By Yoon Won-sup
The most often used term to express the relations between Korea and Turkey is ``blood brother'' largely because Turkey sent its 15,000 troops to Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War. But the top Turkish envoy in Seoul said that the relations also have developed based on special mentality held by Turks in their attitude toward Koreans.
``Korea is a very special country in Turkey. If a Korean tourist declares he is from Korea in Turkey, he will immediately become a guest from a tourist,'' Turkish Ambassador Deniz Ozmen, 52, told The Korea Times.
It is very hard to fully explain why but Turks have a strongly positive mentality toward Koreans, he said. Of course, it began with the Turkish troops who fought for South Korea in the war.
``Almost every Turkish families have connections with the Korean War, and Turkish troops who participated in the war came back home as if they were Korean,'' Ozmen said. ``For example, when they set up a grocery shop, they even put a name of grocery as `Korean' grocery shop.''
Turkish Ambassador, Ozmen
The veterans are also very proud that Korea, for which they fought, has seen such miraculous economic development in the last half-century. In addition Korea's active aid to Turkey during the 1999 earthquake in Istanbul is also deeply engrained in Turks' minds.
``We saw again our close relations when we had the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, and in 2006 World Cup in Germany _ a group of Turkish people went to Germany to support the Korean football team,'' Ozmen said.
The ambassador actually didn't realize Koreans' special feeling toward Turks until he came to Seoul as ambassador early last year. Whenever Ozmen said he was from Turkey, he received such a warm welcome.
``It is also probably because we have the common language root of Ural Altai,'' he said. The structure sentences are similar and it is easier to learn other languages, Ozmen said, showing that he reads Korean very well.
Koreans' interest in Turkey is also found in the steady increase in Korean tourists to Turkey over the past 10 years. ``In 2005, 92,000 Koreans visited Turkey for tourist purposes, and the number increased to 108,000 last year,'' Ozmen said.
The ambassador stressed that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and that a variety of events go on throughout the year. He invited Koreans to participate in those events because they will give the rare opportunity to learn more about Turkey in Korea.
Those events due in the second half of the year are concerts by Antalya State Symphony Orchestra in 10 cities in August, a Turkish Film Festival in September, concerts by the Historical Army Banc in October and other dance and musical performances.
Asked if there is anything to be improved in the bilateral relations, Ozmen answered the unbalanced bilateral trade. Last year, bilateral trade stood at $3.6 billion in which Turkish exports to Korea were $160 million and Korean exports to Turkey were $3.44 billion.
One of the ways to fix the problem, he suggested, is that more Korean companies invest in his country, saying, ``Turkey has a big internal market with a population of 70 million who also provide quality and cheap labor service. Furthermore, we have customs union with the European Union (EU) since 1996.''
He picked Hyundai Motor as a good example, which takes advantage of the customs union: In 2005, 35 percent of Hyundai cars produced in Turkey were exported outside Turkey, mainly to the EU. The figure increased to 57 percent last year, and is likely to reach 75 percent this year.
Regarding Turkey's effort to join the EU, the ambassador said that his country is doing its best to become a full member of the EU. Recently, the Turkish government announced a comprehensive road map of legislative measures to be adopted for ``alignment with the EU acquis'' until 2013, according to the ambassador.
In response to some reports that Turkey's Islam is a stumbling block to the entry into the EU, Ozmen said they are wrong.
``This is not religious difference but cultural difference,'' he said. ``The EU, which already has diverse cultures, will have benefit when Turkey joins it. So Turkey's entry will be another step for the EU to play a global role.''