Consul General Ferhat Alkan's Interview To International Focus Magazine
Houston "International Focus" magazine December 2016 edition published an interview with Consul General Ferhat Alkan. Please find below the text of the interview originally held in November.
"First tell us a little about yourself and walk us through your background
I was born in Kayseri, a 5000 years old city in Central Anatolia. I studied International Relations at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara and received my master’s degree at the University of Nottingham on European Integration. I joined the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2001 where I worked at Middle East Political Department, Iraq Desk. I served at Turkish Embassies in Kabul-Afghanistan and Washington DC. Before resuming my duties in Houston as the Consul General of the Republic of Turkey on October 2014, I worked for three years as the Chief of Protocol to the Turkish President.
What does a Consul General in your capacity do?
My main duty and function as the Consul General is to represent my country, as well as protect the interests of Turkey, of our citizens and corporate bodies. My consular function also consists in furthering the development of commercial, economic, cultural and scientific ties between Turkey and the states in my consular jurisdiction as well as promoting people-to-people relations.
Tell us about the Consulate General of Turkey in Houston. What parts of America are covered by the Consulate and what are the services it provides?
Turkish Consulate General in Houston was established in 1985. In addition to Houston and the Consular Section of the Turkish Embassy in Washington DC, Turkey has Consulate Generals in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York. Eight states...namely: Alabama
, Arkansas, Louisiana, #Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas are in our area of consular jurisdiction.
The Consulate General primarily provides all consular services to Turkish citizens residing permanently or temporarily in the United States by functioning as notary or civil registrar, issuing passports or travel documents, safeguarding the interests of our nationals and corporate bodies. Thanks to the advancement of technology, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs introduced an electronic consular services module (www.konsolosluk.gov.tr) where Turkish citizens living abroad complete most of their consular transactions online, without visiting the Consulates.
We also issue visas or appropriate documents to the Americans and third country nationals who wish to travel to Turkey. Americans and many other foreign nationals can obtain their Turkish visas online in less than 3 minutes through Republic of Turkey Electronic Visa Application System (E-VISA) at www.evisa.gov.tr
Other than the Consular officers, our Consulate General has commercial, education and energy attachés who are serving in their respective fields to strengthen ties between Turkey and southern states.
What are some past, present and future goals for Turkey’s relationship with Houston?
Our main goal is to promote mutual trade and investments. Texas has a significant place in Turkish-American economic and commercial relations as it is one of the biggest trading partners of Turkey. However, there is a great untapped business potential.
Turkey, a G20 member country, is the 18th largest economy of the world and one of the fastest growing, almost 5 percent growth rate in the last decade. As the Consulate General, we are resolved to increase the bilateral trade volume and to balance it as much as possible.
To this end, Turkey strengthened its diplomatic, commercial, academic and sector specific presence in Houston with a strategic vision. Office of the Commercial Attaché was opened at the Consulate General in 2011, Office of the Education Attaché in 2013 and an Energy Counselor joined the Consulate’s team last year. The biggest recent catalyst in our relations has been Turkish Airlines’ decision to establish a non-stop air service between Istanbul and Houston as of April 2013. Thanks to these structural transformation and strategic investments, we are pleased to witness a promising momentum in bilateral trade ties, mutual interest to explore market opportunities in both sides, as well as people-to-people interactions through bilateral visits.
What are the key sectors in Turkey’s trade with Texas?
On Turkey’s exports, iron and steel, are top trading items. They are followed by: aircraft parts, articles of stone, cement, machinery, textile. Turkey is the 9th biggest crude steel producer in the world. Turkey’s steel exports to the United States last year amounted to 2.61 million metric tonnes, worth 1.6 billion USD. 44 percent of Turkey’s steel exports to the United States go through Houston. Moreover, Turkey is one of the top consumers of American scrap metal. Last year, Turkey imported 16.3 million metric tonnes of scrap from the United States amounting to almost 30 percent of U.S. total scrap exports. Turkish Steel Exporters Association business delegation was in Houston this October.
On Turkey’s imports: mineral fuel, oil, cotton, organic chemicals and plastics top the list.
What are some reasons to invest in Turkey?
Turkey is a booming economy. Stable economic growth with an average annual real GDP growth rate of 4.7 percent between 2002-2015. Turkey is a G20 member, the 18th largest economy in the world, and the 6th largest economy in Europe. There are 78 million people with a median age of 31. Also, there are 30 million young, well-educated professionals in the work force. Turkey has a business-friendly environment with an average of 6 days to set up a company. It is a natural bridge between both East-West and North-South axes, thus creating an efficient and cost-effective outlet to major markets. It has easy access to 1.6 billion customers in Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East and North Africa. Access to multiple markets worth 24 trillion USD of GDP. On top of these, Turkey is a popular tourist destination which should be everyone’s bucket list.
What are some big picture issues facing Turkey today?
As you may recall, Turkey encountered a violent coup attempt on the evening of July 15th waged by a faction of the Turkish Army tied to Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO). The Turkish Nation, from all walks of life, displayed a historic and heroic solidarity as they took to the streets and thwarted the plot. They stood bravely in front of the tanks and defended Turkish democracy and freedom. I am honored to represent Turkey and be a part of this courageous nation.
Turkey and the United States have been NATO allies for 64 years, staunch partners in almost every critically important issue of world affairs. Facing contemporary challenges like Syria, Iraq and ISIS terrorism, our bilateral relations are more relevant than ever.
The conflict in Syria remains a horrific tragedy. The Syrian Crisis threatens regional stability and international security. Turkey has a 566 miles border with Syria. Humanitarian suffering in Syria has reached unprecedented levels. There are over 4.5 million Syrian refugees in the world. Turkey is the largest refugee hosting country in the world with 3 million - of which 2.7 million are Syrians. Think about it. Houston is around 2.2 million in population. Turkey is hosting almost one and a half of Houston right now. Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis five years ago, Turkey pursued an open door policy without discrimination and spent over 12 billion USD to take care of the refugees.
Syria is a breeding ground for ISIS terrorism. Turkey, like France, Belgium or the United States, has suffered from ISIS terrorist attacks recently. In order to clear off Turkey’s borders from ISIS and other terrorist elements, prevent further refugee flows, establish safe zones for delivering humanitarian aid to the people in need, the Turkish army launched a cross-border military operation in Syria on August 24th. Turkey’s `Operation Euphrates Shield’ cleared 650 square miles from ISIS terrorism and freed over 160 Syrian cities and villages (As of 22nd December, 750 square miles and 225 cities were cleared from ISIS).
Is there anything we have not talked about that you would like to discuss?
The 22nd World Petroleum Congress (WPC) will be held in Istanbul on July 9-13, 2017. The triennial WPC is widely recognized as the `Olympics’ of the oil and gas industry, attended by world leaders and energy stakeholders. We would like to welcome Houstonians from ‘The Energy Capital of the World’ to Istanbul, the crossroads of continents and cradle of civilizations. (Houston will be hosting WPC 2020).
Thank you for the opportunity and please consider the Turkish Consulate General as your home, myself and my team as your friends and partners in Houston. I congratulate International Focus for its esteemed work and wish all the success."
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