"When everything is calm down, I will thank and invite the doctors in our residence who treated my family"


2020-06-03 10:00 GMT+8

Gogo.mn invited the Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Mongolia, H.E. Mr. M. Ahmet Yazal as our guest. He has been the Ambassador of Turkey to Mongolia since 2017. We talked about the social and economic relations between the two countries, the measures taken against COVID-19, how he reacted to the situation in his family as a father and his hobbies.

- I read your hobbies and scale plastic model like this. And how many models do you have?
- It's difficult to say because many of them were given away as presents. At this moment I guess have between 15-20 models. More than 30 in Turkey but I don't know exactly how many and I will probably have to give away many of them as presents to friends. Because they are very difficult to carry when you move abroad.

I believe everyone must have a hobby and I hope you have one.  Nice thing is I also was able to find a big group of Mongolian modelers with whom we meet from time to time and discuss our things and models.

- When I was in Izmir, I noticed that stray dogs are very safe and laying in the street wherever they want. I assumed that Turkish people love animals especially for dogs.
- Dogs, cats and all animals. That is our traditional way and also requirement of our religion. Islam tells to respect all the creations of the God. However, we probably were like this even before Turs adopted Islam. We respected the nature because nature was keeping us alive.

Humans and grown up people are responsible for what we do. But the animals and the children are generally victims of our decisions.

The government decided to start a curfew in many big cities like has 40-45 million people in Turkey to prevent covid-19 spread. In Turkey normally local people feed the stray animals like cats and dogs in their neighborhoods. 

So, when they all people were home the stray animals were not able to find any food and water. So, our Minister of Interior ordered the police and gendarmerie units to go into the streets and give food and water for stray animals daily. So, they are leaving food and water for stray animals. That's something we’re very happy and proud of it.

- I heard that your family adopted a stray dog in Mongolia.
- That’s true. But not the full truth. We adopted one dog and two cats from Mongolia. And we were able to find homes for three dogs and four cats. But I'm not the only one who save stray animals. I know that there are Mongolian NGOs and people who are doing the same.

Humans and grown up people are responsible for what we do. But the animals and the children are generally victims of our decisions. So, I feel very sorry for the poor children and the animals. Because they are victims of our greed and decisions most of the time. I try to do my bit to ease the burden on them. That's why probably me and my wife are really sensitive about helping children and stray animals.

- Regarding with your wife, I heard that she supports Mongolian NGO’s action which is running and making handcrafts by Mongolian women.
- Yes. She supports “Shine Zamnal” NGO which make handicraft stuff. We are directly supporting a couple of NGOs. That’s the one of them. Owner lady is actually training handicapped local women to do handcrafts and produce souvenirs.

As the number of flights increase the costs come down so they could be lower.

Then they can sell it to sustain their families. What they're producing on training is sold and the money made is used to train more people. So that's how she works and we were able to organize for them a couple of things here in Mongolia. But as the part of our 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations activities we were able to organize for them two exhibitions in Ankara and Istanbul. They were very successful.

And we are also in close cooperation with some NGOs supporting different orphanages. One of them is kindergarten in the garbage tamp and the other two are actually supporting orphans’ NGOs.


Did Turkish Airlines Company’s ticket price to become cheaper?
- Yes, it did. But now maybe it won't. The problem is Turkish Airlines was offering very special prices right after start of the direct flights. If I was not mistaken, they're offering a $500 return ticket to tourism companies. And as the number of flights increase the costs come down so they could be lower. Now we do not know what's going to be with the airline industry. Some suggest that the airplanes cannot fly full. Maybe there will have to be one seat space between every passenger. It means they can only get half of the number of passengers they carry. But the cost of flights is still the same and maybe even higher. So, nobody knows what the ticket's price will be in the future. But if everything is back to what it was before the COVID-19 problem, then I guess prices will be cheaper. 

We produce a lot of things that you might want to import and there are lots of things that we can import from Mongolia such as minerals, leather, cashmere products and also products like cheese and meat or milk, milk powder etc.

