Following the passing of the former president, Islam Karimov, in 2016, the new government led by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev embarked upon a series of reforms aiming to offset Soviet-style isolationist governance and to effectively integrate with the rest of the world.
Two years later, having improved the governance structures, enhanced the rule of law and solved problems that used to plague the country’s economy such as the lack of currency convertibility and excessive state intervention, Uzbekistan is now increasingly drawing the world’s attention. This is a country that has abundant natural resources, a skilled labor pool, a strategic geographic location between Russia and China, and shares borders all the other Central Asian republics.
For Turkey, the change in Uzbekistan has offered a long-awaited opportunity to repair and improve relations that had deteriorated significantly during Karimov’s long reign. Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize Uzbekistan’s independence on September 1, 1991, as Ankara wanted to be close to the newly independent countries and their peoples with whom Turks share historical, cultural, ethnic, religious and linguistic roots.
The following years, however, brought much political disagreement between the two governments. In 1993, Turkey’s hosting of a presidential candidate challenging Karimov was criticized by Tashkent, and in 1999, allegations of a Turkish citizen’s involvement in the assassination attempt against Karimov further poisoned the relationship. The final blow came in 2005 when Turkey reacted strongly against the Uzbek government’s handling of the unrest in the province of Andijan, where Karimov’s troops opened fire on protesters, killing several hundred.
The change in Uzbekistan has now opened a new window of opportunity to mend the ties, and both sides appear willing to invest more in this relationship. In October last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the first Turkish leader to visit Uzbekistan after a hiatus of 20 years, and this was reciprocated by Mirziyoyev in April. Political rhetoric was particularly strong at these meeting, especially when Mirziyoyev said when receiving Erdoğan in Tashkent, “This break of 20 years, we have missed each other a lot, you can see it in our eyes.”
However, it is evident that this new chapter in the Turkish-Uzbek relationship will be built on concrete projects rather than words of fraternity. During the two presidential summits, a total of 47 intergovernmental agreements were signed, covering areas such as economic cooperation, education exchange, science, combating terrorism and crime, judicial affairs, transportation, healthcare, and tourism. These agreements include deals inked for 50 joint investment projects with a total value of more than US$3 billion.
After two decades of not talking to each other, Ankara and Tashkent want to make up for lost time. In the near future, Turkish businesses are expected to be more active in the Uzbek market, benefiting not only from the improving overall business environment in this country and Uzbekistan’s increasing global engagement but also from the efforts made by the two governments to improve the business conditions at the bilateral level.
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