Turkish mayor visits Israel, dreams joint projects

He is 1 of 37 mayors from 28 countries in Israel for a four-day conference organized by American Council for World Jewry.

BULENT TANIK (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Turkish Mayor Bulent Tanik is in Israel this week shopping for peace.
In spite of the tense relations between his country and Israel, he wants to pair his city of Cankaya, a district of the capital Ankara, with a sister one here.
But his is not a one-stop-shop dream.
He is in the process of initiating a sister city program with Ramallah. If all goes well, he told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, he wants to link his city and Ramallah, with one in Israel, in an unusual kind of triple city project.
He does not know if such a project is possible, he said, but it is a dream of his that he wants to turn into reality.
“In Turkey, we have an idiom, divorce is easy for an unmarried bachelor,” he said.
He is among those who believe that overall ties will improve, if relations are built on the local level.
Historically, he said, Turkey has always played the role of a mediator. In a small way, he said, his city can play that role here.
Tanik is under no illusions that he can make grand changes.
He was careful in his short interview to explain that his visit here is neither diplomatic nor political. “My coming is not a political statement,” he said.
As he sat in the lobby of a Jerusalem hotel, the gray-haired man with a mustache looked like any other visiting businessman.
He is one of 37 mayors from 28 countries in Israel for a four-day conference organized by the American Council for World Jewry. He has joined the trip, as any mayor would, he said, out of curiosity and a desire to improve domestic ties between his district and Israel.
It is his first trip to this country, whose politics play such a strong role in the region in which he lives.
“It is important to visit Israel if you are really interested in the political happenings in the Middle East and our region,” Tanik said.
The two countries share the same geography and have a common fate, he said.
He plans to spend the week learning about Israel and to build relations with mayors from around the world. As long as he is here, he said, he also wants to explore the possibility of linking a Turkish, Israeli and Palestinian city.
There are other Israeli sister city projects with Turkey. Adana is linked with Beersheba. And Izmir has a program with Hod Hasharon and Tel Aviv.
But there is no such triple linked project.
Cankaya, according to Tanik, has a population of 820,000.
But between those who work in that section of the city, and visitors, the daily population can swell to 2.5 million.
As a mayor he has to be concerned by both international and local issues. The city, Tanik said, boasts 10 universities and 92 embassies.
Although he is only halfway through his first day on the program, he felt as though he had already made new friends and colleagues.
In his first morning in Jerusalem, Tanik said, he heard a speech from Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor and the head of Prime Minister’s Office technology department.
He followed this by a visit to Yad Vashem. It is not his first experience with honoring the memory of those who died in the Holocaust. He has also in the past visited a number of concentration camps in Europe.
People have a responsibility to remember what happened and what the Nazis did, he said.
“I hope that the world will never again see such a terrible event,” he said.
That is why it is important to build bridges between different people, he said.
His city, he said, has a lot to gain from Israel in the arena of business, specifically tourism, textiles, technology and agriculture.
There needs to be better economic ties between his region and Israel, he said.
It is true, he said, that it is impossible to fully develop a relationship in these areas without restoring positive Israeli- Turkish ties. In the interim, he said, it was still possible to move forward.
“To understand each other and to work together politically is so important, otherwise the economic cooperation are not safe. If there is no political stability, the economic relations cannot increase,” he said.
But the economic relations can foster ties even when diplomatic relations are strained, he said.
It can act, he said, as a drop of water, in an otherwise dry ground.