Monday, July 23, 2007

Turkey and Kazakhstan

From Central-Asia Caucasus Institute:


By Marat Yermukanov (01/10/2007 issue of the CACI Analyst)

A mass fight involving hundreds of Turkish and Kazakh workers of a construction company hired by Tengizchevroil which broke out in Atyrau (West Kazakhstan) on October 20 led, according to eyewitness reports, to deaths and dozens of heavy injuries, and triggered public anger in Kazakhstan. Last year, some workers were beaten to death in a similar brawl between local and foreign workers employed by the Turkish company GATE Inshaat in that region. But the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan and the Turkish Embassy reacted calmly and made simultaneous statements assuring that the incident would not affect in any way friendly relations between the fraternal countries.

The intensifying contacts between Astana and Ankara confirm these conclusions. Turkey recognizes the leading role of Kazakhstan in Central Asia and regards Astana as the main factor in implementing pan-Turkic ideas of unity. On November 17, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev attended the summit meeting of the heads of Turkic-speaking countries hosted by Turkey. The event, ignored by Uzbek President Islam Karimov, brought together Kurmanbek Bakiev of Kyrgyzstan, Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and Turkish leader Ahmet Nejdet Sezer, who signed a joint statement on trade and economic cooperation. The statement calls for joint efforts against terrorism, separatism, drugs and arms trafficking. Speaking at the summit, Nazarbayev said Turkic countries should make effective use of their geographic position and the transit potential of the region, and ensure stable development through economic integration. Kazakhstan, which plans to launch its second communications satellite of the KazSat series in 2008, would cooperate in space research with other Turkic nations.

Currently, slightly over 400 joint ventures operate in Kazakhstan. But of a total of $50 billion of investment volume in Kazakhstan, Turkey’s investment share makes up only $2 billion. Turkey accounts for barely 1.2% of Kazakhstan’s total trade volume which stands no comparison with Russian or Chinese trade activities. Traditionally, Turkey fills the construction and textile niche of Kazakhstan’s economy. In 2005, trade turnover between the countries reached $556.8 million, showing 13.8 percent growth from the $500 million level of 2004. Turkish sources forecast $1 billion trade turnover volume this year. But to improve its trade balance with Turkey, Kazakhstan will have to reduce imports of Turkish construction materials, textile and chemical products and export more raw materials. Currently, Kazakhstan’s exports to Turkey make up only $156.9 million, while imports of construction materials and textile (also largely brought in from China) have already exceeded $399 million. Turkey hopes to invest into Kazakhstan’s transport and telecommunications and energy industry, areas where it may face fierce competition from China and Russia. The Kazakh government increased employment quotas for Turkish workers hired for the booming construction sites of Astana.

When last June Kazakhstan joined the American-favored Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project, Moscow reacted jealously to that turn of events. Slowly but resolutely, Kazakhstan was distancing itself from the Kremlin’s ambivalent schemes of economic integration, leaving the doors open for talks with countries treated in Moscow with suspicion or even open animosity. Kazakhstan has never tired to assure Russian authorities that its relations with third parties are not directed against Kremlin. In July, transport and communications ministers from China, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia gathered in Astana to discuss the potentials of a transport corridor linking Central Asia with the South Caucasus and Western Europe. The route, known as TRACECA or TRAnsport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia, allows for increasing the annual cargo shipment capacity, taking into consideration the railway passage through the Bosporus now undertaken by Turkey, up to 30 million tons. Askar Mamin, transport and communications minister of Kazakhstan, indirectly addressing Moscow, said Kazakhstan as a transit country had to consider all possible routes of export from the point of view of their competitiveness. Kazakhstan also ponders on the construction of an oil refinery on the Black Sea jointly with Turkey.

Shared political goals of playing greater role on international scene will undoubtedly give new impetus to strengthening ties between Turkey and Kazakhstan. Astana has always supported the Turkish bid to join the European Union, just as Turkey welcomes Kazakhstan’s drive toward the WTO. Speaking at the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan in October this year, Nursultan Nazarbayev made a significant symbolic gesture of Turkic unity, saying it was high time to replace the Cyrillic script used in Kazakh language by Latin, adopted by all Turkic-speaking nations of Central Asia except Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. But far more important and palpable is the economic content of the newly-shaped integration between Turkic countries.

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