At the same time, Uzbekistan is a country with a population of 28 million, in addition to the many Uzbeks residing in neighboring countries, thus making Uzbekistan the most populated and ancient country in the heart of Central Asia. Uzbekistan is also a country that has had great success in its region as far as the organization of its youth, its women, and its many trades and careers. For these reasons, I have a particular love and respect for Uzbekistan out of all the other Central Asian countries.
Uzbekistan really does resemble an ancient and deep-rooted sycamore tree, which is why it does not deserve to be in the state it is in today. We are faced now with an Uzbekistan that approaches all its neighboring countries and the world in general with suspicion, a suspicion that stretches as far as its treatment of its own citizens. The fear of political opposition and of armed Islamic movements in Uzbekistan has reached the level of paranoia.
For these reasons, relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan have been turbulent for a long time. Uzbekistan has often kept its distance from Turkey, pointing to reasons that ranged from what it said was Ankara's ignoring political Uzbek opposition in Turkey, or Turkish groups carrying out religious propaganda in Uzbekistan, or even Turkey's stance on Uzbek citizens that Uzbekistan was pressing to have extradited. The Uzbek capital of Taşkent has pushed for Turkey to prevent Uzbeki opposition from traveling to Turkey and also to expel some of this opposition from the country.
And as for human rights issues, Taşkent has expressed displeasure with the fact that Turkey works in concert with international groups and with the EU and US. In addition, President Islam Karimov has approached the Turkish Language Speaking Countries Cooperative Council with ambivalence, worried that the Uzbek identity could be lost within the greater Turkic arena. In contrast, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are all full members of the council, while Turkmenistan is an observing member. Uzbekistan, on the contrary, stays quite distanced from this organization.
The economic relations between Turkey and Uzbekistan also remain far below their potential. The foreign trade volume was increased by 65 percent in 2010 compared to 2009, reaching $1.143 billion. Still though, shared investments and construction services are far below the desired levels between these two countries. Turkish investments in Uzbekistan are largely in the areas of textile, food, medicine, plastics, construction and hotel services. Between the years of 1992-2010, Turkish construction services reached a total of $1.8 billion. There are 75 Turkish textile and clothing firms in Uzbekistan, while the total investment of Turkish firms in Uzbekistan for the year 2010 was more than $1 billion.
So how will the coldness between Turkey and Uzbekistan be overcome? There were a series of political meetings between the Foreign Ministries of these countries in Taşkent on Feb. 11-12, 2008. During these meetings, a letter from Turkish President Abdullah Gül expressing the desire to see improved one-on-one relations with Uzbekistan was relayed to the Uzbeki president. Even if the governments themselves are unable to overcome problematic relations, the peoples of these countries will. The time to waste on these relations has long passed. Sept. 1, 2011 was the 20th anniversary of Uzbekistan's independence. This independence was celebrated at a reception hosted at the Uzbekistan Embassy in Ankara on Sept. 7. Happy anniversary.