- What are your major visits or planned works for this year?
- We had to cancel many visits and activities. We have to follow all the rules and regulations of Mongolia. So, the we didn't have many high-level programs except for one program for this period.  We had planned the Annual Children's Festival that we organize bringing in Mongolian schools from different the districts of the capital. And we would have big shows in the Children's Palace of singing and dancing performances of many schools. And then we would have reception at the residence to celebrate the Children's holiday at April 23 which is the date Turkish parliament was established. 

Unfortunately, this year we’re not able to hold it. We were even thinking about organizing a nationwide painting contest. But since the schools are closed and it will be difficult to reach children, we had to cancel it. We'll see if the school starts as planned at the end of the summer then we may be able to hold something. If they do not, then I'm thinking about maybe having an online competition where the children can submit pictures regardless of their age or school through their internet site.

- What are the main socio-economic cooperation between our two countries? And what are the main export and import products?
- That is one area that we are a little weak. The problem with Mongolia and Turkey was not the will or capacity of two nations. We produce a lot of things that you might want to import and there are lots of things that we can import from Mongolia such as minerals, leather, cashmere products and also products like cheese and meat or milk, milk powder etc. However, there are some limitations on importing them.

Rules in Turkey prevent import of meat from Mongolia at the moment because it's not according to our standards of being a disease-free country for the animals. But we’re working on some creative ideas like instead of the opening imports to all products maybe we can certify some companies or facilities which produce meats and can only authorize imports from those facilities to Turkey. And we can ask for our customs officials or international standards organizations to check the quality for the health and safety of exports from Mongolia. 

Apparently, we’re buying a lot from China. If you can find a way to export to maybe with railways to Turkey we can buy from Mongolia as well.

But the main problem is the distance and the lack of easy transportation. We were very happy to have the Turkish Airline’s direct flights because with these flights we will have cargo capacity which would be only fully utilized once you open up the new airport. The current airport has some limitations on the landing weight of the airplane. But the new airport it has better runway and taxi ways. So, they can carry more weight which means every airplane will be able to carry around 20 tons of cargo. It means there will be lots of exports and imports between two countries. I hope everything will catch up very quickly.

We produce quality products cheaper than the other alternatives you import from different countries. And Mongolian people seem to have a liking of Turkey's products and style and design. Same is true for us as well. We'll see where it goes except for the minerals as we can get everything with air cargo. When it comes to other things like coal, we’re importing a lot of coal especially for our steel production plants. Apparently, we’re buying a lot from China. If you can find a way to export to maybe with railways to Turkey we can buy from Mongolia as well. There is technically an available railway connection from Mongolia to Turkey at the moment. Or maybe by sea through China or Russia. That is something that we may be able to do in the future as well. 


- What actions are the Turkish government taking against COVID-19 pandemic in this time?
- When I listen to the news in Mongolia, numbers are reported in every day. Now people are focusing on the increase in the numbers of infected people in other countries. In daily press meetings, they are reporting that number of cases in Turkey has increased again or continue to increase. That’s true.  But there is more to that.

You need to increase the capacity of your system like we did by asking the companies to produce masks and medications or important things.

We are very conscious that as a country which brings in 45 million people as tourists every year, with a population of 83 million Turkish citizens, and at least 5 million foreigners living and residing in Turkey including refugees from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries, that it was not possible for us to close down our borders indefinitely. Because we are connected to other countries and world economy far beyond to do anything like you have done here. So, what we have tried it from the beginning was to establishes scientific basis to decide how we should react through this COVID-19. So, we established a Science Board made of prominent scientist’s and experts in their fields in Turkey in the middle of January. And all the decisions of the Turkish government are based on the advice given by these doctors and experts in their fields.

And we try to keep the number of confirmed cases that below the maximum level of our capacity to treat them and we’re one of the most successful countries in the world. We are very lucky that if you consider the per capita intensive care units, we have the highest number in Europe. And we have great experience in our medical system for dealing with all sorts of crisis. Actually, Turkey is a very well developed and listed at third place in the world for health tourism. There is a great number of foreign patients coming in for treatment every year. 

