Big Interview

Uzbekistan – Turkey: New Format of Dialogue

5/2020

     The people of Uzbekistan and Turkey are inextricably linked by a centuries-old common history, a close language and a common religion, common values and similar customs and traditions. In 1991, the Republic of Turkey was the first UN member state to recognize the state independence of the Republic of Uzbekistan. In 1992, the Turkish Embassy was opened in Tashkent, and since May 1993, the diplomatic mission of our country has been functioning in Ankara. In 1996, the two countries signed an Agreement on Eternal Friendship and Cooperation. Based on mutual trust, friendly relations between Uzbekistan and Turkey are now rising to a qualitatively new level. The two countries have established multifaceted cooperation in the fields of politics, economy, culture and humanitarian exchanges.
     At the current stage of historical relations, the relations between the two countries have been enriched with new content, which is actively welcomed by both sides. Alisher Anvarovich Agzamkhodjaev, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the Republic of Turkey, kindly agreed to answer the questions of the Editor-in-Chief of the “Economic Bulletin of Uzbekistan” magazine. We offer to your attention the text of the interview.
 
     – Dear Alisher Anvarovich, please share your assessment of the current level of interaction between Uzbekistan and Turkey. In your opinion, what areas of bilateral relations with Turkey are perceived by our country as the most priority?
     – First of all, I would like to thank the Editorial Board of the “Economic Bulletin of Uzbekistan” magazine for inviting me to an interview and seeking to highlight the current Uzbek-Turkish relations on the pages of one of the most respected magazines in our country.
     Thanks to Uzbekistan’s well-thought-out foreign policy, cooperation with Turkey, which is one of the leading countries in the world, has significantly intensified over the past three years.
     At the same time, the state visit of President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Turkey in October 2017 and the one of President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Uzbekistan in April 2018, as well as friendly relations between our two leaders that have developed over the years, opened up wide opportunities for strengthening traditional friendship and fraternal ties, as well as further development of large-scale and promising cooperation aimed at improving the well-being of our people.
     In addition, the similarity of views of the two countries on regional and international issues, including in the framework of the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States, the need to strengthen cooperation in combating modern threats and challenges, as well as the interests of peace, prosperity and prosperous life of our fraternal people raised the Uzbek-Turkish relations to a strategic level during a short period of time.
The current level of cooperation between our country and Turkey is characterized by progressive development of mutually beneficial cooperation in the fields of politics, security and defense, economy and trade, investment, tourism, energy, transport and transit, agriculture and forestry, culture, education, science and technology, innovation and health.
     Uzbekistan is ready to use all opportunities to further expand the multifaceted Uzbek-Turkish cooperation.
     At the same time, we are particularly interested in the trade, economic and investment spheres, where we intend to use existing opportunities in mutually beneficial areas, promote new projects and programs, including expanding transportation links, establishing multimodal international routes to Europe through Turkey, as well as further increasing mutual trade.
We are also interested in cooperation with Turkish partners in opening modern medical clinics and diagnostic centers in Uzbekistan, implementing educational programs on small business and textile production, and attracting Turkey’s best practices in intensive gardening, fish farming, animal husbandry and breeding, as well as conducting joint research with participation of universities and research centers of the two countries.
     In addition, due to the role and significance of the Turkish armed forces at the present time, the achievements of this country in ensuring the self-sufficiency of its defense industry in equipping the national army with modern weapons and military equipment, as well as the need to ensure the effectiveness of the military-industrial complex of Uzbekistan in the rapidly changing international situation, our country is interested in further enhancing bilateral cooperation with Turkey in the military and military-technical spheres.
     – President of our country Shavkat Mirziyoyev paid an official visit to the Republic of Turkey on February 19-20 of this year at the invitation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During the talks, a wide range of issues of intergovernmental cooperation, ways to solve them, key tasks for the future were considered, and the parties agreed on the implementation of joint projects. How is the implementation of the agreements reached with the Turkish side progressing?
     – The results of this visit of the head of our state to Ankara are assessed by both the Uzbek and Turkish sides as very productive. In particular, this is evidenced by signing of a solid package of agreements and contracts for implementation of projects of mutual interest totaling more than $ 850 million.
     Of course, the outbreak of a new type of coronavirus has become an international emergency, leading to the largest social and economic crisis since the World War II.
     In these circumstances, under the direct leadership of the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, unprecedented measures were taken to minimize the negative consequences of the current crisis on the economy and the well-being of the country’s citizens.
     As part of the implementation of this policy of the Head of State, we applied new approaches to our interaction with Turkish partners, which allowed us to prevent the decrease of the current dynamics, level and volume of bilateral cooperation with Turkey in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
     All previously reached agreements are currently being implemented on time. No project or contract has been suspended or postponed to a later date.
