In an interview with Today's Zaman, Atambayev highlighted the economic ties, noting that more than 50 economic agreements have been finalized between the two countries so far. "Our economic and commercial ties are improving in conjunction with these agreements. With its $450 million investment, Turkey is the second largest investor in Kyrgyzstan,” he said, noting that Turkish and Kyrgyz leaders agreed at a meeting in June 2010 to extend the size of the trade to $1 billion. "I believe that we will achieve this. We have mobilized our resources to make Kyrgyzstan a haven for investment."
In addition to Turkey and Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are attending the summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (CCTS) in Bishkek.
Atambayev said globalization was not an obstacle to integration in the Turkic-speaking world. “A new era started between Turkic-speaking countries after the independence of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Above all, our common past, language, traditions and customs unite us. … It is wrong to believe that globalization is an obstacle to integration. Globalization enables Turkic peoples to unite and integrate in many fields," he said.
The notion of a Turkish union emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 when many countries including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan gained independence. Over the last two decades, the Turkic republics have maintained ties in many fields. The highest level of cooperation between the Turkic republics is the presidential summit attended by the presidents of the republics. The tradition of holding summits was initiated at the first meeting of the Turkic republics held in Ankara on Oct. 30, 1992. The 10th summit where presidents from six Turkic republics attended was held in İstanbul in 2010.
At the 1996 Tashkent Summit, the creation of a Secretariat was proposed. The relevant statute was passed in Astana in 1998, and the CCTS was set up in 2009 by the Treaty of Nakhchivan between Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey. The council is the first institution that the Turkic states have ever created for themselves with membership on a voluntary basis. The first meeting of the CCTS was held in Almaty on Oct. 20, 2011, and was the first summit held under the auspices of the council. The second summit will be held in Bishkek on Aug. 23. Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev, Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev will attend the meeting. Before the summit, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev spoke to Today's Zaman about the council and bilateral relations between Turkey and Kyrgyzstan.
Excerpts from the interview with President Atambayev are as follows:
Does globalization provide opportunities or create obstacles to a union of Turkic republics?
A new era has started between Turkic-speaking countries after the independence of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Above all, our common past, language, traditions and customs unite us. To this end, we felt the need to consolidate our commonalities by the creation of a cultural and historical identity between Turkic peoples. It is wrong to believe that globalization is an obstacle to integration. Globalization enables Turkic people to unite and integrate in many fields. Even the remotest part of the world is reachable by a single click in this globalized world. You have access to the most recent news reports. The advances in communication technologies and developments in the press make extensive contribution to the integration between Turkic peoples. To this end, globalization contributes visibly to our relations and should be considered a great opportunity.
Could you evaluate the Kyrgyz policy vis-à-vis Turkey since independence? Is the current position satisfactory? What else should be done?
Our relations based on our common past, language, faith, culture and values have visibly improved over the last two decades. During my service as prime minister, our relations have gained an institutional dimension with the creation of the Turkey-Kyrgyzstan High Level Strategic Cooperation Council during my visit to Turkey in April 2011. Since the independence of Kyrgyzstan, 120 agreements and treaties have been finalized with Turkey in the fields of economy, politics, trade, education, military and culture. This is an important point to underline given that this demonstrates the current level of relations between our countries. We pay attention to strong regional and international cooperation, as well as trade relations between the two countries. I would like to note that we are in close cooperation with Turkey in the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), CCTS, Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).
It is also important to note that our relations with Turkey are based on the longstanding ties of brotherhood between our peoples, our common past and culture, rather than self-interest. This actually requires us to improve our ties and relations. The fact that I held my first official visit as president to Turkey shows the importance I attach to relations with Turkey. I would like to indicate that I pay a great deal of attention towards furthering our strategic partnership with Turkey based on the spirit of brotherhood.
Although it was a meeting of Turkic speaking states, it appeared that language was a big problem. A common alphabet becomes a matter of discussion at every summit. However, nothing has been done on this matter. What do you think about a common language and alphabet?
Right now, the peoples of the member states on the Turkic Council speak their own languages. These are considered as Turkish-speaking countries. I believe that some reforms should be introduced to create a common Turkic alphabet. We are discussing this matter. And we are also aware that acknowledging common language as the basis for cooperation between Turkic states brings some difficulties as well. It is not hard to create a common alphabet. New concepts and terms may be invented based on common linguistic roots. What really matters is how to implement this common alphabet, particularly in the field of education. Harmonized textbooks need to be developed and new methods need to be implemented. Inevitably, this will take a long time. In consideration of the recommendations by the Council of Wise Men, which serves as the advisory board of the organization, a terminology committee was set up with the participation of academics from the member states of the CCTC. This means that there are constructive efforts towards the realization of this goal.
What contributions has the establishment of the CCTS made to the improvement of the cooperation between Turkic-speaking countries? How do you see the future of the CCTS?