So, all these work for us. Despite very quick and rising numbers in March we were able always to keep everything under control. And now the numbers are turning in our favor. What we have done from January to March was that we used that time frame of almost about 2 months to prepare and increase our capacity to deal with the problem. We imported some medications used for the treatment of the patients and we started to make design and produce some medications and tried to increase the number of intensive care beds and ventilators and other medical equipment by asking Turkish industry and companies to stop what they're producing and turn the production into medical supplies.

When you look at the numbers of people who have to go intensive care and the number of patients who really have to go into intubation that we have one of the lowest rates in the world 

At the beginning we were at a point where we didn't have enough masks, so we imported them from China. Now there are many companies in Turkey whose daily production can reach 2 million masks a day. So now we are at the point where we can start exporting them because we are producing more than our needs.

As of June 1, the number of infected people in Turkey was 164,769 and the number of deaths was 4,563. On this day, 35600 people were tested and 839 cases were confirmed. Untill now, total of 128,947 patients have been completely cured. Now 651 people are in intensive care and  283 patients are with ventilators. 

When you look at the numbers of people who have to go intensive care and the number of patients who really have to go into intubation that we have one of the lowest rates in the world and it's also going down even further. Now daily number of recovering patients is more than the number of new cases. 

Yesterday we had 21.500 tests and came out with 990 new patients. Meanwhile 1.320 patients were discharged from hospitals. So, we hope that we will be able to normalize life starting from June in Turkey. And while doing this in keeping with the COVID-19 threats we always try to keep the economy working as well. And I think among the last group of Mongolians that you brought from Turkey there were no positive cases. I think that is the only charter flight for some time in which that there were no new cases. We hope to be able to deal with this covid-19 problem and keep it under control if nothing unexpectedly changes. 

- How does COVID-19 affect the Turkish economy and what are the measures is being taken by the state to support the economy? Especially for people and business firms?
- The most difficult part of dealing with economy was many companies were not able to do their function and export or sell. And there were lots of difficulties they were not able to import the items that they needed for their production or they were not able to send away the products they have produced to the buyers.

Moreover, there are lots of people who lost their jobs and would lose their job. So, one of the first things that our government decided was to start supporting companies and they launched new system of special kind of insurance to companies. The companies who are not able to pay their workers could apply to this scheme and some percentage of salaries of the workers would be paid by the government as an insurance like the jobless insurance. And our whole treatment process against COVID-19 from start to finish, even including the private hospitals are under the coverage of the emergency treatment insurance of the government and free of charge for all patients.

It is very difficult to expect that at the end of June the conditions will be different or better in and outside of Mongolia.  

So, if you have been tested by COVID-19 in Turkey as a Turkish person or foreigner you don't have to pay anything when you are in treatment at the hospital. All the tests, treatment and medication and staying in the hospitals are free of charge. Then we also started to give some support packages to people who were in difficulty as they produced stuff at home or do labor and things gets payments to people. We have reduced the taxes and postponed the payments of bank loans. So, it was a huge package worth of billions of dollars.

Of course, companies are affected but many of them are actually doing not so bad. One of the things that will be affected is the tourism sectors. We had in 46 million tourists in Turkey last year. Obviously, in this year we don't expect as much and we have to make sure that people do not bring or spread the covid-19 in Turkey or to each other. On the other hand, we want to make sure they don't contact virus wherever they are staying. So, we have started new system at all the holiday resorts and hotels where people come and stay as tourists. The hotels will have to follow certain guidelines and will have to serve guests accordingly by keeping the social distance between their customers and staff and others. Also, we are designing a new system according to which tourists can come into Turkey. First idea is when you arrive in Turkey you will get tested and if the test is negative then you can go on to your destination. And another idea is we may ask people to have a test before come or you can use both.

COVID-19 is a new thing and everybody is learning from it.  As we learn we are adapting the main guidance about what we should do and how we should do it comes from the scientists the doctors in the Science Board. So, they tell us what needs to be done and if you need to have a curfew in a certain place. According to their advice, we have a curfew for the people above 65 because when they get sick, they have a high mortality rate. Also, we have a get a curfew for people who are younger than 20 because they are very healthy and don't even realize that they're sick and they spread the virus more than other generations.

So that's why we keep these two ages of groups indoors and trying to keep the economy running but brought limits to intercity travel and we closed our borders. We hope to start normalizing things in June.


