01.12.2023 Author: Boris Kushhov

Results of the OTS summit – National leaders’ initiatives and new challenges

On November 3, 2023, the 10th anniversary summit of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) began in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The summit was attended by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Zhaparov, and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Also attending the summit were representatives of the observer countries to the OTS, namely Chairman of the People’s Council of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The slogan “Turkic Era,” chosen by the participants as the motto of the anniversary summit, vividly illustrates the extent of the hopes and expectations placed by the Turkic states on the development of their cooperation in multilateral fora of this kind, and also the significant growth of international political self-awareness of the Turkic peoples’ political self-awareness on the international stage.

During the summit, the participants proposed for general discussion a number of projects in various sectors of potential importance for the development of cooperation between the OTS member states. While these proposals were generally of interest to all the parties, a significant number of them have a subtext that is not immediately obvious, and which relates to the desire of certain countries and leaders to strengthen their influence and authority within the Turkic space – an international political arena that has been taking on its own identity in recent years.

Shavkat Mirziyoyev proposed a number of ambitious projects, including the creation of a “Turkic Bank” to provide credit for joint international projects undertaken by the Turkic states, the creation of a department for coordinating interactions on railway transportation, and the development and adoption of a Charter of the Turkic World. Uzbekistan’s considerable ambitions as a member of the Organization are clearly evident. For example, its capital city, Tashkent was proposed as the location of the bank and the rail transport coordinating authority.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also made a notable contribution to the discussion, by proposing to his colleagues the idea of developing a unified Turkic alphabet. It is very likely that the current Turkish alphabet, which uses Latin letters and was developed before the creation of the modern post-Soviet Turkic republics, will be proposed as a starting point. Such a move could be interpreted as a measure aimed at strengthening Turkey’s cultural and linguistic influence in the Turkic world.

The Kyrgyz President, Sadyr Zhaparov, who clearly has an interest in attracting investment from more developed Turkic countries, offered to host an OTS Business Forum in Bishkek in 2024. Significantly, next year Kyrgyzstan will hold the presidency of the OTS. Sadyr Zhaparov also, indirectly, expressed his state’s claim to a special status by proposing to name the Kyrgyz city of Jalal-Abad the “Center of the Turkic World,” and cited various historical facts to back up the claim.

Ilham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani President reminded his colleagues of the need to step military and technical cooperation as well as cooperation on security matters.

And Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, his Kazak counterpart, spoke about the need to popularize the “Turkic World” concept, and supported the summit’s decision to name Astana as the financial center of the Turkic world.

Despite the large number of proposals discussed, the OTS summit in Astana was not entirely free from problems, and a number of obstacles and challenges to the successful development of its activities were evident:

OTS relations with non-member states are becoming increasingly important for the implementation of individual transport and infrastructure projects. These states include Turkmenistan, which has observer status, as well as Georgia and Armenia. This is especially relevant in the context of the implementation of projects such as the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route and the Caspian Sea-Black Sea corridor. There are indeed promising opportunities to establish cooperation on transport and infrastructure issues with these countries, especially given the de-escalation of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2023, Turkmenistan’s active participation in the 10th OTS summit, and the developing partnership between Georgia and China (a key participant in all the Eurasian transportation corridors). Other options for the corridor route between Central Asia and Turkey would also require the OTS to cooperate with Iran – and for this purpose the countries involved would work together within another international structure – the Economic Cooperation Organization, as, in addition to the Turkic states, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a member of this body. Significantly, the first noticeable steps towards establishing “external interactions” were made during the summit. For example, based on the discussions in the Astana meeting, the members of the OTS signed a “Decision on granting the Economic Cooperation Organization observer status in the Organization of Turkic States.” Regarding the Turkmen issue, the OTS member states have repeatedly stated their shared wish to engage with Turkmenistan as a member of the organization, but the country’s leadership has still not disclosed its plans regarding the prospects of upgrading its status within the organization.

One obstacle preventing the OTS members from approving trade and customs agreements is the fact that some of its members are also EAEU member states. If, within the Organization of Turkic States, cooperation on trade and economic issues began in earnest relatively recently, in the EAEU a similar process has been under way for much longer. In a growing trend, agreements proposed in recent years, which promised to deepen trade cooperation among the OTS member states, have failed because they were inconsistent with earlier EAEU agreements on the customs policies of countries, such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, which are members of both bodies. Since the two initiatives compete with each other, at least in part, there have been no plans to link them, and given the major role payed by Russia as a foreign trade partner of both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, it seems unlikely that these inconsistencies will be resolved.

Current difficulties in the Organization’s relations with the EU due to the parties’ differing positions in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which once again escalated in October this year. The OTS member states, based on considerations of religious solidarity and their shared support for the 1947 UN resolution establishing a Palestinian state, take a very different view in relation to this conflict from that adopted by the EU. The impact of this factor on interactions between the two sides was also evident, indirectly, in the tense atmosphere of the talks between President Erdoğan and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during the Turkish leader’s visit to Berlin on November 17.  It is worth noting that a significant proportion of the transportation, infrastructure and energy projects discussed within the OTS are in one way or another dependent on interaction between the member states and the EU countries.


Boris Kushkhov, the Department for Korea and Mongolia at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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