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Turkic-Speaking Countries To Hold Summit In Baku

November 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A congress of Turkic-speaking countries is opening in Baku on November 17, with economic and cultural cooperation as well as political issues such as Nagorno-Karabakh on the agenda.

Authorities in host country Azerbaijan say the gathering is intended to strengthen ties between Turkey and five Turkic-speaking countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union -- Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Summits bringing together the six countries have been held since 1992.

The congress, hosted by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, is due to draw more than 500 other delegates from some 30 regions and countries -- including Mongolia, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia and Kosovo. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel are also due to attend. A general agreement on further cooperation will likely be signed at the end of the summit on November 19.

Without giving details, Azerbaijani officials say the summit will also discuss the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly Armenian-speaking enclave in Azerbaijan that unilaterally declared itself an independent republic in 1991.

The discussions will also address the divided island of Cyprus and the status of Turkic-speaking minorities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The issue of repatriation for Ahiska Turks will also be discussed at the Baku summit. Ahiska Turks -- who say that Georgia is their homeland -- were exiled by Soviet leaders during World War II to Central Asia, Russia, and Ukraine.

Strengthening Ties With Turkey

Vafa Quluzade, the president of the Baku think tank Political Studies for the Caspian Region, told RFE/RL that despite their broad and ambitious agendas, most of the Turkish-speaking nations' summits have never been able to implement their agreements and declarations, and that they were nothing more than "speeches, declarations, and applause."

Quluzade said, however, that Turkic-speaking countries can use such meetings to build closer relationships with Turkey, which shares "the same culture and almost the same language." Quluzade said Turkey is the only truly democratic country among the Turkic nations, and that could serve as a good example to the others.

"Now there is a great importance in establishing good relations with Turkey because Turkey's much [further ahead] than the former Soviet republics on issues like democracy, on issues like Western orientation, and the economy," Quluzade said. He added that Turkey offers a positive model for the Turkic-speaking countries in the CIS.

Quluzade said Turkey could also play an important role as an alternative transit route for the energy-rich countries in Central Asia, making them less dependent on Russia.

However, Quluzade pointed out that the former Soviet republics do not need Turkey as a new "big brother" to replace Russia.

In the 1990s, Turkish leaders as well as some of the Central Asian countries suggested creating a commonwealth or union of Turkic states. Quluzade said the idea of equal cooperation and partnership between Turkey and the other Turkic-speaking countries would be a more realistic goal.

(RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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