Uzbek-Turkish relations have strengthened in recent years in bilateral and multilateral formats of interaction. Contacts at the highest level, between parliaments, ministries and agencies, business, scientific and academic circles, and interregional relations have become more active and regular. Today, relations have risen to the level of strategic partnership with creation of new mechanisms – the Supreme Council for Strategic Partnership under the Chairmanship of the Heads of State, the Joint Group on Strategic Planning at the level of Foreign Ministers, as well as Inter-Parliamentary Cooperation groups. The results of intensive contacts and mutual aspirations are also reflected in joint economic projects. Turkey and Uzbekistan have similar approaches to solving international and regional problems.
Mr. Mehmet Sureya Er, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Turkey to the Republic of Uzbekistan, kindly agreed to discuss the course of bilateral relations with the Editorial Board of our magazine, as well as the prospects for further development of cooperation.
– Mr. Ambassador, the Republic of Turkey was the first in the world to recognize the state independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan. 24 years have passed since our countries signed the Treaty on Eternal Friendship and Cooperation. Our peoples are closely linked by deep historical roots, shared values and traditions. Can you share your opinion on the current level of cooperation between our countries, and in what areas do we find common ground?
– Turkey, as the first country to recognize Uzbekistan as a sovereign state, in the early 90-ies of the last century regained its brothers who have common roots of civilization with us, after a century of separation. The common history, language, religion and culture of Uzbekistan and Turkey allowed us to connect with each other forever with hearts and strong ties, despite the fact that there were thousands of kilometers between us. Just as we sincerely supported the independence of Uzbekistan, the sons of the Uzbek land did not leave their brothers alone in the struggle for life during the war of independence of Anatolian Turkey 100 years ago. In the 1920s, the gold sent by the People’s Republic of Bukhara to support us greatly helped the newly created young Republic of Turkey.
The Treaty of Eternal Friendship and Cooperation serves as the legal basis of official relations between our countries, and fraternal ties bind our peoples.
In the process of radical transformations of Uzbekistan, implemented over the past four years at the initiative of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, relations between our countries have acquired a new direction and have risen to the level of strategic partnership thanks to the personal friendship between the leaders of the two countries. Last February, the two presidents chaired the first meeting of the High-level Strategic Cooperation Council and signed a joint statement on the development of cooperation in all areas. The intensity of relations continues to show positive results in all areas.
– Modern Turkey is a developed country with a high GDP per capita, a progressive industrial economy, and perfect infrastructure. What are the similarities between the development strategies of our countries’ national economies? In your opinion, how is modern Uzbekistan developing?
– At the time of its foundation in 1923, the Republic of Turkey was almost entirely an agricultural country. At the same time, after gaining political independence, our state has taken important steps to achieve economic independence in the context of rapid population growth. Over the past 50 years, significant progress has been made both in industrialization and in the growth of national income, in accordance with policies focused on the development of the free market.
We can say that the current period of Uzbekistan is similar to the life of our country in the 80s. In particular, the reforms carried out by our country in those years related to innovative production and sustainable growth are now being carried out in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has also opened its doors to foreign investors and has become a strategic partner of Turkey thanks to a new course aimed at international cooperation.
In recent years, we have been pleased to observe the steps that are being taken under the leadership of President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev in all spheres of the economy, in particular, in agriculture and industry. Today, Uzbekistan is intensively implementing important reforms in every area and stands out as a prosperous state in the Central Asian region.
Turkey is always ready to share its experience with Uzbekistan, which it has accumulated over many years. It is both a duty and an obligation for us to support your state, which has opened up to the outside world and is striving to achieve an international level in everything.
– Turkey has a huge positive experience in the development of public-private partnerships and industrial and economic zones. Is the Turkish side ready to provide assistance in this direction?
– As you have already noted, Turkey has extensive experience in creating a structure of integrated industrial zones that specialize in industrial production, they contribute to the expansion of the presence area and increase productivity. Today, there are about 190 United Industrial Zones with a total area of 32,858 hectares in our country. For successful operation of industrial zones, a strong legislative framework is necessary. The gaps and shortcomings that have arisen in the system of integrated industrial zones that Turkey has been applying for many years have been eliminated by the Law No. 4562, which came into force in 2000, and now the integrated industrial zone has become a stable model. Our country is ready to provide all necessary assistance for implementation of such a structure in Uzbekistan.
