Bangladesh and Türkiye share a profound and enduring historical connection, marked by close cultural ties and profound spiritual influences that have served as a unifying force. This deep-rooted bond dates back to the early 13th century when Ikhtiyar Al-Din Muhammad bin Bakhttiyar Khilji, a Turco-Afghan military leader, initiated the conquest of eastern Indian Bengal and Bihar between 1197-1206. Beginning with the conquest of Bihar, he ventured into Bengal through Nabadwip, subsequently renaming the ancient capital of Bangal to ‘‘Lakhnauti’’ after establishing Muslim suzerainty in Gaur, marking the conclusion of Buddhist influence in the region.
The Turkish presence was succeeded briefly by Abyssinian rule, followed by Afghan rule from 1538, ultimately paving the way for Mughal dominance in the region until the end of Muslim rule.
Historical and cultural roots between the Turkish and Bengali nations extend well before the establishment of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. South Asian Muslims, including Bengalis, wholeheartedly supported the Turkish War of Independence. This support is eloquently expressed in the epic poem ‘’Kamal Pasha’’ authored by Kazi Nazrul Islam, the National Poet of Bangladesh, in 1921.
This poem remains an integral part of Bangladesh’s school curriculum. Additionally, major avenues in Dhaka and Chittagong bear the names ‘’Kemal Atatürk Avenue’’ commemorating Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Furthermore, institutions like ‘’Atatürk Model High School’’ in Dagan Bhuiyan, Feni, underlines the enduring connection between the two nations. The support of the Bengali people during the Turkish War of Independence continues to be remembered with heartfelt gratitude by the Turkish people.
The Turkish legacy in Bengal remains enduring, persisting to this day and readily apparent in the present:
Indeed, Turkish rule in Bengal had a profoundly positive impact on the region. It played a pivotal role in shaping and nurturing a Muslim society in Bengal, giving definitive form to the development of Muslim culture. Turkish rulers embarked on ambitious construction projects, erecting numerous mosques, madrassahs, and establishing ‘’Khanqahs’’ that served as hubs for the expansion of Sufi traditions and cultural enrichment. They generously supported Muslim scholars and Sufis in their religious endeavors, fostering deep-seated societal connections and growth.
It seems that the Turkish leaders and their supporters who ventured into Bengal didn’t come as invaders, but with the intention of settling down and embracing it as their new homeland. They committed to their new life in Bengal, signified by their symbolic act of leaving their past behind. They didn’t siphon off Bengal’s wealth or entertain thoughts of departing. These settlers played a pivotal role in enhancing the architectural landscape and nurturing calligraphic expertise among the native artists and craftsmen. They channeled their energies, assets and transferred skills into various developmental projects, including the construction of fortifications to safeguard their newfound territory and its people.
The profound influence of Kazi Nazrul Islam is exemplified through his epic poem ‘’Kamal Pasha’’. This piece not only became an integral part of the Bangladeshi school curriculum but also significantly shaped Bengali poetry, literature, and political perspectives. Besides Kazi Nazrul Islam, other revolutionary poets and writers like Kazi Abdul Wadud, Ismail Hossain Siraji, Kazi Motahar Husain, and Abul Fazel echoed support for Atatürk’s transformative revolution. In tribute, the ‘‘Atatürk Model High School’’ was established in Feni on January 6, 1939, a mere 54 days after Atatürk’s passing away on November 10, 1938. Sheikh Afzal, a revered Bangladeshi national artist, honored Atatürk with a captivating portrait, now exhibited in the National Museum. Moreover, in 1925, the Principal of Dhaka College, Ibrahim Khan penned a theatrical play titled ‘’Kemal Pasha’’. This play garnered immense acclaim and further solidified the admiration and reverence of the Bengali community for the Turkish nation and Atatürk’s pivotal independence movement.
Türkiye and Bangladesh: A Post-independence Overview of Bilateral Relations
Türkiye officially recognized Bangladesh on 22 February 1974 during the OIC Summit in Lahore. Diplomatic channels solidified with the establishment of the Turkish Embassy in Dhaka in 1976, and Bangladesh’s Embassy in Ankara in 1981.
Several high-profile visits strengthened their bilateral ties, including:
Visits by Turkish dignitaries such as Prime Minister Turgut Özal (1986), President Süleyman Demirel (1997), President Abdullah Gül (2010), and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (2010).
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s multiple trips to Türkiye, notably in 2011 for the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries and an official visit in 2012.
First Lady Emine Erdoğan’s visit in September 2017 further emphasized Türkiye’s commitment to helping Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. As the largest refugee hosting country, Türkiye has been in solidarity with Bangladesh since the beginning of the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s visit to Bangladesh in December 2017 encompassed meetings with key Bangladeshi leaders and a trip to the Rohingya Camps in Cox’s Bazaar.
Bangladesh’s recent presidential visits to Türkiye took place in 2017 and 2023. President Abdul Hamid attended the OIC Extraordinary Summit in Istanbul on 13th of December 2017 and President Mohammed Shahabuddin attended the inauguration ceremony of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on 3rd of June 2023.
Current Bilateral Relations: Scope and Depth
In 2020 and 2021, the Foreign Ministers of the two countries met in their respective capitals, inaugurating new embassy buildings in Ankara and Dhaka. Both nations have expressed intentions to amplify their trade from 1,2 Billion USD, aiming to double it within the upcoming five years.
Last year, a delegation from Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as a delegation from Bangladesh Investment Development Authority visited Türkiye.
Turkish companies have investments in Bangladesh. Arçelik has acquired a majority share in Singer Bangladesh and Aygaz has a joint investment with United Group. Turkish Airlines has daily direct flights between Istanbul and Dhaka and it makes a great contribution to the promotion of our bilateral relations. The tourism sector between the two countries is witnessing significant growth. Furthermore, with its world-class healthcare infrastructure, Türkiye emerged as a leading destination for medical tourism.
The Deepening Bonds of Bangladesh-Türkiye Diplomacy
In the intricacies of global diplomacy, the ties between Bangladesh and Türkiye represent a unique confluence of shared history, culture, religious bonds, and strategic imperatives.
Türkiye, as a rising power in global affairs, finds in Bangladesh a nation standing at the intersection of historical depth and future promise. Bangladesh’s emergence as an economic powerhouse in Asia, combined with its geo-strategic importance, makes it a critical partner for Türkiye in the region.
Bangladesh’s pursuit of diversified defense partnerships and its emphasis on resolving the Rohingya issue align well with Türkiye’s global stance.
Türkiye’s unwavering support on the Rohingya issue, demonstrated both in words and deeds-be it through humanitarian assistance or the vocal advocacy in influential international platforms like the UN and OIC-further cements the trust between the two nations.
With the Turkish First Lady’s visit to Rohingya camps and the various supportive initiatives by Turkish institutions in Bangladesh, the mutual commitment towards strengthening ties is evident. Bangladesh greatly benefits from Türkiye’s significant influence in global forums, while Türkiye finds in Bangladesh a partner that resonates with its historical and cultural ethos.
In conclusion, the path forward for Bangladesh and Türkiye is illuminated by their shared past and their common aspirations for the future. Their relationship is not just about strategic advantages; it’s a bond woven with threads of history, spirituality, and shared ambitions. As they look ahead, their collaboration is bound to deepen, founded on mutual respect, understanding, and the shared goal of ushering in a prosperous, secure future for their people.
Nazinur Rahim, Executive Editor, Diplomats Publications