The Battle of Gallipoli, which was one of the bloodiest battles in World War I and had its 100th anniversary last week, is of capital importance for New Zealanders, considering their role as part of the Anzac troop contingent in the war. In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the war, thousands of New Zealanders came to Turkey last week and participated in the Dawn Service. Speaking to Daily Sabah, New Zealand Ambassador Jonathan Andrew Curr evaluated the latest memorial ceremonies for the Battle of Gallipoli and remarked on bilateral relations between Turkey and his country.
As you know the 100th year anniversary of the Gallipoli War is being commemorated this year. What is the importance of this commemoration for New Zealand?
It is a hugely important commemoration for a number of different reasons. First of all, it is historically significant. This was the first truly international war in which New Zealand sent soldiers to fight overseas. Secondly, the losses were very significant. There were almost a million people in New Zealand in 1915. About 13,000 soldiers were sent to Gallipoli Peninsula, and of those approximately 2,700 soldiers were lost to the war and another 4,700 were wounded. If you think about the total population of the country, and the number of soldiers sent, you can see that this war had a significant impact on the communities in which those soldiers lived. People were reading the newspapers in small towns and cities, looking at long lists of casualties, and they were very shocked. We had previously been involved in the Second Anglo-Boer War, which spanned from 1899 to 1902, as a part of the British Empire forces. Throughout this war, we had sent 6,000 soldiers overseas and lost only 230 of them over three years; in Gallipoli, we lost in the thousands.
Can it be said that this war was a nation-building experience for New Zealand?
Yes, it was a nation-building experience for New Zealand. We fought overseas as New Zealanders, albeit under the mantle of the British Empire. During the war, through our interactions with the British, we realized that we were different from them, and we discovered that we shared much in common with the Australians. We became aware that we were distinctively New Zealanders, even though we were at the time an immigrant nation with the majority of our ancestral roots in the British Isles. Even the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, were migrants who sailed to New Zealand in the 13th century.
Participating in World War I, fighting overseas and suffering huge losses became an important milestone in our history and in the development of our national identity.
Despite the incurable wounds of a war on a nation's memory, Turkey and New Zealand have shared problem-free relations for a century now. How would you evaluate this relationship?
It is an excellent political relationship. As you know, New Zealand had very little to do with the Ottoman Empire until 1915. Our first real engagement with the empire and the Turkish people was in the Gallipoli campaign.
There are many reasons for the existence of a strong and positive friendship between New Zealand and Turkey. Probably the most significant reason is the experience of New Zealand soldiers at Gallipoli. There developed on the battlefield an enduring respect for their opponents. This happened on both sides. This respect was based on the mutually honorable interactions between the anzac and Ottoman soldiers. This mutual respect was maintained not only during the conflict, but even after it.
The relationship between New Zealand and Turkey also shows that conflicts among nations do not have to result in sustained animosity; a friendship can be developed out of it. Speaking of these relations, I would like to express our gratitude to Turkey for hosting these unprecedented joint commemorations in honor of our soldiers.
Turkey favors reform in the United Nations Security Council where New Zealand currently has a seat for the 2015-16 period. What is New Zealand's stance in regards to reform in the UNSC?
This is the third time New Zealand has taken a seat on the UN Security Council. Last time, we were on the council was in 1993-1994; so it has been 20 years. Regarding reform, New Zealand believes that small states should be represented on the council, and the barriers to membership should not be so high as to exclude them. They should have a voice like other, larger, countries do. Small states can be just as effective as countries that have permanent seats in peacekeeping operations, for example. Moreover, they are often less inclined to look at issues from the narrow perspective of their own interests. The council is not just about the Permanent Five; it is a body of 15 members. New Zealand has been an active and constructive member of the international community; we are one of the founding members of the United Nations. And we believe in the importance of participation.
The UN Security Council should be more effective, but because of the use, or threat of use, of the veto, it has become paralyzed. New Zealand has been critical of the veto right from the inception of the UN, so in many respects, Turkey's and New Zealand's attitudes toward reform are similar.
You mentioned that providing a voice for small states is one of New Zealand's priorities. How do you perceive Turkey in this manner?
Turkey is playing an increasingly important role as a voice for developing countries, and among these are many small states. We have been consulting with Turkey on how we can work together in other parts of the world, such as in Africa and the Pacific. Turkey has a significant diplomatic footprint in Africa, with embassies in nearly every African country. This has led to the development of expertise in countries such as Somalia, for example, where Turkey has a strong presence in Mogadishu.
New Zealand has excellent networks in the Pacific region, and we understand that Turkey will soon open a new embassy in Fiji, in the South Pacific. We look forward to working closely with Turkey in our neighborhood, and this may lead to joint development projects in the future.
