16 Nisan 2011 Cumartesi

Turkish firms trusting in Syrian stability despite violence in south


Executives of Hateks, a Turkish firm with investments in Syria's Aleppo are seen in this photo.

Executives of Hateks, a Turkish firm with investments in Syria's Aleppo are seen in this photo.
Recent turmoil in Syria and clashes between the security forces and anti-government protesters that had reportedly killed at least 15 as of Friday are raising concerns over more than $1 billion in Turkish investments in the country.

Executives of several Turkish firms told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that the events were still “minor” and had not yet made a direct impact on business life. Still, many expressed their concerns.

“Most of the Turkish enterprises are located in the northern parts of Syria and the distance between north and the south [where the protests are occurring] is nearly 1,000 kilometers,” Cevat Erdeve, coordinator of Güriş-Al Raqqah Cement in the northern province Raqqah, told the Daily News.

The company currently runs two cement plants in Raqqah, an investment totaling $280 million. “We are continuing to build a new plant, with a capacity of 1.5 million tons of cement per year,” Erdeve said Friday.
“Syria is a considerably well-governed country, unlike many other Middle East states,” he said, adding that if the Syrian government continued to implement reforms, the protests would quickly end.

The protests were “unlikely” to spark in crucial cities such as Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia. According to Erdeve, Turkish investments, mainly in the northern provinces, were secure from any instability.

Hotel chain feels trust

The director of Dedeman Hotels & Resorts International, a Turkish hotel chain with investments in the country, also said he was unconcerned about the violence near the Jordanian border.

“There is no effect from the minor protests in the southern town of Deraa on operations in all our hotels in Syria,” said Asaad M. Farag.

“It is the mainly Turkish businessmen who visit our hotels,” he said, adding that he felt that none of their guests were concerned.

The chain has three hotels in Palymyra, Aleppo and Damascus and announced recently that a fourth hotel would be opened on the coastal town of Latakia in two years’ time. “We trust in Syrian economic and political stability so much that Dedeman has decided to open two more hotels, one in Aleppo and another Damascus,” Farag said.

According to Farag, the unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain would not take place in Syria thanks to “the freedom of social life that is obvious on the streets of Syrian cities.”
“Syria is maybe the only country in the Middle East where ambassadors and consuls walk in the streets freely with no accompanying private security,” Farag said.

Syrian Investment Authority figures show that Iraq, which was the number-one investor in Syria from 1991 until 1998, was replaced by Turkey in 2009. Even though the investment agency did not indicate the size of the Turkish investment, it was expected to be over $1 billion, according to data from the Foreign Economic Relation Board of Turkey, or DEİK.

Still, some companies are cautious. “We would like to carry on with our investments but we are currently observing what could happen in the region first,” said Abud Abdo, board chairman of Hateks, which has invested $10 million in a textile facility in Aleppo, along with its base in Hatay on Turkey’s Syrian border.
“Nothing will spread to the main cities; we are still looking at the outcomes of the events,” said Abdo.
“We have bus lines from Turkey to the Syrian cities of Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia every day,” said Alaaddin Sönmez, an executive from Hatay Güney, a tour manager that operates between Turkey and Syria. He said he had not yet observed any extraordinary situation.

 “Even though the protests are in a small southern town of the country, we certainly do not know whether the protest could spread to other parts,” Sönmez told the Daily News. “As we all know, it always starts with the minor protests in those countries – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen – and escalates through time.”
“One of the reasons behind the protests in Syria is that many families are … struggling with poverty in the south and northeast of the country,” he said, adding that the emergency law in place since the Baath Party took power in a 1963 coup and banned all opposition was another key motivation of the protests.

‘Shift of axis’ 

In recent years, Turkey has succeeded in gaining a larger portion of Middle Eastern markets by exporting more than ever as a result of its active diplomacy and “zero-problems-with-neighbors” policy.
In response to criticism that the country was shifting its axis toward the east, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a university conference in Istanbul in November 2010 that there was no axis shift in Turkey’s policies. “No country on earth has the luxury to turn its back on developments in the era of globalization,” said Erdoğan, according to state-run broadcaster TRT World.

Turkey’s exports to Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria totaled $24 billion at the end of 2010. The figure is equivalent to almost one-quarter of Turkey's total exports of $114 billion last year.

Recent figures from the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly, or TİM, indicate that Turkey might record a lower export volume due to increasing tension and ongoing turmoil in the region, as exports to Tunisia had fallen by 38 percent while foreign sales to Libya had declined by 6 percent by last month.

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