Bülent Aydemir – Gazete Habertürk
27 June 2016
Resigning from his tenure that lasted for 10 months after having said, “We have a proverb ‘Starting like a Turk, ending like German’. Here it worked the other way round” EU Ambassador Haber said: “I apologize if I hurt anyone. When things really go wrong, you can break your tooth even by eating pudding.”
In his meeting with the press on 12 May, held upon the emergence of the bottleneck in the refugee agreement and the visa liberalization between TR and the EU, Hansjörg Haber, EU’s Ambassador to Turkey, said “ We have a proverb ‘Starting like a Turk, ending like German’. Here it worked the other way round” and then he resigned. After having served for 10 months in Turkey and these remarks that led to unwanted consequences, Haber spoke to Habertürk before his departure from Turkey.
Stressing that he has never adopted the thinking or attitude of insulting Turkey, its people or institutions, Haber said that his objective was not to criticize but to voice a sincere admiration. “If I hurt anyone, I am sorry and I apologize” he said, and expressed his sentiments again with a Turkish proverb as he is departing from his position: “When things really go wrong, you can break your tooth even by eating pudding.”
Ambassador Haber responded to our questions in a very genuine and sincere manner.
VISA LIBERALIZATION: The ratio of TR nationals holding an ordinary passport is merely 10%. So, I think that visa liberalisation at a practical level will affect some Turkish citizens. The most important thing will be the psychological breakthrough in the relationship between Turkey and the EU, the importance of which will extend far beyond those people who can then travel to Europe without queueing at the Embassies.
“NOT TIRED OF MY POST” AS diplomats, we are required to be discrete, and this requirement is not lifted when you depart from your post. Of course, I was not tired of it. My press luncheon and the subsequent summons to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the echo it triggered in the media, were the starting point, but all this is now behind me. I never intended to vent anti-Turkish sentiment or humiliate Turkey, its people and institutions, as has been suggested. There is no such sentiment on my part. I am not in any way anti-Turkish and I think my whole biography proves that.
ENORMOUS ACHIEVEMENT: Let me recall the context for my much quoted remark "Alman gibi başlamak Türk gibi bitirmek, and this time it was the other way round". The context was the work on the visa liberalisation roadmap. This work had been going on since late 2013 and by early March this year, about half of the total of 72 benchmarks had been fulfilled. And then, in the two months of March and April almost all of the remaining ones except seven were fulfilled. This was an enormous achievement in which we also had our share.
AN EXPRESSION OF APPRECIATION AND ADMIRATION: So all this work was a colossal achievement and what I meant was to highlight it in order to make the point that all that was left was to fulfil these few remaining benchmarks and we should make a real effort to do this. So I used this phrase Türk gibi başlamak Alman gibi bitirmek – starting like a Turk, ending like German and what I meant by it was that this time it was the Turks who had finished something extremely efficiently and quickly. No criticism meant, only sincere appreciation and admiration. One makes an efficient start and the other concludes it efficiently. Both are necessary. What is insulting in this?
I’M SORRY IF I AGGRIEVED ANYONE: Yes of course I’m sorry if I aggrieved anyone and I apologize to them. But as I tried to explain it was in no way my intent, my intent was the exact opposite. So by now I have heard a lot from all kinds of people about this expression. Some say it does not exist at all, others say it’s used in a different sense than you think.
I DID NOT MEAN THE PRESIDENT: (So it was not the President on your mind when you said that?) No, no, of course not. I had our counterparts in government and parliament in mind, and again: I meant it positive. He is the freely elected president of Turkey, the country that is one of most important partners of the EU, and as such entitled to all our respect.
HE WHO HAS BURNT HIMSELF FROM THE MILK…: It seems I need to be more cautious on Turkish proverbs, although I like them a lot. As you know, he who has burnt himself from the milk, blows even into the yoghurt. Well, since you ask me, maybe one last attempt, and let me assure you and your readers that it only refers to myself:
Terse giderse insanin isi, muhallebi yerken de kirilir dişi…" (When things really go wrong you can break your tooth even by eating pudding)
‘We are working with motivation’
Ambassador Haber gave the following reply to our question about Brexit, the future of Turkey-EU relations and visa liberalisation:
"Let me limit myself to EU-Turkey relations. There is a view that there was a certain stagnation in this relationship, although I do not think this is a fair assessment of the continued efforts undertaken by both sides. However, last November and March, under the impression of the migration crisis, but with a perspective reaching far beyond it, the EU and Turkey have jointly made a decision to re-energize their relationship. And we have to seize this opportunity when it comes to opening new chapters, when it comes to the visa liberalization roadmap and all the other topics that we have on our plate, as e.g. the reform of the Customs Union. Our priority is now to make as good use of the agreements that we have achieved to take this forward and take it forward at a faster pace than say it was the case last five or six years.
I think that the most important thing will be the psychological breakthrough in the relationship between Turkey and the EU, the importance of which will extend far beyond those people who can then travel to Europe without queueing at the Embassies. So that is why we were – and still are – so motivated to work on it.
‘MY TEACHER’S MOTHERTONGUE HAD BEEN KURDISH’
My desk mate was a Turk: I think I am one of the first Germans of my age who came into close contact with Turks; it was when I went to elementary school in Munich. Everybody there was catholic, only I was protestant. In the classroom, they sat me at the back, back to back with the wall. In 1961 the first Turkish workers came to Germany. And there was a Turkish boy who entered our class. His name was Savaş. They sat him next to me. After a year his parents moved on to a different city in Germany and I lost sight of him. Later, I went to school in Britain. And my special subject was Ottoman Turkey from the Tanzimat to the War of Independence. And then I became a diplomat, in 1992 I was appointed to Turkey and, quite exceptionally for the German Foreign Ministry, the decision was already made one year before. So I had time to learn Turkish. My teacher’s mother tongue had been Kurdish, but he loved the Turkish language and was extremely painstaking about grammar.
German diplomat. He served for quite a long while in the EU. He worked at the German Embassy in Ankara between 1992 and 1996. He was Germany’s Ambassador to Lebanon back in 200 when the Russia-Georgia war erupted. The EU dispatched an observer team to Georgia and Haber served as the leader of this team for 3 years until 2011. He was responsible for 11 civilian missions of the EU from Afghanistan to Congo; from Kosovo to Libya and Georgia. Until his appointment last year, as the Head of the EU Delegation in Ankara, he served as an ambassador in Cairo. His tenure in Ankara lasted for 10 months.