Yerzhan Kazykhanov: We Revived Lost Cultural and Political Contacts with Islamic World Thanks to OIC Chairmanship

By Mejrambek Bajgarin

Interview of the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

-- In his message for the people “Social and Economic Modernization – Main Vector of Kazakhstan Development” the President N.A. Nazarbayev noted that Kazakhstan shall proceed balanced foreign policy, interacting not only with West, but also with the states of Asia, and underlined that this year our country should finish its Chairmanship in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation at a  high level.

In the end of June 2011 Kazakhstan, having welcomed in Astana the 38th Session of the Foreign Affairs Ministers Council, headed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Which are the main results of activity at this post?

- The Chairmanship of Kazakhstan took place during a breaking period in contemporary history, the time of radical political and social-economic transformations in Islamic world. It’s not an accident that at the opening of the 38th Session of OIC FAMC the President N.Nazarbayev addressed with the idea on the need of social-economic and political modernization of Islamic community to overcome the established financial-economic crisis. The Head of the State presented a whole list of great initiatives to establish a dialogue space for the group of 10 leading economies of the countries of Muslim community, the foundation to support the entities of small and medium business, the system of mutual food support within the frames of the OIC, etc.

Modernization message of Kazakhstan had a reply from the member-states and institutions of the Organization. The Islamic Development Bank has included the accomplishment of specified economic initiatives into the strategy of interstate partnership with Kazakhstan for the years to come. Principal support was expressed to the initiative to found a Foundation of Mutual Food Support with the Headquarters in Astana. Practical results in the sphere of the OIC activity modernization have been reached. It was Astana where they approved a historic decision to rename the Organization of Islamic Conference into the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which proved its transformation into a more efficient international association. We concluded an agreement to enhance the intensiveness of sessions with the participation of the Heads of the OIC member-states.

Also the solution was found for such an important issue as the establishment of the OIC Human Rights Permanent Independent Commission with approval of its Charter and criterion of its activity. According to the experts, this is quite a significant event in the context of the OIC rebranding, as well as strengthening of institutional basics of civil society in Muslim states.

The Astana declaration of the 38th Session of the Foreign Affairs Ministers Council, in its essence, has become a qualitatively new program document of the Organization, directed at overwhelming modernization.

Thus, the list of main assets of our Chairmanship includes a powerful impulse for social-economic and political renovation of the Islamic community.

The focus of Kazakhstani Chairmanship included the issues of situations development in Libya, Syria, overcoming of humanitarian disaster in Somali. In particular, as a result of a big scale campaign, held under the aegis of Kazakhstani Chairmanship, the OIC member-states gathered more than 500 million USD.

Kazakhstan has contributed a lot into mobilization of international support of the intentions of Palestine people to recognize their statehood and establish independent Palestine state within the border of 1967.

Sequential chairmanship in two biggest organizations – the OSCE and OIC – has also given us a unique opportunity to contribute into the development of inter-civilization relations and to act as a bridge between West and Muslim world.
- Which events were held during Kazakhstani Chairmanship?

- I shall name only the biggest ones. Together with the 38th OIC FAMC, which has become the main meeting of the Islamic world last year, we also held in Astana big events like the 7th International Islamic Economic Forum, 3rd Health Ministers Islamic Session, 4th  Islamic Conference of Environment Protection Ministers. We also arranged the sessions of the OIC Executive Committee: in Istanbul on August 17th 2011– on Somali issue; in New York on September 23rd 2011 – on Libya; on Dzhida – on November 30th 2011 – on Syria; a session in the OIC-EU format; Coordination Meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministers within the frameworks of the UNO General Assembly. Except for that, as per the favor of the member-states and OIC General Secretariat, the representatives of Kazakhstan participated in the observing mission of the Organization during Parliamentary elections in Tunisia and Algeria, and presidential ones in Kyrgyzstan.

The arrangement of each of these events grounds on hard and coordinated work of several ministries and departments, and I would like to use the opportunity to thank all my colleagues – heads of state bodies, for the spirit of cooperation which fills joint operation.
- How is the Chairmanship of Kazakhstan in the Organization assessed?

