On November 3, 2023, the10th Anniversary Summit of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) was held in Astana. The event was attended by the heads of the OTS member states and the leaders of the OTS observer states. President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev welcomed the leaders of the OTS member states (Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan) and the OTS observer countries (Turkmenistan and Hungary).
As we all know, Turkey was the only internationally recognized Turkic state in the world before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, five new independent Turkic states emerged in the post-Soviet space: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Turkey was one of the first countries to acknowledge these republics’ independence and launched an active campaign to integrate them under Turkey’s leadership.
On the initiative of Turkish President Turgut Özal, the first summit of Turkic states was held on October 30, 1992, in Ankara and was attended by the leaders of Azerbaijan (Abulfaz Elchibey), Kazakhstan (Nursultan Nazarbayev), Kyrgyzstan (Askar Akayev), Turkmenistan (Saparmurat Niyazov), and Uzbekistan (Islam Karimov). It was then that Turgut Özal declared, “The 21st century will be the ”Golden Age“ of the Turks,” and the development of political and economic unity among Turkic countries was announced.
The Turkic Council was established on October 3, 2009, in the Azerbaijani city of Nakhchivan. Turkish President Recep Erdoğan announced at the 8th Summit of the Organization of Turkic States (Turkic Council), held in Istanbul on November 12, 2021, that the Turkic Council would now be known as an all-Turkic international political organization of the OTS. The first all-Turkic political structure, the Organization of Turkic States, was established as a result.
Four of the six Turkic states—most notably Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan—joined the Turkic Council in 2009. Then, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan declined membership, citing the organization’s neutral stance, while President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan completely disregarded it, considering a cooling in relations with Turkey.
Noteworthy is the fact that since the end of 2018, under Viktor Orbán’s leadership, Hungary has joined the Turkic Council as an observer. With the passing of President Islam Karimov in 2016 and the ascent to power of Shavkat Mirziyoyev in Uzbekistan, Tashkent’s foreign policy has also undergone some adjustments concerning its ties with Turkey and the wider Turkic community. Consequently, during the subsequent All-Turkic Summit in Bishkek on September 12, 2019, Uzbekistan was admitted as a member of the Turkic Council. Following the military victory of the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem in the fall of 2020 in the second Karabakh war, the OTS was established in 2021. Turkmenistan became an observer of this organization when Ankara began discussing the possibility of Turkmen gas being transported to Europe via Azerbaijan and Turkey via the Caspian Sea.
The first founding secretary general of the group, a politician from Turkey, said that “the Turkic Council was the first voluntary union of Turkic states in history”. More than a century ago, the Young Turk governance in the Ottoman Empire laid the foundation for this unity by establishing the nationalist and racial ideology of pan-Turkism as the official doctrine of the new Turkey.
The supporters of Turan initially thought that a new era of “Chinggiziad,” or significant global catastrophes and wars, would result from Turkey’s geopolitical access to the vast stretches of Western (Russian) and Eastern (Chinese) Turkestan. Generally speaking, their claims were correct since conflicts are the reason behind the tectonics of existing borders worldwide and no one willingly cedes land to a neighbor.
Throughout the earlier part of the 20th century, Turkish diplomacy and military strategy were pursued using this technique. Ankara thought that by forming an alliance with the main Western nations and fighting with them in the global wars, the Turks would be able to defeat Russia together and win back Turkic-populated areas of the former Soviet Union or Russian Empire.
Nevertheless, the depressing outcomes of Germany’s two world wars, in which Turkey fought, prevented Ankara from putting pan-Turkism’s ideals into practice. Even throughout the Cold War, this philosophy and doctrine were actively deployed against the USSR, mostly as a result of Turkish intelligence’s subversive actions carried out in coordination with the intelligence agencies of the Western NATO nations, particularly the United States and Great Britain. The fall of the Soviet Union and the objective weakening of Russia enabled Turkey’s revanchism and the adoption of updated neopanturkism and neopanturanism doctrines.
