Marketplace Middle East - Blog
A History Lesson on the edge of the Silk Route

When sitting at the edge of the Bosporus River in Istanbul one can breathe in the true essence of what it means to straddle Europe and Asia. The city is a unique backdrop to both the modernity of today and the history of the Ottoman times.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan too is looking both East and West today. Turkish businessmen don’t readily see themselves as part of the Middle East, but the market of 71 million consumers has grown six to eight percent in the past five years based on the ability to export its construction know how to the fast-growing Gulf countries and leveraging its position as a major trading artery in both directions.

This week a major congress of transport ministers from Far East Asia to the edge of Western Europe signed a declaration to encourage the revival of the old Silk Route. Supported by two United Nations organizations, these corridors for trade will link together up to 30 countries and eventually provide a network for seamless trade between Europe and Asia. This is good news for the countries of the Middle East, from North Africa to the six nations that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council. This will also provide further incentives for countries like Iran to open up and privatize their economies and for Gulf countries overly dependent on energy exports to diversify in the hope of creating jobs for the next generation.

While these transport ministers were busy looking forward to what can be over the next twenty years with the reconstruction of the Silk Route, they paused for nearly an hour to take in the words of Mikhail Gorbachev whose Perestroika policy actually brought a whole swath of countries out from under the umbrella of the U.S.S.R.

Gorbachev took delegates through that window in time twenty years ago when the Cold War was still real, when communism was still very much alive but there was no discussion about a Silk Route revival. As the chairman of a foundation which bears his name, Gorbachev has taken a step back to look at the bigger picture -- and the bigger challenges facing society today.

He shares with great disappointment the “possibilities that were not realized” to bring greater safety and security to society. People he said are asking what kind of future awaits them and are yearning for action on the Kyoto Protocol, the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty and the end-game in the Middle East after what he called a “mistaken strategy” in Iraq.

While not trying to overplay the role he and his peers at the time played -- Reagan, Thatcher, Mitterrand and Kohl -- to patch together a new world order, Gorbachev talked of a leadership vacuum today. Elected officials, especially those in Washington, he said “need a new attitude to the new world order.” That new architecture needs to include in his view India, China, Brazil and, of course, Russia.

Gorbachev was preaching to the converted when he talked about creating a “healthy vascular system for trade” from Istanbul to Moscow and beyond. But the message -- even through translation from Russian to English -- was clear. The revival of the old Silk Route needs to be supported by a new generation of leadership.

A very interesting article. I hope that the Silk Route starts to flourish more. Reading about Istanbul and the Silk Route makes me want to travel to that area sooner than later. I'm glad that CNN and Mr. Defterios are keeping myself and the WORLD so informed. Keep up the good work! I will be listening/watching/reading.
John Defterios’ blog accompanies the weekly business program, Marketplace Middle East (MME) that is dedicated to the latest financial news from the Middle East. As MME anchor, John Defterios talks to the people in the know, finding out their opinions on the big business moves in the region, he provides his views via this weekly blog. We hope you will join the discussion around the issues raised.
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