Benju Yi?itgüden, Turkey’s Ambassador to T&T during an interview with GML at her residence in Westmoorings.

At the height of the war in Syria, more than 100 T&T nationals who sought to join the Islamic State (ISIS), used Turkey among other countries as a transit point to get into areas controlled by the caliphate. Some were repatriated from Turkey to T&T but according to Turkish ambassador Bengü Yiğitgüden the COVID-19 pandemic has made it almost impossible to help those who now want to come home.

“I know that there are still people in some of the camps in Syria and Iraq and I know they want to come back. I know now it’s difficult for them to come to Turkey and even if they get to Turkey it’s difficult for them to get to Trinidad because there is almost no flight connection,” she said.

Yiğitgüden spoke to Guardian Media as Turkey celebrates 97 years as a Republic today. Of those 97 years as a Republic, T&T has enjoyed 48 years of diplomatic relations with the European nation.

Yiğitgüden arrived in T&T less than ten months ago having been appointed last September. After serving in countries such as China, Hungary, Egypt and Germany, her job may seem a bit more trivial to a much smaller society like ours, but the Turkish representative is adamant something of substance must come out of her ambassadorial time in this country.

She told the T&T Guardian: “First of all, I want to safeguard the interests of Turkey here in politics, in economics, social and cultural areas. I want to promote Turkey so people should know where Turkey is, what is Turkey doing and what kind of a country is it. Thirdly, I will also try to promote T&T in Turkey so this is something that goes reciprocal.”

A stronger relationship between both countries could yield benefits for T&T. Turkey is leading where this country is hoping to strengthen in areas such as food security and tourism.

“We should increase our trade. We should have an exchange of students and academics; the parties should get in touch with each other. We should set up mechanisms of parliamentarians. We have such mechanisms such as friendship groups in our parliament. These all help to develop relations, develop trade and cultures,” Yiğitgüden said.

Less than a century after becoming a republic, the European nation has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

Its international hot air balloon festival in Cappadocia is attended by hundreds of thousands each year.

In 2019, a record 45.1 million foreign visitors arrived in Turkey and statistics show foreign arrivals in the country had been increasing each year up until 2016. The Turkish ambassador insists this is one area both countries stand to benefit from each other.

Yiğitgüden will be keeping track of developments in neighbouring Venezuela. She said Ankara (the capital of Turkey) shares a similar view of the Venezuela issue as Port-of-Spain.

“We have a very similar stance. We have no problem with the Maduro regime… As far as I can see we have a very similar view regarding Venezuela,” she said.