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Turkey's changing axis excludes Central Asia, experts say

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 6/15/2010 12:00:00 AM | BARÇIN YİNANÇ

Turkey may be shifting its axis away from the West, but it is not moving far enough East to encompass the growing importance of – or affect the current turmoil in – Central Asia, regional experts say. Observers criticize Ankara's 'indifference' to the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, saying the government is too preoccupied with issues in Iran and Israel

Turkey’s growing regional role does not extend to Central Asia, where the eruption of ethnic violence threatens a refugee crisis, experts say, criticizing what they call Ankara’s indifference to areas outside its new Middle East axis.

“The world is leaving the Middle East behind; the new geography of rivalry will be in Central and South Asia. Yet the [Turkish] government is only busy with Iran and Hamas,” regional expert Sinan Oğan told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday.

“Central Asia belongs to the Turkic geography. It would have been only natural for Turkey to be involved in the relations between two ethnic Turkic groups,” Oğan said.

More on Kyrgyz unrest
Kyrgyzstan drops foreign troops demand

Kyrgyzstan's playboy 'prince' accused of financing unrest

Turkey evacuates more nationals, sends aid to Kyrgyzstan

Int’l community concerned about Kyrgyzstan
The United Nations and the European Union have urged Kyrgyzstan not to let ethnic riots derail a key constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections. Also, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, both said they were ready to help resolve the crisis. "The referendum and the elections must be held at the announced times," U.N. representative Miroslav Jenca said in Bishkek, a position backed by the EU, according to Germany's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Holger Green. The OSCE called for recognizing “the urgent need to restore peace in Kyrgyzstan and prevent further loss of life," while the CSTO decided to provide aviation, equipment, military transport, special means to Kyrgyzstan, according to Kyrgyz English-language news agency 24.kg. BISHKEK - Daily News with wires

Timeline: Deadly ethnic flare up in Kyrgyzstan
April 7, 2010: President Kurmanbek Bakiyev flees the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, after violent street protests in the Central Asian nation.

April 8: Opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva assumes presidential and governmental responsibilities, demanding the resignation of Bakiyev.

April 15: Ousted President Bakiyev leaves Kyrgyzstan for Kazakhstan. At least 85 people are killed in the upheaval.

May 4: Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko says he will not hand over Bakiyev to face the charges.

May 13: Bakiyev supporters seize control of government buildings in the cities of Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken, and kidnap the governor of Jalal-Abad region.

May 14: The interim government says it has regained control across the south.

May 19: A state of emergency is declared in Jalal-Abad after deadly clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south.

June 10-11: Conflict between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks flares up in Osh and the southern region. The interim government declares a state of emergency.

June 13: Bakiyev denies claims he is behind the clashes.

June 14: The Health Ministry says the death toll from the clashes has reached 171, with nearly 1,800 injured. Observers believe the real figures to be much higher.
BISHKEK - Daily News with wires

Conflict between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks flared up in southern Kyrgyzstan on Thursday night. At least 170 people have been killed in the ensuing violence, which may soon have driven 100,000 refugees across the border to Uzbekistan.

According to both Oğan and former Turkish State Minister Ahat Andican, the crisis was foreseeable by anyone who is familiar with the region.

“It is not the first time there have been ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan. Those who closely watch the region could have predicted that interethnic clashes could erupt in the presence of a weak government in Bishkek,” said Oğan, who is the director of Turkish Center for International Relations and Strategic Analysis, or TÜRKSAM.

In early April, President Kurmanbek Bakiyev fled the capital city of Bishkek and opposition leaders formed an interim government. Uzbeks in the south, a predominantly Kyrgyz stronghold of the former president, largely support the country’s new leadership, creating tension that both experts said contributed to the recent outbreak of violence. “Uzbeks did not like Bakiyev’s Kyrgyz nationalism,” Oğan said.

Both Andican and Oğan criticized the Turkish government’s indifference to the region and its problems. “Turkey has cut its relations with Central Asia since 2000; it is nearly non-existent in the region,” Andican told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. Referring to State Minister Faruk Çelik, who bears responsibility for issues regarding Turkic republics and communities, he added, “No one knows his name, as he does not do anything about Central Asia.”

The lack of interest seems to go both ways. “Look at the statements of the leaders in Kyrgyzstan. No one asks for the involvement of Turkey. The Turkish government has no weight in the region at all,” Andican said, adding that Ankara’s decision to send a delegation to discuss ways to improve stability, announced Monday by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, will not have the desired effect.

Though Kyrgyzstan has asked for U.N. assistance, Oğan said Turkey has spent all its political capital as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council on the Iranian issue. Noting that Turkey recently assumed the presidency of a regional organization that has both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as members, Oğan said, “Turkey could have asked for an emergency meeting” of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, or CICA.

Instead, he said, President Abdullah Gül is in South Korea, Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Şahin is in Iran and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has a different agenda.

The roots of the conflict in Kyrgyzstan date back to Soviet times, when part of the fertile lands of the Fergana Valley were distributed between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, according to Andican, who formerly served as state minister responsible for Turkic republics and communities. “As a result, there are Uzbek communities living in both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan,” Andican said, adding that the inequalities and problems between the two ethnic groups were further aggravated during the countries’ transition from Soviet Union members to independent states.

“Uzbeks have reached up to 50 percent in certain areas [of southern Kyrgyzstan], controlling the commerce,” said Oğan. “Kyrgyzstan felt threatened by the south becoming Uzbek.”

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