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Reform Process in Central Asia-Caucasia: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Armenia

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The Eurasian region, which has emerged as the heartland of the “New Big Game” within the framework of the changing international system, continues to be the scene of direct and indirect interventions and reckonings. In this context, “center-periphery” relations have gained more importance for the states of the region at a time when the ruptures in geopolitical fault lines are increasing day by day and the region is trying to destabilize the region through current-potential crisis areas.

In this context, we come across three types of center-periphery relations: Firstly, the nation-states within themselves, secondly, what nation-states are trying to achieve with the countries and historical geographies in their immediate environment-dominated/priority regions, thirdly, nation-states’ policies towards becoming a “World State”.

The future of center-periphery relations, which is based primarily on the unity of the state-nation in the nation-state building processes, is undoubtedly equivalent to the fate of countries. The problems faced by the countries that cannot achieve this, especially survival, are obvious.

In regions or countries, where power struggles are witnessed, states are not only based on ethnic-religious or sectarian differences, but also, we are witnessing that attempts are made to destabilize and bring them to their knees through mismanagement, in this context, especially on socio-economic and political problems. What happened in the Middle East and African countries before and after the “Arab Spring” and the example of Afghanistan, gives us a lot of insight.

Apart from giving an idea, we see that in all nation-states activate their independence reflexes, it is inevitable for them to enter a restructuring process in line with their historical, geographical and country realities. In other words, a state in line with the realities of the new world order under construction and a strong center-periphery structure are of great importance for the independence and sovereignty of nation-states, and the future of their territorial integrity and unitary structures.

Regionally strengthened cooperation (building regional center-periphery) is undoubtedly essential for nation-states to became much stronger from this process, especially at a time when the power struggle, which is carried out mainly by close circles, intensifies. This undoubtedly requires a visionary leadership and a historical sense of mission.

The Truth Kazakhstan Reminds: Independence Comes with Wisdom

Although the recent events in Kazakhstan have come to the fore with an undesirable crisis dimension, the state mind embodied in the person of President Qassim-Jomart Tokayev and his team, and that the crisis was overcome with the least cost should not be ignored.

President Tokayev’s calls for reform to strengthen the state-nation unity, which has largely dominated the “State to the Nation” speeches since 2019 has once again confirmed in January 2022, and this early detection has played a significant role to prevent expansion and deepening of the events.

To put it more concretely, the following five priorities in President Tokayev’s speech ,n 2019 titled “Constructive Social Dialogue, the Basis for Stability and Development of Kazakhstan” were quite remarkable in terms of determinations for the process and setting a roadmap for it: 1. “Modern Effective State”; 2. “Ensuring the Rights and Safety of Citizens”; 3. “Fast Growing Inclusive Economy”; 4. “The New Era of Social Modernization”; 5. “Strong Regions and Strong Country”.

The third address to the nation titled “People’s Unity and Systematic Reforms Are a Solid Foundation for the Welfare of the Country”, delivered on September 1, 2021, conveyed President Tokayev’s determination to “build a strong, just and progressive state” that considers the realities of the country-region-world. It was remarkable in that it showed up once again.

These issues, which stand out as important milestones in the “State with the Voice of the People” process, undoubtedly point to a very comprehensive reform process aimed at the trust of the people in the system. President Tokayev, after the events in Kazakhstan, has started to carry out these reforms with concrete applications from speech to action without delay.

President Tokayev’s determination during the events, and the steps he took to restructure the state within the scope of the “New Kazakhstan” movement, and the reforms he put into practice, undoubtedly have a great impact on the future of the region as well as the welfare, peace and security of the Kazakh people. Kazakhstan’s understanding of cooperation to share its potential-richness with her geography brings the country to the fore as an independent and sovereign state in the new world order, together with the region. It seems that the understanding of “a strong country with the region” will show itself more clearly with more comprehensive reform movements in the upcoming period.

