Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his delegation arrived Tuesday in Cuba’s capital Havana, the second stop on his official Latin America tour.
Erdogan had boarded the presidential “TUR” aircraft from Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport at 03:35 a.m. Turkish local time (0135GMT) and landed at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana.
Erdogan will visit the monument of Cuba’s national hero Jose Marti at Havana’s Revolution Square on Wednesday. He will then be welcomed in an official ceremony and will hold bilateral talks with Cuban officials.
After attending a luncheon, Erdogan will visit Old Havana and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Havana.
Erdogan is accompanied by his wife and daughter, Emine and Sumeyye Erdogan, as well as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Food, Agriculture and Livestock Minister Mehdi Eker, Culture and Tourism Minister Omer Celik and Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci.
In a joint press conference following their meeting, Erdogan and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon announced a number of agreements between the two nations.
Erdogan was welcomed in a military-style ceremony and said he was thankful to Colombia. Calderon said that Erdogan’s visit was important, as it is the first visit by a Turkish president and comes during Turkey’s interim presidency of the G20 group.
Erdogan said that a number of significant agreements between the two nations had been signed.
“We held discussions in the military, political, economic, commercial, educational and cultural fields today,” Erdogan said. “We have just signed seven agreements of great significance.”
“We have signed cooperation agreements in various fields including in the agricultural, livestock and fishing industries,” Calderon said, adding that Turkey has become Europe’s leading nation in these fields.
The agreements include the Turkey-Colombia Cooperation Framework Agreement, a plan for cultural cooperation, a memorandum of agreement in the tourism sector and a memorandum of understanding in the agriculture field.
“Colombia has transformed into a dream come true,” Erdogan said. “Colombia instills hope and excitement in its zone.”
Erdogan said that only three Turkish construction companies are active in Colombia, which he said was insufficient. He also asked more Colombian companies to invest in Turkey.
The Turkish president also said that the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) will establish a branch in Colombia soon.
“Our TIKA office will cooperate with Colombia in the fields of education, culture and all others,” he added. “Turkey and Colombia have signed a letter of intent to promote the Spanish language.”
Turkey believes that terrorism can only be overcome through international solidarity, Erdogan said.
The Turkish president added that Turkey had already paid a heavy price because of terrorism and was aware how terrorist activities can cause major damage to nations.
Calderon said that the countries’ common struggle was terrorism.
“Turkey is currently the joint chair of the Global Counterterrorism Forum,” said Calderon. “We are also part of the global forum and are sharing our experiences in the field.”
The Global Counter Terrorism Forum is an informal, multilateral counterterrorism platform formed in 2011 and is currently co-chaired by Turkey's foreign minister and the U.S. secretary of state.
- Cooperation in tourism
“We are making serious investments in tourism,” Erdogan said. “We will continue to do so.”
Erdogan said that when he first became Turkey’s prime minister 12 years ago, only 13 million tourists came to Turkey every year, bringing in $8 billion in revenues.
Today, 42 million people visit Turkey every year, bringing in $40 billion in revenue, he said.
Calderon noted that Colombia and Turkey signed a tourism cooperation agreement in order to benefit from Turkey’s experience in the sector.
Calderon said that Turkey is seen as an important touristic destination in the world and Colombia also has very high potential in the field.
Colombia’s president said the communication link between the countries would be boosted with direct flights by Turkey’s national carrier Turkish Airlines.
- Surprise visitor
Retired Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, who played for Turkey’s Galatasaray from 2001 to 2007, made a surprise visit and met with Erdogan and Calderon.
“I want to thank Turkey’s president for supporting Colombians in Turkey, as well as for the contribution to the development of our relations,” Mondragon said.
Calderon also said that he was the first Colombian president to visit Turkey and emphasized that mutual opening of embassies and lifting visa requirements would strengthen the two countries’ relations.
“We have brought the relations of the two countries to a much more stable point,” Erdogan said.
- Erdogan reaffirms Turkey's peace efforts with Armenia over 1915 events
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Armenia to examine the 1915 events through the lens of science and not politics.
“Let us remove the 1915 events from the area of politics and refer to science and scientists,” Erdogan said during a symposium on the topic, co-organized by the Bogota Externado University and Ankara University.
Erdogan attended the event as part of his official visit to Colombia Tuesday and said that what the Armenians did against the Turks and what the Turks did against the Armenians 100 years ago was not properly discussed.
“We have made an effort to fix relations with Armenia and to open a new page,” the Turkish president said. “Unfortunately, our peace hand has always been rejected by the influence of Armenian diaspora.”
“This year is the 100th anniversary. We are still reiterating our sincere call,” Erdogan added.
In January, the Turkish president sent invitation letters to more than 100 leaders, including Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, to participate in the commemoration of the Battle of Canakkale on April 24.
Sargsyan reportedly denounced Erdogan's invitation as a "short-sighted" attempt to overshadow the 100th anniversary of the 1915 events, according to ArmeniaNow.com.
The 1915 events took place during World War I when a portion of the Armenian population living in the Ottoman Empire sided with the invading Russians and revolted against the empire. The uprisings came about after a decision by the empire to relocate Armenians in eastern Anatolia.
Armenia and Armenian diaspora term the events as "genocide" and ask for compensation, whereas Turkey officially refutes this description, saying that although Armenians died during relocations, many Turks also lost their lives in attacks carried out by Armenian gangs in Anatolia.
“We will not give up in our efforts for peace and dialogue with respect to the 1915 events,” Erdogan said.
At the end of his speech, Erdogan said he is thankful to the Ankara University Research and Application Center for Latin American Studies (LAMER), an academic center that was established in 2009.
-Turkey’s “very clear” stance on Israel
Erdogan said that Turkey’s stance on Israel was very clear.
“Israel should draw back to its 1967 borders, while a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital should be established and sovereign rights of the Palestinians should be respected,” he said.
Turkey’s president added that Turkey has objected many times to Israel’s expansion policy and severe massacres.
“Turkey has paid a heavy price for terrorism in the country and is certainly and clearly against all forms of terror and terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said, adding that Turkey had no intention of interfering in a country’s borders, territory or home affairs.