Babanov’s current visit to Turkey is not considered an official or working visit but rather a “de facto” official visit. After becoming prime minister, Babanov made official visits to Qatar and South Korea and wanted to come to Turkey as well but did not receive a clear invitation from Ankara.
The Turkish business world is currently nursing an unspoken grudge against Babanov. During the time of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Babanov, who was then the deputy prime minister, created many problems for Turkish businessmen who had investments in Kyrgyzstan. These old resentments are not openly voiced because of the current warm ties between Turkey and Kyrgyzstan, though no one has forgotten the old grudges.
With the help of current President Almazbek Atambayev, Babanov put an end to Bakiyev’s practices of appointing his relatives to important positions, gifting them with public goods and conducting privatization projects according to his whims. Babanov still needs to introduce new initiatives geared towards winning the hearts and restoring the trust of the Turkish business sector. To this end, he should revive the interest of Turkish businessmen in certain sectors in Kyrgyzstan and minimize red tape while increasing transparency.
Formerly a successful businessman with close ties to the Kremlin and Astana, Babanov is a young politician who has silently risen to the top. The 41-year-old leader of the Respublika Party founded the party from scratch. During the 2010 elections, his party entered the Kyrgyz parliament and eventually became part of the ruling coalition. During the presidential elections, he backed Atambayev and, after the latter became president, Babanov became prime minister on Dec. 31, 2011. Babanov performed well during his first six months in office. Together with Atambayev, he strikes a balance between the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, China, Turkey and the West. He has also managed to curb bribery and corruption within Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan seceded from the Soviet Union on Dec. 16, 1990, and became independent on Aug. 31, 1991. The country entered a new process of transformation following an uprising in April 2010. While other former Soviet republics in Central Asia are categorically ruled by powerful presidential systems, Kyrgyzstan attempted to transition to a parliamentary system, a process which caused it to alienate itself from its neighbors. As a country with a population of 5 million, weak industrial and agricultural infrastructure, scarce natural resources and regular pressure from Chinese and Afghan smuggling efforts, Kyrgyzstan has faced many problems in implementing the parliamentary system.
Turkey has extended full support to a democratic Kyrgyzstan. It recently wrote off Kyrgyzstan’s debts to Turkey, which amounted to $53 million. The time has now come to give a new boost to bilateral relations. As a first step, the 90-day entry without a visa for both countries should be extended to one year. In addition, abolishing the need for a passport for entry will catapult bilateral relations to a new level. And similar to what it does for South Korea, Turkey should grant Kyrgyz citizens a quota of work visas. This year is the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). Although it is currently an organization dominated by Balkan countries, the BSEC should evolve into a larger organization extending from the Balkans to Central Asia by securing the membership of Central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan.
Politicians who visit Turkey from Central Asian countries tend to give Turkish politicians gifts such as traditional clothes or horses. Turkish politicians currently have a wardrobe full of traditional clothes and a stable full of horses. My advice to Babanov: Gift Turkish politicians with a pair of yaks when you officially visit Turkey. In the US, a pullover made of yak wool is priced at around $1,000 and I am sure that a gift of yaks will be covered extensively in the Turkish press.