Soner Şahin, Culture and Tourism Attaché of the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey. It was enough for him to come to BiH just once to make him select it as his diplomatic destination at the first opportunity
Interviewed by: Elma Zećo
Photos: Irfan Redžović
After being in Kyrgyzstan and Serbia, three years ago Soner Şahin became the head man of the Office of the Advisor for Culture and Tourism of the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Sarajevo, even though he could have gone to more prestigious destinations in the world. Two months prior to that he got married, so although it was unusual for his wife to leave her homeland, she was also very quick to realise why it was nice to come here.
“I came to Sarajevo from Belgrade once as a tourist and simply fell in love with this country on that trip. Today, a few months before the end of my mandate, I’m happy with that decision, as I gained an unforgettable experience meeting the people, nature, culture and history of the country”, says our interviewee.
He was born near the Black Sea, in the town of Karabuk, although he has been living in Ankara for the last 20 years, where he enjoys spending his free moments with friends. He also likes to play football, and is a loyal fan of Besiktas. Music is also important to Soner Şahin, especially songs with good content such as those of, he tells us, his favourite singers Sezen Aksu and Ahmet Kaya, while when it comes to local singers he singles out Dino Merlin, and also sevdalinkas, comparing them to türkü music, because of the wisdom contained in their lyrics.
What were your goals when you took over the duty of the culture and tourism attaché?
– Immediately upon arriving to Sarajevo, I saw that a lot of work on cultural projects was done in our office, which I find particularly fulfilling and it makes me a happy man, so I wanted to continue in the same manner. Generally, tourism and culture are sectors which have a positive effect on one another. Towards the end of high school, I wanted to study tourism, but in the end I chose the Faculty of Political Science, which was founded during the Ottoman Empire, with a long tradition and known for offering a quality education. However, when I graduated, I started working at the Ministry of Tourism, so my professional occupation was my fate.
Do you know how many Turks come to visit BiH annually, and vice versa, how many Bosnians and Herzegovinians come to see your country as tourists?
– The number of Bosnian-Herzegovinian tourists in Turkey is around 90000, while the number of Turkish tourists in BiH is somewhat smaller, around 60000. In the current year, a significant rise in the presence of tourists from BiH in our country has been recorded, as much as 50%.
Which destinations in BiH attract Turks the most?
– Apart from, inevitably, Sarajevo, tourists from Turkey most frequently decide to visit Mostar, Blagaj, Počitelj and Konjic. Apart from these listed places in Herzegovina, they also visit Travnik, and those who stay for longer and want to get to know other regions a bit better decide to see Jajce and Višegrad.
Apart from well-known destinations, what should people be sure to see in Turkey?
– Turkey is a country where numerous cultures and civilisations were intertwined. Each part of Turkey, from the east, across the north, south and west offers something new and every tourist can find something for themselves in these parts. Southeast Turkey was home to numerous civilisations, with Sumerian and Assyrian civilisations as the leading ones, but there were also some others, which existed before the occurrence of cuneiform. Large empires, such as the Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman Empires were at their zenith precisely in the region of today’s Turkey. Turkey is, really, an inexhaustible source for lovers of history and culture.
SARAJEVO HAS SOUL
Which places in BiH are you captivated by?
– I’m delighted with Bosnia, in general. Its nature, people, rivers, and culture are not comparable to anything else. Still, if I must single out a specific place, let it be Mostar, its Old Bridge; actually, I like the entire path to it. BiH is also adorned by its rivers, and for me Neretva and Drina come first place. Of course, I also like Jajce, together with all its beautiful mills.
How do you usually spend your weekends here?
– When my wife is here, we like to spend our time exploring new places together. I’ve seen numerous (famous) sights, but also less famous places. From time to time, I also take horse riding lessons. If I had the opportunity, my desire would be to ride a horse across fields and through a forest.
How well have you learned Bosnian so far?
– I understand Bosnian very well, especially when it comes to work-related topics. I have no problems with communicating. Bosnian is, much like Turkish, a difficult language. However, once you master it, you can talk to people across the entire Balkans, which is its advantage.
Do you like our cuisine?
“When I first started living in Sarajevo, I constantly ate ćevapi, Bey’s soup and pies. As time went on, my habits changed – I spent more and more time eating local, cooked meals in aščinice. Apart from that, lamb is tasty, as are all other meat dishes.”
If you were asked to, how would you describe Sarajevo to foreigners?
– Bosnia and Herzegovina, and especially Sarajevo, has its soul and makes a person serene. The whole city with its residents has a sense for the arts. If you go to a restaurant, or cafe owned by a local person, you will notice that everything is decorated in detail and with style.
Which tourist destinations in the world do you like to visit the most with your wife?
– During my mandate in BiH, we’ve visited most of the Balkan countries, and we’ve also been to Austria, Hungary and Italy. Due to the nature of my work, we don’t have the opportunity to go to farther destinations, so what remains is to get to know the nearby countries.
Do you have an interesting anecdote from your travels?
– There’s something that’s not a funny story, or spectacular event, but for me, it was really a surprise. During a group trip to Italy, I personally found it interesting to see how travellers here are punctual. The guide tells the time of departure and everyone comes at the agreed time, they don’t even have to check that everyone is there. For me, as a Turk, this punctuality is very interesting, as we have a different way of viewing time.
Where would you like to continue your career when your current mandate runs out?
– According to protocol, when my mandate in BiH concludes, I will first spend three years working in Turkey. If I was offered to perform my duties in a foreign country, I’d choose Spain for many reasons: the Spanish language is wonderful, it sounds like poetry to me, the country is abundant in beauty, and also because of Andalusia.