Since the change of the leadership in Uzbekistan in September 2016, relations between Ankara and Tashkent have been growing exponentially. The visit of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Turkey in February 2020, his second in two and a half years, has become another evidence of the parties’ genuine interest in deepening their bilateral political, economic and humanitarian interaction.
Turkey became the first country to recognize Uzbekistan’s independence on December 16, 1991, while diplomatic relations between two countries were established on March 4, 1992 [MFA of Turkey, 2020]. It should be noted, however, that under Uzbekistan’s long-time first president, Islam Karimov, the Turkish-Uzbek relations were not always amicable and had periods of highs and lows. The first tensions appeared in 1993 over Turkey’s hosting of Uzbek opposition leader Muhammad Salih and several other political activists, leading Karimov to recall Uzbek students studying in Turkey. Relations became even more strained after the Turkish government refused to extradite two suspects in a 1999 terrorist attack in Tashkent. In response, Uzbekistan cancelled the visa-free regime with Turkey and closed down the Turkish schools in the country. Turkey’s condemnation of the Uzbek authorities’ handling of the May 2005 Andijan event caused further strain between the two countries, which resulted in a virtual standstill in political relations and a weakening of economic cooperation, with Turkish investors and businesses in Uzbekistan facing severe restrictions. Moreover, Uzbekistan refused to join the Turkey-led Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (Turkic Council) established in 2009 [Lemon, 2018; Yildirim, 2018].
The rapprochement between the two countries began in 2012 after Turkey took some diplomatic steps to normalize relations, which culminated in the November 2016 visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Uzbekistan, shortly after the death of Karimov. In October 2017, Mirziyoyev paid a reciprocal visit to Turkey, the first by an Uzbek leader since 1999, which gave a fresh momentum to bilateral relations as the two countries signed a joint declaration to upgrade mutual ties to the “comprehensive and strategic” level. Uzbekistan simplified visa procedures and later reintroduced a visa-free regime for Turkish citizens. President Erdogan visited Uzbekistan again in late April-early May 2018, and then the parties established a new dialogue format – the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council with the aim to intensify the reopening of cooperation and communication channels between the two brotherly nations (Taskomur, 2017; Dirik, 2019).
The latest visit of the Uzbek president to Turkey has come at a time when Tashkent continues its economic reforms and cautiously opens itself to outside investment and multilateral cooperation. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that Erdogan and Mirziyoyev discussed, first of all, issues related to the enhancement of multifaceted Uzbekistan-Turkey cooperation, primarily in the trade and economic sphere. The two leaders noted the need for holding regular meetings of the bilateral Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation that will allow to make the best use of the available opportunities and implement new mutually beneficial joint projects in promising areas. The negotiations focused on the importance of expanding transport links and establishing multimodal international transit through Uzbekistan and Turkey to Europe. The Uzbek side expressed its interest in adopting Turkey’s best practices in intensive horticulture, fish farming, animal husbandry and breeding. Following their face-to-face talks, the two presidents chaired the first meeting of the Turkey-Uzbekistan High Level Strategic Cooperation Council. During the meeting, the parties reviewed a wide range of issues, including cooperation in politics, security and defense, economy and trade, investments, tourism, energy, transport and transit, agriculture and forestry, culture, education, science and technology, innovation, healthcare, as well as in other areas of mutual interest [MFA of Uzbekistan, 2020a].
Following the meeting of the Strategic Cooperation Council, Erdogan and Mirziyoyev signed a joint statement outlining the key tasks for expanding interstate cooperation. The Turkish president emphasized that Turkey “is always ready to extend support to Uzbekistan in the comprehensive reform process” [Hurriyet Daily News, 2020]. One of the priority tasks announced by the leaders of Turkey and Uzbekistan for the upcoming period is to bring the mutual trade turnover to $5 billion. Indeed, bilateral trade has intensified significantly over the past three years, as it grow from $1.2 billion in 2016 to $1.7 billion in 2018 and $2.2 billion in 2019. In Uzbekistan, there are more than 1,300 enterprises with Turkish capital that implement investment projects in the construction, energy, textiles, agriculture, food processing, tourism and service sectors. The growth of cooperation is especially noticeable in the transport sector: in 2019, the volume of motor road transportation grew by 33%, by rail – 17%, and by air – 42%. In addition, the second steam-gas installation of the Navoi thermal power plant was put into operation with participation of Turkey’s Calik Enerji [MFA of Uzbekistan, 2020a; 2020b]. To further stimulate contacts between the business communities of the two countries, President Mirziyoyev held a meeting with heads of leading Turkish companies and banks. In an effort to persuade the Turkish business community to invest more in Uzbekistan, the Uzbek president assured them that necessary legal and institutional conditions will be created in the country to guarantee investment returns [MFA of Uzbekistan, 2020b].
