By Bernhard Schell
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Sharshenovich Atambayev and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are leaving no stone unturned to intensify and deepen cultural, political, economic and military relations between the two countries based on vision of a Turkic peoples’ identity. But both at home and abroad they do not always come across undiluted approval.
“There is quite a cautious and negative attitude towards the Turkish presence and influence in Kyrgyz society,” says Valentin Bogatyriev, co-author of a new study published by the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) close to the Social Democratic Party. He refers to a recent sociological survey which finds that Turkey comes last among the countries cooperation with which is considered important for the national interests of Kyrgyzstan.
Turkey was the very first country to recognize its independence in 1991. More than 100 agreements and cooperation protocols including communication and military issues have been signed over the last two decades. The official dialogue between top political leaders of both countries is vivid. Turkish Airlines are providing a very important gateway to the world for numerous destinations.
Besides, as Katja Meyer, Resident Director of FES in Kyrgyzstan points out, Turkey’s secular democracy within a predominantly Muslim population is “an interesting model” for many people in the modern Kyrgyz state. Both languages have the same Turkic origin. Turkey itself demonstrates a strong interest of reviving and revitalizing the ties between Turkic nations and cultures. In 2012, Kyrgyzstan took over the chairmanship of the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic nations.
But despite the breadth of its activities, says Bogatyriev, Turkey has had “no significant impact on Kyrgyzstan’s economic development” and there is no strengthening of its political influence due to it in recent years. In fact, the presence of Turkish capital and business in Kyrgyzstan has a mixed public and political reception in the country. “Nationalist groups and political parties claim that Turks, who have obtained the opportunity to freely conduct their business in Kyrgyzstan, are guilty of misbehaviour: they humiliate Kyrgyz people, look down on them and deceive them,” states Bogatyriev.
This section of the public believes that as Prime Minister (from December 17, 2010 to December 1, 2011, and earlier from March 29, 2007 until November 28, 2007) President Atambaev “strengthened relations with Turkey and opened wider the gate of Kyrgyzstan for Turkish entrepreneurs willing to do business in the country, but that Turkish ‘entrepreneurs’ have exploited this not only to carry out economic activities, but also to spread their influence – that some people see as a policy of Pan-Turkism”.
Bogatyriev adds: Atambaev is interested in boosting ties with Turkey because of his good relations with Turkish leaders, “and his own personal ties, business and assets in the Republic of Turkey”. But these preferences are viewed with suspicion by Russia and are forcing Atambaev to tread carefully in his relations with the Turkish side.
“The warming of relations with Turkey is not well received by the Chinese leadership (either), which reacted very negatively to the speeches of Erdogan in support of the Chinese Uigurs during the disturbances in Urumqi,” says the study. “During his visit to Kyrgyzstan in February 2011, Erdogan suggested a trilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Russia, as both countries Kyrgyzstan and Turkey actively cooperate with the country and a number of issues of concern to them could be addressed within trilateral talks. However, such a meeting has not been held so far, because the format seems unacceptable for the Russian side.”
The study adds: “Besides, regular statements by the Kyrgyz leadership about the formation of a parliamentary republic following the example of Turkey are also perceived negatively by Russia, which considers the transition to parliamentary rule in Kyrgyzstan as a serious mistake.
“The Prime Minister Atambaev in April 2011, concluding his visit to Ankara, stated that Kyrgyzstan plans to establish a joint economic zone with Turkey. He called Turkey a strategic partner of Kyrgyzstan. He explained that Turkey, just like Russia, ‘is a brotherly country for us’. He added: In 2011 we want to sign an agreement to access to the Customs Union. And then to create a single space with Russia and Turkey, with its centre in Bishkek.”
Solid contractual legal framework
Two policy documents – a ‘Treaty for Eternal Friendship and Cooperation between the Kyrgyz Republic and the Turkish Republic’, dated October 24, 1997, and a Joint Declaration of the Heads of the two countries ‘Kyrgyzstan and Turkey together in the XXI century’, made on July 1, 1999, are the fundamental documents reflecting the internal content and spirit of relationships between the two countries.
Apart from these fundamental treaties and declarations, Kyrgyz-Turkish relations have a solid contractual legal framework consisting of more than 100 treaties, agreements and protocols governing issues of the current and future cooperation in various spheres, including political, economic, trade, cultural and humanitarian, scientific, educational, military, technical and others.
Among these are: the Agreement on Cooperation in the Public Health sector, Memorandum on the fundamentals of Customs Relations, Agreement on Trade and Economic cooperation, and Military Cooperation Agreement.
