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Turkey: Istanbul Hosts Summit of Turkic-Speaking Nations

  • Bruce Pannier

The summit of six Turkic-speaking nations begins today in Istanbul. Leaders from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and a delegation from Uzbekistan will participate with host Turkish President Necdet Sezer to try to coordinate projects in their joint interest. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports previous summits have been more effective at pointing out differences among the countries than promoting a common front.

Prague, 26 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- An annual two-day summit of Turkic-speaking nations starts today in Istanbul.

The presidents of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan are attending. Uzbek President Islam Karimov will not be at the summit and instead is sending the speaker of the Uzbek parliament.

The meeting regularly offers leaders the chance to promote economic and political cooperation. But previous gatherings have tended to highlight differences among the countries in spite of their linguistic affinities.

Host nation Turkey is expected to raise the issue of regional energy projects. Gas- and oil-export projects will be of primary interest to Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan, all of which view Turkey as both a consumer and transit point to lucrative markets in Western Europe.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov arrived a day early to start talks with Turkish officials and businessmen. Niyazov hopes his country will soon be a major supplier of natural gas to Turkey. This is the first time Niyazov has been outside of his country for longer than 24 hours since he underwent open-heart surgery in Germany in 1997.

But Turkey's recent economic crisis will be on the minds of many. Turkey may be committed to large-scale energy projects, but its ability to help finance these projects, which run to the hundreds of millions of dollars, will be a question.

Energy projects will be of less interest to Kyrgyzstan, which does not have substantial oil or gas deposits.

Joint efforts to fight terrorism and drug trafficking will also be on the agenda.

Kazakhstan's presidential administration said yesterday that President Nursultan Nazarbayev intends to raise both issues. Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and the Uzbek delegation would likely support any measure toward fighting terrorism, as both countries have fought off armed incursions by Islamic militants the past two summers.

Terrorism problems are also of some interest to Turkmenistan, but the regime has done well at stamping out all forms of opposition. And, increasingly, condemning terrorism means condemning Afghanistan's Taliban movement. Turkmenistan, sharing a long (744-kilometer) border with Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, has so far not publicly condemned the ruling Afghan militia.

Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev said before departing for Istanbul that the summit's final document might also contain a paragraph urging a peaceful settlement of the country's dispute with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

Another regular topic at these summits is re-creating the legendary Silk Route as a modern trade artery.

This is the seventh Turkic summit since the first in Ankara in 1992. The next summit was then held in Istanbul in 1994, and then in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek in 1995, the Uzbek capital Tashkent in 1996, and the new Kazakh capital Astana in 1997. There was no summit in 1998 or 1999 because Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, which should have hosted the meetings, were quarreling over oil-prospecting rights in the Caspian Sea. When the summit was held last year in Baku, the Turkmen president did not attend.

(The Turkmen and Azerbaijan Services contributed to this report)

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