As the parties reaffirmed their strategic partnership and commitment to strengthening political dialogue, it was also important for them to coordinate positions on regional and international problems of mutual interest, especially at the time of heightened tensions all over the globe. As stated by the Turkish president, Turkey highly appreciates that “our relations with Uzbekistan, based on strong fraternal ties, have risen to the level of strategic partnership”. The talks demonstrated that Turkey and Uzbekistan share similar views on most pressing issues on the regional and international agenda, including within the framework of the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Turkic Council. The leaders of the two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in countering present-day threats and challenges [MFA of Uzbekistan, 2020a].
Last but not least, during their negotiations, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Shavkat Mirziyoyev paid close attention to issues of cultural and humanitarian collaboration. In particular, they noted the importance of holding joint events to promote enlightened Islam in culture, science, education, healthcare and sports. It is noteworthy in this regard that President Erdogan invited President Mirziyoyev as the only highest-ranking guest to attend the inauguration of the Nation’s Library under the President of the Republic of Turkey in Ankara, the project spearheaded by Erdogan himself. This newly built library, the largest in Turkey, features 4 million printed books, over 120 million articles and reports, and 550,000 e-books and rare collections [Beyaz, 2020]. Speaking at the ceremony, Mirziyoyev stated that the Uzbek and Turkish peoples share common historical roots and spiritual values as the legacy of Imam al-Bukhari, al-Biruni, al-Khwarizmi, al-Qushji, Avicenna, Jaloliddin Rumi, Yunus Emre, Alisher Navoi, and other thinkers played an important role in the national upsurge of the two peoples. In his turn, President Erdogan stressed that for Turkey, “Uzbekistan is the most important of our springs of life which feed our world of knowledge, wisdom and culture and where scholars that shape our vision for civilization grew up” [Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, 2020]. Shavkat Mirziyoyev presented the library with over 350 books on various themes, including a copy of the rare Uthman Quran, copied by Uzbek calligraphers [MFA of Uzbekistan, 2020b].
It is obvious that at the time the Turkish-Uzbek relations became a hostage of the isolationist policy pursued by President Karimov. Today, these relations are acquiring their natural shape as Uzbekistan rebuilds ties with its neighbors and external partners. Based on their good personal relations, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Shavkat Mirziyoyev have opened a new page in the history of Turkey-Uzbekistan cooperation. They have strengthened mutual political trust between the two countries and promoted the creation of favorable conditions and broad opportunities for a mutually fruitful partnership.
Beyaz, Zafer Fatih (2020). Turkey: Erdogan set to cut ribbon of Nation’s Library. Retrieved from https://www.aa.com.tr/en/culture/turkey-erdogan-set-to-cut-ribbon-of-nation-s-library/1737443. Accessed on 24.02.2020.
Dirik, Gorkem (2019). From hostility to fraternity: Turkish-Uzbek relations. Retrieved from https://www.dailysabah.com/op-ed/2019/06/21/from-hostility-to-fraternity-turkish-uzbek-relations. Accessed on 24.02.2020.
Hurriyet Daily News (2020). Turkey, Uzbekistan aim to boost bilateral trade to $5 bln. Retrieved from https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-uzbekistan-aim-to-boost-bilateral-trade-to-5-bln-152238. Accessed on 24.02.2020.
Lemon, Edward (2018). Erdoğan to visit Uzbekistan in further sign of improving ties. Retrieved from https://ahvalnews.com/turkey-uzbekistan/erdogan-visit-uzbekistan-further-sign-improving-ties. Accessed on 24.02.2020.
MFA of Turkey (2020). Relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan. Retrieved from http://www.mfa.gov.tr/relations-between-turkey-and-uzbekistan%20.en.mfa. Accessed on 24.02.2020.
MFA of Uzbekistan (2020a). Uzbekistan – Turkey: a New Stage of Strategic Partnership at the Highest Level. Retrieved from https://mfa.uz/en/press/news/2020/02/23446/. Accessed on 24.02.2020.
MFA of Uzbekistan (2020b). Each state, each nation is strong first of all for its intellectual potential, high spirituality. Retrieved from https://mfa.uz/en/press/news/2020/02/23468/. Accessed on 24.02.2020.
Presidency of the Republic of Turkey (2020). President Erdoğan inaugurates the Nation’s Library. Retrieved from https://www.tccb.gov.tr/en/news/542/116740/president-erdogan-inaugurates-the-nation-s-library. Accessed on 24.02.2020.
Taskomur, Fatima (2017). How did Turkey-Uzbek relations improve after two decades of stagnation? Retrieved from https://www.trtworld.com/turkey/how-did-turkey-uzbek-relations-improve-after-two-decades-of-stagnation–11677. Accessed on 24.02.2020.
Yildirim, Cihangir (2018). The New Turkish-Uzbek Relations in Post-Karimov Era. Retrieved from https://insamer.com/en/the-new-turkish-uzbek-relations-in-post-karimov-era-_1122.html. Accessed on 24.02.2020.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Dauren Aben holds a Master’s in International Relations from Kainar University, Almaty, Kazakhstan, and a Master’s in International Policy Studies and certificates in nonproliferation studies, conflict resolution, and commercial diplomacy from the California-based Monterey Institute of International Studies. Dauren previously worked as a senior project manager and researcher at the Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education. In 2011-2014, he worked as a senior research fellow at the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. In 2008-20