Economic cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Turkey has developed within the framework of the main provisions of about 50 agreements and contracts signed over the years. Providing each other most favoured nation treatment in respect to customs duties and other advantages for import and export of goods are envisaged by the fundamental Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation.
It was in order to implement this agreement and further expand trade and economic cooperation that the Joint Kyrgyz-Turkish Intergovernmental Economic Commission was established. Turkey ranks second in terms of the volume of investments (more than $450 million) invested in the Kyrgyz economy from abroad. The general trends in trade relations have not radically changed and Turkish supplies still dominate in trade between the two countries.
TIKA (Turkish Agency for Cooperation and Development under the Office of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey) is one of the key channels for Turkey’s participation in providing assistance to Kyrgyzstan.
The Kyrgyz Republic ranks second in Eurasia for the number of projects implemented jointly with TIKA. The total financial resources allocated by TIKA to Kyrgyzstan for the period from 1992-2011 exceed $18 million.
TIKA opened its headquarters in the brotherly Kyrgyz Republic in 1992. Among the Eurasian countries, the Kyrgyz Republic was one of the first countries to join the activities of TIKA. The Bishkek Coordination Office of TICA programs was opened in Kyrgyzstan in September 1993 within the ‘Protocol of Cooperation’ signed on April 8, 1993 between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic, and was one of the first offices of TICA established abroad.
TIKA projects cover a variety of areas, including improvement of public administration and local self-government, law enforcement system, educational projects and projects in health, culture and science sectors. TIKA assisted participation of Kyrgyz specialists in many international conferences, training courses, congresses, workshops, working meetings and exhibitions.
Cultural and humanitarian cooperation is another important sphere through which Turkish influence has been advanced, says the study. This is one of the most advanced sectors of the Kyrgyz-Turkish cooperation. Currently, there are about 1700 students from Kyrgyzstan studying in educational establishments in Turkey, more than 750 of them funded by the Turkish government and the rest studying privately. More than 1500 Turkish students are studying in universities in Kyrgyzstan.
At the same time, the study adds, Turkey’s educational policy in Kyrgyzstan has caused some concern in the Kyrgyz society. Many people believe that young people studying in Turkish educational institutions could get isolated from their own education system and this could lead to the creation of a generation more at home with Turkish language, customs and traditions; and that Kyrgyz youth educated in secondary and higher educational establishments in Turkey, when returning home, might represent a big threat for Kyrgyzstan.
“Military cooperation is another high profile area in Kyrgyz-Turkish relations. It should be noted that during incursions by international terrorist groups in the southern regions of the country, Turkey has been one of the first countries to provide assistance,” says Bogatyriev, co-author of the study.
Military agencies from both parties have been cooperating since 1993. The military cooperation agreement signed between the two states covers cooperation in: military education and training; exchange of military delegations and observers during exercises; organization of visits, exchange of experiences and information on common issues; joint preparation for peacekeeping operations; organization of training, exchange of information and experience to counter international terrorist activity; exchange and secure storage of information; defence industry, and technical military cooperation; co-operation in the area of military history, archives, military publications, military museums; and cultural exchange for the armed forces of the two countries.
Other activities are carried out within the framework of NATO’s ‘Partnership for Peace’ program. Each year about 100 cadets from the Kyrgyzstan are educated and trained in the leading military educational establishments in the Republic of Turkey, among them the Higher Military Academy ‘Gülhane’ Military Medical Academy, Higher Combined Arms Military College, Supreme School of the gendarmerie and several military lyceums.
Every year Turkey provides grants to Kyrgyzstan for the reorganization of the armed forces, also technical military assistance to strengthen the defence system and train military personnel. Turkish instructors placed in the Armed Forces of the Kyrgyz Republic share their experiences of mountainous terrain and sniper training with local counterparts.
For several years Turkey has been providing at no cost logistics, clothing, medical equipment, food, and means of communication to the Kyrgyzstan army. During this period, Turkey has provided military and technical assistance to Kyrgyzstan’s border service to the value of 4.4 million USD.
The Kyrgyz and the Turkish authorities work together in several international organizations. Turkey helped the Kyrgyz Republic in its accession to the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) and ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization). However, Kyrgyzstan has not been particularly active on a number of issues of concern to Turkey, including the Armenian Genocide issue and the Kurdish issue.
It was only in November 2007 at the XI Congress of Friendship, Brotherhood and Cooperation of Turkic states, held in Baku, that participants in the Congress adopted a number of documents refuting the events of the Armenian Genocide and condemning the actions of Armenia and its policy of occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.