     In particular, on May 27, 2020, an investment agreement was signed with the Turkish company “Chalyk Holding” for construction of a business center and hotel complex in the city of Tashkent for a total cost of $ 100 million, and on September 10, a similar investment agreement was signed with the company “Cengiz Holding” for construction of a 240 MW thermal power plant in Tashkent region. At the same time, an active phase of the project was launched in cooperation with Aksa Energy to build a TPP with a capacity of 240 MW and a cost of $ 60 million in Tashkent. Also, the active phase of projects on modernization and expansion of production at “Uzmetkombinat” JSC and Almalyk MMC has been started by Ronessance Heavy Industries, which will allow the capacity of the copper processing plant to reach 60 million tons per year, and the production of rolled ferrous metals will increase by 1 million tons per year. In total, investments worth about $ 2 billion will be disbursed.
     In addition, projects involving Turkish capital for about $ 610 million in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, electrical engineering, mining, food, textile, leather industries, as well as the production of modern construction materials, automotive and tourism sectors are at various stages of implementation.
     At the same time, active contacts are maintained at a high level. In particular, since the beginning of the year, only through videoconferencing and telephony, negotiations have been held three times between Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Sardor Umurzakov and Vice President of Turkey Fuat Oktay.
     On July 26-29 of this year, a delegation of Uzbekistan headed by Deputy Prime Minister S. Umurzakov visited Ankara, during which negotiations were held with Vice President F. Oktay, Chairman of the Planning and Budget Commission of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey Lutfi Elvan, Deputy Chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party Javdat Yilmaz, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Trade Minister Rukhsar Pekjan, head of the Turkish Agency for Cooperation and Development (TIKA) Serkan Kayalar. Meetings were also held with heads of large businesses and representatives of the Turkish business circles. In turn, on August 24-25, Chairman of the Planning and Budget Commission of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey L. Elvan paid a working visit to Uzbekistan. During the visit of the authoritative Turkish parliamentarian to Uzbekistan, negotiations were held at the Ministry of Investment and Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Energy and the State Committee on Geology and Mineral Resources. The sixth session of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Issues is scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year, under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan S. Umurzakov and Vice-President of the Republic of Turkey F.Oktay.
     – As part of the visit of our President to Turkey, the first meeting of the Uzbek-Turkish High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council was held in Ankara. The Council is a new format in the history of bilateral relations. Is there any reason to say that Uzbekistan and Turkey still have a huge untapped potential for cooperation in any areas?
     – Modern Turkey is a leader in many areas of economic activity. The country is ranked 17th in terms of nominal GDP and 13th in the world in terms of gross domestic product calculated by purchasing power parity.
Turkey is one of the world’s leading producers of agricultural products, textiles, automobiles and spare parts, construction materials and household appliances.
     Turkey annually receives about 50 million tourists from all over the world, and tourism revenues exceed 30 billion USD.
All the above-mentioned areas have priority values in the economic development of Uzbekistan.
     The current level of investment ($582 million in 2020) and trade (exports — $ 1.2 billion in 2019) cooperation with Turkey, which has a developed economy, may indicate that there is a large untapped potential and reserves for expanding cooperation with this fraternal country.
     Under these conditions, Uzbekistan is interested in attracting Turkish technologies, best practices and management to reform and modernize many sectors of the economy. In this regard, it is noteworthy that one of the main issues on the agenda of the First Meeting of the High-level Strategic Cooperation Council was technical assistance from the Turkish government in reforming the economy of Uzbekistan.
     As part of this assistance, reputable Turkish specialists began working as advisers to the Chairman of the State Committee for Development of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary, the State Committee for Tourism Development, “Uzcharmsanoat” Joint-stock Company, as well as to the Deputy Chairman of Uzbekistan Airways.
     The appointment of Turkish experts as advisers on industry and regional development to the Minister of Investment and Foreign Trade and to the Minister of Culture is currently being considered.
     I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the task set by the leaders of Uzbekistan and Turkey to bring the volume of mutual trade turnover to $ 5 billion in the near future. In this regard, we consider the agreement on preferential trade currently being worked out between the parties as one of the most effective mechanisms for implementing the task set by the leaders of the two countries.
     It is gratifying to note the significant intensification of bilateral negotiations on the terms of this agreement. So, since the beginning of this year, 3 rounds of negotiations have been held at the expert level (February, May, September). At the same time, during the development of the agreement, special attention is paid to the development of cooperation between enterprises of Uzbekistan and Turkey.
