[email protected]

May 14, 2012, Monday

Turks need new strategies

The international symposium “Ties between Turkey and the Turkic republics 20 years after their independence” was held on May 11-12 in İstanbul, hosted jointly by the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Letters at Marmara University and the Ümraniye Municipality. The symposium was a small step towards reminding the people of these nations about their shared Turkic roots.

Turkish foreign policy has three priorities: the West (the EU and the US), Cyprus and the Middle East. Turkic republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) enjoy limited political and economic prestige in Turkey. Things are a bit different for Azerbaijan; while Ankara can exert limited influence over Azerbaijan, Baku’s clout in Turkey is remarkable. The share of the above-mentioned five republics in Turkey’s exports was 1.83 percent in 2001 and rose to 4 percent in 2012. Their share in Turkey’s imports increased from 0.71 percent in 2001 to 3 percent in 2012. Thanks to the Turkish companies working in the region, these republics enjoy a certain level of influence in Turkey. In 2012, the value of Turkish contracting services totaled $6 billion in Azerbaijan, $25 billion in Turkmenistan, $3 billion in Uzbekistan, $14 billion in Kazakhstan and $1 billion in Kyrgyzstan. By exploiting the nostalgic and emotional umbrella of Turkish nationalism, the Turkish contracting sector can prevent totalitarian regimes in some of these republics from being criticized by politicians and intellectuals in Turkey. Thus, empty and heroic praise is preferred to self-criticism in the assessment of mutual relations.

The Joint Administration of Turkic Arts and Culture (TÜRKSOY) was established in 1992 and the Turkic-Speaking Countries Parliamentary Assembly (TÜRKPA) was founded in 2008. Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement for setting up the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (CCTS) on Oct. 2-3, 2009 in Nakhchivan. This organization, referred to in short as the Turkic Council, contains the Council of Heads of State, the Council of Foreign Ministers, the Council of Wise Men, the Committee of Senior Officials, and the İstanbul-based “Turkic Council Secretariat.” A Turkic Business Council was established during the first summit of the Turkic Council in Almaty on Oct. 20-21, 2011. Thus, the creation of new joint organizations has accelerated during the last four years. These joint organizations, established in good faith, will become functional if progress is made towards ensuring legal cooperation. Otherwise, this process will be of no use other than creating new bureaucratic institutions. What the Turkic republics really need is legal integration to the greatest extent. This integration should be complementary, not alternative, to the main structures -- the EU, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Eurasian Union. In this regard, the Commonwealth and Francophone countries, the ties between Spain and Latin American countries and the relations between South Korea, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan can be taken as a model.

In 2009, Turkey unilaterally abolished visa requirements for Turkic republics. Moreover, Turkish citizens currently do not require visas to visit Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, for 30 and 90 days, respectively. These positive steps have helped multi-directional and multi-dimensional relations between nations improve beyond expectations. Now, Turkey should take one more unilateral step. It should stop requiring citizens of Turkic republics to have passports for entry into Turkey. Turkey has made reciprocal arrangements with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) and Georgia as part of this framework. Greek citizens, too, can enter Turkey with just their ID cards.

To improve its ties with the Caucasus and Central Asia, Turkey should also find cheaper alternatives to the means of transportation and communication currently available. Tickets for Turkish Airlines (THY) flights to the region are more expensive than tickets to the US, which is totally incomprehensible.

The Arab Spring is making it hard for Turkey to focus its attention on regions other than the Middle East. During his official visit to Kazakhstan on May 22-24, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will certainly remember that Turks need new strategies.

Previous articles of the columnist