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Turkey and Uzbekistan: A Failing Strategic Partnership

Turkey and Uzbekistan: A Failing Strategic Partnership

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This policy brief looks at the tumultuous relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan.
This policy brief looks at the tumultuous relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Jan 05, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Expectations forTurkey’s part in opening Uzbeki-stan to economic dynamism andWestern values have yet to berealized. Both sides have beenguilty of missteps in parenting  the relationship, but it is prob-ably Uzbekistan’s strong suspi-cions about Turkey’s intentions that have served as the mostpowerful brake. Further, a fearof Islamic radicalization, andTurkey’s potential contribution to it, color all other parts of thestate-to-state relationship. It ishard to see how problems canbe addressed without Turkeyand Uzbekistan understanding 
 the benets of a strong strategic
 Turkey and Uzbekistan: A Failing Strategic Partnership
by Nadir Devlet
January 5, 2012
, DC
When Uzbekistan achieved indepen-dence in August 31, 1991, its relationswith urkey were expected to ourish.In act they did, but only intermit-tently. urkey was the rst country to recognize Uzbekistan diplomati-cally, and it saw Uzbekistan as a key recipient o its secular model empha-sizing modernization and democracy in post-Soviet Central Asia. urkey managed its relations with Uzbekistanand the rest o Central Asia throughthe urkish Agency or InternationalCooperation (IKA,
Türkiye Işbirliği veKalkinma Ajansı
), which was subor-dinated to the Ministry o ForeignAairs but with a direct line to theurkish prime minister. Expectationsin urkey and the West, especially in the United States, were high orhow urkey’s ethnic, linguistic, reli-gious, and civilizational connectionsto Central Asia could be the perecttransmission mechanism or demo-cratic pluralism, a vibrant press, andree markets throughout the stagnantpost-Soviet region. urkey would bethe leading edge o a long-awaitedstrategic paradigm.Looking back over two decades, atleast on the economic ront, urkey would appear to have scored somemodest gains. By 2010, urkey hadbecome Uzbekistan’s third largestexport destination, mostly raw mate-rials or textiles, and it ranked seventhamong exporters to Uzbekistan.urkish investments in Uzbekistanare largely in the areas o textile, ood,medicine, plastics, construction, andhotel services. Between the years o 1992-2010, urkish constructionservices to Uzbekistan reached $1.8billion. Currently there are about 75urkish textile and clothing rms inUzbekistan. Te total investment o urkish rms in Uzbekistan or theyear o 2010 was more than $1 billion.Small urkish businesses — oencompeting directly with local entrepre-neurs — were visible many places inUzbekistan in the immediate aer-math o the Soviet collapse, and many thrived or a time. But the overall sizeo trade and investment remains smalland underdeveloped, due in largepart to the poorly developed roadand railway transport inrastructureseparating the two markets rom eachother and rom other potential buyersand sellers.Te market, indeed, suggests greatpromise. At 28 million people, Uzbeki-stan is demographically the largestcountry in Central Asia by someconsiderable margin. Energy-richKazakhstan has about 15.5 million— o whom only slightly more than 9
Reticence is visible on almostevery level, including the level of pan-Turkic symbolism.
million are actually Kazakhs — ollowed by ajikistan (7.6million), Kyrgyzstan (5.5 million), and urkmenistan (4.9million). Moreover the population o Uzbeks is relatively young and is a promising labor orce, which is concentratedhighly in Uzbekistan itsel (80 percent are Uzbeks), whilesubstantial Uzbek populations reside in the other CentralAsian states and in Aghanistan. In total, there could be upto 30 million Uzbeks in the Central Asia region. With itsrich historical past, agricultural prowess, commercial skills,and manpower, Uzbekistan’s potential to become an impor-tant political and economic base in Central Asia should beobvious. With Uzbekistan as a manuacturing, transport,or nancial hub, one could contemplate economic develop-ment moving in a variety o directions with some con-dence. urkey was expected to be one o the keys to openthis pent-up marketplace.Yet expectations or urkey’s part in opening this vast under-developed space with its economic dynamism and Western values have yet to be realized. Both sides have been guilty o missteps in parenting the relationship, but it is probably Uzbekistan’s strong suspicions about urkey’s intentionsthat have served as the most powerul brake. Tis reticenceis visible on almost every level, including the level o pan-urkic symbolism, which in contrast to other Central Asianleaders, Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov has largely dismissed. urkey’s desire to build a durable cooperation withthe new urkic states was welcomed heartily by many CentralAsian leaders, including Azerbaijan’s late president HaidarAliyev and urkmenistan’s late president Saparmurat Niyazov(urkmenbashi), who used essentially the same rhetoricduring ofcial visits to urkey: “We are one nation inhabitingtwo dierent states.” Successive urkish leaders have beencheerleaders or this sentiment, and Central Asian leaders areusually their echoes. Just a ew months ago, urkish presidentAbdullah Gül sounded a amiliar theme at an opening aninternational conerence in Ankara to celebrate the 20
