Turks in Moscow: Ibrahim Yildiz

ibrahim yildiz

Board member, Esta Construction

How long have you been here in Russia?

For just over 10 years. I arrived in 2007, our first work was to work on three shops in Saratov, then we had a succession of contracts all over Russia. Eventually we ended up here in Moscow where I have been living for 4 years.

Have you have always been working in construction and development in retail?

Yes, mostly construction. We are General Contractors.

I remember that Turkey has a very long tradition of construction in Russia. With Enka and the big developments in the 1980s and 1990s such as Riverside Towers.

Yes, as far as I know it all started off on a large scale at the end of the 1980s, and Enka is the most famous Turkish developer.

What does your company do?

We are General Contractors and work mostly in Russia, although we do some work in Kazakhstan. Currently, most of our work is in Moscow, however we are also doing a large project in Krasnodar. We concentrate mostly on shopping malls and hotels.

What is this great love affair that Turks have with real estate in Russia, why are there so many Turks living here, or used to be?

There are historical reasons. We learnt many of our methods from the Germans. After Russia opened up, it was clear that they [the Russians] didn’t know how to do construction professionally. Turkish people also love to travel; we don’t just do construction in Russia but all over world. Russia happens to be next door, and we get on well with Russians. At the time, Turkey needed the business, and Russia needed the expertise. I can talk to Russian people easily, they understand me, and not just when I am talking about construction.

So Turks were prepared to take risks at a much earlier stage than Americans, Brits and Germans?

Whether this was a good thing or not, I don’t know (laughs) but yes, you are right.

As soon as there was a little crack in the door, you were in here, right?

Yes.

You said you can get on with Russians. How do you get on with them? You might have lived here for a long time, but you are not Russian. There are still things that I can’t handle.

Yes, yes, I know what you mean. Some things are very hard to embrace, especially at first. But, it’s OK. Last month I counted how many cities I have lived in for over a month or two. It came to 30! Moscow is very hard to live in, of course you can find everything you need here – work, money, everything is here, but those things are not everything. Krasnodar is amazing. I lived there for a year and a half, Saratov is also very nice.

Did the recent forced exodus of Turks last year affect you?

Of course. Last year was very hard. It would be a mistake to think that everybody was happy about what happened. I personally wasn’t affected, but now the situation is more or less OK.

Did many of your Turkish friends had to leave?

Yes, many many people had to go because of visa issues. Some of them came back and some of them didn’t. As far as I know more than 20,000 people, both engineers and workers had to leave. But that is out of a total population of about 100,000 Turks in Russia.

Do you think there is a danger that Russian and Turkey could move apart again, or do you think things are going to settle down?

I think we are settling down, and I think that we are now going to move very close to each other. In the past, you didn’t need a visa to come to Russia from Turkey, but now you do. But I understand Russia’s position, because Turkey is right next to Syria, and Russia has a security problem with Syria. But now, hopefully, we will be on the same side. I think that the two countries will get very close, at least in comparison to where they were before.

Time goes by very quickly here doesn’t it?

Yes. I have been here a long time. I love Russian and the Russian people, I have a daughter, and I intend to get a Russian passport, and I am going to start this process in March or April.

Does that mean you will have to give up your Turkish citizenship?

Actually, Turkey allows one to hold two passports, but Russian does not.

Do you feel yourself to be a part of the western expatriate community here?

Not really. It is even quite strange for me to do an interview in English. Before I came to live in Russia I worked for two years in Kazakhstan and I worked with Italians and English. In Turkey, I also worked on the Incirlik NATO air base. In all these jobs, I used English. But in Russia, even large western companies like Auchan are starting to use Russian when negotiating contracts and working with engineers. To be honest, this is the first time for 5 or 6 years that I have even spoken English. I speak Russian with everybody here, which shows just how far things have changed. These changes are going to continue and I do believe that Russia’s economy and the country is going to get much stronger.

Why do you think that? 

Because Russia is investing in education; it is getting better and better. Originally, I wanted to send my daughter to be educated in Turkey, but now I have changed my mind, it is better that she stays here.

It is certainly very different than in the 1980s and 1990s, when everybody wanted to leave. It’s fascinating. Are you a Muslim, do you feel any prejudice against you?

Yes, I am a Muslim. No, no prejudice at all. Nothing. They opened a large Mosque here in Moscow last year. I respect that of course. I was recently in an Orthodox Church here in Moscow, actually, I respect Russian Orthodoxy very much.

So somehow Russia has created a kind of model where Islam and Christianity can live together?

Yes, Turkey is also like that. We have a long history of Christianity and Islam coexisting together. Now because of terrorism, they have a clamp down, but really many of these problems are just certain people creating problems to further their own careers. The problems don’t really exist at all.