 17, 2020

On March 26, Bangladesh's Consul General in Istanbul, Mohammad Monirul Islam, welcomed his guests at Conrad Hotel to celebrate the country’s 50th independence day. The event was attended by parliamentarians, academics, authors, political party leaders and lawyers. 

A week ahead of its independence day, the country celebrated the birth anniversary of its founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was born on March 17 1920 and assassinated on August 15 1975. His daughter Sheikh Hasina is now the country’s prime minister and also the leader of the Awami League party.

For much of its post-independence years, Bangladesh belonged to the poorest group of countries in the world. But those days are over. The country has achieved impressive economic growth with a 6 percent average in the last ten years. Based on Bangladesh’s dynamic economic performance, the UN has also recently recommended that the country’s least-developed status needs to be updated as a developing country. 

“Our economic growth was even more than 8 percent prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Even during the pandemic, when many countries have registered negative growth, Bangladesh was able to grow at 5.2 percent,” says Islam, during the press conference on Friday.

But Bangladesh seeks better results than its current financial situation. The country’s 2041 vision aims to transform Bangladesh into the league of industrially-developed countries.

Beyond economic growth, Bangladesh has made crucial progress in several areas, ranging from women's rights to migration and social equality. It has also earned a reputation for being “the champion of women employment,” says Islam. 

The country also hosts millions of Rohingya refugees, who were forced to flee from Myanmar. 

Islam says that Bangladesh and Turkey enjoy friendly relations that are "deeply rooted in their historical ties, cultural proximity and religious affinity." 

The people of Bengal supported the Turkish War of Independence in the early 1920s. According to Islam, Bangladesh's founding father Mujibur Rahman was inspired by the bravery of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of Turkey. 

Under current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, relations between Dhaka and Ankara have grown stronger. President Erdogan's stance "on the Rohingya issue is absolutely encouraging and simply brilliant," Islam tells TRT World. 

“We all look forward to Erdogan’s visit to Bangladesh,” says Islam. 

In September, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Kalam Abdul Momen visited Turkey and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu immediately paid back a visit to Bangladesh. 

“On the day of our independence anniversary, I like to emphasise that we have a great opportunity for a sustainable cooperation between the two countries,” says Islam. 

The current trade between the two countries stands under one billion dollars, which, as per Islam, is not a satisfactory figure. “We have to increase it to at least two billion dollars in the near future,” he urges. 

Turkey’s two prominent companies, Arcelik and Aygaz, have recently increased their investments in Bangladesh, which signals the beginning of better economic relations, according to the consul general. 

Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK), which connects the Turkish private sector connections with the outside world, has also signed a trade agreement with its Bangladeshi counterpart to increase economic ties, he adds. 

Bangladesh needs Turkey’s experience in sectors like construction, Islam says. “We are also ready to offer an exclusive economic zone only to Turkish investors.” 

Bangladesh, the second biggest exporter in the garment industry after China, also wants to increase cooperation in the textile industry, Islam says. 

But in other industries like pharmaceuticals and health, the two nations are likely to create good opportunities. 

“Erdogan said he wants to build a big hospital in Bangladesh. We warmly welcome this proposal,” says the consul general. 

Many Turkish guests at Bangladesh’s Istanbul consulate were impressed with the country’s efforts to reach the Turkish political leadership as well as its business community.

Ravza Kavakci Kan, an AK Party member of the Turkish parliament, who participated in the Bangladesh consulate’s reception in Istanbul, said that she is a regular in any meeting the country organises because she "likes them so much." 

She also praised the country’s refugee policy regarding the Rohingya. “They have really embraced Arakan Muslims [Rohingya],” Kan said, during a speech in the reception. 

“In Istanbul, the wind of Bangladesh blows,” says Ahmet Coskunaydin, a Turkish economist and writer. “They [Bangladeshis] conduct perfect public diplomacy,” Coskunaydin tells TRT World. 

Metin Uracin, a prominent Turkish lawyer and the president of the Istanbul Bar Association’s foreign relations center, agrees with Coskunaydin. 

“I like them [Bangladeshis]. They do a good job to enhance our relations,” Uracin tells TRT World.