Looking at the U.S.-Turkey relationship, one doesn’t have to zoom in too far to see the cracks.
The NATO allies are currently at odds over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft missile defense systems, over and above threats from Washington that the move would endanger future defense collaborations.
But the list of irritants is far longer. The U.S. still hasn’t extradited Muslim preacher Turkey accuses of masterminding a coup attempt that rocked Turkey in July 2016. And the two sides are at odds in Syria, despite sharing many objectives, over American military collaboration with Kurdish militia groups — the PYD and YPG — that Turkey directly links with the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that has been responsible for 40,000 deaths in Turkey in recent decades and is listed as a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the U.S.
“These two things still poison the Turkish-American relationship, and obviously it has repercussions on economy. If there’s no political stability, the economic environment is always hesitant,” said Burç Ceylan, Turkey’s Consul General in Miami, during a March 7 Global Atlanta Consular Conversation at Miller & Martin PLLC’s office in Midtown Atlanta.
Mr. Ceylan defended Turkish geopolitical interests in a wide-ranging interview, framing Turkey as a steadfast partner that hasn’t been always treated fairly by its allies. The same goes for U.S. media, which he said sometimes contributes to misperceptions about Turkey.
“You don’t fight terrorism by coopering with another terrorist organization; this is not how it works for responsible actors, and that is what we have mentioned to the United States,” Mr. Ceylan said of the issue of U.S. working with Kurdish groups in Syria.
He added that pursuing the Russian missile defense deal came only after the two sides couldn’t come to terms on NATO-based systems. Both sides have their versions of the story, but Mr. Ceylan said Turkey had to move on, out of a “basic kind of survival instinct” given its tough geopolitical neighborhood.
“When Turkey is questioned about approaching other countries out of the alliance, I would rather question what made a NATO ally need to explore options elsewhere,” Mr. Ceylan said.
Still, some in the U.S. Department of Defense and Congress believe the potential conflict of interest is grave enough to halt a deal to supply some 100 F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.
Either way, the decision is bleeding further into economic ties. It has been widely seen as the rationale behind President Donald Trump‘s decision to remove preferential trade treatment for certain Turkish exports to the U.S. earlier this month.
That comes on top of Mr. Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs and as Turkish companies face reduced buying power following surging inflation and the lira’s drop against the dollar by as much as 30 percent last summer before recovering a bit and stabilizing during the latter half of the year.
Such moves by the U.S. create unpredictable environment that could threaten investment and trade, Mr. Ceylan said. But that doesn’t mean that collaboration has halted by any means.
“We are here to guide and advise that there are great opportunities in Turkey. Despite the hesitant political environment, Turkish-American relationships are still to a great extent ongoing. The U.S. is still the second largest foreign investor in Turkey after the Netherlands,” he said.
Murat Yarat, commercial attache for the Miami consulate, added that more than 2,000 U.S. companies operate in Turkey, taking advantage of both its large and diversified economy and its reach into the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa and beyond.
“There are some threats, yes, but Turkey also provides some potential, not just for the Turkish market, but also to access the regions in close proximity to Turkey,” Mr. Yarat said, noting that the Turkish government has become more aggressive in offering incentives to foreign investors who undertake value-added production in the country.
Turkey’s business environment has also improved even during recent years of geopolitical uncertainty, rising from the 70s and now sitting at No. 43 in the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings.
Mr. Ceylan, the consul general, suspected that in part this had to do with the Turkish people’s vote to adopt a presidential system of government, which even in the early days of implementation is streamlining many government processes.
Internationally, meanwhile, some countries have fretted over what they see as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s consolidation of power and his crackdown on opponents and the media. Mr. Erdogan has also been skeptical toward international ratings agencies that have downgraded Turkey’s outlook in recent moments of crisis.
Mr. Ceylan attributed some of this to an “information gap” between the countries that he hoped to help close on his visit.
“Take every information you read about Turkey in the mainstream media with a question mark. At least make sure that you have a chance to speak to someone who knows the place, and if you don’t know anybody, just come be our guest,” Mr. Ceylan said in concluding remarks.
He also noted that the benefits of cross-border trade and investment flow in both directions: In the audience at the event was a Turkish furniture company set to open an operation in Atlanta. Other companies have set their sights on the U.S. market as they seek to diversify their holdings from parts of the world where Turkey has had traditionally strong dealings. Many Turkish companies like Temel Gaskets, International Dunnage and Kordsa already operate in Georgia and across the South. Godiva chocolate is owned by Turkey-based Yıldız Holding, which bought the brand a decade ago for more than $800 million.
“The U.S. stands really alone as a giant, stable market to invest in and do business with,” Mr. Ceylan said.
Even with the trade tensions, Turkey remains committed to the international system, he added.
“Turkey has always pursued an open economic platform. Despite the fact that we have had these tariff issues from the United States, we sought initial solutions in the WTO format, so it has been our intention to remain in the international economic and political platform,” he said. “Turkey still is aspiring to become a European Union member, as long as the European Union is ready to absorb Turkey. So we are an international actor and will continue to be.”
He and Mr. Yarat both stressed the need to “beef up” the local Turkish-American business networks and foster more trade delegations from Georgia to the country and back.
That should be easier now that Turkish Airlines has been flying nonstop to Atlanta for more than two years. Turkey just opened the first phase of an airport that eventually hopes to host 180 million passengers at full capacity.
Mr. Ceylan was visiting Georgia for just the second time since taking up his post in August 2017, chalking up his infrequent visits to the effectiveness of Mona Diamond, the honorary consul for Turkey in the state. Ms. Sunshine helped facilitate his three-day visit, which included meetings with the Turkish community and visits with dignitaries including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
Ms. Sunshine is a conduit for Turkey-related inquiries, but the Consulate in Miami is also looking to help local companies interested in investing in Turkey or finding buyers there, the Consul General said.
“We are ready to serve.”