Geographically positioned at the very heart of the old Silk Road, Turkey has always been a vital point of passage for goods passing between Asia and Europe. In filming the latest episode of the CNN series The Silk Road: Past, Present, Future, we took a first-hand look at three of Turkey’s major export sectors - agriculture, industry and media – to see how the country approaches international trade in the globalised era of today’s modern Silk Road.
In covering these sectors we filmed the olive harvest at beautiful hillside groves at the coastal town of Ayvalik, gained behind-the-scenes access to one of Turkey’s most famous TV dramas ‘Paramparca’, and explored the factory floors of Bursa, the historic Ottoman capital now nicknamed the “Detroit of Turkey” for its growing automotive manufacturing sector. Despite being such diverse industries, we found an acute similarity – a focus on export markets. The TV drama industry in Turkey boasts staggering international sales - every episode of the TV show we filmed earns a cool half a million dollars for its production company in international distribution. Cars account for one fifth of all of Turkey’s exports. The olive oil sector is struggling to compete, and those we spoke to said the only way for it to survive is by marketing in the Far East -a strategy already employed by its offshoot industry in olive oil soap. From the factory floor to the olive groves, we heard the same cry from the workers “Kolay Gelsin! Kolay Gelsin” – “God ease your work!”. There is an atmosphere of ambition underpinned by hard work and local knowledge.
Nowhere else was the combination of people power and technology innovation so apparent than in Bursa’s factories. At the Tofas car plant, 7,000 people make a mixture of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles for the Fiat Chrysler Group. They are ably assisted by technology such as Automated Guided Vehicles – robots, essentially, that cruise the factory floor and deliver component parts to operators at just the right moment. The company’s Director of Industrial Operations, Akin Aydemir, explained the outcome of this production cycle: “We make a car every 55 seconds – one in less than a minute. That’s 1,200 every day!” He puts the quantity, and quality, down to the skills and knowledge that the firm has accumulated since it opened the plant in 1970.
And, boy, are those cars needed because demand is high, with exports going to 80 countries worldwide. Tofas CEO Cengiz Eroldu explained how the company is mainly producing for the global market: “20 years ago, for us to export to the US market was a dream, but now we are seeing that this is a level that we can reach”. As the cars roll out of the factory, they’re en route to a cargo ship that heads first to Italy, then the US.
As we have found so often in making this series for CNN, single snapshots such as the Tofas factory, its technology, its international focus, are defining and seizing the opportunity of a new Silk Road that takes inspiration from the past, but is very much focused on the future.