Do the Uzbek-Turkish relations get more cordial? Even if they do, the process is slow
Uzbek-Turkish business forum took place in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, on December 22. Organized by the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Economic Affairs, Investments, and Trade and the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Trade, the meeting sought to expand bilateral trade and economic cooperation and advance investments.
National delegations were headed by deputy ministers Nasriddin Najimov (Uzbekistan) and Ulker Guzel (Turkey).
The heads of Uzbek ministries and concerns were notably absent from the forum. Plaudits in the media notwithstanding, the meeting was essentially a formality. No breakthrough in the Uzbek-Turkish economic relations is anticipated.
One of the participants said that the Uzbeks invited Turkish businessmen to buy and invest in 63 bankrupt enterprises in Uzbekistan. "Impoverished as they are, these enterprises are but empty husks nowadays. They have to be restored from scratch... Before the Turkish delegation's visit, however, the Uzbeks promised to offer the guests fully operational enterprises to invest in," he added.
Sources say that the visitors proved predictably reluctant to accept the offer. "The Turks trusted the Uzbek authorities in the early 1990s and heavily invested in impoverished enterprises here. Once they made them operational again, however, the Uzbek regime commandeered the enterprises again under various pretexts. Same thing is happening here. The Turks are invited to plant trees so that the Uzbeks will reap the harvest afterwards," participant in the forum said.
The forum took place behind the closed doors as though the Uzbek authorities were ashamed or had something to hide from general public. Uzbek state officials went to great lengths to spare Turkish businessmen the necessity to talk to independent journalists. Correspondents of Turkish media outlets and Uzbek officious newspapers were the only representatives of the media permitted to cover the forum.
According to official Ankara, trade turnover with Uzbekistan amounted to $840 million in 2007. The Turks expect it to exceed $1 billion this year.
Ferghana.Ru source in the ministry, however, said that the list had been compiled by the National Security Service. "Our ministry, Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Embassy of Turkey compiled a long list at first. A day before the meeting, however, the National Security Service provided its own list of correspondents to be permitted at the forum, and this list was quite short indeed. Moreover, we were told that the hotel Intercontinental was a wrong site for the forum and that we should arrange it on the premises of the International Business Center. One has to produce papers to enter this latter, you know," the source said.
Official of the ministry said that these unexpected changes unnerved the Embassy of Turkey and local bureau of TIKA news agency (Turkey). To quote the source, "The Turks wanted the event covered by as many journalists as possible, but the Uzbek authorities would not hear of it."
The Uzbeks turned down the offer of a joint press conference after the forum made by the visitors.
All these nuances notwithstanding, the Turkish guests retained certain optimism with regard to the future of the bilateral economic relations. Guzel said that the Turkish business community viewed Uzbekistan as an important partner in Central Asia.
According to Guzel, Turkish business circles had found Uzbek presentations in Turkey (Investment Climate and Capacities of Uzbekistan, Promising Textile Projects, Turkish Businesses' Participation in Uzbek Footwear Industry, Turkish Businesses' Participation in Construction Materials Production Sphere, Participation in Privatization) quite interesting.
Some Turkish businessmen, officials of the Embassy of Turkey, and TIKA representatives found no faults with the reception. "As a matter of fact, Tashkent's attitude towards Turkey and its initiatives was considerably worse not long ago," they said.
Spokesmen for the Turkish business community said that the Turkish Association of Khokims (heads of administrations) raised $100,000 for Uzbekistan this October. The sum was split between the boarding school for near-sighted children in Tashkent, Soglom Avlod Uchun foundation, and Association of Handicapped Businesswomen.
The Association of Khokims transacted $20,000 for the water supply development project in the Yangiyul district of the Tashkent region. "We informed Uzbek media outlets and invited local journalists to come and cover this event. Not one of them turned up. Some of them later called to apologize. They said their superiors and the authorities had expressly prohibited it," a Turkish businessman said. "It's different now. Our Uzbek friends did permit at least some journalists to attend the forum."
Optimism displayed by the Turks leaves the impression that official Ankara would dearly like to meet Tashkent halfway but it is Tashkent that avoids rapprochement. It seems that Tashkent has not yet forgiven Turkey for its vote for an international investigation of the tragedy in Andijan. A candidate for the European Union, Turkey joined the EU chorus condemning the use of children in cotton harvesting in Uzbekistan, and this criticism did not exactly endear Turkey to the Uzbek authorities either.
There is, however, one other nuance to be considered. Tashkent keeps signalling to Ankara that it should extradite Erk party leader Muhammad Salikh. Turkey pretend not to understand because this is really one thing it cannot afford. First, Salikh has the status of a political refugee granted by the UN. Second, Turkey wants EU membership and therefore refuses to violate human rights in so outrageous a manner.
In a word, the Uzbek-Turkish relations are not exactly cordial, and this state of affairs cannot help affecting their trade and economic ties.