Turkey, having learned the harsh lessons of two world wars and Cold War subversion, came to the correct conclusion regarding the futility of accomplishing Turan’s aims by a direct military battle with Russia. As a result, Turkish intelligence and diplomacy, combined with skillful political management, altered the strategies of conflict by placing a wager on the establishment of the fundamental underpinnings of cultural (linguistic, educational, religious), economic (transport and communication, energy, financial, commercial, structural), military (educational, structural, personnel, military-technical, intelligence), ideological (pan-Turkic), and, finally, political (organizational-structural, military-political, and geopolitical) integration of Turkey and Turkic states in the post-Soviet space.
Many Russian specialists stated in the 1990s and 2000s that Turkey lacked the financial, economic, military, political, and geographical means necessary to carry out such a comprehensive geopolitical theory. Should the Turks and their Western backers have been depending on the transit of Azerbaijani gas and oil around Russia in order to create a new geostrategic advantage, some analysts first questioned whether such pipeline projects could be implemented because of their high cost or the lack of sufficient raw materials in the Caspian Sea; however, once they were launched, only the rhetoric changed (e.g., Azerbaijan has too little gas and oil to meet the demands of Europe and Turkey, and compared to Russian reserves and infrastructure capabilities, there is nothing to say). Nevertheless, history has shown that such gloomy assessments of Turkey’s prospects and Turkic integration within the framework of Heydar Aliyev’s “One Nation, Two States” are not sustainable.
First, the history of the twentieth century demonstrates that there is no such thing as small oil, as oil always functions solely as a geopolitical factor. Numerous wars in the past and present have been sparked by oil; some of them have simmered and are ready to erupt with renewed vigor.
Second, Turkey became a vital transit territory with the help of the United States and Great Britain. This was due to its advantageous location and the Turkic factor, which gave it access to the richest Caspian and Turkic economic region of the post-Soviet space, despite its lack of unique or exceptional reserves of strategic energy raw materials like oil and gas. Acting as a “bridge” between post-Soviet Asia and Europe, the energy and transportation communications system developed at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, mostly with the involvement of Western capital, has become a reality of modern Turkey.
Oil and gas were followed by finance, the new century’s contracts for communications and commodities, and finance is usually followed by soldiers marching behind. Turkish military have already entered the South Caucasus, Turkish special forces and generals approached Azerbaijan’s military success in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turks together with Russians established a technical control monitoring center in Aghdam, the NATO army of Turkey has started to conduct regular joint military exercises with the armies of Azerbaijan and the Central Asian Turkic countries, officers of the OTS member states are being trained in Turkey, Turkey is supplying its Turkic allies with arms and military equipment, and Turkey is already declaring the idea of creating an “Army of Turan”.
Time has shown that Turkey has used its friendly ties with the Turkic countries of the CIS, especially Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, to establish more pragmatic and partnership relations with Russia and its leadership in order to localize possible suspicions and threats from the northern neighbor, as well as intensified economic, especially energy and service, and even military-technical cooperation with the Russian side in order to establish mutually beneficial, and most importantly, interdependent, ties and to exclude Moscow’s resistance on the way to Turan.
Turkey did not “burn bridges” with its northern neighbor in the context of the military and political crisis between Russia and Ukraine that began on March 14, 2014, the day that Crimea was reunited with the Russian Federation, despite Ankara’s official disagreement with Moscow regarding Ukraine’s sovereignty and ownership of Crimea, Donbass, and other regions of Novorossiya. Erdoğan maintained the “parallel transit” of commodities from third countries to Russia and rejected the Collective West’s economic sanctions against Russia, which, on the one hand, objectively boosted the expansion of commercial and economic ties between our nations. On the other hand, it came before the Russian ruling class and general public had a favorable opinion of Turkey, and on the third hand, it played a role in the establishment of Russia’s own temporary (or partial) economic reliance on “Turkish transit”.
