Think of Turkey, the country, and what images come to mind? Turkish delight – that exquisite powdery sugar-covered, pistachio-stuffed confection. Golden Zildjian cymbals with the crisp, clear sound favored by jazz drummers and percussionists in orchestras. The Blue Mosque in Istanbul with its six delicate minarets. Sweet succulent dried apricots.
Now there’s a cluster of other images for Turkey: World’s 16th largest economy and 16th largest manufacturer of cars and spare parts. A major world producer and exporter of steel, pasta, dried fruits and candy. A nation with a burgeoning tourism industry. A major donor of development aid to emerging economies. A potential investor and trading partner in Indian country.
Namik Tan, Turkey’s Ambassador to the United States, and a delegation of officials from Turkey’s Ministry of Economy attended the Reservation Economic Summit and American Indian Business Trade Fair (RES 2012), seeking business partners among the tribal nations’ government officials. For enterprise-minded individuals, companies and countries, the annual business conference was the place to be. This year’s RES took place at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas from February 27 – March 1 and drew more than 4,000 participants, according to Margo Gray-Proctor, a member of the Osage Nation and chairwoman of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED), which organizes and hosts the annual RES conference.
Gray Proctor introduced the Turkish delegation during the opening session of RES, calling them “my friends from Turkey.” She was among a delegation of American Indians representing 17 tribes from at least 10 U.S. states who visited Turkey in November 2010. “This year we are particularly honored to welcome his Excellency Ambassador Tan who despite his busy schedule wanted to join us for the opening session to reiterate his government’s genuine interest in building bridges in Indian country,” Gray-Proctor said. “We are honored to have you here and look forward to working together to facilitate business development between our two peoples. There is now a great movement in Indian country for business development.”
There has been great economic growth over the past few decades in Turkey, a uniquely democratic Muslim country – proof that a country can be Muslim and democratic, contrary to embedded stereotypes about Islam. Turkey is also uniquely situated geographically with the Black Sea to its north and the Mediterranean Sea to its south, linking eastern Europe with Western Asia, also known as the “Middle East,” a colonialist term coined by the British Empire when Britannia still ruled the seas and before the sun had set on it. In just the past seven years, Turkey’s GDP grew from $481.5 billion in 2005 to an estimated $797.6 billion in 2011, and its merchandise exports expanded from $73.5 billion in 2005 to $113.9 billion in 2010, according to the State Department. Turkey exports chemicals, petroleum, machinery, motor vehicles, electronics, iron, steel, plastics, precious metals and more. Its major trading partners are Germany, U.S., Italy, France, Russia, Japan, China, Iran, Iraq, and the U.K., but now Turkey is reaching out to Indian nations in the U.S.
The Turkish delegation manned a booth in the trade show section of RES 2012, providing information about Turkey in beautifully produced brochures, large catalogues and other print material. It was the second time that Cemalettin Damlaci, Turkey’s Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Economy, attended RES. “The organizers invited us to participate in this meeting and we are very happy to be here and meet together with the Indian nations,” Damlaci said. His mission on the trip was to “increase bilateral relations with Indian nations,” Damlaci said.
Damlaci noted that Turkey was one of the fastest growing countries in the world in 2010 and 2011 when its economy grew by 6.4 percent and 7.0 percent, respectively. During the first half of 2011, Turkey’s GDP grew by 9 percent, exceeding even the rate of China’s growth. “So, of course, we would like to increase our relations with all the nations, but more specifically with the American Indian nations. Why? Because the American Indians have paid attention to increasing their bilateral relations with Turkey.”
Turkey is also one of the biggest donor countries in the world. During the past five or six years, Damlaci said, Turkey has distributed about $1 billion a year in development aid to the Balkans, African nations, the Caucasus and other countries. “Turkey is supporting all the countries that need help in the world and we see that American Indian nations also want to increase their commercial development so we’re also paying attention to this goal,” Damlaci said.
Two bills pending in Congress would spur economic activity between the Nations and Turkey and create jobs on tribal territories. Last November, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs held a hearing to discuss H.R. 2362, a bill which would allow a test program group of Indian tribes to seek private investments from Turkish companies, and H.R. 205, a bill authorizing long-term leases to restricted Indian lands for public, residential, business and other uses without approval from the Secretary of the Interior.
According to the testimony of Lincoln McCurdy, president of the Turkish Coalition of America, the Turkish government and private businesses offer an impressive list of considerations for doing business with Indian tribes, including the following:
- In 2008, Turkey’s foreign direct investment (FDI) surpassed $2.5 billion.
- By the end of 2010, Turkey’s investments from 2008 to 2010 had totaled $21.6 billion.
- Turkey’s outward investments have traditionally been in construction, mining, finance, manufacturing and technology/communications sectors, all of which are labor intensive with tremendous potential to create new jobs on Indian lands.
- Turkey has been the largest provider of employment opportunities in Russia, Turkmenistan, Egypt and Kazakhstan. Turkey’s exports to Egypt alone amounted to $2 billion in 2010, creating more than 40,000 jobs.
Damlaci said Turkey’s partnership with the Nation’s would be mutually beneficial. Turkey has the second biggest construction sector after China and since 1970 has completed more than 6,500 projects in more than 18 countries for a total of $207 billion in construction, mainly in Russia, Western Asia, and North Africa. Tourism in Turkey has grown dramatically with 30 million visitors last year resulting in tourism income of approximately $23 billion. “In terms of commercial sectors, we’re one of the major suppliers of textiles in the world. In automotive spare parts we’re the 10th biggest producers of steel in the world.” All of this experience and Turkish investment in Indian country can translate into economic development and jobs for the Nations, Damlaci said. “First of all we would like to propose infrastructure like roads, schools and housing and also mining. In the manufacturing sector there are lots of opportunities to establish joint ventures in automobile spare parts, electrical appliances, furniture and other items that we can manufacture here in Indian country,” Damlaci said. The opportunities are huge, he said.
Damlaci was particularly pleased that H.R. 2362 names Turkey. “We’re very happy that the Congress bill in order to increase bilateral relations specifically names Turkey and not another country. It says we’re feeling the same things to each other. So there are a lot of things behind this feeling and there is willingness to go forward, so we hope that in the near future we’ll see, let’s say, the real outcome of this cooperation.”