Turkic countries should create a visa-free travel zone to enhance connections and trade, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday following the signing of an agreement to lift visa restrictions between Turkey and Kyrgyzstan.
“Turkish citizens will be able to visit Kyrgyzstan with their passports without a need for visas and vice versa. The trucks of our countries will be able to travel [across borders] more easily from now on,” Erdoğan told reporters late Tuesday at a press conference with visiting Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev.
The other Central Asian republics need to follow Kyrgyzstan’s lead in helping to create a Schengen-style visa-free travel zone in the region, Erdoğan said. He noted that while Turkey does not demand visas from Uzbek or Kazakh citizens, both Tashkent and Astana require Turks to obtain a visa when traveling to those countries.
“We hope we can get over the problem [with the other Central Asian countries] after we take this step with Kyrgyzstan,” Erdoğan said.
Lifting visas with neighboring countries and others in the region constitutes an important element of Turkish foreign policy as embraced by the current government. Last year’s abolition of visa restrictions with Syria provided a boon for local Turkish economies close to the border, but the current unrest could now prompt a wave of Syrians to flee to Turkey.
Cooperation with Kyrgyzstan
A high-level strategic cooperation council between Turkey and Kyrgyzstan has also been established, Erdoğan said. “Kyrgyzstan is going through a tough period and we hope that it will reach brighter days,” the prime minister said.
The two countries are taking historic steps with the strategic cooperation council, as well as a tax exemption agreement, Atambaev said, adding that the next step would be to solve work permit issues.
The Kyrgyz prime minister said Turkey had always supported Kyrgyzstan with donations and humanitarian assistance.
“It was Turkey that evacuated Kyrgyz citizens from Libya [during that country’s unrest,” Atambaev said. “Prime Minister Erdoğan donated $61 million to Kyrgyzstan today. We have received $71 million in donations from Turkey in total this year.”
Noting that Kyrgyzstan would also lift visas with Russia and set up a customs union regime, the Kyrgyz leader said: “We’ll establish a large economic region from Ankara to Moscow.”
Turkey has changed a lot in eight years and is now granting loans instead of receiving them, Atambaev said, adding that Ankara was an example for Bishkek.
During his visit, Atambaev also attended a Turkey-Kyrgyzstan Business and Investment Forum on Wednesday with Ali Babacan, Turkey’s state minister for economy.
Kyrgyzstan recently launched a reform process and has adopted a new constitution, Babacan said, adding that Turkey was ready to share its experiences with the Central Asian country.
Noting that Turkish-Kyrgyz trade volume increased four-fold in the last eight years to reach $160 million, Babacan said: “Our new target is $1 billion, and that is a realistic goal.”
There are approximately 300 Turkish companies operating in Kyrgyzstan with a total investment of around $500 million.
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News