HomeBEYOND TURKEYASIA'We have been brothers since the Göktürks'

‘We have been brothers since the Göktürks’

South Korean Ambassador Lee points out the cultural similarities.

by Mahmut GÜRER, 7 February 2013

Rising value of recent years, South Korea,  although it is 8 thousand kilometers away from Turkey, it is the most sympathetic to the Turkish people among the countries.
Republic of South Korea  Ankara Ambassador Sangkyu Lee said that ‘The history of Koreans and Turks goes back to the Huns’. His eyes still shine with gratitude when he talks about Turkish veterans in Korea.

Sangkyu Lee states that Turkish veterans are of great importance for the relations between the two countries: ‘We try to express our gratitude to all of them before they pass away. So that the 2nd and 3rd generations do not break their ties with Korea,  We organize events.’
Lee  spoke to AKŞAM and made colorful statements regarding Turkey-Korea relations and his private life:

– Did you come to Turkey for the first time in line with the diplomatic mission?

I had the opportunity to be in Turkey before. In 2007, while I was working at the Korean EU Embassy in Brussels, I visited Istanbul with my family in the summer. We were four days. I traveled a lot back then.

I visited many places such as Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet, Basilica  Cistern and was very impressed. Especially from historical artifacts… Also, when I came to Turkey, I saw that your country is in a very strategically important region.

– Was Turkey what you expected, was there anything that surprised you?

The thing that surprised me the most was the history. There are not many historical artifacts over a thousand years old in Korea. Especially seeing artifacts that are 2000-3000 years old is a great event. But when I came to Turkey, I saw that there are still artifacts that are 10 thousand years old. This is due to the fact that Turkey is located in a geographical region where many different nations passed by and civilizations shined and disappeared, but I must say that I was surprised to find so many historical artifacts. While I was on duty in Belgium, I had the opportunity to travel to many countries such as France and Italy. All these countries have their own histories. But there they told me, ‘Even a small stone that comes to your feet when you go to Turkey can be a historical artifact of thousands of years.’ It is also very important that such a beautiful past is preserved so well in the regions where the people live.


– Do you miss the food of your country?

Yeah. We cannot find pork in Turkey for religious reasons. Beans are another popular thing in Korea… But since the beans in Turkey are different from those in Korea, they unfortunately do not taste the same even if we cook the same dish. But, I also love Turkish food. I really like your bread. Very diverse and successful.. Vegetables and fruits are very good, surprisingly plentiful and very cheap. As a traditional Turkish dish, Iskender is indispensable. So are pitas… I also like home cooked meals. For dessert, I prefer baklava and künefe, but Turkish delights are my favorite, especially the ones with mint and saffron. But I have one complaint. Although it’s not exactly a complaint, they serve a lot of food at invitations. I’m having a hard time finishing them all. It would be disrespectful to the host if I did not eat, my belly comes out when I eat. Also, it’s not usually like that at home, but restaurants have a lot of oil and salt.

– Speaking of being unable to offend the host, of course, there is a similar situation with Turkish people.

The most similar side is taking off shoes when entering the house. Of course, many westernized people in Turkey may not be able to take it off, but from time to time, the Turks who come to us as guests ask, ‘do you take off your shoes?’ saying. In terms of family culture, the relationship between spouses is similar. In Turkey, women are the decision makers and have a voice, especially at home. This is also the case with us. The subject of respect within the family is also similar… Sacrifice especially towards children… For example, just like in Turkish families, we do not make any savings for the education of our children. Parents put their lives on their teeth and work. I think this is very similar. There is a relationship and historical closeness between Koreans and Turks starting from Hun, Uyghur and Göktürk times. Therefore, I see that there is a nation that can establish a heart-to-heart relationship.


– Do you still meet with Turkish veterans?

Of the 15 thousand Turkish veterans who participated in the Korean War, about 5100 are still alive. Their numbers are decreasing every year as they are over 80 years old. Last year, some of them had the opportunity to tour Korea again. We are trying to maintain relations between the two countries through them. I try to meet Turkish veterans on all my visits, no matter what city.

– Does anyone share their experiences with you?

Yes, there are some really interesting stories. A Turkish Veteran told me recently. In 1950, during the Korean War, he fell in love with a Korean woman. At that time it was forbidden for Turkish soldiers to marry foreigners. Finally his family asks, ‘Will you marry if we find someone similar in Turkey?’ and he agrees. In a neighborhood where Uighur people live, they find and marry a woman who is very similar to the Korean they fell in love with.


– How are the relations between the two countries lately?

When we look at the thousands of years of history between Turkey and Korea, I can happily say that we have had the closest relations in our history. Especially during the visit of our President in February, the relations between the two countries were raised to the level of strategic partnership. As you know, there are 8 thousand kilometers between the two countries geographically. This has hindered the progress of relations for years. But now the notion of distance has largely disappeared. High-level visits have also been made recently. 8 Korean ministers came to Turkey this year. In addition, many mutual contacts were made in the military and bureaucratic sense. Apart from that, the means of relations between the two countries in the international arena began to increase. The free trade agreement signed by the two countries will enter into force at the beginning of next year. Our next goal is to increase the trade volume between the two countries, which is around 7 billion dollars.



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