Climate change to be on agenda of Eurasian Economic Summit
Barçın Yinanç - firstname.lastname@example.orgWhile many international conferences in Turkey are being canceled due to recent terrorist attacks, the 19th Eurasian Economic Summit will go ahead as planned in Istanbul from April 5 to 7. In addition to terrorism and migration issues, climate change will also be debated by participants from a region rich in fossil fuels.
“Climate change is a reality of our age; we cannot run away from it,” said Dr. Akkan Suver the head of the Marmara Foundation, which has organized the event for the past 19 years.
Tell us how the Eurasia summits started.
We started in 1998 with seven Caucasian and Central Asian countries aiming to establish greater cooperation. The following year we had participation from European countries, and over time it expanded to include participants from a total of 45 countries. We preferred to focus on energy and the economy.
“Eurasia” was a very popular concept after the demise of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. But it seems less popular today.
Just as Europe’s value is not limited to its geography, you should not measure Eurasia’s value only by its geography either; Eurasia is not simply a map. But we should not forget that with the introduction of China’s Silk Road project, Eurasia is about linking a geography from Beijing to London. Turkey is at the center of this geography.
We call our summit the Eurasia Economic Summit, but we have participants from Australia and the United States. Obviously the Eurasia of 1992 is not the same as present-day Eurasia. The countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia have changed since 1992.
In the past we [Turkey] used to tell the Europeans to go to Central Asia with us; we told them it would be easier to find partners in these new countries if they went with us. We also told the Central Asian countries to go to Europe together with us. But today, Europe is present in Central Asia and central Asia is present in Europe without us
What does this tell us?
We made a mistake. In the early 1990s the Central Asian states had just gotten rid of one big brother. They did not want a new big brother. Turkey was a little late in understanding that. These countries are now celebrating their 25th year of independence. We can only continue our cooperation by respecting them. They are asking for relations on an equal footing.
You have mentioned China’s Silk Road project. Would you say China is reviving the concept of Eurasia?
China decided to revive the Silk Road project in order to open up to the world, as well as to integrate into the world. It would be beneficial for China but also for all the countries along that road. Indeed, China is set to be the locomotive force of Eurasia.
Turkey is contributing to the Silk Road vision by initiating construction of the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railroad. It has also connected Asia to Europe by constructing the Marmaray.
China will no doubt be an important actor, but there is also the Russia factor. Some things cannot happen without Russia’s approval. And Turkey also still remains an important actor, despite everything.
Don’t you think the fall in oil and gas prices has damaged the importance of Eurasia as an idea?
This is temporary. But at any rate the players in the region have already done their planning according to worst-case scenarios. We will hear about this from them, but Eurasia’s importance in terms of energy will continue.
You mentioned Russia. How do you see Russia’s policies? Moscow seems to have endorsed a more aggressive foreign policy line.
Let’s not call it aggressive. Let’s say Russia is making its weight felt. You can feel this in Turkmenistan, you can feel it in Uzbekistan, or in Kyrgyzstan. But these countries are being very careful toward each other.
One of the panels at this year’s summit will be on the Cold War. We say Eurasia is not the same as it was in 1992 but the summit will talk about the Cold War. It sounds a bit contradictory.
What we are saying is that during the Cold War there was communism on one side and liberal economies on the other side. But everyone was very careful. We did not experience the kind of terror attacks that are currently happening. Today there is no Cold War, but there are hot contentions: Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine have all lost territories. There is tremendous chaos around, so we decided to approach the issue in an ironic way by asking whether we should be longing for the old Cold War days.
How do you see Turkey’s position?
We are a nation of 80 million people but we keep fighting with each other. With its qualified people and democratic experience Turkey can still play an important role. But we keep using up our energy fighting each other.
What is our image in Eurasia?
Our partners expect more from us. They want Turkey to show more interest. We don’t show them enough interest. During the times of former presidents Turgut Özal and Süleyman Demirel these relations were much stronger and warmer. Today they are limited to diplomatic talks.
The visit of Azerbaijan President İlham Aliyev following the recent terror attacks came as a nice gesture. We really appreciated it. But we should also be on their side in such occasions; we should make our own presence felt. Unfortunately the level of our current relations is not at the good as in the past. But Turkey remains a center of attraction for Eurasian countries. They still consider us part of themselves, as family members.
Do you think Turkey has shifted its attention to other geographies?
Indeed we have shifted our attention to the holy lands to the Middle East. Did we have to do that? I don’t think so. We should remain focused on the European area and the Eurasian sphere, with which we share the same values.
You mentioned Aliyev’s visit, but we know that several meetings scheduled to take place in Turkey have been cancelled after recent terror attacks. How is the level of attendance for the Eurasian Economic Summit looking?
Two presidents from Bosnia, as well as the presidents of Macedonia and Turkish Cyprus are coming. Ten foreign former presidents will also be there. From Turkey, former President Abdullah Gül, Parliament Spokesperson İsmail Kahraman, and the foreign and transport ministers will attend.
Obviously there are a few guests who have decided not to come, but terrorism incidents are not limited to Turkey. And anyway we will definitely talk about terrorism as well as human trafficking and the migration issue during the summit. We will also discuss the role of women.
Another issue to be discussed is climate change.
We can see that the stipulations of the climate change agreement reached in Paris are not being abided by and countries are finding it difficult to adapt. But all countries, including Turkey, have put their signature to the agreement. This will end up being a big problem. Unfortunately, the Paris summit was not debated well enough in Turkey. Eurasian countries also signed the agreement but it is not on their agenda either.
So are you trying to introduce this issue to their agenda?
When we talked about arbitration in 2002 and 2003, we were not taken seriously. Nobody believed in it. But a few years later they did understand the importance of it.
We cannot escape the dictates of the climate change agreement. Countries have been given time to adopt and take the necessary measures. We have to start thinking about it, but I’m not sure this is being done or there is even an intention to do so.
So you will be introducing an unwelcome subject to the summit agenda.
Climate change is a reality of our age. We can’t run away from it. We have been organizing these summits for the past 19 years. I’m only heading a simple civil society organization. But if several state personalities have trust in us and are coming to participate, it means the summit is being recognized and we may make progress.
Who is Akkan Suver?
Dr. Akkan Suver, who was appointed as the honorary consul general of Montenegro on May 26, 2008, is the president of the Marmara Group Foundation.
He is the founder of the Eurasian Economic Summit, which has been organized since 1998. He received an honorary causa doctorate from Azerbaijan Tefekkür University (2001) and honorary doctorate from Romania Constanza Maritime University (2013).
Suver was awarded with the Pontificate Medal from Pope Benedict XVI due to his contributions on intercultural dialogue in Turkey and in international level.
Suver has also received Dostlug Orden and Terraki Medal from Azerbaijan, Genghis Khan Medal, Silver Star Medal and Polar Star Medal from Mongolia and 15th Year Medal and 20th Year Medal and Independence Medal from Moldova - Gagauzia.
In 2013, Suver received the Balkan Charter of Peace from the Balkan Club of Peace.
Suver has taken part in several elections realized in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia with an “observer statute.”