     In addition, as part of taking measures to realize the untapped potential of cooperation, we regularly hold meetings and presentations for heads of local authorities and business circles in the regions of Turkey on the ongoing transformations in Uzbekistan, primarily in the economic sphere, as well as the trade and economic potential of our country.
     In particular, in order to attract Turkish investors to the economy of Uzbekistan and expand trade and economic ties, including between different regions of our two fraternal countries, similar presentations have been held in more than 40 of the 81 provinces of Turkey.
     – One of the central topics of the dialogue is implementation of joint projects. Currently, investment projects worth over $ 500 million are being implemented jointly with Turkey. Three years ago, this figure was not even 20 million USD. Of course, the credit goes to the Embassy for this. What measures are being taken by the diplomatic mission to fully support this process?
     – First of all, I would like to note that the state investment program for 2020-2023 provides for implementation of projects involving Turkish capital for the amount of $ 1.6 billion. Despite the toughening of quarantine measures in Turkey due to the pandemic, including the movement of citizens both within the country and abroad, the Turkish side responded positively to the appeal of our diplomatic mission and gave permission for Turkish investors to fly to Uzbekistan. As a result, before the resumption of regular flights between Tashkent and Istanbul, more than thousand Turkish specialists and investors were sent to Uzbekistan with the assistance of the Embassy. This measure was taken primarily to ensure the timely implementation of investment projects involving Turkish companies totaling $ 582 million under the state investment program for 2020 (77 projects). However, due to pandemic-related restrictions on the movement of vehicles across the borders of Turkmenistan and Iran, difficulties came with the delivery of high-demand technological equipment from Turkey to Uzbekistan. In these circumstances, we have taken prompt measures to ensure the timely shipment of the necessary equipment and goods along alternative routes. In particular, during the quarantine period, cargo flows were redirected along the following routes: Turkey — Georgia — Russia — Kazakhstan — Uzbekistan by road; Turkish seaports — ports of Ilyichevsk (Ukraine), then by road on the route Russia — Kazakhstan — Uzbekistan; Turkey — Georgia — Azerbaijan by road with further cargo transfer by ferry through the port of Baku to the port of Aktau in Kazakhstan, followed by cargo transportation by car to Uzbekistan. Thus, the timely measures taken made it possible to ship various equipment and goods within the framework of 24 projects worth over $ 140 million.
     Among our other significant results in economic diplomacy in the context of the pandemic, I would like to note the lifting of the ban on entry of Uzbek trucks into Turkey as an exception from March 30, and the unilateral “road toll” for the entry and passage of Uzbek vehicles in Turkey in the amount of $ 400 from April 1 and from April 24, the mandatory stay of national cargo carriers in quarantine for a period of 14 days when they enter Turkey.
     – What opportunities do you think Uzbekistan and Turkey have in cooperation in the field of tourism, taking into account the fact that Turkey occupies one of the leading positions in the world in the field of recreation and entertainment?
     – In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey was one of the first to act as an innovator in the field of tourism. Thus, on July 19-21, Antalya hosted a presentation of the program developed by the Turkish side in the field of tourism in the context of the pandemic “Virus – Free Tourism Certificate”, which provides for implementation of tourist packages with the necessary precautions in all travel hubs (airport, taxi, hotel, cafe, etc.). Due to this approach, the Turkish government managed to attract more than 5 million tourists in 7 months of this year. By the end of 2020, the expected flow of tourists to Turkey will reach about 10-12 million people.
     In accordance with the high-level agreements, Turkey was among the first to confirm its readiness to assist in the implementation of this certificate in Uzbekistan. Currently, active consultations are underway between Tashkent and Ankara on this issue.
     It is noteworthy that as a result of the abolition of the visa regime for Turkish citizens, an increase in the number of flights between the cities of Tashkent and Istanbul, as well as the opening of a new air route between Samarkand and Istanbul, the number of Turkish tourists visiting Uzbekistan in 2019 increased by 54 percent and reached 63.5 thousand people.
At the same time, it is symbolic that after lifting of the quarantine measures in our country in September of this year, first regular flights were resumed to Turkey.
     – It is impossible not to address the problem of the global coronavirus pandemic. Countries are taking measures to counter the spread of the virus. What is the Embassy’s interaction with Uzbek citizens temporarily staying in Turkey, as well as with representatives of the Turkish authorities on labor migration?
     – This very important issue is on the agenda and is under the direct control of the President of Uzbekistan Sh. M. Mirziyoyev. In the daily work of the Embassy, we face various social and legal problems of migrant workers. In accordance with the instructions of the country’s leadership, a special “road map” has been developed to create favorable conditions for Uzbek citizens temporarily staying and working in Turkey, which provides for such activities as concluding contracts for recruitment of Uzbek citizens on an organized basis, identifying promising projects for working with foreign employers and employment, ensuring the protection of rights, material and social support, improving the professional level and foreign language proficiency of our citizens, cooperation with organizations of compatriots and diasporas.
