By Press TV
By Hassan Hanizadeh
The initiative to introduce a regional visa named “Shamgen” by Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq is a key step toward boosting regional cooperation among Islamic countries.
The word “Shamgen” which is somehow a regional version of the European Union’s “Schengen” is coined from “Sham,” Syria’s historical name.
The Greater Sham stretches from Mesopotamia in Iraq all the way to eastern Mediterranean, Jordan and occupied Palestine.
The “Shamgen” idea, first floated by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been welcomed by the Middle East countries.
Whether or not the initiative will come into force depends on how serious the four countries involved are. If implemented, the plan will set the stage for more tourists to visit the four countries and lay the groundwork for the establishment of a joint bank.
Although both Muslim and non-Muslim countries in the region enjoy a wealth of experience when it comes to working together in the field of commerce and trade, commercial cooperation has been neglected over the past half century due to external factors.
The Silk Road, built more than 2,000 years, ago was a symbol of trade cooperation between countries in Eastern and Western Asia, North Africa and Europe.
The Silk Road began from China, crossed India, Turkestan, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, and finally led to Europe.
All countries on the Silk Road benefited from the transit of goods via this route at the time, and the road helped boost the economies of the countries in the region.
Trade between the countries in the north and south was done easily despite limited transit facilities, and contributed to the nations’ welfare.
Notwithstanding differences in the political viewpoints of countries in East and West Asia, the Silk Road reinforced unity and cooperation among the regional states.
European countries, which, in the past, engaged in wars with each other over political and religious issues for decades, have now unified politically and economically under the European Union.
Racial, cultural, religious and linguistic differences did not weaken European countries’ unity, and the 25 nations have, in fact, developed a completely unified procedure within the framework of their common interests.
Likewise, the African Union has served to bring African states closer together as the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council has unified its six member nations.
Such an approach coupled with world countries’ tendency to avoid needless political tension has created a new climate for interaction and peaceful coexistence among nations.
Experience shows if wisdom takes over in different human societies, nations will soon get closer together and will be able to brush aside their differences.
Convergence among European countries can serve as a model of cooperation for countries in the East, namely Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq.
Although many regional cooperation organizations have emerged in Asia and the Middle East over the past 30 years, mutual cooperation among regional nations has never reached the desired level.
“Shamgen” which is a kind of regional visa can, under no circumstances, be compared to Europe’s “Schengen.”
The four Islamic countries including Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq have characteristics which are strikingly different from those of Europe, so the idea is only to draw on the EU’s experience.
All four countries have enormous economic and cultural potentialities which, if brought together, can depict a promising future for the region.
Many sociologists regard poverty and divergence among nations as the root causes of terrorism in the region.
Therefore, in order to root out terrorism, regional nations need to move toward complete political and cultural unity based on their capabilities.
Cooperation in the tourism sector is one way which can play a key role in promoting cultural cooperation among nations.
Tourists have long been honest promoters of cultures among different peoples.
Currently, trade among Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq is around USD 40 billion a year, which could cross the USD 200 billion mark should the “Shamgen” idea go into effect.
Although Western analysts see Erdogan’s idea as a nonstarter, the plan will set the state for a cultural and economic boom in the region if realized.
Through the “Shamgen” initiative, the four countries can prepare the ground to take on board other regional countries such as Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Pakistan and India in the future.
All in all, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq have taken the first step toward turning a new page in North-South cooperation.
This step can be seen as blazing a trail in the region as far as political, economic and cultural cooperation is concerned, so that Asia can reach unity in light of such interaction.