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From an outside view, it’s not easy to be the head of Turkey.

Turkey has wanted to become an EU member since 2005 but the progress has dragged. Many countries argue that the cultural, geopolitical and economic differences are too significant and the headlines featuring President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as an authoritarian leader and a violator of human rights and press freedom don’t do any good.

Recently, the human rights organisation Amnesty claimed that Turkey has returned thousands of refugees back to Syria, amongst the war and terror, which they once escaped.

In the midst of the dreadful atmosphere, the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, visited Finland due to the invitation of his Finnish counterpart, Juha Sipilä.

Davutoğlu arrived in Finland on Wednesday morning and met the speaker of the parliament, Maria Lohela, at the Parliament. The yard of the Annex of the Parliament swarmed with police dressed in black overalls with the squad number emblazoned on the back.

“Nothing but a state visit going on here,” a police officer said to a frantic woman who had frozen in the street while passing by. After receiving the smoothing news, she pulled out her cellphone and started filming.

Davutoğlu would shortly be escorted to the 19th-century private palace, The Government Banquet Hall, at the end of Southern Esplanade, where he would meet premier Sipilä.

I had to run through the city in order to witness and photograph the meeting on time. While sweating bullets, I was escorted to the Dining Room amidst the TV cameras, in front of the Turkish and Finnish flags. Soon, I could hear the premiers’ shoes echoing on the wooden floor.

The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, meeting with his Finnish counterpart, Juha Sipilä, at the Government Banquet Hall in Helsinki on Wednesday April 6 2016. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, meeting with his Finnish counterpart, Juha Sipilä, at the Government Banquet Hall in Helsinki on Wednesday April 6 2016. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Davutoğlu and Sipilä arrived in the room smiling. They shook hands, both wearing dark suits and colourful ties. Davutoğlu had a thick mustache and was a head shorter than Sipilä, and both men wore their famous square glasses. They shook hands quickly and walked into the meeting room for private discussions.

We were asked to wait for the discussions to end. A Turkish cameraman pulled out his cell and started watching videos from a war zone. Sounds of machine guns echoed in the room and people started looking nervous.

Sounds of machine guns echoed in the room and people started looking nervous.
This was Davutoğlu's first visit to Finland as the prime minister since his election in August 2014. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

This was Davutoğlu’s first visit to Finland as the prime minister since his election in August 2014. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The meeting took over an hour, longer than scheduled because both ministers had found the discussions sincerely fruitful. It was time for the luncheon with members of the Finnish and Turkish delegation. The cameramen were escorted downstairs for work, water and coffee.

A protester against the Turkish leadership standing next to Hotel Kämp in Helsinki centre late on Wednesday afternoon. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

A protester against the Turkish leadership standing next to Hotel Kämp in Helsinki centre late on Wednesday afternoon. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

An out-of-breath newsman arrived into the press room. “They were throwing eggs at the hotel Kämp. There were a lot of police officers. It looked serious!” he exclaimed. It became clear that prime minister Davutoğlu was staying at the hotel but the eggs were aimed at random targets by a small number of protesters.

“They were throwing eggs at the hotel Kämp. There were a lot of police officers. It looked serious!”

When the premiers arrived at the press conference in the large Blue Hall they were still smiling.

“We had great discussions here today,” Sipilä said. “There is a lot of potential to intensify our trade relations, for example, clean technology and the energy sector are very interesting areas for future cooperation,” he continued.

Sipilä said that Finland has been one of the most consistent supporters of the Turkish EU membership in their accession process. “It is crucial that Turkey continues implementing reforms regarding the rule of law, fundamental rights and freedom of media.” “I heard that there is huge progress already done in that field,” Sipilä added and looked at Davutoğlu, who nodded.

In early March, Turkey agreed with the EU leaders that the country would receive an approval for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens into the EU’s Schengen zone in exchange for a more careful control over the migrants flooding through Turkey to Germany, for example. Turkey would also receive billions of euros from the EU to help dissolve the migrant crisis.

“With a visa-free regime in place we shall look to welcoming many more Turkish tourists and business people to Finland,” Sipilä said.

In the deal between Turkey and the EU, the participants also agreed that all “irregular migrants” arriving in Greece from Turkey since March 20 face being sent back. The path through Turkey and along the Aegean Sea is popular among migrants from Syria. For every Syrian refugee returned, another Syrian refugee will be resettled from Turkey to the EU.

Finland is among the first countries to receive Syrian refugees from Turkey; eleven Syrians from three families arrived in Finland by plane from Turkey on Monday. “Finland is ready to rapidly implement the EU refugee facility for Turkey,” Sipilä said.

While Davutoğlu had visited Finland several times as the foreign minister, this was his first as the premier.

Davutoğlu reminded that this year marks the 19th anniversary of Finnish-Turkish diplomatic relations. “During these 19 years, there has not been any disputes between Turkey and Finland.”

But there had been several quarrels among the journalists and Turkey, and at the end of the conference another one was about to start.

Davutoğlu was asked about the Amnesty’s report of Turkish authorities sending refugees from Syria back to Syria, to the war zone . . . “What are your comments on that?” a journalist asked.

“Syrian refugees back to Syria?” Davutoğlu replied in amazement.

“Yes, thousands of them. Including under 12-year-old children.”

The journalist continued with asking details about the accession of EU membership but Davutoğlu looked shocked.

From a close distance, his eyes looked moist.

From a close distance, his eyes looked moist.

“About the first question . . . I am the prime minister of Turkey and it’s the first time I am receiving such news. From the first day of the crisis until now, there have not been any returns of refugees from Turkey to Syria. Turkey is today the biggest refugee-hosting country; 3 million refugees are in Turkey. We didn’t ask any Syrian to go back to Syria because we know how aggressive is the Syrian regime, how brutal is the Syrian regime and how brutal are the terrorist organisations in Syria,” Davutoğlu said and continued, “This is absolutely wrong. Especially children. They are like our children. 152,000 Syrian babies were born in Turkey. Yesterday our minister of education reported that 450,000 new Syrian children will be getting an education in Turkey. Free of charge. Hospitals are free of charge.”

Davutoğlu continued with reminding the journalists that the principle of Turkey is to follow a humanitarian approach. “I am proud of my nation because in the last 5 years, despite of the presence of 3 million refugees, there has not been one single anti-Syrian, anti-Arab, anti-refugee xenophobic type of gang in Turkey.” “As the prime minister of Turkey and as a human being and as a father, I am telling that all Syrian children are our children, all Syrian innocent victims are our people.”

According to Davutoğlu, everyone should “appreciate this.” “But instead of appreciating this, there are certain circles creating some remorse which does not have any base of truth.” “If you will find one child sent back to Syria, we will ask who is responsible. But nobody can show and prove this. This is an indication of bad intentions and I am challenging this.”

The last part of the journalist’s question about the EU was nothing but rhetorics . . . and while Davutoğlu conscientiously answered it, I stopped listening.

I had understood that the matters involving Turkey are far more complex than a view from outside offers.

 

Prime minister Sipilä and Davutoğlu leaving the press conference. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Prime minister Sipilä and Davutoğlu leaving the press conference. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today