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Aziz Kocaoglu

As Izmir's economy continues to grow, mayor Aziz Kocaoglu talks to Natasha Turak about the Turkish city's ongoing infrastructure development, why its agricultural policy has remained ahead of its peers, and how its international fair could improve relations with Russia.

Q: Do you find the political situation affecting Turkey – especially with respect to the refugee crisis stemming from the Syrian conflict – has negatively affected Izmir from an economic standpoint?

A: There are immigrants all around the world, but Turkey is more affected in this because it has hosted more than 3 million refugees in recent years.

Thanks to our economy we are really resistant to the crisis we are facing today. Izmir has a varied and large-scale economy, developed through industry, agriculture and tourism. It is also a university city. In my 13 years as mayor – this is my third term – we have had notable growth in the city through all sectors. I would also add that Izmir is a very cosmopolitan city. The city respects all religions and ethnic populations, and because of this we are safer than some other regions of Turkey.

Q: One of Izmir's primary sectors is agriculture. Have you seen significant foreign investment in this area in recent years?

A: We cannot say we attract foreign investors in terms of agriculture. However, in terms of the Izmir metropolitan municipal area, we help the farmers in the surrounding villages, and much of their production has multiplied [in volume by] four or five times. We are also supporting farmers in organic agriculture. We did this so that they can stay in their villages, and continue to produce agricultural products, rather than migrate to the cities. Izmir has been very successful in this. In other cities, many people are migrating from small villages to city centres, but in Izmir this has not happened. Izmir has always been an important hub throughout history, and the city’s industrial hub developed because of these agricultural products.   

Q: Izmir is a growing city. How are you working and seeking advice from international partners to improve the city’s infrastructure?

A: When I took office I saw the city had many infrastructural problems, and I gave priority to the development of [such] projects. We [have done a lot during my term in office]: sea transport, environmental projects, rail projects and so on. Through consultancy with the International Finance Corporation, we used credit of about $500m regarding infrastructure [including] the cultural and art infrastructure of the city, and all the sectors have developed in a remarkable way. At the end of a 15-year period, we have invested about $4.5bn to $5bn in infrastructure in the whole city.

Q: In August you are holding the annual Izmir International Fair, for which Russia will be a main partner for the first time. Do you see this as an opportunity to address the political challenges between Turkey and Russia as well as an occasion for further partnership?

A: We have been holding this international fair for 86 years, and this year our partner country is Russia. [Turkey's] foreign relations policy has some problems [internationally], and we know that. But for this international fair, six Russian ministers will come, and many CEOs of big companies will visit our city. We will have a Turkey-Russia business forum.

Sometimes political relations may become tense, but we believe this fair will be a good chance to develop these relations. We have an important mission. Maybe our fair will be a turning point for developing these relations, and also for boosting economic relations.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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