Many Rohingya were driven from their homes in 2012 rioting. Source: YouTube
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is due to visit troubled Rakhine State in western Myanmar, where the majority of the nation’s persecuted Muslim Rohingyas live, largely confined to squalid camps.
He was due to arrive in the newly democratic state on Sunday for a three-day visit, making the first official Turkish visit with the National League for Democracy government which took power in April.
Çavuşoğlu will meet State Counsellor (or de facto prime minister) Aung San Suu Kyi, President Htin Kyaw and Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who was appointed by previous, quasi-civilian government.
After Turkey’s Embassy opened 2012, then-foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, prime minister until last month, paid the first high-level Turkish visit in 2012 and again in 2013.
In November 2013, Davutoğlu was accompanied by representatives from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
“Myanmar has accepted, perhaps for the first time in its history, such a visit from an international delegation and opened Arakan [Rakhine]. This is a positive step, hopefully we will continue our efforts to relieve the pains of our brothers there,” Davutoğlu told reporters after his visit.
The Rohingya are often referred to as “Bengalis” in Myanmar’s media, implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, rather than an indigenous community.
They are not included in the list of 134 officially recognised ethnic groups in the diverse union.
Çavuşoğlu is set to visit the Thayet Turkish war cemetery in Magway Region, one of the two burial grounds for Ottoman soldiers in the Southeast nation. Prisoners of war from the First World War were sent by the British to Burmese labour camps. Around 12,000 Ottoman troops in Sinai, Palestine and Mesopotamian campaigns were forced to work in train, bridge and dam construction. About 1,600 soldiers died from disease, exhaustion and harsh treatment.
The cemetery, with its Turkish inscriptions, was neglected for decades until Ankara finally granted restoration funds in 2012.
“While trying to improve bilateral relations as a fundamental policy, our country has also exerted efforts at bilateral and multilateral platforms in order to improve the situation of Muslims in Myanmar,” Hürriyet Daily News quoted an anonymous Turkish envoy saying.
“On the other hand, our country has made an effort to bring humanitarian aid to displaced people who are in a difficult situation. Improving and diversifying bilateral relations with Myanmar in every field, especially in economic relations, matters. There is a belief that the visit will pay to Myanmar will be useful in this respect.