• By: Dan Donovan

Turkish Ambassador to Canada Esra Demir on the Positive Bi-lateral Relations With Canada in a Period of World Conflict

Esra Demir assumed her duties as the 28th Ambassador of the Republic of Türkiye to Canada on April 19, 2023, in the 80th anniversary year of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Türkiye and Canada. For eight decades, the diplomatic ties between the two nations have been characterised by cooperative endeavours, cultural exchanges, shared values, and people-to-people connections that continue to strengthen the bond between the two countries.

Ottawa Life Magazine Managing Editor Dan Donovan met with Ambassador Demir at the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa to discuss Canada-Türkiye relations.

OLM:  How do you envision strengthening and expanding bilateral ties between Canada and Türkiye during your tenure as the Turkish Ambassador to Canada, especially considering the current global challenges?

Ambassador Demir: I will continue to make efforts to raise our bilateral relations with Canada, with whom we work together in multilateral platforms such as the UN, NATO, G-20 and OSCE, to higher levels in line with the spirit of the Allies.

There is enormous potential for further cooperation between Türkiye and Canada in trade, industry, investment, education, tourism, health, transportation, and culture. We continue to work towards the full realisation of this potential. In this regard, Canada is a multicultural country and welcomes immigrants from around the world. The Turkish community and Turkish citizens living here are the most essential elements of Türkiye-Canada friendship. The role and function of our community are indispensable in improving cultural interaction by bringing two geographically distant countries closer. On the centenary celebrations of the Republic of Türkiye, many activities were carried out by the Turkish-Canadian community. I believe that we will do great works in the spirit of unity and solidarity in the coming period.

OLM: Türkiye has a unique geopolitical position, bridging Europe and the Middle East. How do you see Türkiye’s role in addressing regional challenges, and what global issues do you believe require collaborative efforts between Türkiye and Canada? Can you comment specifically on Türkiye’s unique position related to Ukraine/Russia war and Türkiye’s position related to the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

Ambassador Demir: Türkiye is the gateway to Europe and Asia and our unique geopolitical position places us at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East — this is our neighbourhood, and it presents significant regional challenges. The overarching principle guiding Türkiye’s approach to conflict is the promotion of diplomatic solutions and dialogue to resolve it. Türkiye recognises the complexity of these regional challenges and advocates for international collaboration to address broader global issues.

Regarding the war in Gaza, Türkiye has historically expressed solidarity with the Palestinian cause while maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel. Türkiye has called for the end of hostilities, and we support a two-state solution (pre-border 1967) with East Jerusalem for Palestine. We continue to emphasise the importance of addressing the underlying issues for a lasting peace in the region.

With regards to Ukraine/Russia conflict, Türkiye is a member of NATO (and the United Nations and many other multilateral organisations). We continue to push for diplomatic solutions and are urging all parties to seek dialogue and de-escalation. Like other countries, we have concerns about the conflict’s impact on regional stability. We continue to advocate for a peaceful resolution through diplomatic means.

As for collaborative efforts between Türkiye and Canada on global issues, there are several areas where the two nations can work together. Counterterrorism, humanitarian aid, climate change, and public health are examples of issues that require joint efforts. Both countries can contribute expertise, resources, and diplomatic initiatives to tackle these challenges on the global stage.

I think that collaborative efforts between Türkiye and Canada on these and other global issues can contribute to stability, security, and prosperity on the international stage.

OLM:  Economic collaboration is vital for both nations. How do you plan to promote and enhance trade relations between Türkiye and Canada, and are there specific sectors or industries that you see as promising for increased cooperation?

Ambassador Demir: Türkiye and Canada both have vibrant and diverse economies, and greater economic collaboration only create more mutual benefits. My objective is to promote and enhance trade relations between Türkiye and Canada through strategic initiatives that capitalise on the strengths of both economies.

Major bi-lateral trade and investment between Türkiye and Canada increased by 50 percent between 2020 and 2023, which is a positive sign. It is important to address any barriers or challenges hindering the smooth flow of trade between our countries.

I will work to continue to encourage investments and facilitate partnerships between businesses in our respective countries. Türkiye and Canada both have burgeoning technology sectors, and fostering partnerships in research and development can lead to mutually beneficial outcomes. In the field of renewable energy, collaboration on projects and the exchange of expertise can contribute to sustainable development goals. The agricultural sector presents another area of opportunity, where both countries can explore partnerships in agribusiness, food production, and technology. Additionally, the aerospace industry, given its innovative nature, offers prospects for joint ventures and collaborative projects that can leverage the strengths of Turkish and Canadian expertise.

One area we continue to work on is the Canadian visa for Turkish citizens visiting Canada. It is very restrictive. We believe there is potential for changes to the visa restrictions for more cooperation between Türkiye and Canada that could be beneficial for both countries. Canada has a need for construction workers to help meet its housing and other construction challenges, and it also requires health care professionals. Türkiye has specific expertise in both these areas -whether it is highly qualified health professionals from Türkiye who could provide needed health services to Canada or Turkish expertise in construction as we have high standards in this area and in the trades sector.

Cultural and educational exchanges are also pivotal in fostering mutual understanding between our nations. I intend to promote and expand programs that facilitate the exchange of students, professionals, and cultural delegations. This will not only strengthen people-to-people connections but also contribute to a richer appreciation of our respective histories, cultures, and traditions.

OLM: Cultural understanding plays a crucial role in fostering strong international relations. How do you plan to promote cultural exchange and cooperation between Türkiye and Canada, and are there any upcoming events or initiatives that Canadians can look forward to?

Ambassador Demir: Cultural understanding is a cornerstone in building and strengthening international relations. I highly value the contributions of the Turkish diaspora community to the multicultural tapestry here. Engaging with and supporting the Turkish diaspora is a key focus of my mission, and we do this in many ways at the grassroots level, whether it is through supporting cultural and educational programs that celebrate Turkish heritage. There are cultural initiatives in the Turkish diaspora in Canada, whether its cultural festivals, art exhibitions or language classes, which help preserve the rich traditions of the Turkish community while offering Canadians an opportunity to appreciate and engage with Turkish culture. I should also note that we are pleased that our institutions in Canada, such as Turkish Airlines, Turkish Maarif Foundation and Yunus Emre Institute, contribute to the development of relations and cooperation between the two countries.

Another key area and priority for me is educational and academic exchange programs. I want to encourage the flow of students and scholars between our countries. By fostering partnerships between Turkish and Canadian educational institutions, we can create platforms for the exchange of ideas, knowledge, and perspectives, thereby nurturing a deeper understanding between our societies. The number of Turkish students in Canada in 2023 was just over five thousand — a 125 percent increase since 2015.

My priorities are reinforcing our common ties and working on things that will help to continue the positive bi-lateral relationship we have had with Canada for decades. It is important to strengthen the bond between Türkiye and Canada at the grassroots level and foster a relationship that is not only diplomatic but deeply rooted in our shared experiences and values.