By Nazli Yuzbasioglu and Sorwar Alam
ANKARA (AA) - Sri Lankan Ambassador in Ankara Pakeer Mohideen Amza said it was time to revive the deep-rooted relations Turkey and Sri Lanka have enjoyed.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency Amza said: “This is vital and important for our people to know each other, apart from the fact that we had a very long relation, and it is time for us to renew [the relations] and work together [for the] economy, in people-to-people contact, in cultural and educational areas and so on.”
He noted that relations between Turkey and Sri Lanka went back several centuries.
“We have the evidence now to say that there was a presence of honorary consul representing the Ottoman Empire in 1864 in our capital Colombo. So that was well before we gained independence and well before the establishment of the Turkish Republic. So, the relationship has been there, even before that,” Amza said.
He said universities in both countries have been researching to find more evidence “so that they can go back and see how the relationship was deep-rooted”.
He also touched upon the celebration of the 70th Independence Day of Sri Lanka in Turkey adding the celebration was organized in five Turkish cities: Ankara, Istanbul, Bursa, Trabzon and Erzurum.
“Sri Lanka gains its independence [...] 70 years ago, on Feb. 4, 1948, after 443 years of foreign dominance starting in 1505 by Portuguese followed by the Dutch and the British [...] It’s a very proud moment for all Sri Lankans," said Amza.
- 70 years of diplomatic relations
Amza underlined that diplomatic relations between Ankara and Colombo had been established immediately after the independence of Sri Lanka and added: “This year also marks the 70th year of our diplomatic relations”.
“We have excellent political relations, because Turkey is one of our closest friends when in need. I remember how Turkish people and the government of Turkey at the time of the tsunami and the devastation of our country [reacted], how they came to help us,” Amza said referring to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 that hit several countries, including Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia, and claimed more than 230,000 lives.
He also recalled a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Feb. 10, 2005 – who was prime minister at the time --- to show solidarity with Sri Lankan people affected by the tsunami.
“I remember President Erdogan, at that time he was prime minister, came [...],” he said. "In the same way, Sri Lanka had also expressed its support to Turkey."
Erdogan had launched a "Turkish Village" initiative in Matara, in southern Sri Lanka, for those who lost their homes in the tsunami.
Amza noted that the Sri Lankan president was one of the first leaders to condemn the deadly coup attempt of July 15, 2016, expressing his solidarity with the Turkish people.
Amza said that the Sri Lankan foreign minister would visit Turkey this year as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Colombo last year.
On economic relations, the Sri Lankan envoy hailed the good relations between the two countries.
He noted that Turkey and Sri Lanka in 2016 convened the first joint committee on economy and trade cooperation in 26 years.
“They have come out with roadmap for the expansion of trade relations with the expectation to reach [a trade] volume of $500 million by the end of 2020 from the current volume of $200 million.”
“We are working very ambitiously. We have identified a lot of areas of cooperation. We are working with a lot of trade organizations. We accept the fact that our relationship has not gone to the level where the potential lies.”
Amza continued: "Tea is one of the areas where we can work together. We know people in Turkey like tea. In terms of per capita consumption, Turkey is the number one in the world. Turkish people consume a lot of tea. I know how much they love Sri Lankan tea. And I also know that you have your own tea industries in Rize. And we have been working with your tea industry and our tea industry to see how both industries can cooperate together. For mutual benefit and a win-win situation. If things go as planned, I think it will be beneficial for both countries.”
“We are trying to bring together the tourism sectors of two countries thanks to Turkish Airlines," he said.