Expert opinion
First Trilateral Summit-Level Meeting
15 May, 2014
Turkish Ambassador talked with Georgian Journal about visit of Turkish President

Abdullah Gül, President of the Republic of Turkey, paid his second official visit to Georgia. On the first day of the visit, the trilateral summit among Georgian, Turkish and Azeri Presidents took place. Georgian Journal seized the opportunity and recorded the interview right after the three-day visit of the Turkish President, with the Ambassador of Turkey to Georgia, H.E. Mr. Levent Gümrükçü.
G.J: What does it mean for you
to be the Turkish ambassador to Georgia?
Z.G: I have been in the foreign service for the last 24 years and this is my first ambassadorial post. I started my tenure in Tbilisi on 1 February 2014 and I feel quite happy to serve as the Turkish Ambassador here in Georgia. Given the excellent relationships between our two countries and the very warm reception extended to me by all my Georgian counterparts it is indeed a privilege to be a Turkish Ambassador in Georgia. I am also particularly lucky to have two very high-level visits within the first three months of my stay in Georgia. The first one was just few days before I arrived when Georgian President Mr. Margvelashvili paid his first official bilateral visit abroad to Turkey. I was then in Ankara to receive him as a prospective ambassador to Tbilisi and it was an excellent visit where we discussed many issue in the friendliest manner. And three months later on May 5th, my President Mr. Abdullah Gül visited Tbilisi.
G.J: Mr. Ambassador, now let’s talk about the visit of the Turkish President Mr. Abdullah Gül please.
Z.G: It was a very successful visit. It had two parts: the bilateral visit segment and the trilateral summit between Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. But he also had some time to do sightseeing and attend a few cultural events. Usually this is not the case for such Presidential visits where the program is very tight. But our President last visited Tbilisi seven years ago in 2007, then in his first trip abroad as President, and fell in love with this beautiful city. He in fact said that on several occasions during his visit this time too, when he characterized Tbilisi as the pearl of the Caucasus. That is why he wanted to spend here as much time as possible.
Immediately after his arrival, together with President Margvelashvili, they walked through the streets of Tbilisi along the Rustaveli Street towards the old town and the Peace Bridge. Aside from sightseeing, it also gave them the opportunity to interact with the Georgian population who warmly embraced my President and extended him a sincere welcome. It was also very kind of President Margvelashvili to accompany President Gül all along the walk. So, we had a wonderful and very friendly start to the visit. After enjoying Tbilisi in such an informal atmosphere on the first day, we started the second day of the visit with the first summit-level meeting of the trilateral cooperation between Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. That morning the Azerbaijani President Mr. Aliyev also joined his Turkish and Georgian counterparts. In fact, being three neighbors and having so much in common, the three countries have been cooperating very closely for the last 20 years on many different projects. The first concrete example of this cooperation had been the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which came to life almost ten years ago. Since then, we had many other projects particularly in the fields of energy and transportation which brought high level officials from the three countries together.
That said, it is only two years ago that our Foreign Minister proposed to institutionalize the cooperation between the three countries. The first meeting to this end was held in Trabzon in 2012 between the three foreign ministers. There they decided to set up a mechanism where not only foreign ministers but others such as those of economy, energy and transport meet regularly to discuss different aspects of trilateral cooperation. A year later in 2013, the Foreign Ministers of the three countries have adopted in Batumi a sectoral action plan which further formalized and expanded the scope of our trilateral cooperation covering almost all fields of our relations. In the meantime, the chairmen of the foreign relations committees of our parliaments have also started meeting within that framework. Then, during President Margvelashvili’s official visit to Ankara in January 2014, our President proposed to raise these trilateral meetings to the summit-level. That was immediately accepted by President Margvelashvili and he kindly offered to host the first summit meeting in Tbilisi.
So, on 6 May, at the first such summit meeting, the three Presidents, accompanied by several Ministers – those of economy, energy, transport and foreign affairs - took stock of our trilateral cooperation so far and shed light on our common vision towards future. Overall, it was a very fruitful meeting. It was not only to review our trilateral cooperation projects but also to discuss the regional and international issues.
