Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Turkish Firms to Stay in Kyrgyzstan

The looting and violence that followed the March revolution has failed to dent Turkish investor confidence.
By Gulmira Sakenova

Kyrgyzstan is expecting a new wave of business from Turkey in spite of the damage many investors suffered during the March revolution.

Two major Turkish stores in Bishkek were looted and set on fire during the revolution, which toppled President Askar Akaev following disputed parliamentary elections.

Serious damage was also done to the Turkish Istikbal chain of furniture stores.

Nevertheless, confidence amongst Turkish investors remains high and many are preparing to undertake more work in the former Soviet republic.

The March 24 revolution was largely peaceful, but the outbreaks of looting and violence prompted the Ankara authorities to evacuate Turkish women and children.

One Turkish embassy employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “Around 4,000 Turkish citizens live in Kyrgyzstan, but there was no talk of a full evacuation. We realised that this was a temporary situation, but to give our citizens peace of mind, we sent their wives and children home.”

However, Turkish business interests proved more difficult to protect, and negotiations are now underway for compensation.

Kyrgyzstan’s acting finance minister Akylbek Japarov met the Kyrgyz-Turkish business association on April 15, in the company of the Turkish ambassador, and the heads of the Kyrgyz financial police and customs department.

Turkish investors are concerned about the level of damage done to their stores and premises during the revolution, and so far have not been properly recompensed.

However, Japarov assured them that the new interim government is preparing a decree to sort out the insurance situation.

Despite these recent problems, Turkish confidence in Kyrgyzstan does not appear to have been damaged.

Speaking at a press conference in Bishkek on May 6, Turkey’s foreign minister Abdullah Gul said that Turkish investors had not been deterred by the damage caused on March 24 and 25, describing the anger of the looters as “understandable”.

"Turkey will always remain alongside its brother Kyrgyzstan and offer it all kinds of assistance,” he said, adding that the business climate in the republic remained good.

The attitude of Necmettin Ademoglu, the owner of the Ocak Kebab Salonu cafe in Bishkek, is typical of many Turkish investors.

“I have been living here for nine years, and I love this country,” he said.

“My restaurant re-opened straight after the looting, because I didn’t think there was any cause for fear or alarm. Looting and disorder can happen in any country, but Kyrgyzstan is strong, and the government will do everything to make sure that these incidents do not happen again.

“We won’t just leave because a few hooligans robbed some stores. These are small problems which cannot spoil relations between two kindred nations.”

Bishkek and Ankara have had a long history of cooperation. Turkey has provided more than three million dollars in military aid since Kyrgyzstan gained its independence in 1991. In April of this year, in line with a bilateral agreement, it gave a further two million for the purchase of technical resources, clothing and medicines for the Kyrgyz armed forces.

Official statistics show that there has been a 23 per cent increase in investment from non-former-Soviet countries since 2003, amounting to 146 million dollars. Canada is the main investor, accounting for just over a 25 per cent of the total, with Turkey providing 13 per cent.

In the wake of the revolution, staff at Turkish owned companies are repairing damage to their properties or preparing to do so, with one, Lion, forging ahead with expansion plans.

“The Lion chain of stores plans to open a new branch soon, and intends to continue its business here no matter what,” said staff manager Olesya Dubova.

Elena Skochilo and Gulmira Sakenova are an IWPR contributor and trainee, respectively, based in Bishkek.

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