Despite the decision by the U.S. and Germany to withdraw Patriot missiles from Turkey, given their assessment of the downgraded threat level from Syria, Spain as another NATO member has maintained deployment of their Patriot missiles within Turkey. According to Spanish Ambassador to Ankara Rafael Mendivil Peydro, this is a proof of Spain's friendship and solidarity toward the Turkish people. Speaking to Daily Sabah, Ambassador Peydro underlined that Spain has long been a strong supporter of Turkey's EU accession process, while reminding that there is a long way to go, and that some issues will not be easy to solve.
Asked whether Spain still supports the Alliance of Civilizations initiative launched in 2005, the ambassador stressed that Spain naturally remains a firm supporter of dialogue within the framework of the Alliance of Civilizations, which Spain co-sponsored with Turkey and the United Nations.
Discussing the new law recently approved by the Spanish Parliament which will allow the descendants of Jews expelled from the country in 1492 to seek Spanish citizenship, the Ambassador said that it is difficult to number how many Turkish Jews have applied for Spanish citizenship within the scope of this law, since not all of the Jewish community in Turkey originated from Spain.
DS: Unlike two other NATO countries, Spain did not withdraw their Patriot missiles in Turkey. Could you please explain the rationale behind Spain's decision to maintain deployment of these missiles?
The continued presence of the Patriot missile battery in Turkey was a decision taken at the request of the Turkish Government, within the framework of NATO, and by consensus of all its members, as is usual in within the Alliance. Following the discussions that took place in this regard within NATO, Spain was requested to maintain its actual deployment, to which Spain has always been in favor. For us it is a formula of cooperation with our allies and very directly with Turkey, because without any doubt it represents not only an enormous effort in personal terms, but also economically speaking. From my point of view, it is also a proof of our friendship and solidarity towards the Turkish people. Ultimately, it is a manifestation of the willingness of Spain to participate in the defense of the values of our allied international community against barbarism, values shared with Turkey and in this case, moreover and very specifically, in the defense of the city of Adana and its inhabitants.
DS: Spain has been one of the staunchest supporters of Turkey's EU bid, ever since negotiations started a decade ago. Would you comment on the Turkish-EU resumption which we have witnessed in recent months?
Indeed Spain has been a strong supporter of the accession of Turkey to the European Union, and this will remain in the future. We are currently seeing formidable intense momentum in the relationship between Turkey and the EU to speed up this approach. I believe that enormous efforts are being made by both sides. Regarding Turkey, I have to state the enormous interest of this government and the great work that is being carried out by the Ministry of European Affairs. It is a very technical and detailed task, infused by clear indications of political will. What is also true is that we should not deceive ourselves. There is a long way to go and some issues will not be easy to solve. Spain knows well how long our approach to the EU was, and knows that it is a path full of concessions and resignations, but also of future success. Along this path, we must welcome advances and be ready to manage frustrations. At the end of the road the enormous benefits of EU membership can be perceived. Spain is very grateful for its EU membership, because it changed the orientation of my county towards a better future.
DS: Does Spain still support the Alliance of Civilizations initiative which was launched in 2005 by the prime ministers of Turkey and Spain? How would you respond to the news which claims the previous Spanish government has decided to completely suspend the initiative?
Spain naturally remains a firm supporter of the dialogue within the framework of the Alliance of Civilizations, which we co-sponsored with Turkey and the United Nations. It is absolutely untrue that Spain's interest in this forum has declined. The reality is quite contrary, since Spain along with Turkey, has participated with absolute dedication and seriousness in all Alliance meetings, and we will continue efforts to promote this initiative. This year we will have a new meeting of extraordinary importance in Azerbaijan. The problem is that the Alliance of Civilizations cannot be considered as the sole responsibility of Spain and Turkey. It needs the commitment and participation of all countries, since it has an avocation to be universally assumed. I would add that every country should feel concerned. It is an issue that will affect the future, and I think, without exaggerating, humanity itself. Respect and tolerance among religions and collaboration and understanding among cultures are absolutely necessary in a world where there are no corners or hiding places that could allow you to ignore such a sensitive reality, not only in the context of human relationships, but also between nations.
DS: In recent months the Spanish Parliament has approved a much-anticipated law which will allow descendants of those Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 to seek Spanish citizenship. Could you give us some more information?
Spain expelled their Jews in 1492. It may seem a distant date but the consciences of Spaniards have never forgotten. Since that time they have been called Sephardic Jews and their language is Ladino, an antiquated kind of Spanish-Hebrew dialect. Sephard means "from Spain" and Sephardic Jews means "Jews originally from Spain." These Jews never threatened the integrity of Spain and moreso they were in many cases faithful partners of the authorities and of the monarchy of that time, contributing to Spain's wealth as an integral part of the country. No one doubts that the expulsion was not fair at all. That is why Spain throughout history, with various different governments, has repeatedly wanted to heal this wound against our consciences. The Spanish civil code relating to nationality has always taken the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain into account in a very special way, by facilitating their acquisition of Spanish nationality. Even at the dawn of the 20th century, in 1923, a legislation in this regard offered a privileged way of obtaining Spanish nationality to the Sephardic community, and I could point out that thanks to this legislation, many Sephardic Jews were able to save their life thanks to the diplomatic support of various Spanish embassies in several European countries during World War II. The procedures on the basis of the provisions of the new law have began from October 1, 2015.
