Written by 4:27 pm Opinions/Analysis

The Strong Somali-Turkish ties; a decade on!

By Zakir Deeq

Contrary to popular belief, the relations between modern day republics of Turkey and Somalia date back to the middle ages, just like today Somalia has a multidimensional relation with Turkey,  it can be argued that in the acme of the Ottoman empire Somali kingdoms and sultanates also used to have a powerful  trading and military arrangements.

Somali-Turkish History of Interrelations.

The Somali Ajuran empire which existed from the 13th up until the 17th Century used to forge diplomatic relations as well as commercial ties with other kingdoms of the day and being as such it found itself in the Ottoman Empire, a powerful Islamic empire which had a dominion over most of the known lands of the day.

Flag of the Ajuran Empire.

The Ottoman Empire supplied the Ajuran Empire, which was in its own right an ever growing sultanate, with firearms through the port of the Kingdom of Mogadishu. That was the first time such sophisticated warfare armaments like canons and muskets were used in this part of the world. Not only was the Ottoman Empire crucial in arming the Ajuran Sultanate but also proving to be a key ally against the Portuguese navy in the Ajuran-Portuguese wars. 

In the 16th Century the Portuguese came into contact with Somali sailors in the Indian Ocean and animosity brew among each side, in the same waters of the high seas were Ottoman privateers who alarmed the Portuguese, this led to them sending a disciplinary expedition against the Kingdom of Mogadishu for the sole reason of accommodating Ottoman seamen who ventured into what the Portuguese considered as their sphere of influence. The expedition which was in the form of a whole Portuguese battalion came under the stewardship of Joao de Sepuvelda and faced the Ajuran navy, it was decisively defeated in the Battle of Benadir before reaching the capital Merca with Joao de Sepuvelda himself getting killed in the war.

A portrait of an Ajuran leader circa 1580s

With a successful Ottoman-Somali naval cooperation against the Portuguese, the call to action was sounded yet again with this time against the client states of the Ajuran Empire that tried allying with the Arabs and Swahilis under Portuguese rule. The Ajuran Empire is said to have sent an envoy to the Turkish Privateer captain Mir Ali Beg for a joint naval expedition against Portuguese colonies in Southeast Africa, managing to drive them out from Pate, Mombasa and Kilwa. The Ajuran with the great unwavering help of the Ottoman Empire defied the Portuguese hegemony on the region defeating them militarily, using a different coinage with Ottoman patterns thus solidifying their economic independence.

Another Somali power of the day was the Adal Sultanate, who ruled Northwestern Somalia and fervently fought against against what was they considered Christian expansionist  Abyssinians in the Adal-Abyssinian conflicts. The Portuguese sided with the Abyssinians while the Ottomans intervened on the side of the Somali Sultanate of Adal.

A map showing Adal Sultanate at its peak

Relations between Modern Day Republics of Somalia and Turkey

Relations in the last century

Turkey recognized Somalia upon its independence from colonial powers Britain and Italy. Somalia and Turkey were also part of the founding members of the Organization of Islamic Unity (OIC) in 1969. The military government that was in power felt maybe it should have dependable allies in the glaring isolation it felt when the Soviet Union,Cuba and eastern bloc countries allied with Ethiopia in their conflict; the Ogaden war, an awakened Somalia was keen to forge new formidable alliances, among the new friends sought was none other than the Republic of Turkey leading to Somalia establishing  its embassy in Ankara on 18th December 1978. Turkey was reciprocal in returning the favour opening one in Mogadishu up until the instability brought about by the 1991 civil war.

In the raging civil war, a US led United Task Force that was a United Nation’s sanctioned multinational force was established to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 974 and create a conducive environment for humanitarian assistance in southern Somalia from March 1993 to March 1995. Turkey was among the troop contributing countries of the coalition with Turkish army general Çevik Bir serving as one of the operation commanders.

Present day relations

After Somalia’s Transitional National Government was formed in 2000 it had continued cooperation with Turkey through their non-resident diplomatic mission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In 2011 Somalia improved its security situation in the capital by driving out the terrorists Al-Shabab, amid severe droughts hugely caused by delayed rainfall coupled with rampant insecurity, Somalia was in a dire situation. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Turkish Prime Minister and current President visited Somalia alongside his family and 5 cabinet members on 19th July 2011 making him the first non-African leader to visit Somalia since the visit (also under extreme conditions) by American president George H.W Bush in 1993. His trip brought worldwide attention to the tragedy of the unfolding drought resulting in pledges of support across the Muslim and the global communities, his historic message to the world saying “the situation in Somalia is a litmus test for all humanity” and subsequently his speech at the 66thUnited Nations General Assembly several months later on 22th September 2011 which read in part “No one can speak of peace, justice and civilization in the world if the outcry rising from Somalia is left unheard” was and still remains a powerful advocacy for Somalia on a world stage.

President Erdogan (then Prime Minister) with a Somali baby in 2011. photo; courtesy.

