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Shared issues, stronger ties: Canada's envoy to Turkey

Turkish diaspora of some 100,000 Turks largely in Toronto is growing, says Canadian Ambassador Chris Cooter

Seyit Ahmet Aytaç   | 07.12.2018
Shared issues, stronger ties: Canada's envoy to Turkey Canadian Ambassador Chris Cooter

By Nazli Yuzbasioglu


Canada’s envoy to Turkey praised the Turkish community in his country and urged stronger relations between the two countries, citing their common ground on several international issues.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency this week, Chris Cooter told how over the last year bilateral ties have stepped up to a new level.

“We are 10,000 kilometers apart,” said the diplomat. “Over the last year in particular we’ve seen a real intensification of the relationship. Probably more has gone on between Turkey and Canada this year than any year since 1943, when we established diplomatic relations.

“One of the big drivers of this relationship now I think is the people-to-people contact. We have a growing Turkish diaspora and they’re doing very well in Canada. We think it’s 100,000, largely in Toronto.

“We have several thousand Turkish students in Canada as well. We are trying to make sure that two-way relationship is growing.”

Both Turkey and Canada are members of NATO and have tackled some big problems together, he said.

“We’ve been NATO partners since the mid-‘50s. We worked together to stabilize Syria, [on] counterterrorism, and that part of the relationship has grown quite a bit in the last few weeks, when both of our leaders were at G20 summit in Argentina and the [Saudi journalist Jamal] Khashoggi murder case came up and President Erdogan and our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were very concerned by that.

“Our foreign ministers have discussed that a number of times.”

Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. After weeks of shifting stories, Saudi officials blamed his death on a rogue team of operatives from their country. Many mysteries about the case remain.

Leader on Syria, Rohingya issues

Referring to last month’s naval standoff between Russia and Ukraine, which ended with Ukrainian soldiers and ships seized, Cooter said: “We have new events happening in the Black Sea. As a NATO ally we are very concerned about what’s happening in Crimea, as I know Turkey is as well.”

Cooter also praised Turkey’s “admirable” acceptance of millions of Syrians, refugees from the eight-year civil war in neighboring Syria.

“Another area where we’ve had a lot of cooperation in the last few years is refugees. Everyone recognizes that Turkey has carried the world’s largest burden with 4 million refugees here, 3.5 million from Syria.”

With his country having accepted 50,000-60,000 Syrian refugees so far, he added that they “continue to be very welcome in Canada”.

Turkey hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. The country has spent more than $32 billion from its own national resources to help and shelter refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

Turning to Turkey’s advocacy for the persecuted Rohingya of Myanmar, the ambassador said: “You’ve taken a leading role on the Rohingya, we have as well. In fact our prime minister sent a special envoy to Turkey in July to talk to senior Turkish officials about what we could do together to try to relieve the sufferings of the people in that region.”

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children, and women, fled Myanmar and crossed into neighboring Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.

Over that time nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

Boosting trade 

“We’ve had some difficulties in Turkey over the last couple of years, with terrorism, with the attempted coup and so on,” said Cooter, referring to the defeated coup of 2016 in Turkey by the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), which martyred 251 people and injured thousands.

“In spite of that, our [bilateral] trade investment has grown very rapidly. It’s not where we’d like it to be but directions are very positive. We’re both G20 countries, we both have bigger economies. I think the two countries’ businesses are starting to discover the other side.”

He added that the bilateral trade volume of over $3 billion would rise with the help of ongoing efforts to organize meetings between Canadian and Turkish businesspeople.

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