At least three people died and dozens of Turkish and Kazakh workers were badly injured when a fight erupted at a construction firm in Atyrau (West Kazakhstan) on October 20. The firm holds a contract with Chevron, and the incident has re-ignited public anger against foreign firms.
Last year several workers were beaten to death in a similar brawl between local and foreign workers employed by the Turkish company GATE Inshaat in western Kazakhstan. But the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan and the Turkish Embassy reacted calmly and released simultaneous statements assuring that the incident would not affect in any way the friendly relations between the two fraternal countries. Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov and the chief of the Eurasian division of Chevron, Guy Hollingsworth, announced that measures would be taken to prevent the reoccurrence of ethnically motivated clashes (Panorama, November 24).
At the international level, Kazakh-Turkish relations are positive. Contacts between Astana and Ankara are warm and growing. Turkey recognizes the leading role Kazakhstan plays in Central Asia and regards Astana as the main channel for implementing pan-Turkic ideas of unity.
On November 17 Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev attended a summit meeting of the heads of Turkic-speaking countries hosted by Turkey. The event, ignored by Uzbek President Islam Karimov, brought together the Turkmen Ambassador to Ankara, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev, and Turkish leader Ahmet Nejdet Sezer to sign a joint statement on trade and economic cooperation. The statement calls for combined efforts against terrorism, separatism, and drugs and arms trafficking. Speaking at the summit Nazarbayev said that the Turkic countries should make effective use of their location and potential as a transit hub, while securing stable development through economic integration. Kazakhstan, which plans to launch a second communications satellite from its KazSat series in 2008, would cooperate in space research with other Turkic nations.
Currently about 400 joint ventures operate in Kazakhstan. But of Kazakhstan’s total $50 billion investment volume; Turkey’s share is only $2 billion. Turkey accounts for barely 1.2% of Kazakhstan’s total trade volume, far from the levels with Russia or China. Traditionally Turkey fills the construction and textile niche of Kazakhstan’s economy. In 2005 trade turnover between the countries reached $556.8 million, showing 13.8% growth from the $500 million level in 2004. Turkish sources forecast $1 billion in trade turnover volume this year. But to improve its trade balance with Turkey, Kazakhstan will have to reduce imports of Turkish construction materials, textiles, and chemical products and export more raw materials. Currently Kazakhstan’s exports to Turkey make up only $156.9 million, while imports of construction materials and textiles (also largely brought in from China) have already exceeded $399 million. Turkey hopes to invest in Kazakhstan’s transportation, telecommunications, and energy sectors, where they may face fierce competition from China and Russia. The Kazakh government has increased employment quotas for Turkish workers hired for the booming construction sites in Astana. Kazakhstan regards Turkey as a key element in the economic integration of Turkic nations in Central Asia (Kazakhstanskaya pravda, November 18).
When Kazakhstan joined the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project last June, Moscow reacted jealously. Slowly but resolutely, Kazakhstan has distanced itself from the Kremlin’s ambivalent schemes of economic integration, leaving the doors open for talks with countries treated in Moscow with suspicion or even open animosity. Kazakhstan has never tried to assure Russian authorities that its relations with third parties are not directed against the Kremlin. In July transport and communications ministers from China, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia gathered in Astana to discuss the potential of a new transport corridor linking Central Asia with the South Caucasus and Western Europe. The route, known as TRACECA, would increase the annual cargo shipment capacity, taking into consideration the railway passage through the Bosporus now undertaken by Turkey, up to 30 million tons. Indirectly addressing Moscow, Askar Mamin, Kazakhstan’s transport and communications minister, said that Kazakhstan must consider all possible export routes based on their relative competitiveness (Liter, July 28). Kazakhstan is also considering construction of an oil refinery on the Black Sea jointly with Turkey. However, Uzbekistan’s lukewarm attitude toward the Ankara summit points to the lack of common goals among these states. The escalation of confrontation between the Muslim world and the West may have a negative impact on the unity of Turkic nations sought by Astana and Ankara (Qazaqstan-Zaman, November 24).
Shared ambitions to play a greater role on the international scene will undoubtedly give a new impetus to strengthening ties between Turkey and Kazakhstan. Astana has always supported the Turkish bid to join the European Union, while Turkey welcomes Kazakhstan’s drive toward the WTO. Speaking at the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan in October this year, Nazarbayev made a significant symbolic gesture toward Turkic unity by saying it was high time to replace the Cyrillic script used in the Kazakh language with Latin, adopted by all Turkic-speaking nations of Central Asia except Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. But far more important and palpable is the economic content of the newly shaped integration between Turkic countries.