A historic step has been taken by the establishment of CCTS. The council enabled us to focus on our common problems and address them properly. I believe that this council is the most valuable legacy of the Turkic peoples for the next generations. The council will offer further chances for cooperation between our countries and peoples and promote peace, stability and prosperity in the region. Comprehensive cooperation and solidarity between the Turkic-speaking countries complement similar mechanisms created to achieve cooperation and stability in Eurasia. The creation of the Council, I believe, will be of great help for the peoples in our region and this geography. The geography where our countries are located is promising. I fully believe that the CCTS will prove its competence within a very short time as a regional organization by working to compliment the current cooperation mechanisms. I would like to express my gratitude to Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev who suggested the creation of this union and made the attempts to make it happen.
What contributions could the council make to the business world in the member states? Could economic cooperation between the member states be achieved as well? What is your particular view on cooperation in the fields of transportation, trade and customs?
In addition to political, cultural and social issues, we would also like to improve cooperation between member states in the economic field as well. Since the beginning, the CCTS has paid particular attention to ensure that the private sector is included on the political agenda of the council. With the view that long-term cooperation can be achieved by cooperation between the public and private sector, the relevant projects were drafted in a way to address the current problems in the business world. In addition, representatives of the business sector were invited to the working groups on economy; the representatives of private sector hold equal rights in the relevant meetings and deliberations. On the other hand, the relevant business actors in the member states were encouraged to take part in the general structure of the CCTS. As such, at the first Turkic Council Summit the Turkic Council Working Group was officially established, and it was also where its first meeting took place.
We all know that you are close to Turkey. A new chapter has been opened between the two countries after your election as president. What particular issues do you pay attention to in bilateral relations with Turkey? How do you see commercial relations between the two countries?
One of the most important issues that I pay attention to between the two countries is economic cooperation. This includes both trade and investment. More than 50 economic agreements have been finalized between the two countries so far. Our economic and commercial ties are improving in conjunction with these agreements. With its $450 million investment, Turkey is the second largest investor in Kyrgyzstan. At the meeting held in Bishkek in June 2010, the head of governments from both states agreed to extend the size of the trade to $1 billion. I believe that we will achieve this. We have mobilized our resources to make Kyrgyzstan a haven for investment. We are working to create a country where rules and laws are influential and where there is no bribery. We want to attract more investors to such an environment. I particularly invite Turkish investors to consider investment in Kyrgyzstan. This way, we will further trade and investment between our countries.
I would like to note that Turkey gave a $20 million grant to our country in 2011; this was a nice gesture. After some unpleasant developments in the south of the country, we have started a new process of development in this region. Turkey also extended an $11 million grant for this initiative. In addition, we also signed an agreement that meant our Eximbank debt was erased during a visit to Turkey to attend the official ceremony where Abdullah Gül was sworn in as president on Dec 1, 2011. And lastly, an agreement on the transfer of low-interest loans in the amount of $100 million along with a grant of $ 6 million for a total of $ 106 million was signed in June. These contributions from Turkey are unforgettable by us.
The Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) has been supporting us to make sure that we resolve our development problems. TİKA has so far signed its name to more than 30 projects and 324 different initiatives and activities. Kyrgyzstan ranks second in the Eurasian geography in respect to the number of projects that TİKA has completed in the country. The total amount of resources that TİKA has allocated to Kyrgyzstan since its creation amounts to more than $30 million.
A commission set up with the participation of representatives from both countries has been working to promote cooperation between the countries in the field of economy and trade. This commission has held six meeting so far. In addition, I would like to stress the importance of holding regular business forums to identify investment areas and to attract more investors to Kyrgyzstan.
What do you think about the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway project and about the revival of the Silk Road project?
In the past, the Silk Road served as a bridge between the West and the East to improve trade and economic relations. Its revival will make huge contributions to our national economies. To this end, the Kars-Tbilisi-railway will connect Asia to Europe and create additional transport corridors. I believe that this will play a huge role in the integration of our economies with the international markets. Thanks to this project, the Silk Road will be revived and an Iran Silk Road will be established. It is our historical responsibility to make efforts to make Asia and Europe closer, to contribute to the economic development and prosperity of the region and the creation of new transport, communication and energy corridors. The creation of new Silk Roads should be considered from this perspective.
Which subjects will be discussed in the summit to be held in Bishkek? What are your expectations from this summit?
Above all, I would like to indicate that I am extremely proud of hosting such an important gathering. The summit to be held in Bishkek will be the second meeting of the CCTS.
At the summit, we will approve new items on different subject matters including education, science and culture. At the same time, the progress made in respect to economic cooperation, which was the theme of the Almaty Summit last year will be reviewed. The Foreign Ministers Council will consider the regional and international issues that concern the Turkic states and discuss the common perspectives in foreign policy areas for further coordination. In an institutional sense, the Bishkek Summit will represent a new phase where the Turkic Academy and the Turkic Cultural Heritage Foundation will be created as prestigious symbols of the Turkic world. And lastly, we expect conclusion of secondary agreements that determine the legal status and standing of the CCTS at the Bishkek Summit. If we are able to successfully implement the decisions made during the meetings of the Turkic council, we will be able to make good progress towards addressing the issues between member states, and promote regional cooperation.