The root of Turkey's relations with people of Bengal, even before the independence of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, has always been strong. However, since liberation, the ties have gradually grown stronger.
Despite the withstanding relationship between the two republics, it is imperative to note that Turkey did indeed provide diplomatic as well as military support to Pakistan during the war for liberation.
Following the 1971 war, relations remained complicated due to Turkey's continued support for Pakistan. Turkey officially recognised Bangladesh on February 22, 1974, at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit, which was held in Lahore.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established after an official visit by former Bangladeshi President Ziaur Rahman to Turkey in 1976. The Turkish Embassy in Dhaka was opened that same year, while the Embassy of Bangladesh in Ankara became operational in 1981.
Upon the establishment of diplomatic ties, Ankara-Dhaka relations gradually began to flourish; therein making Bangladesh a diplomatic ally of Turkey, especially in regards to international affairs.
Bangladesh was a staunch supporter of the Cyprus issue, being one of the first nations to recognise Northern Cyprus (Turkish Cyprus) although having to rescind aforementioned recognition shortly after due to international pressure.
In return, Turkey provided technical and financial assistance to Bangladesh in the earlier years of its state-building process by contributing to the creation of a stable and sustainable national economic system.
In 1983, a year after assuming power in a bloodless coup as Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), Lt General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who later became president, invited Turkey to build an airbase in Bangladesh to provide more security to the country.
However, this offer was declined by the Turkish military government of that time. Despite this bold offer not being materialised, it paved a path for the future development of the relationship between Bangladesh and Turkey.
In the recent decade, there has been several state level visits between the top leadership of Bangladesh and Turkey. For example, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Turkey to participate in the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries which took place in İstanbul on May 9-13, 2011.
She also paid an official visit to Turkey on April 10-13, 2012 upon the invitation of the then Prime Minister Erdoğan. In reciprocation, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım visited Dhaka on December 18-20, 2017, where the Prime Minister held meetings with President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as well as visited Rohingya Refugee Camps in Cox's Bazaar.
Despite their seemingly blossoming relationship, a fracture emerged when the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) was convened in order to bring war criminal of the 1971 war, most of whom belong to the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh- Jamaat-e-Islami, to justice. It infuriated the leadership of the AKP, Turkey's ruling party.
In December 2012, President Abdullah Gül wrote a letter to his Bangladeshi counterpart President Zillur Rahman, urging Bangladeshi courts to grant 1971 war suspects clemency. In the letter, Gül cautioned that, if these leaders were executed, Bangladesh's socio-economic advancement might be adversely affected and social instability and bloodshed might ensue.
In retaliation, when a 14-member Turkish-Islamist NGO team had arrived in Dhaka in December 2012 to monitor the International Crimes Tribunal, they were detained and subsequently deported by the Bangladeshi authorities.
On May 12, 2016, after the hanging of Jamaat leader Motiur Rahman Nizami, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a scathing condemnation of the Bangladeshi government's use of capital punishment against a top brass political leader of the country.
In addition, shortly after Erdoğan's statement, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Bangladesh, therein initiating a diplomatic standoff. However, Turkey's ambassador returned to Dhaka within three months.
It is critical to note that Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2004 and subsequently, ever since the inception of the aforementioned trials, have consistently maintained that Bangladesh's use of the death penalty is incompatible with Turkish values.
Their vehement opposition to the use of the death penalty in Islamic countries has not been confined only to Bangladesh. Erdogan was similarly opposed to the death sentence of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi. Nonetheless, Turkish human rights criticisms have fueled considerable animosity in Bangladesh.
Another source of friction that arose between the two governments was the overt activities of the Gülen Movement in Bangladesh. The Imam in exile in the USA, Fethullah Gulen, whose organisation was allegedly responsible for the coup-de-tat of 2016, is an adversary of President Erdogan and subsequently has been declared a terrorist organisation in May 2016.
The ruling AKP put pressure on the Bangladeshi government to ban it, shut down business and institutions financed by it, and deport its members and activists. A notable example is Turkish Hope School, which has since been renamed to International Hope School.
However, claiming that it is a violation of diplomatic norms, the governmemt of Bangladesh rejected that proposal.
Keeping the aforementioned information in mind, we must assess the facts on the basis of which their lies effort in looking forward to development of ties between the two republics.
Security and military ties
Bangladesh Military, Bangladeshi Navy in specific, has developed very strong ties with their Turkish counterpart. In fact, Turkey offered Bangladesh guided missile frigates in a major government-to-government (G2G) deal and in fact the Bangladesh Navy frigate that was damaged in the Beirut explosion is currently being repaired in a Turkish Naval base.
Turkey, along with South Korea and the USA, provides military training to the SWADS, Bangladesh's elite naval special force.
In addition, Bangladesh is a key purchaser of weapons and military equipment from public and private Turkish defense companies. Some notable contracts given are a $1 billion contract for 680 light armored vehicles from Delta Defense, supply of a regiment of medium-range guided multiple rocket launchers from Turkish ROKETSAN and various more.
In regards to security, both Bangladesh and Turkey face a common threat- Islamic extremism. As a result, it is vital for the safety and security of both states to share intelligence to succeed in combatting terrorist networks that often tend to create instability in their respective regions.
Although Turkey intended to increase bilateral trade with Bangladesh to $2 billion by the end of 2020, it seems highly unlikely due to the global pandemic. Although, the bilateral trade volume has remained consistent at around $1 billion since 2010.
In 2012, Dhaka and Ankara attempted to forge a free trade agreement (FTA) to enhance their economic partnership but the ratification was suspended indefinitely due to intervention by the European Union.
Turkey's development assistance to Bangladesh during 2004-2014 totaled about $13 million. In addition, Turkey's carpet industry is heavily reliant on Jute from Bangladesh while Dhaka is seeking FDI from Ankara to further enhance their growing economy.
It has emerged in the local Bangladeshi media recently that Turkey intends to provide more FDI to Bangladesh in various sectors including medical and manufacturing.
Keeping in consideration that the total amount of trade between Turkey and Bangladesh was $52 million in 2000 to now Turkey aiming to surpass the $2 billion mark, despite some shaky few years in their relationship, it is starting to appear as though the healing process is underway.
A new level of fraternity between the two countries was established when Turkey, unlike most other allies of Bangladesh, provided unwavering support in regards to the Rohingya refugee situation.
In spite of Turkey's forthright opposition to the liberation of Bangladesh as well as the tensions that arose between 2012-2016, the relationship between the two countries, whose people share more in common than most are aware of, is still in the process of being solidified.
And it can only serve both the nations if they can find mutual consensus regarding the fact that they are not just trading partners, but rather natural allies that can facilitate and protect each other's interests in ways more than one.
Wasif Jamal Khan, president, Bangladesh Forum for Legal and Humanitarian Affairs (BFLHA)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.