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In the Caucasus and central Asia, Turkey is carving out a sphere of influence 27 septembre 2011

Posted by Acturca in Caucasus / Caucase, Central Asia / Asie Centrale, Economy / Economie, Energy / Energie, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Guardian (UK) September 27, 2011

By Henry Srebrnik *

Apart from becoming a significant force in the Middle East, Turkey is trying to extend its sphere of influence in the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and central Asia. These are nations that have ethnic, historical, linguistic and religious bonds with Turkey.

Turkey has very close ties to Azerbaijan, with which it shares a border. Trade between the two countries has increased significantly and Turkish companies are the largest investors in Azerbaijan. Turkey’s trade with the country amounted to about $2.5 billion last year.

Azerbaijan is an oil-producing country, and Turkey would like to become a key energy hub for the transportation of energy resources to Europe.

In 2005 the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which connects the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea to Ceyhan, a port on the south-eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey, was completed. Turkey is now the main outlet for westbound Azeri oil.

In December 2010, Turkey and Azerbaijan signed a strategically important mutual defence treaty.

Kazakhstan, too, is an important economic partner of Turkey and Turkish companies have been investing in areas such as food, beverages, oil industries, banking, retailing and tourism. Trade between Kazakhstan and Turkey amounted to $2 billion in 2010.

Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that Kazakhstan is Turkey’s most important political and economic partner in Central Asia: “Our bilateral relations continue to develop in a stable course, driven by the momentum arising from the mutual strong will of both countries.”

During Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s visit to Turkey in October 2009, a Strategic Partnership Treaty was signed between the two.

Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow has reaffirmed Turkey’s crucial place in the shaping of his country’s foreign policy. He has stated that Turkmenistan and Turkey were united through historical and cultural ties.

Turkmenistan has one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves and Turkey is interested in transporting the country’s gas to Europe. Some 100 agreements and protocols have been concluded between Ankara and Ashgabat, and a joint Turkish-Turkmen commission for economic cooperation was formed in 2008. Turkish trade with Turkmenistan amounted to $2 billion last year.

Earlier this year, Turkmenistan held an international forum in Ashgabat where the cultural heritage of the Turkic
peoples was celebrated with an extensive program that included scientific conferences, concerts, films, demonstrations and exhibitions.

Turkish relations with Uzbekistan, the most populous of the central Asian states, have been more rocky, due to Ankara’s concern over human rights abuses and a less favourable economic climate in that country.

The Tashkent government was angry at Turkey for supporting the call for an international investigation of a massacre in the city of Andijan, when troops fired into a crowd of protestors in May 2005, killing at least several hundred.
Still, Turkey is the one of the most important direct investors in Uzbekistan, and trade between the two nations amounted to $1 billion in 2010.

Prime Minister Erdogan visited Tajikistan in 2003 and trade and political relations have increased since then. Turkey has provided assistance for the development and democratization of Tajikistan, a very poor and fragile country, but its role remains limited. Two-way trade in 2010 amounted to $360 million.

Another central Asian state in trouble is Kyrgyzstan, where violence in the south of the country in April 2010 left up to 2,000 dead and forced 400,000 from their homes.

Earlier this year, though, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Sharshenovich Atambayev met with top officials while attending the Turkey-Kyrgyzstan Trade and Investment Forum organized by Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists in Ankara.

“This is exactly the time to invest,” Atambayev told them. “We are brothers and friends. We have a history we are proud of. Our future will also be common and glorious.” But trade between Turkey and Kyrgyzstan remains relatively small, amounting to $160 million in 2010.

In January 2010 Turkey hosted a Summit of Friendship and Cooperation in the Heart of Asia, held in Istanbul, and attended by numerous diplomats from countries around the world. Turkey is clearly staking out its claim to becoming a major power.

* Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political studies at UPEI.

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