We are also working closely with Turkey on issues such as regional security because Turkey is a significant player in its own region, with significant expertise and historical and cultural ties.
Bilateral relations have gained positive momentum thanks to mutual official visits in recent years. What is your expectation for the future of these bilateral relations?
Ministers from Turkey and New Zealand have been meeting regularly, and these interactions have been increasing in the past few years. There has been a steady stream of visits in both directions: HE Mr. Çavuşoğlu, the foreign affairs minister of Turkey visited New Zealand last November. We already had two ministerial visits from New Zealand to Turkey this year: our minister of trade and minister of veterans' affairs. Our prime minister arrives on April 22. We had foreign ministry consultations in June last year. We are expecting that the New Zealand governor-general will visit Turkey again in August this year, and I know our foreign minister is also keen to visit.
Bilateral relations are really in an excellent state. The future for New Zealand and Turkey seems bright. There have been exploratory talks between the countries on a possible free trade agreement. Turkey is already very popular among New Zealanders as a tourist destination because of its rich historical and cultural heritage, the warmth of its people and because Turkey is home to the Gallipoli battlefields and to memorials to our fallen soldiers. Around 30,000 New Zealanders visit Turkey every year. We would love to see a boost in the number of Turkish tourists visiting our country, as well, and we have made changes to our visa regime to make it easier for Turkish nationals to visit New Zealand on business. Therefore, I am very optimistic about the relationship between New Zealand and Turkey.
In which particular sectors do you think both countries have the potential to improve trade and economic cooperation?
Agriculture is definitely one of the sectors that have the potential to improve trade. New Zealand is traditionally very strong in agriculture. Meat and dairy production is especially prominent. While we are very efficient agricultural producers, due to the constraints of our land area, we cannot satisfy global demand for even food products that we produce very well. No single country can. This opens up and encourages opportunities for partnerships with other countries to establish joint investments in farming and food technology.
Healthcare is another important sector for New Zealand, especially in health information management systems. There is a New Zealand-based health company that operates in Turkey, with an office in Ankara, providing devices for sleep apnea.
Unfortunately, Turkey and New Zealand also share similar geographical features like fault lines, but which has resulted in the development of advanced engineering skills in both countries. New Zealand is one of the leading countries in earthquake engineering. We have a number of companies that have been active in Turkey for a while, providing assistance with a range of technologies.
How would you briefly describe New Zealand's international engagement?
While the Gallipoli campaign served as a political adhesive in Turkish-New Zealand relations after the war, it also consolidated our relation with Australia. This is perhaps our most important bilateral relationship. As for other countries, we have excellent relations with the states of the Asia-Pacific region, including the United States and Canada. And of course we retain strong political, historical and social ties to Britain, and to other states in Europe.
At the multilateral level, for the next two years I imagine New Zealand's primary focus will be on effectively performing our duties on the UN Security Council. However, New Zealand is also an active member of other international organizations such as the Commonwealth, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the East Asia Summit and ASEAN as a dialogue partner, the Pacific Islands Forum, and of course the World Trade Organization. We will continue to fulfill our duties in these organizations and others. Still, New Zealand is always looking for opportunities to improve our international connectedness and to cooperate with other countries to address international issues. But before joining other organizations there is often a need to analyze the cost and benefits. Sometimes it is better to spend time and effort on improving existing organizations rather than creating or joining new ones.
You were wearing a kind of traditional "dress" when you presented the letters of credence to former President Gül last year. What's the story behind this "dress"?
This "dress" is called a "korowai." It is a finely woven cloak covered with tassels and is a form of dress traditionally worn by people of chiefly status among the Maori people. The Maori are New Zealand's indigenous people.
The idea that New Zealand ambassadors should wear this distinctive item of clothing for important ceremonies arose in 2007. There are only three held by our Foreign Ministry, and so all our ambassadors must share them.
Korowai are very special and provide a mantle of prestige and identity for the wearer. The three existing korowais represent the Maori tribes from the East Coast, the South Island and the Central North Island of New Zealand. In time, we hope to commission further korowais from other regions.
The primary purpose of the korowai is to promote the distinctive New Zealand culture to the world. Those ambassadors who have been fortunate enough to wear the korowai, myself included, feel an enormous sense of pride. It is a very significant point of difference to that of other diplomatic colleagues.
At my credentials ceremony with former President Gül, I wore the Ngai Tahu korowai, which is based in London and travels between our embassies in the Northern hemisphere. The designs on the lapel have been inspired by the Ngai Tahu rock art drawings and their sacred mountain Aoraki.