Commenting on the much-talked-about leaders’ photo of the SCO summit - SELÇUK TÜRKYILMAZ

Commenting on the much-talked-about leaders’ photo of the SCO summit

The photograph that almost instantly spread through the world from Samarkand, Uzbekistan gave rise to many discussions. The photograph in question featured Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) member countries’ leaders gathered around two coffee tables side by side, seeming to have a friendly conversation. As far as we can see in the photograph, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is speaking, and the leaders gathered around the two coffee tables are listening to him. As there are a few photographs of the same scene, it is possible to determine the leaders around the table individually. In addition to President Erdogan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Russia, Belarus, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Mongolia state leaders were in the photo frame as well. China and India state leaders were most likely not around the tables. Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev was standing, probably because he was the host. 

 Time will tell which photographs reflected to the world from Samarkand. But it is very clear that the scene, which we can refer to as the Samarkand photo, contains different meanings for the Turkish public. Soon after the world became aware of the Samarkand photo through conventional and social media, an interesting discussion emerged. Participation in the discussion was extremely high. Of course, this discussion was not a dialogue. Two completely opposite sides formed. So, what meanings had the sides attributed to the photograph? The meanings attributed by the two completely opposite sides were, of course, different. Yet, in the most general outline, we saw that the two sides corresponded to two different worlds. Those who have doubts about whether much can fit into a single frame should take another look at the Samarkand photo – there is a great deal going on in this single frame. 

 Can the Samarkand photograph be reduced to the Western world, which represents democratic values, and opposition to the Eastern world, which is composed of authoritarian regimes? Right-wing, left-wing, and conservative liberals evaluated the Samarkand photo based generally on this opposition. Almost all of them thus showed that they failed to go a step beyond Karl Wittfogel’s “oriental despotism” definition. So, should consider the internalization of such definitions today within the orientalist effect category, or as the present-day manifestations of the 19th-century colonialist expansionism ideology? It is quite clear that besides an ordinary vulnerability process, a change dynamic that is forcing to take sides is deeply shaking almost the whole world. Surely during such periods opposing ideas can grow from one another. But analyzing the Samarkand photo alongside regime discussions is, without question, a result of being positioned on the Western world’s axis. This is defined as a Eurocentric view. 

 As mentioned above, Turkic countries’ leaders were also gathered around the two coffee tables. What can be said based on Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan state leaders’ presence around the table? Is this a state photograph, or a process? Uzbek press published quite intriguing articles about the SCO summit being held in Samarkand. One of these articles very clearly states the Uzbek state’s opinion regarding the organization’s meeting. Uzbekistan sees its region, namely the Central Asia as the SCO’s geographical center, and claims it will continue to be so. Much beyond a wish, this statement is a serious expression of determination. The articles very openly state the objective to connect to one another extremely important Asian areas, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, via Central Asia. Besides the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway line, the Tirmidh-Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Pashawar railway project is on the agenda. Uzbekistan’s statement that “the Afghan people need the help of good neighbors more than ever,” and “past mistakes must not be repeated,” is critical. 

 The Samarkand photo was taken instantly and from one angle. Hence, they determined the meaning for those looking at the photo. This should be considered natural. In other words, Wittfogel’s “oriental despotism” was a photograph as well, and it had certainly presented a viewpoint. 

 Similarly, the Samarkand photograph was taken from one angle. Who wants to look from where? This question can be attached to the Samarkand photo as well.  


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