National Yemen sits down with Ambassador Donmez of Turkey to discuss politics of Yemen and Turkey.
Interviewed by Fakhri Al-Arashi
National Yemen: Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to meet with National Yemen. Could you please give us an overview of your working mission in Yemen?
Ambassador Donmez: I have completed nearly two and half years here in Sana’a and I am very pleased to say that I have had good time in Yemen despite the recent challenges. Since arriving in Yemen, I have been warmly welcomed by both the Yemen Government and the country’s people and told this directly to Abu Baker Al-Qirbi [Foreign Minister] and Abd-Raboo Mansour Hadi [Vice President].
While I enjoyed my service here, there were many things I was not able to accomplish due to the recent political upheaval and due to agreements and protocols signed by President Saleh.
How does your government see its future with Yemen?
The Government of Turkey looks at its relationship with Yemen positively. Our Prime Minister, for example, has made several statements supporting Yemen’s territorial integrity as well as its political stability. Within this framework, the President of Turkey recently visited Yemen along with members of parliament, cabinet ministers, and more than a hundred businessmen with interests to invest and build trade relationships within Yemen. However, we are waiting for the situation in Yemen to settle down so that more delegations can come to Yemen with their investment capital.
Given your two and a half years of experience in Yemen, what does the country need to do to overcome the current political challenges?
Let me open this way; the basic need is that there should be an understanding of compromise from both the ruling party and opposition in order to move forward. They must consider the future generations of Yemen and work to ensure better living conditions. This can only be done if these actors sit around a table with the intention to find compromise, not arguments, in order to find a mutually beneficial path towards creating a better future in Yemen.
Do you believe that Yemen has reached these difficult social and economic environments due to the mismanagement of the ruling party?
I am not in any position to criticize the ruling party, or any other government authority for that matter, but these issues should be discussed within Yemeni forums, such as parliament, media or other relevant institutions. When these forums are used, they should focus on questions on what was wrong in the past and, more importantly, how can they be corrected? One such issue would be corruption, and this should be removed from the government.
Let me take you back the official visit by Turkey’s President last year. During this visit, both Saleh and Gul met and approved twelve protocols of agreement. One of agreements was a highly lauded cancellation of visa requirements between Yemen and Turkey. However, the visas are still required and have not been canceled. What, or who, is behind this delay in cancelling visas?
First off, it was eleven protocols and agreements that were made. These included areas such as the visas, economic cooperation, media cooperation, diplomacy and many others.
At this time, I can tell you that the Yemen Government did not ratify the visa protocol agreement and we are still waiting for its officials to take the necessary steps forward regarding this agreement. The Turkish Government did not ratify the agreement as well, but the Yemen Government should send us the Arabic translated text of the document. This agreement is not the only agreement pending ratification as many others are still in waiting.
Why has the ratification taken such a long time to receive ratification when citizens in both countries already believe the visa measure has been approved?
Because of the current political uprising in Yemen. Almost immediately after the agreements were made, the situation in Yemen worsened and precluded any progress.
The Turkey Government has been a major player in the Arab Spring revolutions. Your government has spoken about the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, but not in Yemen. Where does your country stand on the revolution movement within Yemen and the calls for the resignation of President Saleh?
We do make statements regarding the situation in Yemen and we have discussed them with the political parties. Ultimately, we believe that Yemen should solve this crisis independently. The Government of Turkey has not requested for any mediation processes, but on the other hand, there is the GCC deal and we have supported it as it is the only solution for Yemen’s political challenges. To be clear, this is not the idea of the Turkish Government alone, but a collaborative idea developed and supported by the United States, European Union, Gulf countries, and Turkey.
How do you view the postponement of the power transition as outlined in the Gulf Initiative?
We feel sorry for the delay and the failure of this project. We now hope that after a resolution by the UN Security Council and statements made by President Saleh will create new resolve to finalize a deal.
President Saleh said that he assigned his vice-president to sign a deal on his behalf, and then the vice-president did not take any action. Do you think that they are both playing for more time?
No, I am not in any position to say so and we could not know the reason. When I talk to my colleagues at other embassies, they do not know either and we collectively cannot understand the issues leading for these delays. I feel sorry for the Yemeni people, many who are poor and innocent have been killed in the street and this should end. Luckily a ceasefire has been reached, but I do not know how many previous ceasefires have had so far.