- Please share your opinion as an Ambassador about Mongolian’s current action against COVID-19?
- Mongolia doesn't have the capability to deal with this huge problem if there is a spread of the virus in the country and everybody recognizes that fact. That's why the measures that you initially took were very hard compared to so many other countries. But they worked. The good thing is you kept Mongolia free from COVID-19 so far. 

You need to also think about preparing the country for a possible spread of the virus. 

But the one thing that we have always believed in Turkey that it is very difficult to keep Turkey closed as Mongolia indefinitely. Because much too far connected with lots of other countries to keep our economy running. We have maybe 10 million foreigners in Turkey and we have more than same number of Turks living in other countries around the world. So, it's far more difficult for us. 

There is also the fact that COVID-19 will be with us foreseeable future. It's not something that will go away in a year. So, you can keep the country closed for 1 or up to 3 years but eventually when you open up the doors right outside of your borders there will be still COVID-19 out there. So, you need to also think about preparing the country for a possible spread of the virus. This is very valuable time that we have bought. And I hope this goes on like that as long as possible.

But for the eventuality that you may have a spread of virus or may have to open up your borders at one point, you need to also increase the capacity of your system to deal with the problem. So the whole issue is if your system is capable of dealing with the number of patients. So, you need to prepare. For instance, you need to increase the capacity of your system like we did by asking the companies to produce masks and medications or important things.

Also, you need to try to keep the number of patients down by the installing curfews and asking closing down the schools and public gatherings and stuff. So, you need to balance these two. There is no way that you can 100 percent be sure that you can indefinitely prevent the spread in your country. The risks are always there.

You also have to start thinking about what's next. I cannot see that plan yet. Maybe it is there but I'm not the informed and only Mongolian government can decide about it. But sometimes I have the feeling that maybe it's not purely medical reasons that's you are planning your actions. We'll see where it goes. Now we will still be closed in Mongolia until the end of June. In that time, we hope also not Mongolian government prepares for an eventuality. Because it is very difficult to expect that at the end of June the conditions will be different or better in and outside of Mongolia.  

- Please give some information about Turkish nuclear power station which is being built by Russians? What are the advantages of this power station for Turkey?
- That is one of the facilities that could have been affected because there are also foreigners and experts are working in there. And there's a labor force that needs to travel to build the facility.  It is at the earlier stages of the construction.

In Turkey we have everything except oil. We are an energy hungry country and highest and biggest chunk off of imports are actually energy sources like oil and natural gas. We import huge amounts of natural gas and oil from other countries to meet our energy needs. We produce a lot of hydroelectric and wind energy and we are also trying to produce a lot of sun energy. But we still need more and more energy every year to needs of our public and our industry. So, our government decided that we will have to consider the use of nuclear energy as a cheaper and reliable energy source. We have been able to discuss this with many other countries around the world like Japanese, French and Russians. Then the Russians made the best offer and now we're working with them to the complete this facility. I think it will really ease the burden on our economy for our imports on gas and oil. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2023 and total cost is about $20 billion.

- How was the Turkish school problem solved? Did teachers go to their home or other countries?
- These schools were run by a Turkish group which was behind the coup attempt in Turkey in 2016. We realize that they were presenting themselves as an education group that is providing good and cheap education to children and helping them all around the world.

 I can assure you that was not a Turkish citizen or Turkish official involved in all those things. 

But actually, they were just acting like private schools and charging huge sums of money for the just like any other private school. And they were actually using all this money that they were getting all around the world to actually financing to some of their illegal activities.

And they were doing this in many countries including Turkey and maybe even Mongolia. They were trying to place their graduates and people close to their organization to very critical positions within the government structures. Then with their help use the government resources to actually help their organization. At one point they became so powerful because of the positions they held within the Turkish government institutions that, they thought about challenging the democratically elected government. When the government reacted and realize that the activity, they were doing was illegal and started to take legal action against them. They decided that the only way to come out of it was to stage a coup. But it failed because of the reaction of the people. And after the coup attempt, they were recognized as an illegal terrorist organization.

