A guest in the Turkish family has a special place, and the host will do everything to make him/her feel comfortable – said Haldun Koc, Turkish Ambassador to BiH, a few months ago at a gathering with journalists at the Yunus Emre Cultural Center in Sarajevo. At that time, he probably did not even imagine that one of those journalists, from the aforementioned gathering, would come to his home. And it was precisely the signatoriy of these orders who had the honor to be convinced on the spot of the truthfulness of Ambassador’s words.
Our encounter, of course, was with a good reason. Ambassador Koc and his wife Pinar, invited us to realize the agreed interview, in their Sarajevo home. Of course, they welcomed us with the Turkish tea and traditional Turkish food, and their daughters Azra and Talya made the atmosphere even greater with the classic sounds of music from piano and guitar. Our hosts have revealed to us the unknown details of their lives so far – among other things, what are they doing when they are not in the official duty, where they would like to travel, and why they love Sarajevo and BiH so much.
Pinar, due to your husband’s obligations, you change the address, did you have to freez a career or you still work as a diplomat?
Pinar Koc: I have been working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more than 20 years. Due to the latest position of my husband, after being appointed ambassador, I was forced to freeze work. When one of the spouses becomes the head of the mission in our ministry, the other spouse cannot work in the same mission. In our case, the closest other facility of the Turkish diplomatic mission, the General Consulate, is located in Mostar, where there was a possibility for me to work, but it was not practical because children go to school in Sarajevo, which would again mean that we will live separately. So I did not take that option, and I took the unpaid leave. In that sense, I am not working, and of course I plan to continue working when my husband returns to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ankara after the mandate has been completed. What I can also add is that my current mission is actually a continuation of my previous work. When I was in active employment, I worked in the Office for the protocol of visits and ceremonies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the experience I gained there is especially evident in the preparation of visits of senior officials and other organizations that I am conducting here. Also, we recently took part in the traditional diplomatic winter bazaar, which gathers about 40 countries and successfully presented our country. The activity we recently organized at the embassy’s residence, which had a humanitarian character, is a cultural link between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey. On the above mentioned event, along with BH music and Turkish cuisine, traditional costumes from different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina were presented. The first gathering was for the ladies of the Turkish community, the ladies who live in Bosnia, and the second gathering was for wives of diplomats, wives of the ambassadors and wives of Bosnian high officials.
Mr. Ambassador, is it a relief that your wife comes from the diplomatic world?
Haldun Koc: In two parts I will answer your question. First of all, it is certainly relaxing to perform the duty when you have a wife, your life companion coming from a diplomatic corps, who understands , and who is or will be in the same environment, and sharing of such a job presents me with great relief . Undoubtedly. When we talk about the second part, specifically my wife who comes from the protocol department where she has a really great experience and is a great expert in preparing protocol visits, it helps me a lot, it makes it easier for me to deal with some other issues related to other types of diplomacy in relation to this protocol part. It really makes my work easier.
Prior to your life in Bosnia, you lived in several world addresses. Where did you feel, next to our country, at home?
Pinar Koc: Our first mission outside of Turkey was in Vienna where I worked in the OSCE mission, and my husband worked at the United Nations then. The second was Bulgaria, in the city of Plovdiv in the consulate, and after that we were on a mission in Athens. Prior to BiH, we acted in Spain, in Barcelona. And the city that is our favorite, after and next to Sarajevo, is certainly Barcelona which was our last mission before BiH. Relaxing way of life, and people who love music and gatherings, make Barcelona a very pleasant city.
What has won you in Sarajevo and BiH? Of course, apart from the fact that our cultures are very similar due to our common past.
Pinar Koc: My origins are from around here, thus I’ve always felt like home. If you want me to be specific – my mother’s parents are from the former Yugoslavia, that is now Montenegro, Pljevlja, and the father’s side from Banja Luka came to Turkey many years ago. Grandmother was a little girl, she was 17 when she went there. Even when she had her family, it was very hard for her to learn Turkish, and she mostly spoke in Bosnian. My mother and aunt understand Bosnian language very well and speak well. I know very little about the Bosnian language and I hope that I will learn it, to master it as much as possible. When I find food that was prepared in the kitchen of my nana, it gives me the feeling that I am at home. When we talk about pie, everyone talks about burek. I know very well the smell of burek from my childhood, even the pumpkin pie, and also the leek pie which is not made here anymore. My nana made hurmašice very often. These are some meals that filled my childhood and I am very happy that I have the opportunity here again to enjoy these delicacies. It is impossible not to feel at home when you are in BiH.