     In the work of the Embassy and Consulate General, we have identified important tasks to create a new work system with the aim of employing more than 2,000 Uzbek citizens in reliable enterprises in Turkey in 2021, including increasing the level of consular registration of migrant workers to 5 percent by the end of the year and 15 percent by 2021, ensuring broad coverage of work with migrants in the media and social networks, as well as close cooperation with relevant ministries and agencies.
     In order to regulate the employment of Uzbek citizens in Turkey, an Intergovernmental Agreement on Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families was signed in Tashkent on April 30, 2018 at the initiative of the Uzbek side. This year, Uzbekistan ratified this agreement, which is currently under consideration in the Turkish Parliament.
     According to official data, today the total number of foreign labor migrants in Turkey is 1 million 70 thousand, mainly citizens of Iraq – 141.8 thousand (13.3%), Turkmenistan – 133.1 thousand (12.4%), Syria – 117.5 thousand (10.9%), Azerbaijan — 67.8 thousand (6.4%) and Iran – 67.1 thousand (6.2%).
     As of August 1, 2020, the number of Uzbek citizens in Turkey, according to unofficial data, is about 150 thousand people, according to official data – about 50 thousand people, of which almost 4 thousand have official employment authorization and 45 thousand are temporary residents in Turkey. Our compatriots are mainly employed in the field of home services, which is 60 percent (care for children, the elderly and the sick, domestic workers, gardeners, etc.), 15 percent work in entertainment and shopping centers, 10 percent work in tourism, and 5 percent are employed in construction, agriculture and other industries. The majority of migrants are concentrated in Istanbul (60%), Ankara (10%), Bursa (8%), Antalya (7%) and other regions of Turkey (15%).
     In order to provide assistance to citizens of Uzbekistan and monitor the epidemiological situation in Turkey, a system of operational headquarters has been established at the Embassy and Consulate General. At the same time, information about the results of the work of the headquarters, including measures implemented in Turkey and Uzbekistan in the context of the spread of COVID-19, is regularly published on our website, Facebook pages and social networks, which are popular among our compatriots. In addition, a Special Assistance Fund was set up to support Uzbek citizens during the pandemic through voluntary donations from Uzbek businessmen and diplomats in Turkey. In particular, during the period of strict quarantine measures in Turkey, 400 students, 198 pregnant women, 84 parents with children under two years of age, 31 disabled people and 16 patients with coronavirus infection from among our citizens received funds totaling 80 thousand USD to purchase food, medicines and other necessary items.
     The Consulate General in Istanbul purchased food from local hypermarkets for a total of about 28 thousand dollars, which were distributed to more than 6 thousand needy citizens of Uzbekistan. At the same time, in Istanbul, together with entrepreneurs from among our compatriots, charity dinners were organized for more than 12 thousand low-income Uzbek citizens. As the epidemiological situation in Turkey worsened, more than 5,000 of our citizens were taken home on 25 special charter flights. At the same time, about 200 Uzbek students who graduated from universities in Turkey in various fields and specialties were also sent to Uzbekistan to work in public institutions and private and joint ventures organized with participation of Turkish capital. In addition, regular negotiations are held with Turkish colleagues to improve the living and working conditions of Uzbek citizens temporarily staying and working in Turkey. In particular, negotiations were held with the management of the Turkish Labor and Employment Agency (ISHKUR) under the Ministry of Family Affairs, Labor and Social Services of Turkey. They discussed issues of employment of our compatriots in large enterprises and institutions in Turkey, as well as social protection and ensuring their rights and freedoms.
     As a result of active work of the External Labor Migration Agency under the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations of Uzbekistan, contracts were signed with Turkish recruitment companies such as TAYGA GROUP, Visa Work, EMKA and ZAHID.
     Active work with the Uzbek diaspora has also been organized. It should be noted that the diaspora consists mainly of Turkish citizens of different nationalities who came to Turkey from Central Asia at the beginning of the XX century. They represent themselves as “Turkestanis” and their total number is about 120 thousand people today. They live and work mainly in Istanbul (55%), Adana (20%), Gaziantep (10%) and other regions of Turkey (15%).
     The Embassy and Consulate General regularly hold meetings with our migrant workers, who are provided with the necessary assistance, as well as consular and legal advice to protect their rights and freedoms.
