Social-media savvy British Consul General Turner leaves Istanbul

DAILY SABAH WITH AA
ISTANBUL
Published 29.04.2016 16:20
Updated 29.04.2016 16:29
Leigh turner taking the controversial selfie (left) (IHA Photo)
Leigh turner taking the controversial selfie (left) (IHA Photo)

When British Consul General Leigh Turner arrived in Istanbul for the first time on a hot August day in 2012, he got lost.

He had just been appointed to the position and had arrived in Istanbul for four weeks to learn Turkish, and he was desperately trying to locate his new home - on foot - in Baltalımanı neighborhood on the European side, a picturesque area on the Bosporus.

"I couldn't find the house," he recalls. "So I was looking for it in the dark, it was very hot, and there were lots of dogs chasing me around and my phone wasn't working because I just arrived that day and so I looked in every street in Baltalımanı."

An hour-and-a-half later of trudging through the uphill streets and slopes that characterize Istanbul, he finally found the house.

Thus began the love affair between the 58-year-old British diplomat and Istanbul.

As Leigh Turner prepares to leave his post in July, he leaves behind the manifestation of his deep admiration for the city, as well as the country as a whole, in the form of a blog and a Twitter account.

Leigh Turner has indeed attracted local media's attention with his @leighturnerFCO Twitter account, which boasts more than 15,000 followers.

More specifically, he has used the popular #reasonstolikeistanbul hashtag to showcase more than 600 pictures about Istanbul.

"I am quite proud of my work on social media where I think we have been trying to show people in Turkey that British people are interested in Turkey," he says, sitting on a reddish sofa in the consulate.

One day, a tweet about a craftsman in the city's historical Grand Bazaar. Another day, a picture of an inventive hairdresser sign that reads "Barber of Seville". An escapade to one of Istanbul's traditional teahouses also warrants its own tweet.

"The advantage of social media is that you reach out very quickly to a lot of people and not just the traditional people who are close to the consulate, close to embassies," he says.

The British diplomat who is also director-general for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and the South Caucasus, also explains how being active on social media positively affects his work.

"If I tweet out #reasonstolikeistanbul, it is all true; people like that and it means I have more followers when I tweet out something about how good British cars are or tweet out something about growing trade and investment between our countries," he says.

Turner says that trade and investment between Britain and Turkey had steadily increased in the last four years at a time when economic development has been difficult.

"The United Kingdom is the biggest foreign country investing in Turkey," he notes. "We are beginning to see Turkish companies, which want to grow from being regional brands to being a global brands - they are beginning to invest in the United Kingdom too."

"We can say that we increased our trade between 2010 and 2015 by well over 70 percent between our two countries, a really good figure actually," Turner adds.

One of the reasons for Turner to apply for the Istanbul job was a 2012 Financial Times readership survey that gave a top mark to Istanbul as the best city in the world to live in.

"I read with a great interest and thought 'yep, that's sound like a great place to live'," Turner said.

Turner, who grew up in Nigeria, Lesotho and Swaziland in Africa, before going to Manchester Grammar School and Cambridge University, was already speaking French, German, Russian, as well as some Ukrainian and Spanish, before he took on Turkish.

His efforts to learn the language have paid off as evidenced by his bilingual blog. (Not to mention the fact that he managed to finish 2014 thriller Death of a Journalist by Elcin Poyrazlar... in Turkish.)

In Turkish and in English, he covers a multitude of topics - from an Istanbul gay pride to his Welsh heritage, from contemporary arts to historic heritage in Turkey. His engaging writing style owes perhaps quite a bit to his time, between 2002 and 2006, when he was on unpaid leave in Berlin looking after his two children while working as a freelance journalist for the Financial Times, the Boston Globe and other German and U.S. newspapers.

The blog has been lauded by Turkish media and is a source not only for foreigners visiting the country but also for local Turks.

Since his first day, Turner has traveled across Turkey from southeastern Diyarbakır to Aegean Muğla.

"I love Istanbul but the whole of Turkey is actually full of remarkable history, archeology, fantastic tourist sites and I think that all of the Turkish people can be really proud of this history going right back to Göbeklitepe," he says, referring to the site in southeastern Turkey of one of the world's oldest temple.

"Likely, for me to see Turkey was an important priority because to do my job well, it helps to understand the country as well as it is possible for an outsider," he says.

"Many things have gotten better", since his arrival, says Turner.

"In particular, what I noticed here in Istanbul in transport infrastructure is steadily improving," he adds.

"Not everything in every country is perfect of course," he says.

"I think the phase of reforms in Turkey has unfortunately slowed down compared with the period of about 2000 and 2007," he says.

The British Foreign Ministry announced Turner's appointment as ambassador to Austria and U.K. permanent representative to the United Nations in Vienna last December.

He has already tweeted #adiosistanbul as a farewell to the city.

"I will miss the beautiful surroundings, Istanbul is a really beautiful city and it is very historic. There are many nice teashops and little places I like to go. And I will miss all of those things."

Meanwhile, Turner had also come under fire when he attended a court hearing on two Turkish journalists, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, who are being tried for alleged espionage and spying, and links to FETÖ terror organization.

He also took a selfie, alongside other diplomats, at the courthouse and shared it on his twitter account. The post was widely criticized by social media users, as well as diplomatic and political figures.

"Who do you think you are? What is your job there? I mean there are etiquette to diplomacy. This is not your country. This is Turkey," President Erdoğan said during a speech in Istanbul on March 26.

The diplomats' attendance to the trial was also perceived as an interference in internal affairs of Turkey by the many in the public.

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