March 08, 2012
Amid a celebratory atmosphere and an official and popular welcome, Turkish Airlines landed at Mogadishu Airport on Tuesday (March 6th).
Turkish Airlines is the first major international airline outside of East Africa to operate regular commercial flights to Somalia in more than 20 years, a move analysts say is a sign of the improved security situation in Mogadishu.
Somali government officials and citizens welcomed this step, with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed expressing his gratitude to the people and government of Turkey.
"We thank our Turkish brothers for the assistance and we receive it with an open heart," Ahmed said.
Ahmed was at the head of a delegation of Somali officials welcoming the first Turkish Airlines flight at Mogadishu Airport. The United Nations Special Representative to Somalia, foreign ambassadors to Somalia and Somali citizens were also among those welcoming the Turkish plane in Mogadishu.
Before the plane landed with the Turkish delegation on board, security measures were tightened in the capital. Hundreds of armed security forces were deployed in the streets of Mogadishu, especially the main roads and the neighbourhoods close to the airport.
Ahmed described the event as an indication of the return of stability to Somalia as well as a major historical event.
"It is a great day for Somalia and the Somali people because it is the beginning of the new Somalia -- the beginning of hope for the Somali people," Ahmed said. "We celebrate this great day on which Turkish Airlines is launching its first official flight to our country."
"This step demonstrates the extent to which the Turkish government and its people are in solidarity with the people of Somalia at this difficult time that our country is going through… We will not forget the efforts of the Turkish [people] to provide assistance and salvation to Somalia in its present plight," he said.
"We are happy to receive the Turkish delegation that came to implement the promises of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to help rebuild Somalia that he made during his historical visit to Mogadishu last year," Ahmed said. "The delegation also came to implement economic projects and investments in the near future. We hope that this Turkish partnership includes several economic, developmental and other vital and important areas for Somalia."
The full operation of Turkish Airlines flights comes in the wake of Erdoğan's visit to Mogadishu last August, the first non-African leader to visit Somalia in more than 20 years. During his visit, Erdoğan pledged to help Somalia and change its image as an inaccessible place due to decades of chaos and conflict.
Ahmed said bringing international flights to Mogadishu Airport would encourage peace and development efforts in Somalia and would also bring the Somali diaspora closer to home. "The Turkish people and their government bring hope back to Somalis. I am confident that Somalia will never forget this favour," he said.
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who is responsible for co-ordinating his country's aid programmes and development projects for Somalia, said the airline will soon expand its services in the country.
"Somalia was cut off, but we have now connected it to the outside world," he told reporters at Mogadishu Airport. "We have repaired the airport and now international flights can use it. We have discussed this with the president, and Turkey will also offer domestic flights inside Somalia."
"The Turkish Airlines route to Somalia is a confirmation that Turkey is determined to help the Somali people," he said.
"Turkey is helping Somalia purely for humanitarian reasons," Bozdağ said, noting that Turkey was reaching out to assist Somalia without a political agenda. He added that Turkey was ready to provide the necessary support to regain peace and improve security on the ground.
Temel Kotil, director general of Turkish Airlines, accompanied the deputy prime minister on the flight to Mogadishu. "Turkish Airlines is the very first international airline to take this brave decision to start flights to the Somali capital after more than two decades," he said.
"With this step, we will be able to connect the Somali people with the rest of the world and we hope that, in the near future, Somalia will become a stable and prosperous place and that a [semblance] of normalcy will return to this country," he said.
Turkish Airlines plans to operate semi-weekly flights between Istanbul and Mogadishu, passing through the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
After the Turkish Airlines flight landed on the runway at Mogadishu Airport, Somalis celebrated with song and dance. Turkish flags were raised in the streets of the capital and at the airport while musical bands played the national anthems of both countries.
Many Somalis expressed their happiness with the start of regular Turkish Airlines flights to Somalia.
Omar Ali, who returned from Britain to see his family in Mogadishu two months ago, after spending years abroad, welcomed the return of international flights to Somalia, calling it "a very positive step".
"We are very happy to see the international airlines returning to Somalia. This step will make travelling easier for expatriate Somalis so they can visit their families back home during holidays and summer vacations," Ali told Sabahi.
Since the collapse of the central government in 1991, international airlines stopped operating flights to Somalia due to the deteriorating security situation. To fill the gap, local airlines started operating flights to Kenya, Djibouti, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which would then co-ordinate flights to destinations in Europe and the United States.
Somali businessmen and economic analysts expressed hope that the Turkish Airlines flights would encourage other international airlines to operate flights to Somalia.
Chairman of the Somali Chamber of Commerce Abdikarim Mahmoud Ali said he hopes the Turkish Airlines flights will contribute to strengthening business and opening new areas of trade in Somalia.
"The Somali Chamber of Commerce always encourages investment projects in all sectors," he told Sabahi. "We also encourage free competition in business and [try] to provide investment opportunities."
Ali called for interaction and collaboration among local airline companies and Turkish Airlines.
Turkey has been at the forefront of international efforts to help Somalia in the wake of severe draught and famine last year. Ankara provided scholarships for hundreds of Somali students to study in Turkish schools and universities. Turkey also re-opened its embassy in Mogadishu in November 2011, and appointed its ambassador to Somalia. Turkish aid has also helped build hospitals and schools in Mogadishu.
"Turkey has led an international campaign to help Somalia and to resolve the famine crisis since last year," said Mohammed Ahmed, a Somali businessman. "Turkey has led fund-raising campaigns both inside Somalia and in international forums, and now Turkish Airlines is operating flights to Somalia making it the first major airline providing this service in 21 years."
"The community of [Somali] businessmen welcomes this step because it allows us to connect with the outside world," he told Sabahi. "It also creates free economic exchange between Somalia and Turkey and will activate trade between the two countries."
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