The visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Astana earlier this year highlighted one of the major geopolitical and economic relationships across Eurasia: Kazakhstan and Turkey have quietly developed a historically-based, but modern and economically beneficial relationship.
“Turkey is an important and reliable partner of Kazakhstan on the Eurasian continent. The Strategic nature of our partnership was consolidated during the official visit of the head of the Kazakh state to Turkey in October 2009. It is due not only to the historical and cultural proximity between our fraternal peoples, but also the increased role of Astana and Ankara in regional and global politics, and the authority of the two countries in the Muslim and Turkic world,” said Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov.
The “AA” partnership between Astana and Ankara has deep roots. Turkey was the first nation to establish full diplomatic relations with Kazakhstan after it won its independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in December 1991.
The two nations partnered in creating the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Today, CICA has 22 member nations and has become one of the major forums and structures for guarding international peace and security across all of Asia.
The two nations are also close diplomatic partners in the Istanbul Process, which is trying to bring peace at last to Afghanistan.
The Turkish-Kazakh relationship took a giant leap forward when President Nursultan Nazarbayev visited Ankara in October 2012 and the two nations set up the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council. The Council was followed by a Joint Strategic Planning Group. It held its first meeting on April 26 during Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s visit to Astana.
The JSPG is working on plans to expand a wide range of bilateral issues, “including the status and prospects of political dialogue, trade and economic, investment, military-technical, and cultural and humanitarian cooperation, inter-parliamentary relations and issues of cooperation in the security sphere,” the Trend news agency reported.
The timing appears ripe in both countries to take their special relationship to a new level, Asian Economic Affairs Analyst Shihoko Goto of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC told EdgeKz.
“The timing is right, the geography is right and the comparable levels of economic development are right,” Goto said. “Kazakhstan and Turkey are at highly complementary stages of economic development and each of them has a great deal more to offer the other.”
Kazakhstan is one of the greatest energy producers in Asia and will be one of the top five energy exporting nations in the world by 2020, Goto noted. That is important to energy-starved Turkey. However, Turkey’s position and cooperation are crucial for Kazakhstan to export both its energy and its increasing output of grain and meat to the world, she added.
“Geography is important. Location is important,” Goto said. “Turkey is the gateway to Europe and to the Orient. The old Ottoman Empire was a great beneficiary of the ancient Silk Road and now it stands to benefit from Kazakhstan’s Western-Europe-to-Western-China transportation corridor, which is the Silk Road of the new millennium.”
Richard Weitz, director of military and political affairs at the Hudson Institute in Washington and one of America’s leading experts on Central Asia, said that the roots of the Turkish-Kazakhstan relationship went even further back in history and culture.
“The two peoples are closely related. They were both nomadic nations of the Eurasian steppe,” Weitz told EdgeKz. “They have a strong shared religious and cultural heritage and strong ethnic ties. These connections and commonalities count for a lot.”
Goto agreed with this analysis and said the confluence of ancient historical factors and contemporary shared economic interests make the relationship a deeply important one.
“Kazakhstan and Turkey share a bilateral comfort zone,” she told EdgeKz. “They like doing business with each other. They understand and trust each other.”
That relationship is now on a roll. Foreign Minister Idrissov on greeting his Turkish counterpart noted three major breakthrough events last year that all served to boost the relationship: The visit to Astana of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on May 22-24, 2012; the visit to Kazakhstan of the head of Turkey’s parliament, chairman of the Grand National Assembly Cemil Cicek from September 26 to September 28 and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s visit to the Turkish capital Ankara on Oct.11-12, 2012.
The two nations have agreed on an Action Plan to carry out their ambitious four-year New Synergies economic program from 2012 to 2015 and the results are already apparent. From 2010 through the end of 2012, bilateral trade soared by more than 200 percent from $1.9 billion to $4 billion. By the end of 2012, Kazakhstan’s investments in Turkey had reached nearly a billion dollars—$978.1 million. Turkish investment in Kazakhstan was almost as great at $859.8 million.
“Turkey and Kazakhstan are benefitting in their relationship from the economics of relative advantage,” Goto said.
Turkey, she noted, has one of the most advanced and fastest growing industrial economies in the Middle East and Eurasian regions and plays a leading role in the construction industry in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is a lucrative and rapidly expanding export market for Turkish products.
These relations are set to expand further. On May 8 of this year, President Nazarbayev met with Rifat Hisarchiklyoglu, president of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges who was visiting Astana. Hisarchiklyoglu thanked Nazarbayev for the meeting and said that his visit to Kazakhstan was aimed at further strengthening the cooperation between the business circles of the two countries.
He also expressed confidence that the goal set by Nazarbayev and Erdogan last year to increase bilateral trade to $10 billion will soon be fulfilled, the presidential press service of Kazakhstan reported.
“A group of Turkish businessmen plans to visit Kazakhstan to implement some investment projects,” Hisarchiklyoglu said.
Leading businessmen from both countries have also agreed to work together on the development of industrial and innovation zones, and Turkish enterprises are going to cooperate with Kazakh National Economic Chamber Atameken on transport and logistics projects, the presidential press service report said.
Goto said these goals would probably be achieved because both countries were in the process of reevaluating their traditional economic relationships and looking to develop new ones they were more comfortable with. “It is a time for reconsideration in both countries,” Goto told EdgeKz. “Leaders in both nations are asking the same kinds of questions: What kind of economy are you striving for? Turkey is expanding its industrial base but it needs to expand its export markets and diversify its supply of energy. It also wants to attract foreign direct investment. Kazakhstan offers great opportunities in all those areas.
“Turkey is also in something of a process of reorientation away from the European Union,” Goto said. “For generations, it has looked to strengthen its ties with Europe, but the growing structural difficulties of the EU and its main economies and the problems in the euro-zone have led to a major reassessment. There are many in Turkey who believe there are greater opportunities to be found by expanding into markets in the Middle East and across Eurasia in smaller economies that are less developed and looking to expand.
“The growing interest of Turkey into working with Kazakhstan and expanding its presence in Central Asia should be seen as a kind of ‘Plan B’ that is a new alternative to increasing trade ties with nations in the EU,” she said.
British financial analyst Martin Hutchinson of BreakingNews.com, an expert on emerging economies, told EdgeKz that Central Asia is increasingly attractive as a major energy source for Turkey compared to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
“Turkey regards Central Asia as far safer and more stable in terms of its political systems and relative lack of internal threats to the states in the region,” he added. “It is far away from the many conflicts and war fears of the Middle East zone.”
Also, “There is a natural synergy between Turkey and Kazakhstan in terms of oil and gas supply and demand and the geography and logic of major transportation and export routes for them,” Hutchinson said.
Goto compared the relationship between Turkey and Kazakhstan to that between South Korea and Indonesia, in Southeast Asia.
“In both cases you see a vigorous, advanced and rapidly expanding industrial economy with a great hunger for resources, especially oil and gas on the one hand, and a nation with a far larger territory on the other. Kazakhstan, like Indonesia, has enormous natural resources and is seeking as much foreign direct investment (FDI) as it can get to rapidly expand its own industrial base. Turkey can fulfill that role for Kazakhstan just as South Korea does for Indonesia. And, of course, South Korea is also a very important investor in Kazakhstan,” she said.
The long close friendship between the Turkish and Kazakh peoples from ancient times, therefore, has many reasons for flourishing anew in the 21st century. The shared visions of the two countries’ leaders are well on the way to being fulfilled.