ASTANA – Turkic integration is gaining momentum amidst ongoing geopolitical turbulence. As the 10th anniversary summit of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) concludes in Astana on Nov. 3, experts are optimistic about the future of the organization.
The summit, hosted by Kazakhstan, was attended by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sadyr Japarov, President of Türkiye Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban, and Chairman of the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council) of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, representing observer states in OTS, also participated. The event provided a platform for discussions on strengthening economic, cultural, and political ties among Turkic-speaking countries.
OTS was created in 2009 by four founding members – Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Türkiye. Yet it was just in 2021 at the Istanbul summit that OTS transformed into a full-fledged organization. At this year’s summit, Uzbekistan passed the OTS chairmanship to Kazakhstan.
The common understanding of the role of the Turkic world
Aidar Kurmashev, head of the Asian Studies Department at the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies, commended the commitment of member countries to intensify cooperation, particularly at a time when the geopolitical situation is in a state of uncertainty.
“It is gratifying that even in such conditions, the positions of the Turkic countries remain close, harmonious, and aimed at creating a stable global order. In our turbulent times, this is already a reliable foundation on which we can build strategic relationships of trust,” said Kurmashev.
The shared understanding of the role and place of the Turkic world in the international arena also positively impacts the rapprochement of member states.
“The Turkic states have similar goals – maintaining security and stability, growth in the well-being of citizens, and fostering national and cultural identity,” he added.
United by a common language, culture, and heritage, the political will of leaders to deepen cooperation across all areas is strong. Kazakhstan, which has pursued a constructive multi-vector foreign policy boasting friendly and trust-based relations with countries, is keen to enhance its partnership with Turkic countries, facilitating increased diplomatic and economic dialogue.
Addressing the summit, Turkish President Erdoğan emphasized that the unity and solidarity of the Turkic world is the most important tool in confronting global and regional challenges.
“No power can subdue the hearts that beat together,” he told the summit, recalling the solidarity shown by OTS member states to Türkiye when it was hit by a devastating earthquake in February.
Erdoğan vowed to take steps towards peace, prosperity, and security of the Turkic world by working “shoulder to shoulder.”
Economic cooperation is a priority
Boosting economic cooperation and diversifying transport corridors remain a top priority for Kazakhstan.
“Kazakhstan, like all OTS countries, in its economic development sees the need to increase the export of domestic products abroad. The more complex the added value is, the higher the income will be for the economy of the Turkic states,” said Kurmashev, emphasizing the importance of supporting small and medium-sized businesses.
According to the Kazakh Ministry of Trade and Integration, trade turnover between Kazakhstan and the OTS countries reached $8.1 billion between January and August. From 2010 to 2022, this figure almost tripled from $4.5 to $12.9 billion.
Kazakhstan mainly exports crude oil ($1.3 billion), wheat ($655.4 million), copper and copper cathodes ($640.2 million), raw aluminum ($221.2 million), and petroleum products ($214.1 million).
Tokayev is optimistic about the untapped trade potential.
“This year, trade turnover between members of the organization exceeded $22 billion. This figure can be increased by 1.5 times if general requirements are approved,” he said.
According to Kurmashev, Kazakh exports to OTS member states account for 74% of the total volume of trade turnover or $9.6 billion. The largest partner is Türkiye, with a 50% share (4.8 billion) in trade turnover, followed by Uzbekistan – 39% ($3.7 billion), Kyrgyzstan – 8% ($745.3 million), and Azerbaijan – 4% ($375.3 million).
Addressing his counterparts, Tokayev reiterated the need to stimulate the free export of goods to the common market by adopting uniform standards.
“Uniform standards will ensure annual GDP growth of approximately 1%. Currently, the gross domestic product of our countries is almost $1.4 trillion,” he added.
Transport and connectivity
Experts also say connectivity has been central to the development of OTS. One of the outcomes of the summit is the signing of a joint roadmap on transport connectivity for 2023-2027.
The Trans-Caspian International Transport Corridor, also known as the Middle Corridor, plays a crucial role. Kurmashev said Kazakhstan views the Middle Corridor as key to developing connectivity between Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
“In March 2022, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Türkiye, and Georgia signed a declaration on the Trans-Caspian East-West Corridor, reinforcing the significance of the corridor and enabling the adoption of steps to strengthen the transit potential of the signatory states,” said the expert.
In October, the countries established a joint venture. “We have already achieved a reduction in the transit period from China to Europe, cutting it by at least three times: from 53 days to 19-23 days. Moreover, transit through the territory of Kazakhstan has been halved from 12 to 6 days. Our country plans to further reduce this transit time to five days by the end of this year,” said Kurmashev.
There are other significant transportation infrastructure projects in the region, including the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline.
The decisive role of Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan’s role in OTS has been decisive, said Baghdad Amreyev, the President of the Turkic Investment Fund, one of the OTS divisions. The idea to set up the Turkic Investment Fund aimed at mobilizing the economic potential of member states and attracting investments, also belongs to Kazakhstan.
“Kazakhstan took the initiative in establishing the Turkic Council, which brought together the Turkic states in their traditional form. Prior to that, Kazakhstan played a key role in founding the Interparliamentary Assembly of Turkic Countries. In the early years of 1991-92, Kazakhstan was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of TÜRKSOY [The International Organization of Turkic Culture]. Furthermore, Kazakhstan also played a pivotal role in launching the Turkic Academy, among other initiatives,” said Amreyev, who served as OTS Secretary-General until 2022.
Amreyev said Kazakh people are inherently “diplomatically oriented.”
“Kazakhs possess an open nature, and we have always wanted to build strong and trusting relationships with all partner countries. From time immemorial, we have been diplomatically oriented towards this,” said Amreyev, noting that the geopolitical location further mandates such a diplomatic approach.