By the way, last year representatives of one of the most successful United Industrial Zones of our country “Gebze” repeatedly visited Tashkent and established intensive contacts to provide the necessary assistance and support in administrative, technical and legal processes. We will continue to work on completing the creation of an administrative and legal mechanism for the operation of an industrial zone similar to Gebze in Tashkent.
– One of the priority areas of our cooperation is the economic and investment spheres. Turkey is one of the important trade partners of Uzbekistan. What is your overall assessment of the work started on the agreements signed in February this year during the official visit of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the Republic of Turkey? How much has the global pandemic affected joint actions and projects?
– In recent years, relations between the two countries have been developing rapidly and the scope of our cooperation has expanded. After the February meeting of the Council and the Decrees signed by President Mirziyoyev, the framework of numerous projects in the military-political, trade-economic, investment, cultural and humanitarian spheres was clearly worked out, which were later turned into concrete cooperation projects. Unfortunately, the global pandemic, which has caused long and painful processes in the economy of the whole world, has also affected our bilateral economic and trade relations. In 2020, we see a decrease in the volume of investment from our country to Uzbekistan, and there was a slight slowdown in the growth rate of foreign trade turnover. Excluding trade in services, the total volume of our foreign trade in January-July this year decreased by 15% and reached $ 1.1 billion.
Although this reduction in exports and imports is painful, these indicators are not at a critical level that cannot be reversed. With the restoration of flights expected in the last quarter of 2020 the commercial relations will again be active, and in the short time we can reach the level of the previous year and, in all probability, could even exceed it.
Uzbekistan also pays special attention to agriculture, chemical, textile, construction materials, automobile, electric power and food industries, and accelerates the process of reforming state-owned enterprises in these areas in order to improve the quality of services provided. Given our country’s expertise and experience in these areas, we believe that there is great potential for cooperation between the two countries in the future. We have a strong will to fully support Uzbekistan, which seeks to increase energy efficiency and competitiveness of the economy by introducing modern technologies.
Finally, the seventh round of negotiations between our country and Uzbekistan on a preferential trade agreement, which is planned to be held in the near future, is of great importance to us. Signing the agreement during this year will be beneficial for both countries. The above-mentioned agreement is one of the most important tools in achieving our goals of mutual investment and increasing the volume of trade, creating an opportunity for us to quickly reach the $ 5 billion mark in the volume of mutual trade. This bar was set by the presidents of the two countries.
The pandemic has had a negative impact on the entire global economy. However, despite these negative circumstances, we continued to hold all meetings that play an important role in the development of bilateral relations via videoconference, and our respective institutions were in constant contact. I am confident that the two fraternal countries will overcome this difficult period by minimizing its negative consequences. We will continue to implement our own projects with the same determination.
– There are many organizations in Turkey whose activities are aimed at supporting entrepreneurship and business. In addition, Turkish investors are among the most active in the global investment market. Enterprises with Turkish capital are successfully operating in our country, especially in the textile industry. Do Turkish investors contact you to resolve any situations? What advice would you give to Uzbek entrepreneurs on effective interaction with the Turkish business community?
– According to statistics, there are currently about 1,400 companies with Turkish capital in Uzbekistan. Among these investments, the leading place in terms of volume is indeed occupied by investments related to the textile industry. In Uzbekistan, which is one of the leading countries in the world for cotton production, Turkish companies with many years of experience in producing high-quality textile products come out on top due to the availability of both raw materials and advanced technologies. Textile products produced in factories created with Turkish capital cover part of the needs of the domestic market and provide foreign currency through exports.
Turkish companies operating in the textile industry and other areas of Uzbekistan operate on the basis of an “equal profit” approach. Here, our companies engaged in contracting or investment activities bring know-how to Uzbekistan and help increase employment. In the textile and garment industries, many Turkish citizens work in companies with Uzbek capital. Recently, Turkish companies that are both contractors and investors in the construction sector have started to share their knowledge and experience in such areas as architecture, engineering, project management and technical consulting with Uzbek partners. We believe that our construction companies that provide high – quality services at competitive prices are a great opportunity for Uzbekistan, and we sincerely believe that the enterprises of the two countries play a leading role in shaping the country’s future.
We will try to meet with Turkish companies operating in Uzbekistan as often as possible. We visit these productions. Although we are forced to stop such visits due to the pandemic, we plan to continue this process after the epidemiological situation stabilizes. The Trade Department of our Embassy is in constant contact with our business community, informing our companies about economic and commercial changes in the Uzbek market.