Contributing a whopping 201 Million Dollars for humanitarian help in the hard hit areas in Somalia Turkey also helped renovate the infrastructure destroyed in the conflict like the international airport and parliament house, built health centers among other infrastructure projects.

President Erdogan alongside First Lady Emine Erdogan with a new in Reccep Erdogan hospital in Mogadishu.

Turkish Airlines became the first international commercial airline to land in Mogadishu in two decades with its maiden flight from Istanbul to Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport. Turkish company Favori LLC started operations in the airport, upgrading the airport from a 15 aircraft capacity making it fourfold to accommodate up to 60 aircrafts. Another Turkish owned company, Al-Bayrak also signed an agreement approved by the Somali cabinet to manage the Mogadishu port for 20 years. The management transfer had increased the income and helped greatly the modernization of the port.

Somalia signed its first military training agreement with Turkey in May 2010 which officially begun towards the end of 2012 and finally in 2017 formally inaugurated a Turkish Military base which has trained and currently trains some of the best capable Somali officers, NCOs of every branch of the Somali National Army even the Somali Navy & Coastguard since the rebirth of the Somali state. Since Somalia is under a UN arms embargo that restricts Somalia from flying or obtaining jets, the Somali Air force is trained and stationed in Turkey. 7 Gorgor (Eagle) infantry battalions have been trained in Mogadishu’s TurkSom military academy, with basic training before being airlifted to Turkey for commando training in Isparta to top it off on their military training. These Special Forces are proving to be effective in the fight against Al-Shabab terrorists; they are taking large swathes of land from the militants by the day without help from the 22,000+ African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces stationed across Somalia.

Turkey was among the first foreign governments to reinstate their formal ties with Somalia after the civil war. It also recognized and welcomed the newly elected Federal Government of Somalia in 2012, re-affirming continued support for Somalia’s administration, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

In 2013 Ankara hosted a national reconciliation between Somalia Federal Government headed by then president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Northwestern regional authorities who still seek to separate from Somalia headed by Ahmed Mohamud Silaanyo. They both signed an agreement to fairly allocate the northern regions the equitable share of development aid set aside for Somalia and cooperate on security affairs.

In 2015 the first multidimensional bilateral agreement was signed by the then Somali Foreign Minister Abdirahman Duale Beileh, key components of the agreement were on military and security cooperation, police support and coordination, health sector and provision of specialized healthcare, marine transportation, sports and youth projects as well as in communications between the Somali National Television and Turkish National Radio.

Many Somali students have been beneficiaries of Turkish Scholarships to Somalia; others have sought private education in different parts of Turkey as Turkey is a highly preferred country by Somali students. There has also been growing health tourism to Turkey to obtain specialized medical care and who can forget the influx of Turkish professionals into the Somali health services. In overall we have seen the biggest people to people relations over the last decade, whether it is diaspora Somalis visiting Turkey, Somali traders starting up or moving their businesses to Turkey, the highly growing Turkish construction boom in Mogadishu and an overall exchanges, in basically every aspect of life.

Somalia’s ambassador in Ankara is Jama Mohamed while Turkey’s Mogadishu embassy is headed by Ambassador Mehmet Yilmaz, appointed on 5th December 2018. The diplomatic office occupies an eighth of the more than 80,000 square meters complex, making it the largest Turkish embassy in the world. 

Somalia and Turkey just celebrated 10 years of re-established of deep ties between Turkey and Somalia from the day President Erdogan visited Somalia on 19th July 2021 officially called SomTurk Solidarity Day or Som Turk Kardeşlik. In Mogadishu there was an event attended by the Somali deputy Prime Minister and Turkish ambassador to Somalia while simultaneously in Ankara there was a symposium on Somalia-Turkey relations 10 years on organized by the non-profit Afrika Vakfi in conjunction with Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, present was Gamal Mohamed Hassan who underscored an important message on the lips of many Somalis regarding their outlook towards Turkey and Turks in general but articulated best in the following utterance, he said “a true friend is the one who comes in when the rest of the world leaves!”

Somali Deputy Prime Minister with Turkish Ambassador to Somalia Mehmet Yilmaz.

High ranking officials who attended the banquet at Villa Somalia from left Mehmet Yilmaz ( Turkish Ambassador to Somalia) Mohamed Mursal (Speaker of the Somali parliament also former Somali Ambassador to Turkey) president Mohamed Farmaajo and Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur ( Somali Minister for Justice and former diplomat to Turkey).

The Somali State House also witnessed a state banquet attended by top officials, diplomats, civil society and business peoples of both countries on the night of the 19thJuly with the Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo concluding his speech with “It has been a great delight to bear witness to the remarkably rising partnership between our nations and peoples in various fronts. The everlasting togetherness between our two great Republics of Somalia and Turkey, dares us to even achieve more. Somalia and Turkey shall soar together”

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo gifting Turkish Ambassador to Somalia Mehmet Yilmaz, a map of the Republic of Turkey made from specially woven fabric on canvas.

This writer of this article is the Chief Editor of the Daily Jubba, for comments, suggestions and enquiries contact @ZakirDeeq or email at [email protected]

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