anni- versary o the birth o the Central Asian republics. urkey,he declared, in cooperation with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan,Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and urkmenistan, should share aconsciousness as “one nation, six republics.” Yet in contrast,Uzbekistan president Karimov speaks o riendship andcommon bounds, but he seldom uses the language o organicattachment.Following Uzbekistan’s independence, relations betweenthe two states cemented quickly, and then just as quickly began to unravel. Te rst serious incident between ash-kent and Ankara occurred when the ormer president o the Uzbek Writers Association, Mukhamed Salih, estab-lished the ERK party and ran against Islam Karimov in theDecember 1991 presidential elections. Forced to leave thecountry by the triumphant Karimov, Salih was welcomed tourkey in 1993 by the late urkish President urgut Özal.Following a serious bombing that same year in ashkent,Uzbekistan accused Salih o initiating this terrorist act, andit asked Ankara to extradite him. Ankara expelled Salihrom urkey, but reused to extradite him to ashkent.Relations between the two countries quickly turned acrimo-nious. In 1994, ashkent recalled 1,600 o the 2,000 Uzbek students studying in urkey on local scholarships, who wereimmediately put on planes and sent home. Strained rela-tions deepened again in 1999 ollowing another bombingin ashkent, when Uzbekistan successully demanded theextradition o two Uzbek citizens rom urkey accusedo participating in the act. ashkent then began closingurkish schools in Uzbekistan.urkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer visited ashkentin October 2000 to calm the atmosphere, but his eortsell short. At that time, Karimov told urkish journalistshe objected to urkey granting asylum to Uzbek opposi-tion gures and, especially, to the activities o the systemo Fethullah Gülen schools, linked to the urkish Nurcumovement, which had been established in many parts o Uzbekistan. Te Nurcu movement has a pan-urkic dispo-sition and works or a nonpolitical and nonviolent re-Islam-ization o society. Shortly aer Sezer’s visit, all FethullahGülen schools were closed down by Uzbek authorities andtheir teachers were expelled. Uzbekistan was not alone inbanning Fethullah Gülen’s schools; Russia ollowed suitsometime later. Both countries ear that religious inuencewould taint students, and authorities worried openly thatgraduates o these schools would become potential Islamicextremists.
tion expressly to weaken its deeply rooted Islamic identity.In 2007, 50 percent identied themselves as Muslims and 18percent as Uzbek, reecting perhaps the pressure to disguiseone’s ideological rooting in Islam, but with little increasein the attraction o being, rst and oremost, an Uzbek.“Uzbekness,” that is national or ethnic identity, would thusappear to have shallow roots in the country, despite strongeorts by Uzbekistan’s authorities, while a pervasive Islamicidentity has ar more adherents.Uzbek leaders ear the radicalization o this Islamic identity.Consequently, ashkent’s policy has been to crack downhard on Islamic extremists or sympathizers. Tis has led,not surprisingly, to charges o human rights abuses, againstwhich Uzbekistan has little political ammunition. Uzbeki-stan’s political opposition is nascent and under constantpressure, censorship is commonplace, and democraticnorms are only poorly observed. Even when Uzbekistan hasa good case to make or its ght against Islamic extremism,or example its response to the Andijon attacks — conclu-sions supported by a number o Western observers — itslack o a vibrant civil society and democratic processreduces the state’s ability to ampliy its claims that Uzbeki-stan aces a real and growing Islamist threat.Tis ear o Islamic radicalization, and urkey’s potentialcontribution to it, color all other parts o the state-to-staterelationship. ashkent’s resentment o what many see asAnkara’s support or Islamization in Uzbekistan, particu-larly the role o Fethullah Gülen schools and the Nurcumovement, is strong. Whether this suspicion is groundedin reality is another question, but the notion is powered by the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) strongsympathies or the Nurcu movement, which is active inover 100 countries and whose presence is elt across urkishsociety, economy, and politics, leading some analysts toclaim that AKP and the Nurcu movement are in act joinedat the hip.Te troubles continue. On March 3, 2011, the urkish-owned ashkent shopping center, urkuaz, was surrounded
Uzbek leaders fear theradicalization of Islamic identity.
An attempt to revive relations occurred in December 2003when Karimov invited urkish Premier Minister Recepayyip Erdoğan to visit Uzbekistan. Te visit apparently achieved its goal o smoothing over some rough patches,but relations quickly oundered again. Following deadly terror attacks in Andijon in 2005, when armed gunmanattacked a police station, seized weapons, and then stormeda prison, only to be brutally put down by Uzbek security orces, Uzbekistan was accused by the United Nationso violating human rights. urkey backed the resolutioncondemning Uzbekistan. Reprisals rom the Uzbek sidewere swi. When urkish president Abdullah Gül soughtto visit Uzbekistan, Karimov reused to oer an invita-tion. Since then Karimov has reused to join URKSOYsummits, urkey’s eort to bring urkophone countriestogether to strengthen common cultural traditions andpromote the Latinization o Central Asia’s urkic languages.So much or urkic unity.Karimov’s pervasive and not unwarranted ear has beenthe prospect o Islamic radicalism gaining a oothold inUzbekistan, especially in its restive Ferghana Valley, and heappears to see urkey’s witting or unwitting complicity in thisproblem. His apprehensions o rising Islamic militancy areunderstandable. Aer independence, the Islamic Movemento Uzbekistan (IMU), allied since the summer o 2001 withAghanistan’s aliban government, launched a number o small, cross-border raids into Uzbekistan. Uzbek authoritiesattribute the 1999 attacks in ashkent, suicide bombings inMarch and April 2004, and the Andijon uprising in May 2005to the IMU and other splinter groups. Tey pointedly ignoredcalls rom Europeans and Americans or an independentinternational investigation into the last event, in particular.Karimov has sought to resist the pressures o growingIslamic inuence in Uzbekistan and simultaneously toinstitute unpopular austerity measures, a difcult balancingact. According to ofcial gures, in 2010 Uzbekistan hosted2,280 religious organizations o 16 dierent aiths. O these,92 percent were Muslim organizations boasting 2,035working mosques. Somewhat alarmingly, a public survey in 1998 revealed that 65 percent o respondents identiedthemselves as Muslims rst, while only 17 percent identi-ed rst as Uzbeks, a dramatic repudiation o decades o “nation building” begun in Soviet times and continued inthe post-Soviet period with the object o instilling strongnational identities in Uzbekistan’s mostly Muslim popula-

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