– We must mention our successfully developing cooperation in the cultural and humanitarian sphere. This includes expanding scientific cooperation, joint projects in the tourism sector, and partnership in education, science, and healthcare. What additional measures do you think our countries need to take, given the similarity of our cultures, languages, customs and religion?
– In fact, thanks to the pace achieved in relations over the past few years, our cooperation in the cultural and spiritual spheres has deepened. We consider Uzbekistan, which is an important center of science and culture of the Turkic and Islamic civilization, to be our father’s land. This land, which is the heart of Transoxiana and the historical Great Silk Road, is truly very valuable both spiritually and historically. Therefore, Turkish tourists’ visits to Uzbekistan are growing. Similarly, the presence of a large number of Uzbek citizens in Turkey increases the closeness between our peoples.
Our common history, language and culture allow us to work closely together in the field of education. In the field of higher education, the Ibn Sino Bukhara Medical Faculty started its activity in 2019, and the newly opened Tashkent branch of the Turkish University of Economics and Technology began accepting students for the academic year 2020-2021. Many of our universities continue to implement programs and carry out joint activities, including the exchange of students and faculty, and the issuance of diplomas from the two countries.
In our countries, the number of departments of Turkology is growing, more Uzbek youth are happy to watch Turkish TV series and learn Turkish for fluency in it. All these are incredibly useful elements for our relations in the cultural and spiritual sphere. Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done in the field of education and culture. Our meetings with Uzbek officials and efforts have consistent goals to raise relations on this issue to a decent level.
– Uzbekistan is actively developing the tourism sector, trying to attract foreign tourists to our country. Turkey’s experience in this area is very important for us. How well are Turkish citizens aware of the tourist potential of our country, and is this destination popular among tourists?
– It is clear that Uzbekistan is a country with a huge tourist potential. Indeed, we are very happy that in 2020 Khiva was chosen as the cultural capital of the Turkic world, while Bukhara was chosen as the capital of the Islamic world. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has made a serious blow to global tourism. However, Uzbekistan’s success in the process of reform and development will allow us to quickly eliminate the consequences of the negative factors caused by the pandemic. We think that with development of the tourist infrastructure, the number of tourists coming to the country will increase significantly. We are also ready to share Turkey’s experience in the field of tourism with brotherly Uzbekistan. We have experienced specialists and consultants, as well as the experience of successful businessmen who invest in Uzbekistan.
We particularly support the “Tourism on the Silk Road” initiative, which is promoted by Uzbekistan and which strengthens cooperation with neighboring countries. We are pleased to note that Uzbekistan, which is the pearl of Central Asia, the center of Transoxiana and part of the historical Great Silk Road, has begun to attract the attention of the whole world. Uzbekistan is becoming increasingly popular among tourist destinations of great interest in Turkey. Even now, for spiritual and cultural reasons, many Turks want to come and visit their native lands. I am confident that Uzbekistan will set new records in tourism by developing its tourism infrastructure and further increasing the number of international flights in the post-pandemic period.
– Dear Mr. Ambassador, in accordance with the tradition of our magazine, at the end of our conversation, we would like to address you with a few short questions. The first question is: what is it that particularly attracts you to our country?
– As I have already said, we consider Uzbekistan to be our father’s country. We feel at home in this land, which is the heart of a wide Turkish geography. In addition to historical, cultural and spiritual beauty of Uzbekistan, of course, one of the reasons why I am attracted here is pilaf and Uzbek dishes.
– What are the kinship features of the peoples of Turkey and Uzbekistan?
– We are parts of the vast Turkish world, which are closely connected with each other. That is why we attach great importance to Uzbekistan’s accession to the Turkic Council in 2019. Our fraternal peoples have a common spirit and culture. Our history, language, religion and culture are one.
– Are you an optimist or a pragmatist?
– Thank God, as the Turkish Ambassador to Uzbekistan, I don’t need either. When it comes to relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan, you do not need to be optimistic or pragmatic, because our relations have been established at the level of a strategic partnership based on strong ties of solidarity, and are already at an ideal level! We work without a break with the aim of further development of mutual relations and cooperation in every sphere. When we talk about Uzbekistan, we are proud of the reforms that have been implemented in the country in recent years, the development process and the level of mutual relations. That’s why it would be more accurate if you described me as someone who has a lot of work to do, very busy, but proud of the fruits of his work.
– Thank you for a meaningful conversation!