So what we have been telling the Mongolian government was that when you allow these schools to make money, you let them to actually finance the bigger group which is behind so many illegal activities, including the could attempt in Turkey which cost the lives of 250 citizens in one night. The that's why we wanted the government to take action to make sure that these schools are no longer controlled by this group. We don't have a problem with the schools or students. We just want to make sure that this illegal group does not control the schools. 

It created a huge political problem against the Mongolian government and against us.

They will always create problems between us. You would remember what happened in 2018. I can very easy to say that Turkey and Turkish Embassy has nothing to do with what happened at that time. I mean Mongolian side has responsibility to find out who did it. I don’t know who did it, how did they tried to do that. That's not my issue but I can assure you that was not a Turkish citizen or Turkish official involved in all those things. 

But it created a huge political problem against the Mongolian government and against us. I was telling to all my Mongolian counterparts these are just schools and these are only teachers. How come teachers can have so much political weight and power in this country to make Turkey and Mongolia become almost enemies. 

We were very careful in showing reaction to what happened to our embassy during those days. They were many breaches of Vienna convention and many cases of unpleasant and ugly treatment of my staff. But still we knew that this was not the Mongolian government’s intention.   So, we tried to calm things down and we were able to come through that test.  

If you ask me, I think the Mongolian government just realized that these people were not just simple teachers and they also had quite a lot of power or influence in the country. So, they decided to send when these people away. Our courts were seeking some of them. I don't know if there are the criminals or not. Only courts can make a decision that those are criminals or not. But what we really try to do was to ask from Mongolian government to arrest them and send them Turkey to be tried because of the request of our courts. But before that happened Mongolian government had decided to send away all Turkish people who are working in the schools and their families. We are happy that the Mongolian government sent these people away.

We can if they would like to find a way according to Mongolian laws and regulations and to get rid of these owners and place the schools under another ownership.

But the problem is schools are still continuing. They are under the control or ownership of some facade companies that don't really exist. On paper they were sold a company in Germany. But when you check, the German company’s address is in a small house in the middle of nowhere in a village in Germany. And the establishment capital of the company is only €25.000. So, the company that has only capital of €25.000 has 5 schools in Mongolia. Lawyers who were actually buying the schools for the company are working for this FETÖ organization. 

So, we're just telling to our Mongolian counterparts to be careful about their activities. And we tell them that we are happy to help them in any way we can if they would like to find a way according to Mongolian laws and regulations and to get rid of these owners and place the schools under another ownership. I don't know how it may happen. Mongolian government can take them over as Mongolian schools. They can find another private business model by the schools they can close down schools which we do not want. We can work with Mongolian government support schools the if they want us to do so.

This issue still standing there. But we don't see this issue as a bilateral problem. We see this issue that we can work together with the Mongolian government and solve.

- Mongolian consular officers who are working in Istanbul have been involved in drug trafficking in Germany. Do you have any information on the status of this case?
-There are actually two cases. One case is about two officers who were arrested in Germany. And that case is a crime was committed in Germany. Probably German authorities are cooperating with our Turkish authorities to get better evidence and want to find where they got those drugs from and how they transported them. But that is a German legal case.

Other case that came up recently is connected with two other Consular officers who are at the moment in Turkey. Turkish authorities asked the Mongolian government's consent to start an investigation. One of them are covered under the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations and other one is no longer covered under this convention. Turkish authorities will start investigation and see where it goes. So, I cannot say that they are involved in drug or they’re criminals. We will see if they have any connection to crimes or anything. Investigation is at the very early stages and we will be cooperating fully with the Mongolian government on this issue. 


What was your most exciting or unforgettable moment during your time in Mongolia?
- I had many nice moments in Mongolia. But maybe it’s there was a recent and not so nice experience for me that I will never forget as a father. It was during my family’s treatment process. It was most shocking and disturbing for me to hear my 11 years old daughter was tested positive from a press briefing. We heard it from the Health Ministry's press briefing that my daughter was also tested with COVID-19 while she was in a hospital. They announced to the public even before telling it to me as a father or her to her mother and even to her doctor. So that was ugly. Also, all these whole businesses of leaks and information on hate speech and insults towards embassy in my family were also very sad.

The rules about release of information about the patients should be very strict. 