On the other hand, it is obvious that the steps to be taken should be spread over time. Because it is known that some revolutions made in haste and imposed from above do not give the expected results in the medium and long term. In this context, it is necessary to remember Mr. Tokayev’s statements that his country needs a language reform and a comprehensive examination. Mr. Tokayev said, “We need to carry out a language reform. And here the point is not a quick transition to the Latin alphabet. This issue needs to be approached with all seriousness.”[1]  statements are noteworthy. Because the reforms must be skillfully planned and implemented meticulously. Similarly, the President of Kazakhstan displays an example of wise leadership by approaching the protests in the country with common sense. Mr. Tokayev and his colleagues, who do not compromise on the national security and territorial integrity of Kazakhstan, are fighting against the terrorized groups on the street; it does not ignore the masses, who voice their democratic demands in good faith. As a matter of fact, the steps he took to eliminate the inequality in income distribution confirm this assumption. However, time is needed in the construction process of New Kazakhstan.

Route of Reform in New Uzbekistan: Third Renaissance

During the Kazakhstan protests, where geopolitical fault lines in Central Asia were tried to be activated, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko made a strange statement warning Uzbekistan. Although that statement points out that some actors, who are disturbed by the reform processes in Uzbekistan, may take various initiatives to destabilize this country, the new Uzbekistan focused on creating a prosperous society under the leadership of Mr. Mirziyoyev, and it is obvious that he strives for peace and stability.

In fact, New Uzbekistan is experiencing the “Third Renaissance” period due to the policies of Mr. Mirziyoyev and his team.

The roadmap of the Third Renaissance implemented under the leadership of the New Uzbekistan Movement led by Mr. Mirziyoyev, is based on constructive cooperation developed within the framework of respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of states.

Here, while the Tashkent administration made the state one of the most respected members of the international community; also aims to return the developed relations to the country as an investment in the economic sense. Uzbekistan is also carrying out a series of human rights and democratization reforms to reassure investors. Thus, he envisions a bright future for his own people. Therefore, the development goals of New Uzbekistan can be summarized as “Strong relations with states and international organizations, strong economy and strong democracy.”

In line with those goals, the Tashkent administration has focused on integrating with the world with the initiatives and breakthroughs it has made since Mr. Mirziyoyev became President. In this context, Uzbekistan, on the one hand, turns its geopolitical position, which provides Central Asia-South Asia connectivity, to an advantage; on the other hand, the Central Asia-Caspian Sea-Caucasus-Turkey-Europe route; that is, it is opening up to the world using the Middle Line. In addition, Uzbekistan is calling on all states that a different future is possible with the peaceful relations it has developed. As a matter of fact, in the face of the Afghanistan problem, which may turn the Eurasian geography into a ring of fire, Tashkent reveals that a peaceful future is possible in which all states will gain through its approach that prioritizes humanitarian diplomacy and its efforts to include Afghanistan in international projects.

Uzbekistan turns its peaceful policies into investments for the economic development of the country. In other words, Tashkent transforms the constructive relations it has established with the world into economic input. Thanks to this, inflation, which was 18.8% in December 2017, decreased to 10% in December 2021. Now the target is to reduce inflation to 5% by December 2023.[2] The Tashkent administration adopted the 2022-2026 Development Strategy in order to increase the purchasing power of the people, to increase the per capita income to 4000 dollars, to create employment and to eliminate unemployment.

The aim here is to expand sectors such as energy, chemical industry, pharmaceutical industry, renewable energy, furniture, agriculture, animal husbandry and tourism, thanks to the reforms to be made. For this reason, Uzbekistan turns to liberalization processes, makes privatization moves against monopoly and finally adapts to its free economy. The success of all these requires meeting the expectation of foreign investment.

Under the leadership of Mr. Mirziyoyev, Tashkent, which wants to offer its people a prosperous future, strives for the New Uzbekistan to be a state that respects human rights based on democratic values. It would not be wrong to say that this effort is also reassuring for the investor. Therefore, Uzbekistan, which has made important reforms under the visionary leadership of Mr. Mirziyoyev and signaled that it will continue to do so, is walking resolutely towards its 2026 Goals.

Condition for Permanent Peace in the Caucasus: Integration of Armenia with the World

Nikol Pashinyan, who came to power with the Velvet Revolution in 2018, has a mindset that argues that it is not difficult to imagine a different future in the Caucasus, where ethnopolitical conflicts come to the fore.

