Turkey, Turkmenistan aim to open new era

President Abdullah Gül' visit to Turkmenistan is arousing expectations in Ankara that mutual relations between the two will soon enter a new honeymoon period.

Turkey, Turkmenistan aim to open new era
President Abdullah Gül began a two-day visit to Turkmenistan for talks aimed at improving relations between Turkey and the Central Asian country, arousing expectations in Ankara that mutual relations between the two will soon enter a new honeymoon period.

Speaking at the airport before his departure, Gül said the two countries would sign several agreements to boost trade and economic ties during his stay in the Central Asian republic. He did not give details of the agreements. "My visit will provide an opportunity to redefine, revise and strengthen our shared vision for the future in the light of past experiences," he said.

Turkish-Turkmen relations have experienced ups and downs in the past due to Turkey's reluctance to help Turkmenistan have its natural gas transported through Iran and Turkey to Europe, and Turkey's apparent support for the Azerbaijani position with regard to sovereignty rights over the Caspian Sea. Later, Turkmenistan's president, Saparmurad Turkmenbaşı, reportedly said on more than one occasion that he loved Turkey but that he had problems with the Turkish state. President Gül's visit to Turkmenistan coincides with the anniversary of the universal recognition of Turkmenistan's independence on Dec. 8, 1991.

Experts say that Gül's visit to the country might serve to thaw relations between Turkey and Turkmenistan if he suggests new projects that could open alternative pipeline routes for Turkmen gas to reach European markets, thus eliminating Turkmenistan's dependence on Russian pipelines. Otherwise, experts have suggested to Today's Zaman, the visit will serve as a good-will gesture and nothing more.

Dr. Seyfettin Erol, from Gazi University's international relations department, argues that the Turkmens were disappointed because Turkey did not adequately support them in the passage of Turkmen natural gas through Iran. Also, suspicions that Turkish citizens were involved with an assassination attempt against late Turkmenbaşı led to uneasiness in the relations.

Turkey's preference for Russian natural gas and the Blue Stream project, which was inaugurated in 2005, over Turkmen gas had disappointed Ashkhabad. Another problem between the two countries is the Turkish position in the dispute on the sovereignty rights of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan over the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan believes Turkey is biased toward the Azerbaijanis. "Turkmenistan wants Turkey to adopt a more balanced and neutral position on that issue," says Erol.

Having a president with an apparent interest in foreign policy and the appointment of a bright name like Dr. Hakan Fidan, former head of the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA), to deputy undersecretary of the prime ministry and responsible for the coordination of foreign policy, Turkey is expected to be more active in its policies toward the Central Asian republics. Fidan is particularly well received in Central Asian countries due to his efforts to coordinate financial and technical help for those countries during the nation-building process after their 1991 independence from the Soviet Union.

Çankırı deputy and Foreign Relations Commission member Suat Kınıklıoğlu is optimistic for precisely these reasons. "The previous president of Turkey neglected Central Asia, together with the whole world, for seven years. Süleyman Demirel had a personal interest in Central Asia, and this helped Turkey a lot. But with the Andijan events of 2005 in Uzbekistan, Turkey lost its trust in Central Asia. I believe Turkey will be able to carry its recent success on the Middle Eastern front to Central Asia as well. In recent years, Turkey has matured its foreign policy to develop relations based on rationality and mutual interest," Kınıklıoğlu said.

Turkey recently announced a project for boosting cooperation between the Turkic language-speaking countries that entails the establishing of a joint parliament of Turkic countries in İstanbul. Though symbolic in nature, the call found interest in the Central Asian countries, and it is expected that Turkmenistan is going to be a major participant in this regional cooperation.

Turkish-Turkmen relations previously enjoyed a honeymoon period in the early 1990s, when the eighth president of Turkey, Turgut Özal, was directing Turkish foreign policy.

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 06 Aralık 2007, 11:56