Togrul Ismail: "If I were given a second life, I would once again choose to study at MSU's history department"
Turkish political scientist, professor of the Kahramanmaras Sutchu Imam University, Togrul Ismail, spoke about his vision of Russian-Turkish relations in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.
- We've been cooperating for a long time, but this is the first time you came to our studio. Welcome!
- I have been working with Vestnik Kavkaza for a long time. You often publish my comments, sometimes analytical articles. Overall, Vestnik Kavkaza if pretty well known in Turkey. You provide lot of objective information about our country.
- On April 8-9, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will arrive in Moscow for a meeting with Vladimir Putin. What do you expect from this meeting?
- Right now Turkey and Russia are in a new stage of cooperation. For the first time ever, our countries began to maintain contact in political sphere, and not only in economic and cultural spheres. Although I believe that humanitarian cooperation (between our universities, our scientists) is not developing intensively enough, today Turkey has great interest in Russia - in Russian language, in culture, in politics. In the Kahramanmaras Syutchu Imam State University, the place where I work, there are Russian language lessons, courses on Russian foreign policy and Eurasian politics. Previosly, Turkish universities focused more on the West, and now the interest in Russia is growing.
As for the meeting between presidents, I think bilateral relations have entered a new phase thanks to meetings between heads of our states. Serious issues are resolved much faster at the highest level, without bureaucratic delays. What should we expect from this meeting? I think Syrian topic will be at the forefront. Turkey, Russia and Iran have reached certain understanding on this issue. Some territories have been cleared of terrorist groups, now there's relatively safe situation. Now they will discuss future of Syria, Constitution of the republic.
- Are there any contradictions between Moscow and Ankara on Syria?
- The topic of Idlib is pretty difficult. Right now this territory is controlled by Turkey, and it gave Russia certain guarantees. Both sides are interested in speedy resolution of this problem. Perhaps joint patrolling of this territory or joint fight against militants will be discussed. There's also a problem with groups that Turkey considers to be terrorist, while Americans use them for their own purposes - to create artificial state formation in the north of Syria, which is contrary to Turkey’s national interests and its national security. I think this topic will also be on the agenda of Russia-Turkey summit. Situation with withdrawal of American troops from Syria is not clear, because there's something new in the political rhetoric of Washington every day.
- What's the current state of purchase of Russian S-400 systems?
- America is putting a lot of pressure on Turkey due to its cooperation with Russia, especially in the military-technical field. Turkey bought S-400 systems from Russia. America is worried about that for some reason. But Greece, for example, is also a member of NATO, and it has S-400 systems. Turkey guarantees that S-400 won't be used in the NATO system. Russia should worry that S-400 can fall into the hands of Americans, but somehow we see the opposite - Americans are worried about what will happen to their F-35. The US criticism of S-400 is an attempt to put pressure on Turkey, which has been pursuing multi-vector independent policy in recent years.
- What do you think about energy cooperation between Russia and Turkey?
- Energy is at the forefront of our economic cooperation. Turkey is a serious buyer of Russian energy resources. Russia is widely represented in the Turkish energy market, including in the construction of the first Akkuyu nuclear power plant, and the Turkish Stream, and other energy projects. When people talk about Turkey's energy industry, about oil and gas, Russia is always mentioned. And that's understandable, because Turkey is the second largest buyer (after Germany) of Russian natural gas. Approximately 70% of our domestic needs are provided by Russia, and this shows that Turkey trusts Russia as a serious, reliable partner. Even in times of crisis, Russia continued to sell us gas, while we continued to pay well and on time.
- Russians can visit Turkey without visa, but the Foreign Ministry of Russia believes that Ankara’s proposal to allow Russians to visit Turkey with just domestic Russian passports “seems to be very difficult,” since territory of where Russian passports are used is limited to Russia. What problems do you see here?
- Visa-free regime and ability to visit Turkey using domestic passports would help the development of tourism. We have introduced similar practice with bordering states - with Azerbaijan (although only the Nakhichevan region) and Georgia, as well as with Moldova and Ukraine. Before we signed agreement with Kiev, about 700 thousand Ukrainian tourists came to us annually, and after we signed it this number grew to 1.5 million.
As for visa-free regime, it's just one-sided. Turkish citizens need visa to enter the Russian Federation. I think Russia could introduce a simplified visa system, at least for a certain part of Turkish citizens. For example, I'm a professor who graduated from the Moscow State University, I often come to Russia, but have to spend a week or three to get a visa. We can move freely in Europe, but not in Russia. At the same time, Russia is our largest neighbor, although we don't have a land border, there's a sea border. There may be some misunderstanding about political issues between Moscow and Ankara, but this shouldn't concern citizens and academic circles. I think our peoples understand this very well, and if mutual understanding will be reached, we will quickly overcome any crisis moments.
- As a graduate of the Moscow State University, what can you say about inter-university cooperation?
- Any intergovernmental cooperation won't lead to anything if it doesn't have humanitarian and academic focus. Right now it must be brought to a certain level. Diplomas of some Russian universities are recognized in Turkey. Diploma of the Moscow State University, for example, which I received in 1987. Diplomas of other Russian universities are also recognized by us. Unfortunately, Turkish diplomas are not recognized in Russia, even diplomas of such serious universities as Istanbul University, where I got my PhD, although about three dozen Turkish universities are included in world rankings and are internationally respectable. Both state and private universities. I would like to see diplomas of universities of this level to be recognized in Russia.
- MSU is actively working in the post-Soviet space. Do you think its branch will be opened in Turkey some day?
- It is easier for Russian universities to work in the post-Soviet space. There are branches of German and French universities in Turkey. I would be flattered if branch of the MSU would open in Turkey, since I consider it my alma mater. There are a lot of graduates from various Russian universities in Turkey. Turkey has experience in opening branches of universities of European countries, so we have the necessary legislation in this area.
- This year marks 85th anniversary of the history department of the MSU. What did your alma mater give you?
- Turkey has unions of graduates from different universities. I would gladly join the union of the MSU's history department, but I haven't seen any information about it. This department formed my worldview, allowed me to grow as a person. We had very good teachers. Ivan Dmitrievich Kovalchenko was a world-class specialist. I really liked my supervisor Muravyov. Other teachers, whose names I cannot list right now, opened my eyes to many things, they worked with us a lot. When I entered the doctoral program at the Istanbul University, I didn’t need anything to complete my studies - I received such a serious base in the history department. If I were given a second life, I would choose to study at the history department of the Moscow State University once again. I always wanted to receive education there. This dream came true, and I'm proud to be its graduate. I would really love to attend the anniversary events.
My knowledge of Russian language, a lot of literature, friends with whom I still maintain connections (both personal and work related) - I have the history department to thank for all of this. Now our graduates are scattered around the world. The entire world knows graduates of the Moscow State University's history department.
Speaking about humanitarian cooperation between Russia and Turkey, I would like to note that very little information is in Turkish. There are news agencies that operate in Turkey, but it's not enough. I think Vestnik Kavkaza should also pay attention to this, especially since you publish a lot of information about Turkey. If this information was available in Turkish, it would be great for everyone. Some media provide information from a certain angle, while Vestnik Kavkaza seeks to provide objective information. This is a real journalism.
I would like to thank Vestnik Kavkaza once again for the fact that it pays a lot of attention and efforts to Turkey, publishes objective information, it's a difficult work which requires huge responsibility. I'm grateful for the fact that during the crisis period in Russian-Turkish relations, Vestnik Kavkaza adhered to objective positions, seeking to reconcile our states. You have actively worked to help resolve this conflict quickly. That's exactly what our states needed, this was necessary for cooperation between our peoples.