Relations between Indonesia and Turkey date back centuries. In recent years, the bond has been strengthened thanks to several bilateral agreements.
NOW! Jakarta spoke to Ambassador H.E. Sander Gurbuz about the special relationship and how the cultural connections between the two Muslim-majority countries can help educate a world increasingly hostile to the faith.
The governments of Turkey and Indonesia recently signed an agreement with regard to trade and military defense. Can you tell us more about this in the context of the strong relationship between the two countries?
The relationship between Turkey and Indonesia go back a long time. Even before the modern republics existed. In the 16th century, the Sultan of Aceh asked the Ottoman Empire at the time for help against the Portuguese invaders. The Sultan sent many ships with all kinds of goods, ammunition, etc to help people of Aceh. So our history of relations goes back that far.
Also, Turkey was among the first countries to recognise Indonesia’s independence, and the relationship has grown stronger. In politics we have similar views on main issues. We work closely in the UN and the G-20; as well as in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). We are both members of MIKTA [a consultative platform of Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia which was established in 2013] as we are rapidly growing countries. This year Indonesia has the chairmanship. We are concentrating now on increasing bilateral economic relations.
President Joko Widodo went to Turkey last July and it was decided during the visit that we will open negotiations for the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). We hope to sign the agreement before the end of the year. It will boost bilateral economic relations. We think existing economic relations are much below the potential of both countries which are both G20 members. We have a lot of goods that we can trade between each other and also work together third countries in joint ventures.
You’ve been Ambassador to Indonesia for two years now. What have you seen in your time here in terms of cultural developments between the two countries?
I am a career diplomat and have been in the Foreign Ministry for 38 years. It’s a great pleasure and honour for me to be Ambassador here. I want to develop people to people relations. The cultural aspect should be developed. This year, we plan to open a Turkish cultural centre here, not just for exhibitions but also because there is a great demand to learn the Turkish language as well so we will offer that also.
Another area is education. I am visiting many universities and giving lectures as I can see the great demand among young people in Indonesia to study in Turkey. So we have doubled the number of scholarships for Indonesian students in both government and private universities, to make it more possible for young people to study in Turkey also for their MBA or Ph.D.
Tourism numbers between both countries have doubled. Turkey has become a favourite destination for Indonesian tourists especially with Umrah plus. More Indonesians are enjoying Istanbul and Cappadocia. And it’s throughout the year. Also, Turkish Airlines plays a huge role. They fly daily between Jakarta and Istanbul with a Boeing 777 and it’s full almost every night. We will increase the frequency to two flights a day between the two cities hopefully soon, and by next year to Denpasar. So it will contribute to tourism.
Turkey is popular in Indonesia because we’re both Muslim countries; if people want Halal food, it is available. We have shopping opportunities from the Grand Bazaar to the shopping malls. There are many historic sites to visit. We have beaches and there are hot air balloons in Cappadocia if people are looking for adventure. Most important thing that Indonesians appreciate is the Turkish hospitality and the welcoming atmosphere.
What about the increase in Turkish tourists in Indonesia? Is there more interest?
Yes, there is. The most known place is Bali of course, but I try to tell friends that Indonesia is not just Bali. It’s much more than that. There are so many places to visit. Bali will remain as the number one destination, especially for honeymooners but I can say Turkish tourists discover also other beautiful places now.
With trade and economic cooperation firming up, what other issues can the two countries cooperate on? Terrorism has affected both countries in recent years and there are increasing threats to peace, as we know. How can both countries use their cooperation to combat these threats and address this issue?
The high level visits [President Joko Widodo’s visit to Turkey in 2017, and President Erdogan’s visit to Indonesia in 2015] also focused on different problems in the world. Indonesia and Turkey play a major role because they are two very important Muslim countries. It’s important that they work together in many areas.
It’s important to know that we are also two Muslim countries where Islam and democracy can co-exist. Indonesia and Turkey are examples of that and we are very proud of it. In the area of defense cooperation, we are working closely such as a project with medium weight tank. We also cooperate with Indonesia regarding anti-terror issues like in the case of Indonesians who travel to Syria to join DAESH.
Indonesia and Turkey are countries where moderate Islam is practiced. How can the two countries collaborate to educate and better inform a world that is seemingly increasingly hostile to the faith?
We are both tolerant countries. We are proud of our secular system in Turkey since the founding of our Republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Religion and politics are separate. In that aspect Indonesia and Turkey are very similar and are excellent examples in today’s world that Islam and democracy can co-exist peacefully.
This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine June 2018 issue “City of the Future?”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.