DS: Can you share statistics about the number of Turkish Jews who have applied for Spanish citizenship within the scope of this law?
We estimate that the cumulative total of Jews in Turkey can reach 18,000, 700 of them already holding Spanish nationality. There are 3,500 more who are in the process of obtaining Spanish nationality. It is difficult to tell how many will apply for Spanish nationality under the new law. In a quite rough estimate that may be modified by reality, we calculate that at the end of the process around 8,000 to 10,000 Sephardic Jews will hold dual Spanish and Turkish citizenship. It should be taken into account that not all of the Jewish community in Turkey originate from Spain. There are Jewish citizens in Turkey of various origins, and only those whose ancestors came from Spain and who have maintained a certain link to Spain's culture and reality until today are eligible for Spanish nationality. I think it is important to note that the new law does not require the applicant to renounce to his nationality of origin in order to obtain Spanish nationality, allowing the applicants to maintain their nationality in addition to the Spanish.
DS: How did Spain react after the deadly Paris terrorist attack? Did this incident cause antipathy toward Muslim society, especially those living in Spain?
Spanish society reacted as would any mature and responsible society which is respectful of human rights, tolerant and peace-loving. Those actions, like terrorist events unfortunately experienced by Spain in the past, do not modify at all the relations of Spanish society with the Muslim community. In Spain there are more than 2 million citizens – Spanish as well as those from other nationalities – which practice Muslim religion. There is no party in the Spanish political spectrum, whether on the left or on the right, which raises any question concerning the relationship with the Muslim community. Therefore, the answer is clear: the Paris attack did not affect nor create any feeling of antipathy towards the Muslim community. It did produce an increase of absolute and emphatic rejection towards any kind of violence, terrorism being the main one, as well as towards the use of religion to promote hatred between countries. As a consequence it also strengthened the feeling that everyone must participate in the fight against terrorism. All nations with good will should be part of that alliance against violence, against terrorism.
DS: Commercial relations between two countries also have a long-standing background. In which areas could Turkey and Spain enhance their collaboration?
It is almost a tradition to answer such questions by saying things are going very well, but they could be better. In this case, it must be said that they should be better. Bilateral relations between the two countries have had an increasing trend over time. In recent years, bilateral trade between Spain and Turkey amounts to around 9,000 million Euros, taking into account the sum of exports and imports. In 2014, Spain ranked ninth as customer of Turkey. On the other hand, Turkey is the third market for Spanish exports, outside the EU, and only behind the United States and Morocco. Our business relationships are moving, but not as fast as they should. In this sense we are maintaining strong relationships with the competent trade, export, import and investment bodies in Turkey and in Spain in order to revive this relationship.
I think the Turkish Government's efforts to reactivate and facilitate investments in Turkey are worthy of consideration and Spain wants to take advantage of them. The Spanish banking, financial and insurance sectors have made important investments in Turkey and a large number of Spanish companies have also chosen Turkey to settle and produce from. Spanish companies have collaborated in the fulfillment of great works of infrastructure, civil construction, energy and engineering, amongst other sectors in Turkey. Spanish companies trust that they will be able to continue playing a key role in the development of Turkey.
Spain regards Turkey as a safe investment destination with an enormous potential for growth. Having said that, in order to continue attracting investments, it is very necessary for Turkey to boost the reform agenda, to strengthen legal certainty and to dilute uncertainties. Spain is with no doubt keen to receive investments from Turkey and, if possible, to collaborate in joint projects in other continents: Spain, helped by Turkey, in Asia and in the Middle East, and Turkey, helped by Spain, in our brother Latin American continent.
DS: The Sixth Turkey-Spain Intergovernmental Summit which was scheduled to be held in 2015 did not take place. What was the reason behind this?
I think that the reason was the concatenation of elections throughout 2015, both in Spain and in Turkey. Turkey had two elections. Spain for its part also had regional, local and finally general elections. It was virtually impossible to find dates that were not hampered by internal political processes or unavoidable international commitments. Anyway, relations between Spain and Turkey are excellent, as we could see after the meeting that the Prime Minister of Spain Mariano Rajoy held with President Erdoğan on the margins of the G20 meeting in Antalya, this without mentioning those political contacts on other levels that we maintain on a regular basis.
DS: Is there any other comments that His Excellency would like to add?
I cannot conclude this interview without underlining the need to reinforce the human ties that bind our two countries, and stress that this is only possible through mutual knowledge from which respect, trust, affection and friendship are born.
For this reason, the Embassy of Spain works for a better knowledge of Spain within Turkey and to promote Spanish culture among a Turkish public that usually welcomes with enthusiasm some of its manifestations such as flamenco, films or painting. At this point I would like to highlight the excellent collaboration we have with numerous Turkish institutions, as town halls, universities and foundations, and I take advantage of this opportunity to thank them all.
We also want to promote, together with our sister countries of Latin America, the knowledge of the Spanish language, which is the second language of the international community, spoken by more than 500 million people in the world, and as a first language in 21 countries. To this end, we are carrying out numerous activities in schools, because we consider that the future of Turkey is located in their classrooms, and from the Embassy we feel very honored by how warmly all centers have welcomed our activities. This is ultimately a work consisting in bringing Spain to Turkey, trying to overcome mutual knowledge gaps which exist in our societies. The best task which an Embassy can dream of!