The bilateral relations between Turkey and Hungary hit the highest level in recent years in all areas including politics, economy and culture, Hungarian Ambassador to Ankara Viktor Matis said, revealing new initiations to carry the ties even further.
"Even though bilateral relations have for long been very good, they evolved to a new level after 2013, when it was increased to a strategic level," Matis told Daily Sabah in an exclusive interview.
Enjoying warm relations in every field thanks to bilateral high-level visits and consultation mechanisms the two countries upgraded ties to a strategic level with a strategic cooperation agreement in 2013. A High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council was also established the same year, co-chaired by Turkey's president and the Hungarian prime minister which has gathered once every two years.
"The aim of this council is to coordinate all kinds of cooperation in all fields between Turkey and Hungary. So it is a very good chance to boost and give a push to relations on sectorial levels," the Hungarian ambassador noted.
Earlier in November, the 4th High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council meeting was held in Budapest with the participation of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Ten agreements were inked between the two countries on culture, education, transportation, space as well as between national archives and foreign ministries.
"The number of agreements is good, but what we actually care about is keen contacts. What we have done this time is also renewed some old agreements, notably the one regarding the political declaration on the strategic ties between the two countries. It has had very good outcomes, so it has to be continued," Matis said.
Opening of Turkish bank to boost economic relations
Stressing that the Hungarian government welcomed Erdoğan's announcement of the opening of a Turkish state bank branch in Budapest, Matis said that the step will facilitate activities of investors from both countries. "This is a very important decision since the bank would create a connection between economic activities," he said.
The Hungarian ambassador added that there is also strong cooperation in health, agriculture, industry and water issues.
"We are pushing experts to come together to discuss possible cooperation in every field because we have an official target of a $6 billion trade volume while the current number is at nearly $3 billion, which means a significant gap," he said.
According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), Turkey's exports to the country in the January-September period of this year amounted to some $885.5 million, while its imports stood at $913.6 million. Thus, the trade volume between the two countries totaled nearly $1.8 billion in the said period. The bilateral trade volume stood at $2.6 billion last year.
On the investment side, Hungary carried out $29 million worth of investments in Turkey between 2002 and 2018. In the same period, Turkey's direct investments in Hungary reached $58 million.
"The Hungarian Export Promotion Agency has five offices in Turkey, including Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Bursa and Gaziantep. It has only five local partners in the world; one of them is in Istanbul. The Hungarian Export-Import Bank has also appointed a country director for Turkey, which is one of its three director-generals in world. This is how important we believe economic cooperation with Turkey is," Matis said.
Works ongoing on Sultan Suleiman's tomb
Defining cultural cooperation as "outstanding" between the two countries and sharing a long history, Matis said that the Hungarian government has been working on revealing the tomb of famous Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent, who died during a siege of the Hungarian city of Szigetvar in 1566.
"Historians knew where he died since a tomb was later raised in that place, however, it disappeared 100-150 years later and there were several rumors about where it was. A project was launched with cooperation of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) and Hungarian authorities; and as result of a lot research by historians and archeologists, they finally found it," Matis said, adding that Hungarian authorities will likely launch a project to reveal the tomb soon.
The tomb of Suleiman would likely be the second-most popular spot for Turkish tourists after Gül Baba tomb in Budapest, who was an Ottoman Bektashi dervish and poet, and a companion of Suleiman. The tomb was restored through a Turkish-Hungarian partnership after a protocol signed in 2014 and it remains a symbol of friendship between the two countries.
He added that another project that has already been approved by the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry is opening an exhibition in "Bloody Fortress" in northeastern Kars province, where Hungarian officers fought against the Russians along with Ottoman troops during Crimean War in 1856.
Regarding the bilateral touristic visits, Matis indicated that the number of tourists visiting Hungary from Turkey had increased 50% consecutively in the last two years.
"We would like to introduce places other than Budapest. Also, we made subcommittee meetings to make Hungarian tourists going to Turkey to turn their faces to cultural tourism," he said.
Developing relations with Turkic Council
Speaking on the opening of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States office in September in Budapest, Matis said that Hungary is close to Turkic countries in terms of its thinking, history and culture and it wants to further develop bilateral relations with these states.
"Increasing our bilateral ties, which are not at the desired level with Turkic states, was our main driving forces when we were opening it. The head of the office, Janos Hovari, a Turkologist and historian, is also our former ambassador to Ankara," Matis said, adding that this appointment shows the importance given by the Hungarian government on the issue.
He also noted that the task of the office will not only be enhancing cooperation between Hungary and the council but also being a door for the council to Europe.
The Turkic Council was established in October 2009 by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan had already finalized its accession to the organization. Hungary and Turkmenistan are observer states in the council.
Matis added that the Hungarian government also considered it a great success that in the new European Commission, Olivér Várhelyi, will be responsible for the portfolio of enlargement and neighborhood policy.
"However it is a very complicated question, we believe that the time has come to deal with this issue without prejudice," he said.