// Growing rapport with Central Asian Turkic countries might be a deeper process for Baku and Ankara than meets the eye
zerbaijan and Turkey have been closely participating in strategic deep processes in Central Asia recently. As the long-dominant regional power weakened, causing a vacuum effect of sorts, a gateway has opened for new forces to enter the region. Turkey comes to the forefront in this competition, as it shares a national-moral identity with Central Asian countries and has been active in the region for quite some time.
Certainly, Azerbaijan is also an active participant in all projects as a country that is located between Turkey and Central Asia and has outstanding relations with both sides. Moreover, the country is actively shaping the Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan triangular nucleus within the regional geopolitics, through being proactive in developing bilateral relations. What do the papers have to say? President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a visit to Uzbekistan in late March when the parties signed 15 contracts , covering various fields, such as transport, agriculture, trade, education, and information technologies. Shortly after that, in late June, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev also visited Uzbekistan and signed around 20 agreements . If we were to compare these two visits, we would notice that the signed agreements covered almost identical areas.
The agreements signed by the presidents of Turkey and Azerbaijan with the Central Asian leaders are calculated to serve a greater purpose
Interestingly, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had an extensive telephone conversation with his Uzbek colleague Shavkat Mirziyoyev before visiting Ankara in May, when the parties signed 14 agreements, which also implied the same fields as those signed between Turkey and Uzbekistan. Then Tokayev visited Azerbaijan in August. It appears Erdogan’s meetings with Central Asian leaders and Ilham Aliyev’s similar contacts are a 3-month-apart reflection of each other. This synchronicity in presidential meetings applies to other intergovernmental visits as well. If we add the equivalence of the documents signed, one would think that the parties are in the middle of a process of building the legal-normative foundation for some sort of deep integration . So, what could it be? Pillars in Turkish Union Economy expert Shamsi Rzali believes that the mid-term priority, meaning in the 10-year perspective , should be deepening bilateral integration . The first stage entails trade, whereas the second includes facilitating capital and labour flow and eliminating visas. The thirst stage should focus on building a common market and the fourth on adjusting the economic policy.
Shamzi Rzali: ‘Strengthening economic integration is impossible without intensity of political meetings. Economic integration always comes after political cooperation’
We are only just starting the first stage of the series, where the main target should be elevating the Organization of Turkic States into an economic alliance similar to the European Union . The countries are already taking preliminary steps in this direction. We should look into the following stages of economic integration for the long run . If we take the European Union as an example, such integration requires about 50 years of time. Economy expert from Ankara Neshat Gundogdu says Turkey establishes equal-level bonds with other Turkic states and this policy is highly appreciated. Such approach helps build true unity in the region. He admits that the Eurasian Economic Union could not reach the anticipated level. The economic cooperation that has formed as a result have made the countries dependent on each other in certain areas. It is certainly good for the budget, but no use for the economic development . Therefore, we cannot say that the Eurasian Economic Union has any future. The Organization of Turkic States, on the other hand, has a vision for 2030 , which includes an integration program.
Neshat Gundogdu: ‘The 2030 vision of the Organization of Turkic States includes an integration program’
The nuclei of the future union Such comprehensive integration may shape around several nuclei . Azerbaijan-Turkey nucleus is certainly one of them, and the states have reconfirmed their strategic alliance through the documents signed in the past two years. The second nucleus was supposed to be in Central Asia and is in fact being built.
As President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev paid a historic visit to Kazakhstan on 6 December 2021 , his colleague Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proposed establishing an intergovernmental council. Interestingly, the package of 22 documents these two neighbouring states signed resonated closely with the agreements Azerbaijan and Turkey would later sign. The most important one of these documents was the Declaration of Allied Relations, which implies signing a contract of alliance shortly . ‘This is a qualitatively new level in our relations, as alliance imposes new responsibilities on our states. The Intergovernmental Council I am proposing to establish will allow us to often have business meetings without the unnecessary formality’, Tokayev commented.
