2009: A turning point in relations between Turkey and Costa Rica

A country whose natural wonders, social equality and renewable energy policies are extraordinary, and whose people, from the head of state to the man of the street, are sensitive to the importance of the environment, peace and education… Having written earlier of how I became the honorary consul of Costa Rica, I would now like to share with you the process through which Costa Rica and Turkey reached a turning point in their relations.

In my previous post I related the interesting story of how I became the Costa Rican Honorary Consul in Istanbul, a position I have been privileged to hold since 2008. You can find the link to the relevant post here: http://serhansuzer.com/en/my-experiences-as-costa-ricas-honorary-consul-in-istanbul

This time, I would like to share with you my memories of the visit to Turkey in 2009 of then president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, whose visit I helped to arrange and whose arrival in our country represented a major advancement in bilateral relations. It was also the first official visit by a Costa Rican head of state in the history of the Republic of Turkey. From that day onward, bilateral relations have deepened as the economic and cultural ties between our two countries have continued to grow stronger.

Let me immediately point out that Oscar Arias is no ordinary head of state. He is a towering figure in Latin America who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his role in a deal that lead to guerillas in Central America giving up their weapons. After being named honorary consul in 2008, I travelled to Costa Rica every single year and made a point of visiting him while I was there, including after his presidential term had ended.


Taken during one of my first visits to Costa Rica​


During one of my visits while he was still president – the summer of 2009, I believe – he asked if there was anything he could do for me. I explained how important it was for him to make an official visit to Turkey in terms of fostering closer ties between our countries. He got back to me a few weeks later to inform me that a visit to Turkey could be arranged around the time of his scheduled trip to Europe in November.

I responded that I would immediately begin the necessary preparations, and got in touch with the Turkish Foreign Ministry. They proposed I begin the official process, at which I contacted the Coast Rican Foreign Ministry to ask for an official communication from their side. This communication reached the Turkish Foreign Ministry a few weeks later and the process was officially launched. Next came an intensive period of discussions between the two sides, during which I, as the honorary consul, found myself and the consulate in the middle of the diplomatic traffic. We at the Costa Rica Honorary Consulate worked full out to speed up the process and to cobble together the best possible schedule for the upcoming visit. The big day finally arrived: Costa Rican President Oscar Arias arrived in Turkey on November 23, 2009. I won’t go into all the details, but the brief summary below will give you some idea of how hectic the president’s schedule was.

Istanbul Program:

  • Interview with Hürriyet newspaper
  • Bahçeşehir University program:
    1. Official speeches
    2. Bestowing of honorary doctorate on President Oscar Arias
    3. Signing of an agreement of cooperation between the UN Peace University and Bahçeşehir University
  • CNN Türk interview
  • Dinner with businesspeople and opinion leaders organized by the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK)

Ankara Program:

  • Visit to Atatürk’s Mausoleum
  • Reception at official residence of President Abdullah Gül
  • Meeting between heads of state
  • Meeting among heads of state and foreign ministers
  • Interview at presidential residence
  • Conference with President Arias at Ankara University
  • Following the conference, unveiling ceremony for the bust of Costa Rican author Jorge Bravo in the garden of the Latin American Studies Research and Development Center at Ankara University
  • Meeting with the speaker of the house in the parliament building
  • Formal dinner in the presidential residence

I can’t reveal the details of the confidential talks that took place during this intensive two-day program, but I can say that they led to decisions that would rapidly foster ever closer bilateral relations between our two countries.

I can also add that the meeting with the business community in Istanbul went well, that I was personally moved by the official parade during the visit to Atatürk’s Mausoleum, and that the dinner at the presidential residence was enjoyable and the scene of warm talks.


Preparation for “Greetings, Soldier”

At the official welcoming ceremony held at the presidential palace, it is customary for the visiting dignitary to say, in Turkish, “Greetings, Soldier,” at which the assembled soldiers loudly proclaim, “Thank you.” Because I was travelling in the same vehicle as the visiting president, it was up to me to explain this to him. As I was reflecting on the irony of prepping the president of a country without its own army to say the words “greetings, soldier,” I worked on smoothing Oscar Arias’ accent for his Turkish remarks. The moments before the ceremony were fun and passed quickly. Everything went smoothly. Here are some shots of the official visit:



At the meeting in Istanbul with leading members of the business community I also made a speech. In order to give you a rough idea of what I said, below you’ll find the English rendering of the Turkish translation of my remarks, which were made in English:

His Excellency President Arias, Esteemed Guests from Costa Rica and Dearest Friends, first of all I would like to thank each and every one of you for honoring us with your presence today.

Ever since I first visited Costa Rica in 2007, I have been drawn by its natural beauty, its people its social opportunities and the its people’s devotion to peace. These are just a few of the qualities that make it such an extraordinary country. Along with its commitment to education and equal opportunity for all. With a literacy rate of 97%, Costa Rica has one of the best educated populaces in the world. But what also sets it apart is the warmth, hospitality and positive energy of its people. The friendships I began during my first visit and the deep affection I hold for that country led me to accept without hesitation the position of Honorary Consul. I would like to thank his Excellency President Oscar Arias Sanchez for giving me that honor.

My main objective ever since being named Honorary Consul was to foster the friendship between our two countries. The boosting of trade volume and the improving of cultural ties are still among my primary targets. We have taken important steps in this area. For example, we brought together Costa Rican coffee producers and Turkish coffee importers. Additionally, we arranged meetings for Turkish textile producers and pharmaceutical companies with Costa Rican importers.