Erdoğan has combined economic and military partnerships with Russia in a number of topical regions plagued by localized conflicts, in particular in the Middle East (Syria) and the South Caucasus (Nagorno-Karabakh). By focusing on the issue of Kurds and Armenians, Erdoğan was able to weaken Russia’s stance, advance the Turkish army 30 kilometers into the predominantly Kurdish areas of northern Syria, and work with Azerbaijan to regain full control of Armenian Karabakh through a de facto ethnic cleansing of the historically Armenian province. In order to create the shortest communication link between mainland Azerbaijan and the other Turkic countries of Central Asia—that is, to provide a spatial exit to Turan—Ankara is currently attempting to coerce Yerevan to open the Zangezur corridor in the Meghri region under the pretense of unblocking regional service lines via Baku.
For this reason, at all small and large gatherings of the heads of Turkic states, the parties haughtily congratulate the leader of Azerbaijan on the victory in Karabakh. According to them, this gives rise to hopes for the swift establishment of a common Turkic market with a population of 160 million and for the full-fledged geopolitical and economic integration of Turkic countries and peoples. In Zangezur, the strain on the sovereignty of a small and weak Armenia is portrayed as a “great victory” for Turan and a chance for all parties involved in the “Turanian transit” to work together for their mutual benefit.
Thus far, the only country attempting to obstruct the Turanian project’s advancement is Iran, which is vehemently opposed to Armenia’s sovereignty being compromised in order to open the Zangezur corridor. However, China and Russia continue to be more than just observers of regional affairs; they are also making efforts to quell Turkey’s revanchist aspirations by presenting substitute multimodal transportation initiatives, such as the One Belt, One Road Initiative, and the North-South Line.
Some of Russia’s allies among the leaders of Central Asian nations (Kazakhstan, for example) now give loud, proclamatory comments about the unity in the Turkic world. Thus, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev stated during the X Summit of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS): The huge region inhabited by Turkic peoples stretches from Lake Baikal to the Balkan Peninsula. The Organization of Turkic States is the heir to our shared values… Our unifying purpose is to strengthen collaboration among Turkic peoples. We need to spread the word about the new “Turkic World” brand. Only in this way can we deepen the Turkic peoples’ cohesion and develop their potential.”
In general, the Kazakh leader’s statements are not unreasonable, as the author supports cooperation among Turkic peoples, which includes the Kazakh people and peoples from other OTS member countries and candidates. The jubilee summit in Astana, on the other hand, is about the international political organization of Turkic states, not about all Turkic peoples residing from “Baikal to the Balkan Peninsula.” How do Turkic peoples from the same Russia, China, and Iran have anything to do with OTS values? This is one method if Tokayev, who advocates expanding collaboration and solidarity through joint capacity building, is referring to Turkic peoples who have joined the OTS in some status. However, if under this is the proposed integration of all Turkic peoples of the world, then, at least, Russia’s ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union should have initially been interested in the opinion of the Russian side.
Of course, Turkey has a legitimate reason for claiming membership in the “club of great powers” and the UN Security Council—it regards itself as the heir apparent to the great traditions of the Ottoman Empire, an established super-regional power, and the leader of the Turkic world, according to Tokayev, Mirziyoyev, and Aliyev. Erdoğan’s goal goes beyond simply seizing control of the Zangezur corridor in order to establish a systemic exit to Central Asia (Turan). This is because Ankara is not guaranteed the same level of control and spatial access to the East by Azerbaijan’s transportation network (road and railroad) to the Nakhchivan enclave via a self-sufficient Iran. Simply put, Iran has the ability to “close its doors” at any time, something that weak Armenia cannot do. Yerevan enjoys “verbal diplomacy” and expresses “resentment” over his recent losses to Russia, but “Russian control established by the FSB Border Troops over the Zangezur road (corridor) might enable to separate the wheat from the chaff—that is, to distinguish a robust economy from the geopolitical aspirations of its southern neighbors.
Therefore, a number of Eurasian capitals, including Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, and Yerevan, have many unanswered issues regarding the jubilee summit of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) in Astana.
Aleksandr SVARANTS, Doctor in Political Science, professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.