     – Interregional relations have become intensive – between our countries, between Tashkent and Ankara, Samarkand and Istanbul, and other regions. Cooperation in the field of culture and education is developing successfully. Tell us about the ongoing work to enhance cooperation in this area.
     – The sphere of bilateral cooperation you mentioned is one of the priorities for both countries.
     Since 2017, interregional relations between major cities of Uzbekistan and Turkey have become intensive. Thus, bilateral documents were signed on the establishment of twinning relations between Tashkent and Ankara, Khiva and Bolu, and close cooperation was established between Samarkand and Istanbul, as well as Bukhara and Konya.
     In the field of culture and education, cooperation was consolidated by signing of the Agreement on Cultural Cooperation of April 30, 2018 and the Protocol on Cooperation in the Field of Higher Education of April 30, 2018.
     A significant event in the period from 2017 to 2020 became the holding at the initiative of the Uzbek side, the international conference “Threats of the XXI Century and the Role of Enlightened Islam” in Istanbul, arranging the transfer to Uzbekistan of exclusive copies of 170 miniatures of Kamoliddin Behzod, stored in the Museum of the Ottoman Empire “Topkapi” in Istanbul, as well as the beginning of restoration works in the mosque Khuja Mahmoud Andjir Faghnawi (Bukhara region).
     In February 2019, for the first time, consultations were held between the Ministries of Culture of Uzbekistan and Turkey at the level of first Deputy Ministers. Following the meeting, the parties agreed to hold days of culture in major cities of Turkey and Uzbekistan. In addition, one of the important results of the consultations was the beginning of the filming of the historical film “Manguberdi”. As you know, this project involves well-known Uzbek actors and artists. The film is directed by the famous director, producer and author of the famous multi-part film “Ertugrul” B. Bozdag.
     In order to strengthen cooperation in the field of education, with participation and assistance of the Embassy, more than 30 negotiations were held with leading higher education institutions in Turkey. The delegations of the Islamic Academy of Uzbekistan, Imam al Bukhari International Center of Uzbekistan and the State University of Journalism and Mass Communications have visited Turkey.
     Delegations from Kastamonu and Khojatepe Universities, Soglik Bilimlar Universities, Ankara, Istanbul and Seljuk Universities, as well as the Institute of Public Administration of Turkey and others were also sent to Uzbekistan for negotiations on establishing cooperation and exchanging experience.
     As a result of increased work in the field of education, the number of Uzbek students in Turkey currently makes up more than 1,200. At the same time, it is gratifying to note that 25 Uzbek citizens are engaged in scientific and teaching activities at various Turkish universities and research centers.
     As part of the training and retraining of professional personnel in foreign universities, the Embassy is working on the issue of allocating government grants for masters and doctoral students from Uzbekistan in such areas as engineering, hospitality, tourism, textiles, bioengineering, textile production, architecture and construction. Cooperation in the field of science has also become one of the necessary areas of bilateral cooperation.
     In 2017-2020 a Protocol was signed between the Ministry of Innovative Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Council for Scientific and Technological Research of the Turkish Republic, the Program of Activities between the Agency “Uzstandard” and the Turkish Standards Institute in 2018-2020, the Protocol on Cooperation in the Field of Science, Technology and Innovation between the Ministry of Innovation Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Council for Scientific and Technological Research of Turkey (TUBITAK), the Protocol on Cooperation in the Field of Archives between the Agency “Uzarhiv” under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the General Directorate of State Archives under the Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic.
     – Alisher Anvarovich let me finish our interview with a few blitz questions. What is most important thing for an Ambassador?
     – I must emphasize that, in fact, heading a diplomatic mission and representing a state with a population of 35 million in a country with which a multi-faceted strategic partnership is dynamically developing is an honorable and at the same time extremely responsible mission.
     Of course, for an Ambassador it is important to effectively promote the foreign policy and foreign economic policy set by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirzieev, to strengthen the country’s authority in the international arena and to make contribution to improving the welfare of the population.
     – What qualities do you value in people?
     – First of all, honesty, decency, professionalism and dedication.
     – Where do you get your strength from and what inspires you in life?
     – The main source of energy for me, first of all, is my family – my spouse, children and grandchildren, as well as the awareness of the need to be useful to society and contribute to its development.
     At the same time, I am inspired by the fundamental changes being carried out in Uzbekistan under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the open and multi-vector course of foreign policy chosen, as well as the establishment of our own school of Uzbek diplomacy.
     – What are your plans for the near future?
     – All my plans are connected with my professional activity – to fulfill my functional duties with honor, to make a worthy contribution to further strengthening and expansion of bilateral relations between the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Republic of Turkey.
     – Thank you for answering the questions of the magazine’s editorial staff.

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