“Dushanbe is extremely interested in the development and deepening of trade and economic relations with Turkey and tries to avoid politicizing the relationship. At the same time, the political regime in Dushanbe is aimed at the complete secularization of society, with a certain apprehension seen in the growth of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party “, – political scientist Khursand Hurramov, writing specially for cabar.asia, evaluates the development of Tajik-Turkish relations.
During the entire post-Soviet period, Turkish diplomatic efforts have focused on establishing close political, trade, and economic relations with Central Asian countries. Intimate ties with the region’s newly independent states gave Ankara some chances to limit Russia’s ability to consolidate its position and prevent the expansion of Iran’s influence, thereby underlining its importance to the West. Former Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem stated in one article that, “Turkey, in the aftermath of the Cold War, assumed a far greater geo-political and strategic role at the center of a vast landmass stretching all the way from Europe to the center of Asia.” Moral and political support for Ankara’s aspirations originated in 1991 as the United States, Britain, and NATO leaders worried about the prospect of Iranian political and ideological expansion in the region.
However, it is worth noting that in the political sphere, with Tajikistan not being a part of the Turkic world, it is left out of the overall design. Despite the shared religious identity between the two countries, bilateral relations have remained at the level of economic partnership. This is primarily due to the fact that no religious and historical-geopolitical motivation lies at the heart of Turkey’s foreign policy vector.
In geopolitical terms for Tajikistan, Turkey has traditionally been inferior not only to Russia and China but even to Iran with which Tajikistan has a common cultural and civilizational framework.
Soberly assessing their capabilities, Turkish foreign policy towards Tajikistan was originally aimed at obtaining economic dividends. Dushanbe, in turn, which started the ’90s dealing initially with the permanent political and then economic/financial crisis, was interested in finding not only potential donors, but also new ideological foundations. In such circumstances, the Turkish model of development, which implies the formation of a secular state, seemed the most attractive to the Muslim country.
Trade and Economic Cooperation
Turkey presents a successful example of political and economic transformation as well as a robust foreign policy. This trend can be seen in respect to Tajikistan.
As of the beginning of 2014 according to Turkey’s Ministry of Economy, Turkey’s share in Tajikistan’s construction sector amounts to $500 million with a total of 37 implemented projects. Turkish direct foreign investment in Tajikistan, according to the same agency, totals $130 million. The Kaynak shopping center in Dushanbe was built in part with Turkish capital around US $10-11 million. Turkish companies were also the contractors for large construction projects, including the Hyatt Regency hotel complex and the strategic Dushanbe-Kulob-Kulma-Karokurum highway linking Tajikistan and China. In addition, in 2006, the Turkish company Bursel Holding planned to invest about US $75 million in the construction of a large textile factory near Dushanbe. However, the project was later abandoned due to financial problems.
As data analysis for 2009-2013 shows, Turkey’s exports to Tajikistan and the importation of Tajik goods more than tripled with the trade turnover with Turkey amounting to $656.0 million or 12.4% in 2013 from the total combined volume of foreign trade. This suggests a steady increase in the proportion of Turkey’s foreign trade with Tajikistan, which in 2009 was only 5.9%.
From 2010-2013, Turkey remained the leading destination for Tajik exports. In 2013, Turkey imported Tajik goods amounting to $473.4 million, which was 40.7% of total exported goods, while maintaining a stable surplus. Imports reached $182.6 million or 4.4% of total imports into the country. The amount of exports exceeded import by 2.5 times and totaled $290,800,000.
For 2013, Tajikistan’s main exported goods to Turkey were cotton fiber, refined aluminum, leather, and hides. Tajikistan primarily imported Turkish goods and foodstuffs such as poultry, beef, and fruits as well as detergents, carpets and other textile floor coverings, plastic rubber products, ferrous metals, and heavy machinery.
Figure 1. External trade turnover between Tajikistan and Turkey for 2009- 2014. (US$ millions)
However, in 2014 Tajik exports to Turkey declined by half, while Turkish exports to Tajikistan fell by 25%, which reduced Tajikistan’s trade surplus to $105 million (See Diagram 1).
Thus the total number of Tajik exports to Turkey was second to Switzerland (in 2013 – 1st) and 7th in imports. Among the CIS Member States to export to Turkey, Tajikistan occupies 7th place while placing 11th on importing goods from Turkey.