In this sense, the Moscow Declaration of 10 November 2020, signed after the Second Karabakh War, seems to have paved the way for the establishment of regional peace. The way to establish lasting peace in the region is through Armenia’s successful normalization processes with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Although Pashinyan became the target of social events that broke out after the Second Karabakh War and was exposed to a coup attempt, he was able to successfully overcome the difficulties he faced in domestic politics. In particular, the overwhelming victory in the early elections held after the Second Karabakh War shows that the Armenian community wants change. The direction of change is shaped by the demand for peace.

The main difficulty that slows down the pace of change in Armenia is that the politicians known as the Karabakh Clan, and their supporters still advocate pro-occupation policies. However, the occupation leads to the isolation of Armenia from the international community. This impoverishes the Armenian people. However, some processes that came to the fore with the idea of the Six Cooperation Platform proposed in the context of normalization efforts and promising with important steps in this direction will facilitate the integration of Armenia to the West, as well as open the door for the country to achieve geopolitical and geoeconomic gains through various projects, especially the Middle Line. In a scenario where all Caucasian countries will gain, Armenia can become the center of transportation and energy projects.

At this point, it is essential to state that more than a year has passed since the Second Karabakh War and to state that concrete steps must be taken to determine the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and open the Zangezur Corridor. Because Pashinyan, who survived the political chaos in the country with great success, became the leading actor of the country’s politics after Armen Sarkisyan resigned from the Presidency. As a matter of fact, it is predicted that the candidate of Pashinyan’s party, the Civil Contract Party, will be elected President. Therefore, Pashinyan is in a stronger position than ever to implement his ideal foreign policy. Considering that Pashinyan is a person who strives for Westernization goals, it is not abnormal to expect him to take decisive steps in this regard. This is what the society wants.

As a result, the states that gained their independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union gained 30 years of experience in the fragile Eurasian geopolitics and are now taking a determined stance towards becoming a strong state. In this context, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Armenia are at the forefront of the states that take steps towards liberalization in economy, domestic politics and foreign policy and take care to establish strong ties with the world. At a time when imperial states with global ambitions want to stage the New Great Game with a new version, the reform processes carried out in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Armenia increase the belief that a different future is possible in which peace is built. Moreover, these reform processes promise a prosperous future to the peoples of the mentioned countries.

[1] “Токаев заявил, что Казахстану нужна языковая реформа”, Central Asia, https://centralasia.media/news:1763375, (Date of Accession: 20.02.2022).

[2] Eldor Tulyakov, “Economic Development as a Priority in the Development Strategy of Uzbekistan for 2022-2026”, ANKASAM, https://www.ankasam.org/economic-development-as-a-priority-in-the-development-strategy-of-uzbekistan-for-2022-2026/?lang=en, (Date of Accession: 17.02.2022).