Yemen’s problem has largely been an issue of a family dispute between President Saleh, his relatives, Shaikh Al-Ahmer’s sons and Ali Mohsin Al-Ahmer. Each one of these individuals do not want to let it go and let Yemen decide their own future. How do you see their selfishness playing out against the will of 25 million Yemeni citizens?
This is a dilemma. While it is a deadlock, Yemen should be able to solve this. This has resulted in a deteriorating economic situation and it is getting worse as food prices are increasing and there is no electricity, gas, or fuel. The lives of real people are being affected; and you are absolutely right when we look at the root of this problem it is a result of three important figures that cannot come together. What my colleagues, particularly the American and British Ambassadors, and I have discussed is how to bring these actors together. But as a newspaper, I would like to turn the same question to you: what would you do about these three individuals?
What is the role of your diplomatic mission to end this problem? Currently, the Yemeni people are demanding that these three parties leave Yemen. Do you agree with this demand?
I do not believe that all three of them will leave the country. I am very skeptical that any one of them will leave the country as well, as they have become so accustomed to living their lives this way. However, they should feel the suffering of their people. The diplomatic missions in Yemen are working hard to save people and their country.
Two weeks ago during an interview with the British Ambassador to Yemen in which he said that change is happening in Yemen. However, he did not recommend any changes in the security or military institutions. His government, and others, has already invested substantial money in their growth knowing that the leaders of these institutions are Saleh’s relatives. How does this affect a peaceful revolution?
We accept this fact which is almost true at the minute, and then revolution cannot be released (noticed).If the UK and US are dependent on Saleh and his relatives for security, it is not possible for these elements to change in government. When I read the interview of John in your paper, he reached the conclusion that it will take months or even years for major changes in security and military institutions. Unfortunately, I see that the British ambassador has decided that fighting against al-Qeada and elements of terror are more important than the future of the Yemeni people. This is a contradiction against the interest of Yemen. If we ask what the opinions of General Mohsein and the Al-Ahmer family are regarding the West’s dependence on Saleh, they have been mostly silent. What are their ideas here?
The British and Americans have called Yemen the homeland of Al-Qaeda while the Yemeni people call it the land of poverty without opportunity and education. Which do you believe is the appropriate title?
I agree with the second title as the lack of education and opportunity created the environment for terrorism and this is against the interest of Yemen. Let me put it this way, if Yemen could make strong progress in the terms of basic living standards, such as education, health and jobs, then there will be no reason for terrorism in this country. When one looks at the history of Yemen, they will notice that Yemen has produced many successful businessmen from Hadhramout that have traveled throughout the world. Additionally, the country was home peaceful civilizations. So what has happened? Yemeni people have become poor resulting in its reputation for an area of terrorism. The Yemen Government should understand their history, and the potential of its country’s people, in order to ensure that people in Yemen today deserve a better today. Yemen has everything, beautiful shores and islands for example, that tourists seek and once the country is stable many visitors will come.
Education is a priority in your country and we can easily observe the progress of Turkish schools here in Yemen. What makes you so involved in education in Yemen?
We have four Turkish schools here that are fully functioning. President Gul opened a vocational training center during his recent visit. It is a $2 million project which includes computer labs, class pottery, carpeting, and jewelry. Some of the buildings are still not completed, but as soon as we are given permission from the Yemen government, a group of teachers from Turkey will come to teach Yemeni teachers how to use all of the equipment. This is a good investment in the future of young Yemeni people. We also send Yemen students to Turkey to study the Turkish language and we have ten scholarships every year.
Many are saying that the United States is backing President Saleh because of Al-Qaeda. As the U.S. has found success in killing key leaders in the organizations, do you believe that the U.S. will stop supporting Saleh?
Terrorism is the not the only reason for the United States’s support of President Saleh. The U.S. is also supporting Yemen to improve living conditions and work to eliminate terrorism in the future.
Do you think that President Saleh will leave power?
To be honest, it’s a difficult guess for anyone and we will just have to wait and see.
Do you think that Yemen will remain united?
Yes, I believe in a united Yemen – not a segmented Yemen.
Speaking from your experience, how would you like to see the new government in Yemen?
To be focused on fixing the mistakes of the past and it should not give priority to the tribal system. Instead, give more support to education so the Yemen people can have a better future and ensure that Yemen remains a united country.