Having visited Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan on 5-10 March 2021, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his delegation held important contacts in the region. These visits reveal how serious Turkey is with Central Asia in its foreign policy and also show Turkey’s growing influence in the region. Indeed, while implementing Asia Anew Initiative, Turkey wants to improve its friendly connections with the region. Çavuşoğlu’s visit to those places can also be interpreted in this context. Therefore, these visits should be analyzed.
In regard to these visits, Çavuşoğlu’s first stop was Turkmenistan. Çavuşoğlu, who went to Ashgabat as the guest of his Turkmen counterpart Rashid Meredov, laid a wreath at the Independence Monument, and sought ways to improve bilateral cooperation by having meetings with them.[i] Relations have already been established between the two countries significantly. Although these relations are mostly based on energy, it is known that cultural diplomacy is also decisive. In fact, the Presidency of Religious Affairs has a Religious Services Consultancy in Turkmenistan. Similarly, Yunus Emre Foundation carries out activities in Turkmenistan with four educational institutions. While cultural diplomacy contributing to the friendship of the peoples of Turkey and Turkmenistan in their relations, energy diplomacy and security also bring the two states closer at the geopolitical level. The visit from Çavuşoğlu points out that existing relations will be further developed.
Çavuşoğlu and his delegation, who went to Uzbekistan following their visit to Turkmenistan, held various contacts in Uzbekistan’s regions such as Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. Meeting with business people and artisans in the region in his visit to Bukhara, Çavuşoğlu attended the opening ceremony of the Consulate General of the Republic of Turkey to Samarkand on 7 March 2021.
In his speech during the opening ceremony, Çavuşoğlu stated that the Consulate General of Turkey in Samarkand is of utmost importance and it would contribute to enforce economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation between the two countries.[ii] Already having hearts of Uzbek people through Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) and Türkiye Diyanet Foundation (TDV), it is safe to say that Turkey’s new consulate could improve these relations even further.
The most crucial theme of Çavuşoğlu’s visit to Uzbekistan was his meeting with Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on March 9, 2021. Çavuşoğlu thanked Uzbek leader for his hospitality, also sent regards of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey. At the meeting, they discussed the development of bilateral relations between the two countries and Mirziyoyev stated that the relations between Ankara and Tashkent have a strategic character. At the same time, the parties stressed that they were ready to promote joint education, cultural and humanitarian programs.[iii] This means that Turkey will adopt a foreign policy that TİKA, YTB and TDV are used heavily for public diplomacy.
After Uzbekistan, Turkey’s Foreign Minister’s last stop in Central Asia was Kyrgyzstan. Visiting Bishkek on March 10, 2021, Çavuşoğlu met with Ruslan Kazakbaev, the Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan and discussed current issues within the framework of strategic cooperation.[iv] Kazakbaev stated that, “Kyrgyzstan and Turkey are two brotherly countries with one language, one religion and one culture. There are no political problems between the two countries.”[v] He emphasized the common bond between Turkish and Kyrgyz peoples with his words. Kazakbaev also added that he believed Turkey should increase its public diplomacy activities in Kyrgyzstan by saying, “An agreement was signed for the opening of Turkish Maarif Foundation on my visit to Ankara. In the near future, the Turkish Maarif Foundation will start its activities in the country. The foundation is going to start opening educational institutions.” This also shows that public diplomacy plays a constructive role in the relations between Turkey and Kyrgyzstan.
Çavuşoğlu met with Sadyr Japarov, the President of Kyrgyzstan, as well and it was seen that the Kyrgyz leader thanked Turkey for the help to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. This reveals that Turkey’s humanitarian diplomacy enhanced its soft power in the region. Moreover, the parties declared that they are ready to do everything in their power to increase the bilateral trade volume.[vi]
In all these meetings, views were exchanged on international policy and regional partnership issues, including the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (Turkic Council), and evaluations on regional integration were made. Therefore, both Turkey and the Central Asian states expressed frankly to increase interaction and stated that the possibilities of cooperation should be expanded.
To conclude, it is possible to say that Çavuşoğlu’s contacts in the region took place in a positive atmosphere. Turkey focused on the development of economic relations with the governments of the region and it was seen that Turkey gained the sympathy of the local people through public diplomacy. In this new era with Turkey’s Asia Anew Initiative, it can be suggested that the Central Asia will take more place in Turkish foreign policy and with the regional countries, a basis will be established in the interest of all parties.
[i] “Глава МИД Турции Мевлют Чавушоглу Посещает Туркменистан (Glava MID Turtsii Mevlyut Chavushoglu Poseshchayet Turkmenistan)”, Turkmenportal.com, https://turkmenportal.com/blog/34910/glava-mid-turcii-mevlyut-chavushoglu-poseshchaet-turkmenistan, (Accessed: 10.03.2021).
[ii] “Turkish Delegation Visits Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand”, Uzdaily.com, http://uzdaily.com/en/post/64101, (Accessed: 10.03.2021).
[iii] “President of Uzbekistan Receives a Delegation of Turkey”, Uzdaily.com, http://uzdaily.com/en/post/64099, (Accessed: 10.03.2021).
[iv] “10 Mart 2021 Tarihinde Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Dışişleri Bakanı Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Kırgızistan’a Resmi Ziyaret Gerçekleştirecek”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan, https://mfa.gov.kg/tr/dm/posolstvo-kyrgyzskoy-respubliki-v-tureckoy-respublike/news/11003, (Accessed: 10.03.2021).
[v] Nazir Aliyev Tayfur, “Kırgızistan Dışişleri Bakanı Kazakbayev: Kırgızistan ile Türkiye Dili Bir Dini Bir İki Kardeş Ülkedir”, Anadolu Ajansı, https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/politika/kirgizistan-disisleri-bakani-kazakbayev-kirgizistan-ile-turkiye-dili-bir-dini-bir-iki-kardes-ulkedir/2170640, (Accessed: 11.03.2021).
[vi] “Cumhurbaşkanı Sadır Caparov, Türkiye Dışişleri Bakanı Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’nu Kabul Etti”, http://tr.kabar.kg/news/cumhurba-kan-sad-r-caparov-turkiye-d-i-leri-bakan-mevlut-cavu-o-lunu-kabul-etti/, (Accessed: 10.03.2021).
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