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin EROLhttps://www.ankasam.org/author/mse/?lang=en
1969 Dörtyol-Hatay doğumlu olan Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, Boğaziçi Üniversitesi (BÜ) Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden 1993 yılında mezun oldu. BÜ’de 1995 yılında Yüksek Lisans çalışmasını tamamlayan Erol, aynı yıl BÜ’de doktora programına kabul edildi. Ankara Üniversitesi’nde doktorasını 2005’de tamamlayan Erol, 2009 yılında “Uluslararası İlişkiler” alanında doçent ve 2014 yılında da Profesörlük unvanlarını aldı. 2000-2006 tarihleri arasında Avrasya Stratejik Araştırmaları Merkezi (ASAM)’nde görev yapan Erol, 2009 yılında Stratejik Düşünce Enstitüsü’nün (SDE) Kurucu Başkanlığı ve Yönetim Kurulu Üyeliği görevlerinde bulundu. Uluslararası Strateji ve Güvenlik Araştırmaları Merkezi (USGAM)’nin de kurucu başkanı olan Prof. Erol, Yeni Türkiye Stratejik Araştırmalar Merkezi (YTSAM) Uluslararası İlişkiler Enstitüsü Başkanlığını da yürütmektedir. Prof. Erol, Gazi Üniversitesi Stratejik Araştırmalar Merkezi (GAZİSAM) Müdürlüğü görevinde de bulunmuştur. 2007 yılında Türk Dünyası Yazarlar ve Sanatçılar Vakfı “Türk Dünyası Hizmet Ödülü”nü alan Prof. Erol, akademik anlamdaki çalışmaları ve medyadaki faaliyetlerinden dolayı çok sayıda ödüle layık görülmüştür. Bunlardan bazıları şu şekilde sıralanabilir: 2013 yılında Çağdaş Demokratlar Birliği Derneği tarafından “Yılın Yazılı Medya Ödülü”, 2015 yılında “APM 10. Yıl Hizmet Ödülü”, Türkiye Yazarlar Birliği tarafından “2015 Yılın Basın-Fikir Ödülü”, Anadolu Köy Korucuları ve Şehit Aileleri “2016 Gönül Elçileri Medya Onur Ödülü”, Yörük Türkmen Federasyonları tarafından verilen “2016 Türkiye Onur Ödülü”. Prof. Erol’un 15 kitap çalışması bulunmaktadır. Bunlardan bazılarının isimleri şu şekildedir: “Hayalden Gerçeğe Türk Birleşik Devletleri”, “Türkiye-AB İlişkileri: Dış Politika ve İç Yapı Sorunsalları”, “Avrasya’da Yeni Büyük Oyun”, “Türk Dış Politikasında Strateji Arayışları”, “Türk Dış Politikasında Güvenlik Arayışları”, “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti-Rusya Federasyonu İlişkileri”, “Sıcak Barışın Soğuk Örgütü Yeni NATO”, “Dış Politika Analizinde Teorik Yaklaşımlar: Türk Dış Politikası Örneği”, “Krizler ve Kriz Yönetimi: Aktörler ve Örnek Olaylar”, “Kazakistan” ve “Uluslararası İlişkilerde Güncel Sorunlar”. 2002’den bu yana TRT Türkiye’nin sesi ve TRT Radyo 1 (Ankara Radyosu) “Avrasya Gündemi”, “Stratejik Bakış”, “Küresel Bakış”, “Analiz”, “Dosya”, “Haber Masası”, “Gündemin Öteki Yüzü” gibi radyo programlarını gerçekleştirmiş olan Prof. Erol, TRT INT televizyonunda 2004-2007 yılları arasında Arayış, 2007-2010 yılları arasında Kanal A televizyonunda “Sınır Ötesi” ve 2020-2021’de de BBN TÜRK televizyonunda “Dış Politika Gündemi” programlarını yaptı. 2012-2018 yılları arasında Millî Gazete’de “Arayış” adlı köşesinde dış politika yazıları yayımlanan Prof. Erol’un ulusal-uluslararası medyada çok sayıda televizyon, radyo, gazete, haber siteleri ve dergide uzmanlığı dahilinde görüşlerine de başvurulmaktadır. 2006-2018 yılları arasında Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde ve Ankara Üniversitesi Latin Amerika Araştırmaları Merkezi’nde (LAMER) de dersler veren Prof. Erol, 2018’den bu yana Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde öğretim üyesi olarak akademik kariyerini devam ettirmektedir. Çok sayıda dergi ve gazetede yazıları-değerlendirmeleri yayımlanan; Avrasya Dosyası, Stratejik Analiz, Stratejik Düşünce, Gazi Bölgesel Çalışmalar, The Journal of SSPS, Karadeniz Araştırmaları, gibi akademik dergilerde editörlük faaliyetlerinde bulunan Prof. Erol, Bölgesel Araştırmalar, Uluslararası Kriz ve Siyaset Araştırmaları, Gazi Akademik Bakış, Ege Üniversitesi Türk Dünyası İncelemeleri, Demokrasi Platformu dergilerinin editörlüklerini hali hazırda yürütmektedir. 2016’dan bu yana Ankara Kriz ve Siyaset Araştırmaları Merkezi (ANKASAM) Kurucu Başkanı olarak çalışmalarını devam ettiren Prof. Erol, evli ve üç çocuk babasıdır.