The 6-December-2021 Tokayev-Mirziyoyev meeting can be considered a turning point in the fate of the region
The trade volume between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan has been growing at a breakneck speed, exceeding 30% and reaching 4 billion USD . The goal is to bring it up to 10 billion in the nearest future. The two countries cooperate within the CIS, SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization) and finally the OTS (Organization of Turkic States). At the same time, the agreements signed and the normative legal base created recently demonstrate that there is an ongoing process of strengthening and elevating the latter onto a new level . The geopolitical backdrop is also there. The activities envisioned within the OTS may become the force to ensure safe and stable development for Turkic states on both shores of the Caspian Sea in the next normal . Cooperation within the OTS not only promises economic benefits for all states involved, but also warrants stronger political sustainability and geopolitical importance. Median Path The wearing-out global economy mainly manifested in disruption of logistics and communications . There used to be three corridors connecting the Far East to Europe: The Northern, Middle and Southern Corridors . The Russian-Ukrainian conflict rendered the Northern Corridor unsafe for both China and the rest of the world. The Southern Corridor entails problems around Iran and Afghanistan, making the Middle Corridor the most promising project .
One of the baseline scenarios for the Middle Corridor. These paths can branch out, too…
The current processes in the Middle Corridor project include increasing the share of Trans-Caspian cargo transportation , enhancing traditional ferry transport, and defining preferential tariffs. Azerbaijan is aiming at boosting the role of product exports to Europe over Turkey through the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and the cargo volume to Ukraine, Romania, and Turkey through benefiting from the Poti and Batumi ports in Georgia. On the other hand, the Zangazur corridor is offering a parallel route, which will extend to Nakhchivan, entails inclusion of Armenia into the processes and is to be connected over the Kars railroad. The declaration on establishment of the Trans-Caspian Corridor , signed on 1 April in Tbilisi Georgia among representatives of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkey instituted the legal basis for these plans. Building the ‘Turkestan-Shymkent-Tashkent’, ‘ Darwaza-Maktaaral-Jyzagh ’, and ‘Uchkuduk-Kyzylorda’ railroads as individual elements of the Middle Corridor is still on the agenda. The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railroad is another crucial project yet to be implemented. Uzbekistan is highly interested in fulfilling this project, which will enhance the transport and communication links between Azerbaijan and the Far Eastern countries. The growing rapport between Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan may actually make the project more relevant. Asgar Aitmatov , former foreign minister of Kyrgyzstan, president of Chingiz Aitmatov Issyk Kul Forum, and the son of the visionary writer Chingiz Aitmatov reminded in his interview to AzVision.az that President Sadyr Japarov’s official visit to Baku in April and meeting with Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev put an end to the period of stagnation between the two countries, marking a prosperity in bilateral relations . ‘We have intensified official traffic and our search for mutually beneficial areas of cooperation. Our governments are hard at work to determine specific areas of interaction. The sides are looking for opportunities to expand trade turnover, joint economic projects, and cultural collaboration,’ Aitmatov explained. Practically the entire world, primarily the European Union and China , are interested in the security of the Middle Corridor and stability of countries it passes through. This may be facilitated through the economic integration of Azerbaijan and Turkey with the Central Asian Turkic states , which is why all the major powers concerned in the Middle Corridor are interested in the integration of the Turkic states across the Caspian Sea . Expanding free trade among these countries, reducing customs tariffs, and aligning economic policies will stimulate reliability of the corridor.
We must work on translating classical-traditional ties among the Turkic states onto a modern business-ideological format
Such economic integration must rest upon ideological cornerstones . This is also true about the European Union. Therefore, setting in motion a deeper economic cooperation among the Turkic Belt countries requires a sound political-ideological foundation . Mutual visits of the presidents and the growing diplomatic traffic are capable of providing such political-ideological foundation. We must work on shifting classical ties such as common language, religion, morality, and culture into a more modern ideological format . It seems the fact that the signed agreements also include humanitarian relations serves the very same purpose. Tripartite Cooperation At the same time, responding to global challenges is not the sole goal of integration. Economic affinity to be built on political-ideological foundation promises great benefits to the Turkic states by virtue of cooperation as well. Saken Mukan , Kazakhstani political analyst and professor at the Department of International Relations and Management at the National Economy University believes that Kazakhstan can play the role of a logistically connecting link of sorts in enhancing trade between Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Further enhancing the tripartite cooperation might allow greater joint projects and minimizing the impact of costs arising from the consequences of sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation. Overall, tripartite economic cooperation among Azerbaijan (the leader in the South Caucasus), Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (the two leading countries in Central Asia) is of great interest, especially when the erosion of globalism has introduced a renewed essence into regional processes . Bakhtiyor Ergashev , Director of Uzbek Center for Research Initiatives ‘Ma’no’ (Meaning) says the three countries have great potential to further strengthen their economic, political, social, and humanitarian relations.
