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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Returning to Turkey With Mixed Feelings

As he prepares to leave Moscow, Turkish Ambassador Volkan Vural has mixed feelings. He is proud of Turkey's increased economic activities in the former Soviet Union, but is concerned about charges of exporting Islamic fundamentalism to Central Asia.

"Turkey has had very close religious, ethnic and cultural ties with Central Asia", Vural said in an interview at the ambassador's residence. "But we do not have territorial ambitions in Central Asia, and that includes Armenia".

Vural was responding to Israeli Ambassador Haim Barlev's statement at a press conference last week that Iran and Turkey are a "negative" influence in the Moslem republics.

Vural, who is heading back to Ankara next month after more than four years in Moscow, said that it is likely that the former republics in Central Asia will turn to Turkey and the East.

"Turkey is the only Islamic nation in the world that has successfully combined Islam and democracy", he said. "That makes Turkey a role model, but we have no intention of exporting our model".

He noted that Russian economists and politicians recently have turned their attention to Turkey's market reforms.

"They are intrigued by three countries: Turkey, China and South Korea. These are the three examples they think of. They are not likely to turn to the West", he said.

Vural, whose posting here was longer than previous Turkish ambassadors, mainly because of the coup and collapse of the Soviet Union, said Russia and Turkey are "rediscovering each other".

"Turkey and Russia are close geographically and historically. We just celebrated 500 years of diplomatic relations. We fought many wars", he said. "We won a few and we lost a lot. But we never knew Russia. There was so much time wasted because of the ideological differences. Now we are trying to catch up".

It appears the two countries have made considerable progress.

"We have increased our trade dramatically, from a volume of about $500, 000 five years ago to $2 billion", he said.

"I am happy and proud to have witnessed these developments", Vural said.

Vural declined to give his age, though he did say he is "somewhere between the late 40's and early 50's". He was Turkey's director general for economic relations from 1982 to 1986. He served as ambassador to Iran for the next two years and became ambassador to the Soviet Union in September 1988.

Vural said he did not know what his next job would be, but remarked with a grin that "the rumors of my future are not bad".