By Paul Sung
Starting on October 27, a Turkish film festival sponsored by CJ CGV will be held in Seoul. The festival celebrates the 60th anniversary of modern diplomatic ties between Turkey and South Korea, which started on March 8, 1957. Among the various Turkish films that will be shown in the festival, the movie Ayla: The Daughter of War is a joint Korean-Turkish production based on a true Korean War story about a Turkish soldier and a Korean orphan girl. This celebration comes not too long after Korea and Turkey celebrated their 67th anniversary of the Turkish Armed Forces brigade’s participation in the Korean War on October 18, partly to prove Turkey’s value as a NATO member. While the relationship between Turkey and South Korea has developed since Turkey’s intervention. Turkish ties with the peninsula, however, stem further back in history.
Turkish-Korean relations date back to the 6th century between the Göktürks and Goguryeo, prior Turkish and Korean states that sought to establish economic and then political relations. Emperor Wendi of a newly-unified China in the Sui Dynasty, however, demanded the elimination of any military alliance between Goguryeo and the Turks in 596 AD after hearing about Goguryeo diplomats courting with the Eastern Turk Khanate. His son Emperor Yangdi also faced similar concerns when he met a Goguryeo envoy at the Eastern Turkic court in 608 AD and feared an alliance against China. Not too long later, China fought both the Goguryeo in the beginning of the century and the Göktürks after the Göktürk civil war.
More than a millennia later, Kazan Turks were among the 250 Russian Muslims who settled in Korea after fleeing from the Russian Bolsheviks. Under the protection of the Japanese government, many Turks enjoyed profitable trade in Northeast Asia and rose to high social standing until they migrated to Turkey after Korea’s independence in 1945.
Turkish soldiers in the Korean War, however, paved the way for the formation of contemporary Korean Muslim community and the community of a thousand Turkish residents. In recent years, trade and cultural exchange have helped to maintain good relations between Turkey and South Korea with the number of Turkish visitors (excluding crew members) to Korea increasing from 2,768 in 2003 to 15,468 in 2016.
On the economic front, the conditions set by the European Union (EU) in the “Turkey Clause” of South Korea’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU paved the way for South Korea and Turkey to conclude an FTA that went into effect on May 1, 2013. Through their economic ties, Turkey exported more than $742 million of goods to South Korea, while South Korea exported more than $5.4 billion of goods to Turkey last year. Although South Korea is not high in Turkey’s top destinations of exports, Turkey is interested in increasing the foreign direct investments (FDIs) and other projects from South Korea.
South Korea also collaborates in various infrastructure, health, and security projects with Turkey. SK Engineering and Construction, for example, contributed to the construction of the 14.6 km-long Eurasia Tunnel, which was completed in 2016 underneath the Bosphorus Strait at Istanbul. During that same year, Samsung Electronics Turkey opened the Samsung Digital Library to provide free and easy access to an archive of handwritten works in Ottoman Turkish, Persian, and Arabic in the National Library of Turkey. Recently, the ambassador of South Korea to Turkey announced the opening of six health centers for Syrian refugees in Turkey with the cooperation of the Turkish Health Ministry.
As for the security industry, South Korea provided arms deals which delivered 300 K09 Thunder 155mm self-propelled guns from 2004-2013, 40 KT-Woong Bee trainer aircrafts from 2010-2012 (with 15 additional vehicles ordered in 2015), and 32 out of 70 K-10 ARVs from 2013-2016. Turkey provided South Korea valuable tools such as the Havelsan’s Electronic Warfare Test and Training Range (EWTTR) system.
Both countries are also members of MIKTA, an informal consultative platform named for the initials of Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey, and Australia that was created in 2013. As a Diplomat article notes, MIKTA has the potential of being an avenue for South Korea’s relative independence from Northeast Asian rivalries, and Turkey sees MIKTA as a means of confronting regional challenges like humanitarian issues, peace mediation, and terrorism.
Culture and tourism are also playing important roles in the relationship between Turkey and Korea. As the Korea Economic Institute’s Director of Communications Jenna Gibson notes, there are several collaborations in the entertainment industry such as CJ E&M’s establishment of a Turkish unit after CJ-CGV’s acquisition of Turkey’s largest cinema chain, Mars Entertainment.
Turkish fans had the opportunity to see K-pop in person back in 2012 when former DBSK boyband member Kim Jae-joong attended a fan meeting at Ankara University and a state dinner with then-Turkish president Abdullah Gul and then-South Korean president Lee Myung-bak.
Turkish culture, however, is still largely unknown in Korea. Riding on the hallyu wave, though, Turkish national Sinem Kadıoğlu participated in the 2017 K-POP World Festival in Changwon aired by the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) with her Korean song covers. One of the ways in which Turkey is setting out to expose Turkish pop culture to a Korean audience is by airing Korea’s first Turkish drama on air in November this year.
Contemporary Turkish-Korean relations have exponentially grown since the first interactions between Turkish soldiers and Korean civilians. The subsequent history between the two countries would not have occurred without the sacrifice of 741 Turkish troops, 462 of which were laid to rest in Busan. With a population that is close to 80 million, Turkey presents many business opportunities for South Korea, and South Korea continues to be an important source of technological and infrastructural aid for Turkey. As things stand, the “blood brothers” continue to seek ways of improving the exchange of their economic and cultural resources, even in the midst of complicated relations with the United States and China.
Paul Sung is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.
Photo from Dan’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.