In terms of trilateral projects, there were two particular issues in focus. The first one was Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway Project about which the Presidents were given short presentations by the three transport ministers. This project is of historic value and great strategic importance for many reasons. Primarily because with the completion of this project, there will be uninterrupted railway connection from Beijing to London. In other words, we are going to revitalize the ancient Silk Road in a modernized way on rails. It will make a huge impact on the economic relations between the East and West - Europe and Asia - as it will facilitate the commercial transportation of goods and materials in both directions. But it will also facilitate the movement of people as well, bringing the two continents ever closer to each other. As such, it will be a historic project not only for the three countries but for Europe and Asia as well. In light of these considerations, at the summit meeting, the three presidents have made a joint decision to accelerate the completion of this project which is now expected to be operational in the second half of next year.
The other project that was discussed at length was the energy pipelines. They reviewed not only the existing Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum natural gas pipelines but also discussed the next big project in the field of energy, namely the Trans-Anatolia natural gas pipeline (TANAP), which will carry natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe through Georgia and Turkey. In the near future, the natural gas of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are also expected to be transported to Europe through this new pipeline. So, this is again a project of high strategic importance particularly in light of what is happening in Ukraine. It is going to change the dynamics of the global energy game as it will help Europe diversify its energy sources. This project is planned to be operational in 2018 and the Presidents of the three countries have again decided to do everything to expedite the process and make it a success.
G.J: What about regional and international issues?
Z.G: The three presidents reconfirmed their commitment to peace, security, stability and prosperity in the Caucasus on the basis of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of each and every state. In this context, they discussed the existing conflicts and problems in the region and reiterated their commitment for their peaceful resolution. They also exchanged views on the developments in Ukraine and shared their firm support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. All three Presidents have expressed their desire to see dialogue and diplomacy prevail over contention so that a peaceful and lasting solution can be found as soon as possible.
They also agreed that the trilateral cooperation between Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan can in fact be a good example for the rest of the region and the world in showing the benefits of cooperation rather than confrontation. Indeed, the trilateral cooperation is a product of a wise and visionary approach which focuses on things that bring us together rather than keep us apart. We hope that other countries in the region will also appreciate the logic of the trilateral cooperation and see how beneficial it is not only for the region but even beyond. In short, we are very much proud of this cooperation and plan to extend it to new areas such as culture, environment, tourism, health, fight against organized crime and other security risks. After the trilateral summit, the bilateral part of President Gül’s visit started.
G.J: Now, let us talk about it.
Z.G: The first part of the bilateral visit was the Georgian-Turkish business forum. As you know Turkey is number one trade partner of Georgia and ranks among the first three in terms of direct foreign investments. This is why President Gül came to Tbilisi with a large business delegation consisting of more than 100 Turkish businessmen. It was a good chance for Turkish and Georgian business worlds to get together in the framework of this forum, explore new business opportunities and see what further they can do together. In this regard, a lot of new partnership projects were discussed and agreed among the business communities. Georgian authorities were also able to brief the Turkish businessmen about the new reforms and financing facilities in Georgia, which drew great attention from the Turkish side.
Prime Minister Gharibashvili and President Gül addressed the closing session of the Business Forum. There, Prime Minister Garibashvili said that Georgia's doors are wide open for the Turkish business community and that they will do everything to attract more Turkish investments to Georgia. Turkish President on his part praised Georgia for its efforts to become a more democratic and investment-friendly country and said that these steps will help further deepen and diversify our economic/commercial relations. He also encouraged the Turkish business community to make the most out of the emerging new opportunities in Georgia, particularly in light of the prospective free trade agreement between Georgia and the EU.
At the official bilateral talks with both President Margvelashvili and Prime minister Garibashvili, we discussed many issues, ranging from transportation to energy, tourism to health. But before giving you some details of these talks, let me share with you a striking figure showing the special nature of our relations. About 1.8 million Georgians visit Turkey every year, while 1.6 million Turks visit Georgia. So, we are both number one tourism destinations for each other. This is maybe the most important foundation of our relations, since people-to-people ties and the mutual understanding that this entails are the best guarantee for good relations between countries.
As to the specific issues, we discussed how we can further liberalize transport and customs regimes between our countries in a way that will expand the scope of our trade but also our reach out to third countries. Let me just say that more than 200 thousand Turkish trucks cross Georgia every year in both directions and the potential is even more. Regarding energy, on the other hand, Georgia has a big potential in hydroelectric power production. Many hydroelectric power stations are already being built by the Turkish companies and Georgia will soon have a considerable excess capacity in electricity production. In that context, Turkey has proposed an inter-governmental agreement to Georgia to buy all the extra electricity that is produced in the country. This is a win-win project, where both our countries will benefit in terms of trade and energy consumption. At the meetings we also confirmed our mutual agreement that we are not only neighbors but strategic partners. As Turkey, we firmly support Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, as well as its aspiration to integrate with Euro-Atlantic structures. In this regard, we are very pleased with the fact that Georgia will be signing Association Agreement with the EU as of next month. We also hope that at the upcoming NATO Summit in Wales Georgia’s progress will be recognized in a mutually satisfactory way.