Do you, Mr. Ambassador, have anything to add?
Haldun Koc: What I notice, and unfortunately you, the inhabitants of this country, this city, do not, is something that is unique and characteristic of a very small number of people and places, which is one exceptionally hospitality, one spontaneity and warmth and one high level tolerance that is felt every time during a single meeting with people. That is what is noticed immediately and that is why I have to separate Sarajevo and all of BiH as a unique country and different from all the others I have been in, working or being. This is also noticed by your other guests who are staying here for a certain period, guests from Western countries. This intimacy and the specialty that you least feel, first of all positive approach to things, the positive energy you radiate, and precisely this warmth that is spontaneous, the cordiality that is beyond doubt, makes you special. So what gives me the feeling that I feel like I’m at home is you.
How you spend your free time. Have you found an oasis of peace in BiH, where you prefer to rest as a family?
Pinar Koc: Precisely because of the nature of my husband’s work, although we have many wishes and plans to visit different places that your country abounds, sudden, frequent visits from Turkey that officially bind us, force us to cancel certain plans, so we did not manage to see everything we wanted. We had the opportunity to visit your beautiful towns like Mostar, Travnik, Bihać, Jajce, Trebinje and Konjic. We love spending weekends with our children in the mountains that are very close. And besides, I attend a course of painting twice a week. I try to be regular. But when we talk about the countries and cities of the surrounding area, we had the opportunity to visit some nice towns in Croatia like Dubrovnik, Split, in Montenegro Kotor and Budva, and we want to increase the number of these cities according to the possibilities and obligations which we cannot postpone.
Pinar paints, do you have time for similar activities, for hobbies in general?
Haldun Koc: When it comes to hobbies, we play tennis together, but because of a hand injury, my wife made a small break. Being an ambassador in BiH is a special duty and privilege, but it requires a lot of time and effort, because I have a dynamic agenda that makes it difficult to find free time. Everyday activities are at stake, at night, and over the weekend, really a mission in which there is no working hours, and for this reason, unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to deal more often with hobbies like skiing which I like very much. I like to learn foreign languages, and when the Bosnian language is in question, we are trying to learn it in addition to all the obligations, but unfortunately we are not so regular. We have in our vicinity a promenade which is a beautiful, green oasis and something that gives us the opportunity to walk right in front of our house, which we customize and practice very often.
We talked with Azra and Talya about life with the parents diplomats, which implies a constant change of address, school, friends, and they very gladly answered how they get around in BiH, and whether they will follow steps of their parents or they are not interested in it.
Azra explained: “Very quickly and very well, we have fit into a new life in your country that we do not consider as a foreign country, because the warmth, hospitality and a very nice attitude the people also reflected on us. They welcomed us as if we were not strangers. We’ve got a lot of friends, and since we attend an international school, we have no communication problem.”
Both of them have been playing piano since the age of six, Talya is active in the drama section, she started skiing, and Azra is practicing tennis, and in addition to playing the piano, she goes to guitar lessons.
Talya emphasized: “We are closer to the idea that we could be engaged in diplomacy, because life with parents diplomats has allowed us to see the benefits of this call. Given that we have already adapted to the way of life that diplomacy brings, I think that in the future we could choose this as our profession.”
Turkey has always been a great friend of BiH, supported it through various projects. Which is particularly important during your term of office?
– I’ll answer in two parts. At the beginning, after taking office as ambassador, I held one speech in which I stated what the priorities would be in my work, and on several occasions I pointed out and underlined that it would be economy, trade and improvement of economic ties between the two countries. At the time I started working as ambassador, and that was only two years ago, that level, the volume of trade exchange was about $ 400 million and $ 450 million annually. After a two-year period when we are talking about statistical data for the end of 2018, the amount of bilateral trade between the two countries is about $ 800 million, which makes me extremely happy and proud because I have proven this way and showed that I am standing behind my words. Our goal is that this figure reaches one billion dollars, and I hope that we will soon fulfill that goal. And the other part of the answer will be my great wish to be fulfilled, and our major goal, regarding the construction of the Sarajevo-Belgrade highway. It is an initiative that came directly from the president of our country, after which there was a meeting in Turkey on this topic. What happened was that the Republic of Serbia has already taken very concrete steps in the implementation of this project, and when it comes to BiH, until the elections in BiH, a number of different preparatory activities were made, but due to the election and post-election period, the formation of new structures of authority who are going to be our associates on this project. I can only say that by the end of my mandate in this country, I will work very intensively to take all possible steps as soon as possible in order to speed up the realization of this project as soon as possible.