Turkey, which is heavily dependent on Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan to meet the energy demands of its fast-developing economy, has been trying to diversify its suppliers, and Algeria may play a larger role in Turkey’s plans.
During an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman in honor of the 50th year of Algeria’s independence on July 5, Mouloud Hamai elaborated on his country’s economic and political relations with Turkey, which have seen positive improvements over the last decade.
Hamai noted that negotiations over an additional gas supply agreement are continuing between Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız and his Algerian counterpart, Youcef Yousfi. “For the moment, the two ministers are contacted to one another related to this issue [of supplying gas],” the ambassador noted.
Turkey’s fourth largest natural gas supplier
Algeria is Turkey’s fourth largest natural gas supplier after Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran and provides 4 billion cubic meters of gas to Turkey every year according to a gas flow agreement signed in April 1994. The two countries will renegotiate the agreement in 2014 when it expires.
Regular disruptions in natural gas supply are very common due to the impact of winter conditions on pipelines. In addition, Turkey has realized the necessity of diversifying its supplies as Iran has halted gas flow to Turkey on more than one occasion in the middle of winter due to what Tehran claimed to be “an unexpected surge” in its domestic demand.
Also, sabotage to gas pipelines by the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has caused periodic halts in gas supply between Iran and Turkey. PKK sabotage is common on pipelines leading into Turkey from Iran and Iraq, where the Kurdish separatist terrorists are based.
“We are already energy partners with Turkey, and we have decided to develop that partnership in the future, which is currently only through gas supply,” Hamai stated. He also said Algeria is very much interested in further developing bilateral economic ties with Turkey. The trade volume between the two nations had tripled from 2001 and 2011 -- from $1 billion to $2.7 billion, Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) figures. Also, total trade volume in the first five months of 2012 had slightly increased to $1.1 billion, compared to the same period in 2011, when it was $1 billion, according to same figures.
Turkish exports to Algeria have also been significantly rising, jumping from $380,000 in 2001 to $1.47 billion in 2011. The volume of Turkish exports in the first five months of 2012, at $719,639, was also promising when compared to the 2011 figures for the same period ($617,428).
Turkey’s top trade partner in North Africa
Algeria is Turkey’s most important partner in North Africa in the construction sector. Turkish firms have taken on public tenders in the construction sector amounting to approximately $6 billion. Turkish foreign investments are mainly in the food-processing, furnishings, detergent and iron and steel industries. There are a total of 400 Turkish companies working in areas like construction -- of roads and dams, for example -- and other infrastructure needs. Developed commercial relations also have resulted in a rise in the population of Turks in Algeria, which is currently around 5,000. “This [increase in the number of Turks in Algeria] has resulted in new, different interactions and marriages between Turks and Algerians, which happens regularly nowadays,” Hamai maintained.
Hamai noted that marriages between Turks and Algerians have revived an old history between the two nations, and with the increasing number of Turkish investments in the country, the three centuries of togetherness which the two countries shared from 1518 and 1830 during the Ottoman period have been revived. “[For the first time in many years], Turks and Algerians have come together. We call the children born out of those mixed couples ‘kouloughli’ [equivalent to the Turkish “kuloğlu,” meaning son of the subject -- a reference to the janissary soldiers, who were considered subjects of the sultan], the name we gave to children of Turkish janissary soldiers,” the ambassador mentioned.
Algeria’s ambassador stated that relations between the two countries have to progress beyond their current state. He defined it as a good “customer and client relationship” but also mentioned the importance of a more comprehensive political, military, technological and civil society-based partnership between the two countries. The ambassador noted that Turkish and Algerian authorities are currently in close contact about organizing a cultural week to introduce each other’s country to the other, which would lay the foundation for a more comprehensive cultural interaction between the countries. Hamai said representatives from the Embassy of Algeria and a delegation from the Algerian Culture Ministry have met with Turkish officials three times to set a date for such an event. He also mentioned that various Turkish TV series broadcast in Algeria have helped introduce Turkey and its culture, especially its family structure, to Algeria and have led to a feeling of affinity with Turkey.
Turkey and Algeria are also cooperating under several international platforms such as the EU, NATO and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Turkey and Algeria are members of the Union for the Mediterranean initiative by the EU, which aims to build regional economic and political cooperation within the Euro-Med region and encompasses 43 states from the Middle East, North Africa and the Balkans.
Algeria is not a secular country; Islam is listed as the state religion in its constitution. Yet Algeria, although sharing borders with two of the countries affected by the Arab Spring, namely Libya and Tunisia, has felt the effects of the Arab Spring to a much lesser degree. The ambassador believed, however, that Algeria already went through a somewhat similar experience in October 1988. “What we went through in 1988 is similar in some ways to what’s happening in some Arab countries today,” he said, referring to the massive demonstrations against the then-President Chadli Bendjedid throughout the nation.
‘Algeria has introduced pluralism and multi-party system in politics’
The ambassador believes Algeria is lucky because “Algeria had a democratic revolution in 1989” and added, “We introduced pluralism and multi-party system in politics and adjusted our system as per the requirements of democracy.” Although the country experienced a period of fierce terrorist activity, which almost brought Algeria to the brink of ruin, the North African country now enjoys stability following the adjustments to its political system.
“We have been going through a period stabilization and consolidation of democracy,” the ambassador commented, adding that Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had put a political reform plan into effect in April of last year when the Arab Spring swept through the region.
Another reason why Algeria has not been affected by recent social upheavals similar to those of some other Arab countries may be that Islamist groups are already included in the functioning of the government. “Since the election of Bouteflika in 1999 -- in fact, even before that -- Islamists have been part of the coalition government in Algeria. The Islamists have been integrated into the political system,” he noted.
Algeria also stands out because the number of women deputies in the country’s government is not only the highest among countries in the region, but also in the world. Thanks to comprehensive political reforms ranging from the electoral system, the status of political parties, the place of women in society and press laws which the country put into effect in the past, of the 462 deputies serving in the Algerian National Assembly at the moment, 146 are women. The ambassador boasted about the 31.6 percent female representation by women in the Algerian parliament, noting that this was the highest figure in Arab legislatures and higher than in many Western countries.