I would like to take this opportunity to summarize some of our activities in the tourism sector. We introduced Costa Rican and Turkish travel agencies and tour companies to each other, boosting the tourism potential for both countries. The Costa Rican Ministry of Tourism has congratulated us for tripling the number of Turkish tourists visiting their country in the first six months of this year. Naturally, tourism is important for us because it affords us the opportunity to get better acquainted with each other and with each other’s culture. That’s why I am so pleased to see the increase in tourism figures for last year. Although Costa Rica is located on the other side of the world, we are not at all distant. I do not refer here to the various ways in which one can travel between our countries; I am talking instead about the cultural similarities between our peoples. Our cultural similarities bring us together in a way that serves as an example to the rest of the world. However, the only way to fully appreciate these affinities is to visit Costa Rica. If you have never been there, I suggest you put it at the top of your list of places to visit.

Costa Rica should be viewed as much more than merely a tourism destination. It is also an increasingly important investment center for global companies. This evening, a number of leading Turkish businesspeople have gathered with us. I would like to provide them with more details. In 2007 and 2008, Costa Rica received the “Place to Invest” award from the Financial Times. This alone is evidence of Costa Rica’s growing importance as an investment destination.

Costa Rica hosts a number of major international software and medical equipment companies. Technological development and production is becoming increasingly important. Furthermore, companies active in a wide range of fields are choosing to invest in Costa Rica. Turkish companies that invest abroad should explore the opportunities on offer there. Costa Rica offers a number of advantages in its region. It is described as the Switzerland of Latin America. For those considering investing in Latin America, I recommend you start in Costa Rica. You will find that Costa Rica becomes an important point of reference for you and that, like Turkey, its geo-political situation will afford great advantages.

After hearing all this, you may wonder how a country that has made such strides in technology has succeeded in protecting its natural beauty. The answer is: renewable energy. In Costa Rica, 95% of the energy used in homes and in factories is renewable. That is how Costa Rica succeeds in protecting the environment even as it continues to draw international investment. That is, the country’s passion and respect for life extends to the environment as well.

Let me take this opportunity to convey a message to the foreign ministries of both Turkey and Costa Rica. The Honorary Consulate in Istanbul has served the citizens of 18 different countries. Because of our central location in Istanbul we receive requests from Central Asia, the Middle East, the Caucuses, Eastern Europe and Africa. We are very much like a bridge extending to Costa Rica and the countries of South America. For this reason, I believe in geo-political terms that it is essential that our two countries bilaterally open embassies. I hope I can bring about the realization of this vision I have for our relations. There is another vision I have for our two countries: the signing of a free trade agreement to further boost trade between us.

I would like to finish with a Costa Rican saying. As they say in Costa Rica, where the main philosophy is to strive for a fuller life, let me say “Pura Vida” just as they do. I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening. Thank you… Gracias.


As I noted in my speech, I would like to say that Costa Rica’s Nobel Laureate and President Oscar Arias’s is a true intellectual and a joy to converse with. It is a pleasure, too, to listen to his speeches. Here is an English translation of the Turkish translation of the speech he gave in Spanish:


His Excellency the President of the Republic of Turkey Abdullah Gül, Esteemed Friends:

The Turkish poet and mystic Yunus Emre once said: “Unless you have succeeded in knowing yourself, all you have learned is for naught… the most important journey is the one travelled to the heart.”

For me and for the country I represent the journey I am making to Turkey carries a far greater meaning that simply the crossing of oceans. This is a journey to a great nation, to one of the richest cultures in the world, to the foot soldiers of peace and tolerance in the Middle East and to the heart of humanity itself. Most importantly, this is a journey to the heart of an extraordinary people who carry the same hopes we do… This evening, I am a traveler far from home. But at the same time, I am in Turkey as the ambassador of a nation of peace with the same hopes.

We are gathered here in the Presidential Residence, which represents the life and legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic who taught peoples of all nations important lessons. In terms of preparing for the future, he once remarked how important it was to “strengthen the natural bridges between us. Language is a bridge. Religion is a bridge. History is a bridge. We should study our roots in detail and reunite what history has divided.” This evening, I would like to say that I am proud to be playing a role in the foundation of the most important bridge between our two countries: the Bridge of Friendship. I am proud to play a role in bringing together the people of two countries rooted in the same values even if the dictates of geography, the ebb and flow of religious belief and the powerful wave of language have carried them to different shores. We are two separate nations who share the same belief in education and the power of democracy. We share the same belief in a future of change and progress. We share the same belief that the peace and tolerance that have transformed our countries can transform all the nations of the world.

I would like to propose a toast to our gracious host and to the to the people of the nation he leads. To the friendship between Costa Rica and Turkey, to the wealth and health of our two countries… to the coming together of two different cultures and the restoration of what history has divided… And to a journey to the hearts of our two countries… I lift my glass to the realization of the dream shared by the hearts of our two countries: Peace at Home, Peace in the World!

Here’s to you…

Oscar Arias Sanchez
President of Costa Rica
November 25, 2009

Here, let me wish a long and happy life to Oscar Arias and his family. I have every intention of continuing to visit and enjoy the company of such a modest and gracious family. Most recently, I hosted his brother Rodrigo Arias in Istanbul. Rodrigo Arias, too, is an important statesman who has acted as a deputy to his brother and has for many years assumed the duties we associate with those of a prime minister.


A photo taken with Rodrigo Arias in Istanbul in late March


Until my next post, where I will continue writing about Costa Rica…

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