Turkey Begins Historic Flights to Somalia

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Turkish Airlines
Turkish Airlines will make twice-weekly flights to Somalia

Turkish Airlines landed the first intercontinental commercial flight to Mogadishu in more than 20 years on Tuesday.

Today is a big day for Somalia, Somali government spokesperson, Abdisalam Mohamud, said.

For the first time since the collapse of the government in 1991, a non-African carrier will make regular flights to the previously war-torn city. The Turkish airline will make twice-weekly flights to Mogadishu from Istanbul's Ataturk airport.

“After 20 years of a lack of international flights to Europe, Asia and America, the Turkish government has facilitated for the Somalis to travel by Turkish Airlines to the world again,” Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, who was on the plane, stated.

“Somalia will restore its lost international air lane again with the help of the Turkish government.”

Months ago, Mogadishu was too dangerous for foreign visitors. The city was controlled by al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic rebel group that runs large portions of southern Somalia, and before that the country was gripped by civil war.

However, peacekeepers from the African Union successfully expelled al-Shabab from the city last year, and 12,000 troops -- mostly from Uganda -- still patrol Mogadishu and the surrounding areas.

Safety is still in issue in Somalia and security was tight at Mogadishu's Aden Abdulle international airport and on the city's main roads as the Turkish flight landed on Tuesday. The plane was also greeted by Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, UN officials and a group of performers who danced and sang.

Turkish-Somali Relations

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proved himself to be a friend of Somalia, one that the country desperately needed as it battled its worst famine in 60 years, an uncontrolled insurgency and a generally lawlessness in the north brought about by an ineffective government.

After a suicide bomber drove an explosive-laden truck into government headquarters in October, Turkey quickly and willingly airlifted 36 of the most severely wounded victims to its hospitals, saving a number of people who likely would have died in Mogadishu's overcrowded hospitals.

Months earlier, Erdogan became the first non-African statesman to visit the Somali capital in 20 years. He brought with him over $100 million in humanitarian aid for those suffering from famine at a time when the United States would not send assistance because al-Shabab controlled the city. Turkey has sent a total of $365 million in aid to Somalia over the past year, according to Today's Zaman, the Turkish newspaper.

Turkey and Somalia are hoping that the new route from Istanbul to Mogadishu will facilitate international business and challenge the idea that Somali is still to dangerous to visit.

“We thank our Turkish brothers for the assistance and we receive it with an open heart” stated Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on Tuesday.

Turkey is also planning on opening an embassy in Mogadishu.

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