LINKS representative addresses the 2012 Caspian Forum in Istanbul with a call to the region’s leaders to put people at the heart of policies.

The first Caspian Forum, a gathering of politicians, officials, representatives of the business community, and representatives of NGOs and think tanks, focusing on issues related to the wider Caspian Region, was held in Istanbul on Thursday 6 December. LINKS was represented by its Director, Dennis Sammut, who was a speaker on the third panel of the event, which focused on the theme “Achieving Peace and Stability in Eurasia:Perspectives and Challenges.” Other speakers on the panel were the Former US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, the First Deputy Defence Minister of Georgia, Levan Dolidze, the Head of the Political Analysis Department in the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan, Elnur Aslanov, the Former President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mevlut Cavusoglu, and a a representative of NATO, Julius Grubliuskas.

In his remarks, Dennis Sammut said that we are living a “Caspian Moment” with the emergence of successful and prosperous countries in the region, who are starting to make an impact on global issues. The region itself now needs to be considered from a broader geographical perspective, including not only the littoral states of the Caspian Sea, but also those states leading from and to it. There is therefore a wider Caspian Region that stretches from the Mediterranean to Central Asia, and Istanbul is very much its gateway.

Dennis Sammut said that the challenge in front of governments and policymakers was to ensure that this “Caspian Moment” changes from being relevant mainly for business, energy or geo-politics, to one that is centered mainly on people. He called on participants to ensure that people are at the heart of policies throughout the region. Referring to an earlier speech by former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates Dennis Sammut said that he fully supported the call to respect the will of the people as expressed through free elections and of the need to respect people’s dignity.
(see interview on Caspian TV here)

Turning to security issues Dennis Sammut said that the region has serious security challenges that remain unresolved and that affect people’s lives very negatively. He cited as an example how the conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh have left the region with more than a million refugees, mainly in Azerbaijan and Georgia but some also in Armenia. He called on participants to recognise the popular demand for an early resolution of these conflicts, which must be done peacefully to avoid further human suffering. He pointed out that the conflicts have remained unresolved for two decades, and no one can blame people in the region who feel that the international institutions have failed them.

Dennis Sammut pointed out that at the same time as the Caspian Forum was taking in place in Istanbul, the Foreign Ministers of the 57 member states of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were meeting in Dublin for their 19th Ministerial Meeting. Sammut called on OSCE member states to examine carefully how they can improve the work of this organisation to ensure a more successful modus operandi that can give quicker and better results. He reminded participants that the OSCE was the leading international organisation responsible for peace and security in the Eurasian region, but that their were now concerns that this organisation’s work was gridlocked.

Participants at the 2012 Caspian Forum in Istanbul.

Participants at the 2012 Caspian Forum in Istanbul.

The representative of LINKS said that in 2008 Turkey had launched a Caucasus Stability and Co-operation Platform Initiative, together with Russia. In his speech to the Caspian Forum the Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkey had made references to this initiative despite the fact that little has been done since 2008 and many thought the initiative was dead. Dennis Sammut said that the Turkish initiative was a good one but that it now needed to be fine tuned before it is relaunched. It was good that Russia and Turkey had taken the lead on this but there is a necessity now to open up the process to other stakeholders. Dennis Sammut called on Turkey to invite the European Union to join it as a co-initiator of the Caucasus Platform Initiative. He said that there must also be space for other global or regional powers to be engaged with the process, perhaps at a later stage. Sammut said that the Caucasus Platform initiative needs to be ambitious in its scope and Turkey needs to be ready to be sustain it over a long time frame. It was also important that the think tank and NGO communities are brought into the process early in order that they may contribute with innovative ideas that are desperately needed and that it was not possible to close this process simply to diplomats.

Dennis Sammut concluded by saying that the projects and investments that are being discussed as part of the new vision of the Caspian region will not make sense unless they can quickly be turned into human capital. In this regard he welcomed the initiatives of the government of Azerbaijan to support youth work, the facilitation of overseas studies for its students and promotion of art and sports. He emphasised that this process needs to be inclusive and that everybody should be sensitive of the danger of creating a privileged or an underprivileged class. He emphasised that the resources of the Caspian Sea are the resources of the people of the region, and he hoped that wise leadership will ensure that the “Caspian Moment” serves not only this, but future generations to come.

report prepared by