Since the downing of a Russia Su-24 by Turkish forces, Russian president Vladimir Putin has vowed to retaliate until Turkey apologized for shooting down the aircraft. The retaliation has so far consisted of sanctions against some Turkish economic goods, blocks on Russian tourism to Turkey and retaliation against Turkish businessmen and nationals. Russian media has also demonized Turkey, possibly leading to the killing of a Turkish national on December 1st. Because of this reaction and backlash against Turks and Turkey we decided to interview a Turk who is now living and working in Moscow to see what his experiences have been like.
Mehmet (name changed) is a Turkish engineer in his 30’s who has lived and worked in Moscow for the last few years. He speaks fluent Russian in addition to Turkish and has assimilated well in Russia. He says he enjoys living there. We asked him a few questions about the current situation in Russia and how it affects Turks:
A: Hello Mehmet, thank you for agreeing to speak with me. The first thing I wanted to ask you about is if you are worried as a Turk living in Russia in light of recent events?
M: I am worried, but not for myself. I’m worried about the families who live here either from Turkey or in a mixed marriage. I don’t know if they’ll even be able to live here anymore.
A: What has been the reaction from those you know? Have any of them acted differently towards you since the Russian bomber was shot down?
M: No one is acting differently towards me. They all know who I am as a person and realize that I am not to blame. They are very worried about me though because they know what the general attitude towards Turks is like now so they often ask if things are okay.
A: How do you see Russo-Turkish relations evolving in the future?
M: I think that things will be back to business as usual within three months but it will still be dangerous to be a Turk in Russia and many will continue to view us as enemies.
A: Do you think that Russians in Turkey are now facing similar problems?
M: No, we wouldn’t touch them. We understand that they aren’t responsible for the actions of their government. Anyways it was us who shot their plane down so we can’t be too angry. Even if they had shot our plane down though I don’t think we would react the same way. A Turkish plane was shot down by Syria and we are still allowing Syrians to work in and travel to Turkey.
A: Why do you think there is such a difference between Turkish and Russian responses?
M: Because the Russians are much more nationalistic than we are.
A: Do you think that Erdogan might put in place counter-sanctions to retaliate against Russian sanctions?
M: I think that it is definitely possible that the Bosphorus could be closed to Russian transit if things get bad enough.
A: How does the Russian news differ from Turkish news in its portrayal of recent events?
M: One big thing I’ve noticed is that here they talk a lot about Turkey buying oil from ISIS but the news in Turkey hasn’t mentioned this at all. It’s hard to know who to believe but I think that the Turkish media is being silent because Turkey is guilty and doesn’t want to be outed. All they say is that Russia violated Turkish airspace.
A: And what are your plans for the future? Do you hope to stay in Russia?
M: I am trying as hard as I can to stay. I’ve already lived here for 10 years and I don’t want to change my life so drastically. They cancelled our contract on a technicality so I’m not sure what I can do now. I have a work visa for one more year but it is only good for the company which I’m currently working at. If I wanted to work at a different company I would need a new visa and Turkish nationals are prohibited from receiving those from January 1st 2016 onward.
A: Well I wish you good luck in staying where you want to Mehmet, thank you for speaking with me today.
This interview was translated from Russian into English by the author.