If you check our Embassies social media pages, they contain messages from a lot of people shouting at us and telling us to leave Mongolia and accusing us for bringing COVID-19 to Mongolia.

But they don't really understand that we have only one home and it is Mongolia. My family and myself do not have another home everywhere else. This is where we live and we call it home. That's my family were coming back to their home just like the other Mongolians doing the same.

So, if you ask me, the most unforgettable experience was to hear my daughter was sick from a press briefing. The rules about release of information about the patients should be very strict. There are 141 COVID-19 cases in Mongolia now. You know 4 of them. My wife, my two children and a French citizen. Because your authorities gave away all the information to public about these 4 people. Do you know any other names from the remaining patients? You don’t know nothing about the others. And that’s how it should have been with my family as well.

Now my wife my children are having difficulty in their daily life.  One day my wife went to the sports club she was declined service because they said she had COVID-19 and shouldn’t allowed be there. Although she does not present the risk and even your authorities say that she does not present a risk she was not allowed. Now people are afraid of us. And when people are scared, they do strange things to people who are connected with our embassy and people are working with us. I have a local staff member who say their friends and relatives refuse to speak to them or meet with them because they're working for us and they may bring the virus from the Turks. 

Unfortunately, Mongolia has become a difficult place to live for us at the moment. This is very unnecessary and bad for everyone. I hope this does not last.

- I hope your family members are good now.
-​ They are good now. I want to thank our doctors, nurses and the local staff cleaning the rooms and helping them in the hospital. They are not only good professionals, but also they're very dedicated and motivated people. They are the people who made it possible for my family to go through this whole process. I cannot appreciate enough their support, professionalism and humanity. When everything is calm down, I'm going to make sure that we all bring them together in our residence and celebrate the recovery of my family. 

- You have been working in Mongolia for 3 years. During this time, I assume that you have become aware of the attitudes and behaviors of Mongolians. Please tell us with honest about if there is something that you made sad or frustrated in Mongolia? Maybe something that hinders our development.
- When you consider the traditions or reactions and behavior in the family and towards friends or foreigners, a lot of things for Mongolians and Turks are very similar. I can probably understand more from the reactions of Mongolians than many other diplomats about what that person is thinking about.

We'll see if the Mongolia and Turkeys will be able to put more focus on bilateral relations and cooperation after the elections.

It is because we are also people from these lands. For instance, Turkish dough and Mongolian dough’s ingredients are same. So that’s easier for me to understand Mongolia. When I criticize anything in Mongolia actually, I'm speaking out of experience because they are generally mistakes, we made in Turkey too.

However, one thing that makes it a little demanding to work here is that when you do something in Mongolia, you don't really look very far ahead. You focus on the short interests. But those short-term interests in the long run are sometimes not good for you.

Then another thing is not only for Mongolia, it's a problem for in the world including my country. Domestic politics have become very intense. So sometimes countries are too much focused on the inside to realize that they are missing opportunities or hurting friends outside. Again, I don't say this is the case only in Mongolia, this is the case for many countries in the world. But since this is a really small so society, it is more visible. 

- What are your plans for the rest of your stay in Mongolia?
- This year is an interesting opportunity. I want to be able to see more of Mongolia if we can.  Because normally our tradition was in this period, I send my children and my family to Turkey to visit their grandparents. But this year I don't think it will be possible for them to travel to Turkey and come back. So, we probably have more chance to travel around Mongolia to see more of it. We have been able to see the south and north and most of the central area.  Now maybe to the east or far away west to Khovd and Bayan-Ulgii aimags.

Here we don't have any problems to solve. So, we will have to build on top of it what we have already.

And about workwise, our job is as a diplomat to improve relations with the country we are serving in. And I was invited to our Diplomatic Academy to address young generation of diplomats. I always remind them that even if you have war with the country as a diplomat your job is to improve our relations with that country, not to fight them. Fighting is the job of the soldiers and our job is to improve relations with that country. 

Here we don't have any problems to solve. So, we will have to build on top of it what we have already. So, we'll see if the Mongolia and Turkeys will be able to put more focus on bilateral relations and cooperation after the elections. If so, then the we have a lot of things that we can work together with. 

- Thank you for your interview.

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