- Active actions and considered line of Kazakhstan on current issues are highly estimated by our partners. It’s noteworthy that despite that our Chairmanship had to be finished in June this year in Djibouti, due to some circumstances the Organization has asked Kazakhstan to proceed working till the middle of November 2012. Moreover, as per the results of our Chairmanship the OIC Secretariat addressed with the suggestion to locate in Kazakhstan one of five regional centers of the Organization. This is a high  evaluation in oractice of our activity and the proof of confidence which Kazakhstan gained in the Islamic world with its operation at the post of the Chairman. In this respect I’m deeply pleased to quote the OIC General Secretary Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, that “charismatic Chairmanship of Kazakhstan at OIC FAMC has significantly raised the quality of chairmanship at OIC FAMC and serves as worthy target for future chairmen from the number of the Organization member-states”.
- At the background of Islamic extremism manifestations recently observed in Kazakhstan a part of population treats cautiously the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. What can you say to this part of audience?

- I would like to say that these fears have absolutely no grounds and are the echo of Islamophobia prevailing in western countries. Despite its name, the established in 1969 Organization is not a religious one, operating on the ground of secular principles and having 57 member-states, representing three regional groups: Asian – 15 countries, Arab – 22 countries and African – 18 countries, as well as South American Surinam and European Albany.

The typical peculiarity of the OIC is that in its activity it uses commonly recognized noble spiritual values of Islam.
- As known on February 15th 2012 the Head of the state signed the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Ratification of the Charter of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation”. This significant political and historic decision fixes the status of the country as a full-value member of the Organization. But why has this happened only now, as Kazakhstan has participated in the OIC since 1995?

- Indeed, Kazakhstan became the member of the Organization of Islamic Conference on December 1995 by the decision of the OIC FAMC in Conakry, the Republic of Guinea. However, everybody knows that according to the OIC Charter, which acted till 1974, its obligatory signing and ratification wasn’t suggested.

On March 14th 2008 in Dakar (Senegal) in course of the 11th OIC Summit a new Charter of the Organization was adopted, grounded at such universal values as tolerance, equality, justice and human dignity. The document also includes the provisions on assistance to world peace and security, respect of sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the member-states. According to the provisions of the new Charter on Obligatory ratification, Kazakhstan started corresponding procedure and ratified the fundamental documents of the Organization with a clause, which fixes the priority of the norms of our Republic’s Constitution. At the moment, the state bodies work over the signing of the OIC economic block treaties.
- The events in North Africa and Near East coincided with the Chairmanship of Kazakhstan at the OIC FAMC. The so-called Arab spring has become the reason of radical change of political elite in a number of the Organization’s member-states and the reason of instability in these regions. How have these events affected the priorities of the Chairmanship and which actions have been undertaken?

- Naturally, the events in North Africa and Near East, the so-called “Arab Spring” introduced definite corrections into the priorities of our Chairmanship in OIC. Together with that these events haven’t become for us something unexpected. During preparation to the Chairmanship we in general analyzed possible scenarios of the situations in the specified regions, their reasons and consequences. Due to the settlement of Libyan crisis, our main focus was drawn to the dramatic development of the situation in Syria.

Our efforts within the frameworks of the OIC assisted development of common approaches of the member-states, support of the efforts to stop blushed and accomplishment of K.Annan Plan, humanitarian aid to the people of Syria. However, the events keep on following the negative scenario. I think that for the people following the international events in the Near East, it is not a secret that the views of the OIC member-states on Syria issues vary a lot. Thus, some countries considered as necessary the adoption of measures towards official Damask, up to exclusion of Syria from the OIC, even at the primary stage of the conflict, as it happened within the frameworks of the Arab League.

In general we can say that the Chairmanship in the OIC FAMC in this complicated time has become a serious challenge for our multilateral diplomacy. Syrian issue puts at the map the interests of many regional and world powers, and our country, as the Chairman, experienced definite pressure. Kazakhstan in these conditions revealed itself as an independent boxer, who doesn’t follow his own targets and is not led by anyone. And it is not an exaggeration to say that our principle line as a Chairman, targeted at preservation of balanced approach by analysis of the situation in Syria, and a great job, performed by Kazakhstan at this direction, allowed us to avoid the break in the Organization.
- Palestine issue is a corner stone of the OIC, the reason of the Organization establishment. How greatly in Kazakhstan focused at this issue?