‘The Caspian Sea should become a space that connects countries and creates new opportunities for joint development and progress. The establishment of the Turkic Investment Fund could be beneficial in building joint hi-tech industries. Combined efforts always produce better results than individual efforts of countries’, Ergashev shared his views with Az.Vision.az . The fact that Uzbekistan without direct access to the Caspian Sea needs Kazakhstan to maintain ties with Azerbaijan and Turkey is what makes the tripartite cooperation even more crucial. It is not a one-sided requisite though, because Uzbekistan has a lot to offer to other two parties. Economist Khalid Karimli insists that Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan may greatly increase the benefits they reap under current conditions through initiating both bilateral and trilateral cooperative enterprises . These cooperatives seem particularly promising in automotive, petrochemical, and agricultural industries .
Khalid Karimli: ‘The three countries can implement great projects on both shores of the Caspian Sea together’
All three countries have a vast potential to produce, process and export agricultural products. This area can also become the central point for implementing political, economic, financial, technological, and investment efforts for all three countries. They could, for example, build joint clusters to produce, process and export agricultural goods, because there are crucial, solvent markets around our countries that can accept a significant amount of goods, such as the Middle East and Persian Gulf countries. The automotive industry is a prospering field in Uzbekistan at the moment. The country produces not only Chevrolets, but also Hyundai vehicles at a joint enterprise with Kazakhstan. Chemistry, pharmaceuticals, and light industries have been on the rise in Kazakhstan. The countries are planning to establish an international industry cooperation centre on the common border . This centre is envisioned to turn into the main trade and industry hub in Middle Asia . Azerbaijan plays the same role in the South Caucasus, Turkey in Western Asia , which also necessitates their integration. Connections at a Deeper Level The Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan triangle that is shaping as a separate nucleus within the OTS is born out of natural alliance logic . The ties that connect these countries go deeper than meets the eye. As President Ilham Aliyev visited Tashkent, he spoke Azerbaijani comfortably to the masters of the arts at the Kuksaroy Presidential Palace. This is a clear proof that the two peoples are much closer than imagined. ‘Our religion, language, culture, and roots are one. Our unity is obvious to anyone and we must make it eternal ’, Ilham Aliyev had said to Uzbek artists .
Ilham Aliyev’s comment on ‘I have discovered a new Uzbekistan for myself’ hinted at subtle goals…
There are numerous ties connecting Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that run much deeper. Over a million Kazakhs live Uzbekistan and there are 621 Uzbeks in Kazakhstan. The countries virtually have the biggest diasporas in each other’s territories. G.Mendikulova , famous diaspora researcher in Uzbekistan, prefers calling them irredentists . However, this approach is also not enough to fully describe the reality, because the border lines between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan were almost drawn with a ruler, similar to other countries in the Near East . Kindred peoples ended up leaving in their historic homelands, among their people of blood, but within the borders of the neighbouring state. The same can be told about Uzbeks living in Afghanistan . Over 2 million Uzbeks there are the fourth largest ethnic group in the country (comprising some 9-10 percent of the entire population, CIA reports ). Uzbek is spoken in several northern provinces of Afghanistan, which turns the Uzbeks into a crucial factor in terms of maintaining stability in the region. This means that Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan alliance is an essential condition for maintaining stability and development in Central Asia. As Baku joins and Ankara starts participating, it will open completely new horizons for the alliance. Azerbaijan and Turkey might seem to be outside the region geographically, but in fact, both countries and peoples are true natives of the region. Central Asia has historically been known as the arena for the ‘Big Game’, the confrontations between Russia and the West. The interests of the Turkic peoples were suppressed more than any other. Now the Turkic peoples and states are determined to end the big games and move on to greater deeds.