It should be noted that the decline in trade between the two countries takes place against the background of a reduction in the total volume of Tajikistan’s foreign trade turnover. In particular, exports fell by 1.9% or $11.7 million, while imports fell 9.1% or $196.6 million. Experts in the country attributed this trend to the decrease in imports of wood and wood related products, vehicles, minerals, and finished food products as well as a decrease in the export volume of cotton, precious and semi-precious stones and metals, live animals, products of animal and vegetable origin.
Among the priorities of Turkey’s soft power in Central Asia and Tajikistan in particular, we can highlight joint projects in the education and cultural spheres. Since 1991, the Turkish state, private entrepreneurs, and non-governmental organizations have opened many educational institutions in the region as part of the “Big Student Project”.
Six joint Tajik-Turkish lyceums and boarding schools operated in Tajikistan until recently, the first of which opened in the city of Tursunzade in 1992 by an agreement between Tajikistan’s Ministry of Education and the Turkish educational institution “Shalola”. Later, it was decided at the ministry level to establish Tajik-Turkish lyceums in Dushanbe, Kulyab, Kurgan-Tube, Khujand and Khorog. Lyceums were opened in all of these cities with the exception of Khorog.
Despite the fact that in 2013 “Shalola” paid taxes to the state budget amounting to more than five million somoni, and the unprecedented success of the students, which for over 10 years in international competitions won 484 medals, including 88 gold, 130 silver, and 266 bronze, Shalola’s status was revoked in 2015, and the lyceums have been converted into schools for gifted children. The lyceums were closed at the request of the Turkey’s President Erdogan as “Shalola” is an affiliate organization of the Gülen movement “Khizmat”. In addition, active Turkish language classes are being held at the TOMER center in the Turkish Embassy in Dushanbe.
Except for Turkmenistan, Tajik-Turkish cooperation in the field of education falls below that of other Central Asian states. For example, in neighboring Kyrgyzstan there are around 25 Turkish schools, including high schools and two universities, and 32 schools, lyceums, and the K.A. Yassawi International Kazakh-Turkish University in Kazakhstan. There is one high school and university in Turkmenistan while in Uzbekistan, prior to the cooling of relations, there were 65 Turkish educational institutions.
It seems there is not exactly a significant impasse despite the linguistic heterogeneity between countries, which to a certain extent reduced the demand for Turkish high schools in the country.
For Turkey, cooperation with Tajikistan, in spite of some success in the trade and economic spheres, does not stand out in a special way and is simply a part of their foreign policy strategy in the region.
At this stage, the positions of Tajikistan and Turkey on international and regional issues are not an issue. At the same time, Turkey is the main haven for Tajik opposition members and organization such as Group-24, Youth for the revival of Tajikistan, and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan as well. All these groups were deemed extremist in Tajikistan, and their members are wanted internationally. However, Dushanbe, unlike in Tashkent, does not react so sorely to the granting of asylum to their opponents. Economic expediency in normal relations has removed the issue of extraditing members of these groups from the agenda.
Tajikistan has also shown political acquiescence, especially concerning the closing of the Tajik-Turkish lyceums immediately after Erdogan’s request. This is in contrast to officials in Bishkek and Astana who, in spite of closer political relations with Turkey, have not taken such a definitive decision thus leaving the question of Turkish schools open ended.
Dushanbe is extremely interested in the development and deepening of trade and economic relations with Turkey and tries to avoid politicizing the relationship. At the same time, the political regime in Dushanbe is aimed at the complete secularization of society, with a certain apprehension seen in the growth of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which was originally created by representatives of the Islamic Virtue Party. Improving the image of political Islam in Tajikistan can simultaneously improve the image of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party, which is an unacceptable condition for the regime. This factor can prove to be irritable and a further determining aspect in the two countries’ relations.
Ankara, in turn, especially after the restarting of relations with Moscow, will identify its interests, including in Tajikistan, and attempt to develop mutually beneficial trade and economic relations with the Central Asian country.
It seems that bilateral relations between Tajikistan and Turkey, despite some informal and ideological differences, have great, untapped potential. An attractive aspect for Tajikistan these days remains Turkey’s experience in the development of tourism, the textile industry, and processing of raw materials. In addition, in Tajik society there is a desire for modernization, economic development, and to build a stable society, which the Turkish model of development, taking into account its Eastern Muslim component, will be objectively considered as the most attractive.
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Author: Khursand Hurramov, political scientist (Tajikistan, Dushanbe)
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect that of cabar.asia