- I would like to note that Kazakhstan contributed a lot into mobilization of support of the efforts of Palestine people efforts to become a full-right member of the UNO. Exactly in course of the Annual Coordination Meeting of the OIC during the 66th General Assembly Session of the UNO the corresponding decision of the member-states was made. We were logically supporting the membership of Palestine in UNESCO.

A significant event of this year was holding of direct talks (headed by Kazakhstan) between the OIC and Vatican, which assisted to achieve mutual understanding on the issues of consideration of Palestine interests within the talks of Vatican with Israel.
- As it is known, that issues of usage of trans-border rivers remain topical for Kazakhstan. At the expert session on the development of the OIC Water Concept on July 13-14 2011 in Astana, it turned out that efficient use of water resources is a problem of almost all OIC states. Are the interests of Kazakhstan considered in this issue, and which shall be further steps of the Organization in this direction?

- We are for strengthening of cooperation on the issues of efficient, rational, safe use of water resources in Central Asian region and welcome the extension of interaction forms within this direction. The issues of safe use of water resources are quite topical in the OIC agenda. The OIC Water Concept adopted during the OIC Ministerial Conference on water resources on March 5th-6th in Istanbul is the result of comprehensive analysis of the problems of assurance of water resources safety in OIC region, which include fighting desertification of lands, pollution and salinization of water spaces and many others. The main thing is that the Concept reflects general vision of the states on efficient and safe use of water resources and includes a calling to extend definite common scientific programs and projects in the given sphere.

For us this document is an additional platform on cooperation with the states of Central Asia in the sphere of water resources use. We are ready, in cooperation with our OIC partners, to make efforts to accomplish the outlined Concept.
- Which benefits has the Chairmanship given to your country, why did you arrange expensive events, what Kazakhstan needs this burden of chairmanship for?

- The Foreign Affairs Ministry, making decisions to hold in Kazakhstan the events of such level, first of all, grounds on political and economic feasibility of their arrangement, high results and expected effect. This concerns not only the period of the OIC Chairmanship but also any other significant international forum.

And now about the benefits from the chairmanship. We have those and they are various. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation was established in 1969 and is the second biggest international organization after the UNO in the number of members, geographic coverage and network of specialized institutions. Kazakhstan, having become the full-right member of the OIC in 1995, only in 15 years by unanimous support of all members headed the Organization, uniting 57 member-states with total population of 1.5 billion people.

I suppose this is already a historic achievement of our country. Moreover, this is to some extent a duty of a young, but already self-sufficient state – to share its positive experience of development, to give hand to those who are in the beginning of this way. In political aspect the OIC gives an opportunity to make the voice of Kazakhstan “louder”, to defend and promote its foreign political position with the power of the whole conglomerate of states.

A vivid example of practical interaction is cooperation with the OIC specialized institution – Islamic Development Bank. General bag of the IDB in Kazakhstan comprises about 700 million USD. Adoption of updated Strategy of State Partnership between IDB and the Government of Kazakhstan shall lead our cooperation at qualitatively new level, allowing significant increase of investments of one of the biggest international financial institutions into Kazakhstani economy.

Within the frameworks of the chairmanship we adopted the OIC Actions Plan on Cooperation with Central Asia in 2011-2015. This definite plan on the development of comprehensive cooperation in the region, having clearly set terms and financial resources. The number of priority directions of the Plan include also topical problems as: improvement of trade terms and investment attractiveness; enhancement of food safety; development of regional transport arteries; regional cooperation in fighting dangerous diseases; fighting organized crime, drugs traffic and illegal migration.

A powerful impulse for the extension of cultural relations is called to become the proclamation of Almaty in 2015 as the “Capital of Islamic Culture”.

If in 2011 within the frameworks of the Chairmanship at the OSCE we attracted the focus of West, than the Chairmanship at the OIC in practice rediscovered for ourselves a great layer of our history and civilization essence, revived and brought to a new level lost cultural-political contacts with Islamic world.