G.J: Mr. Ambassador, Irakli Gharibashvili said and you repeated it that Georgian market is opened for the Turkish production. Is the Turkish market equally opened for the Georgian production?
Z.G: Certainly. We have a free trade agreement signed in 2007 and it is functioning well. Of course, we want to import more from Georgia. But at this point, there is limited number of products that Georgia exports abroad, including Turkey. In the future, however, we want to see Georgia produce more, so that they can export more. As I mentioned, the President brought around 100 very high level businessmen with him. So, the state support and encouragement for more trade and investment is definitely there. As you know, mineral water and wine are your top export items. But we are ready to diversify the export potential of Georgia, including with additional agricultural and manufactured products. Your government is also committed to this end particularly by focusing on agricultural development, energy production and increasing tourism, just to name a few priority areas. Turkey and the Turkish companies are ready to partner with Georgia in this endeavor. I believe Turkish companies now have additional incentives to come and invest in Georgia as their production here will have a free access to Europe thanks to the deepened and comprehensive free trade agreement between Georgia and the EU.
G.J: For Georgians, even passports are not needed to go to Turkey. Do you think that it is a good example for other countries and is it possible that we will have visa-liberalization treaties with NATO and EU member countries before or shortly after the signing of the associated agreement?
Z.G: This should of course be decided on a country-to-country level. But what we have between Turkey and Georgia is a good example. It shows that countries with common vision can indeed integrate in much deeper ways and that people-to-people relations can only support and augment that. So far, there was no negative result from the passport-free travel between our countries. We have only received positive feedback from our citizens and particularly our business communities. In short, we are very glad and proud of this unique sort of practice and wish that it can be a good example for others too. On the other hand, I know that Georgia is discussing with the EU the possibility of visa-free travel to European countries. Hopefully, you will be able to achieve that sooner rather than later. Turkey is also in the process of the visa-liberalization with the EU. Probably, we will come to that point by 2016. So, within the next 3 to 5 years, we might have the ability to create a much freer space where not only goods and products, but also people and ideas can travel easily in the larger European geography. And I believe that is exactly what we should aspire and work for.
G.J: Rumors say that Russia may become active in case we sign the associated agreement. What do you think, is it real and what about the position of the west that we can anticipate?
Z.G: I think we should look at facts rather than speculations. When Prime Minister's Special Representative for relations with Russia, Mr. Abashidze, met with his Russian counterpart Mr. Karrasin, the latter declared that Russia has nothing against Georgia signing the Association Agreement with the EU. We hope and expect that it will be the case since Georgia has the right to make its own free choices about its foreign policy and international relations. Furthermore, a Georgia, which integrates with Euro-Atlantic structures and thus becomes a more stable and prosperous country, is an asset for everyone in the region. So it should be in everyone’s interest to see this objective of Georgia realized to the benefit of every country in the region. This is precisely how Turkey views Georgia’s quest for Euro-Atlantic integration and we are committed to support it in any way we can.
G.J: But one thing is what Russia says and another thing it what it does. Who else but Georgia knows that Russia is not very good at keeping its word. I do not think it said that it was against Ukraine's joining EU either, but it happened what happened.
Z.G: I think the key here is respect for the international laws and norms which bounds every country without exception. Maybe diplomacy does not work as fast as people expect it but we still hope that we will solve the crisis in Ukraine through dialogue and diplomacy. As a regional country and a responsible member of the international community, Turkey is particularly active in this process. We are trying to engage all our partners, including Russia, in that direction. As you know, we have not recognized the referendum in Crimea and its results since we believe that it is part and parcel of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. In the 21st century, there is no place for any state to annex parts of other countries through use of force or the threat of it. That cannot be tolerated. I think there is a very strong commitment on the part of the international community in that regard. Therefore, although the developments so far have not been very promising, I still hope and believe that diplomacy has a chance to solve the problem peacefully and in respect of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.