23.04.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

What is the Reason for Turkey’s Introduction of a Visa Regime with Tajikistan?

Tajikistan is the only post-Soviet Central Asian republic that does not belong to the Turkic world. Tajikistan’s neighbors are Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The population of the republic is more than 10 million people (mainly Tajiks belonging to the Iranian peoples). At the same time, Tajiks are the second most numerous ethnicity in neighboring Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

“The mountains of Tajikistan are home to the entire Mendeleev table.” This phrase can often be heard when talking with Tajiks. In fact, the Republic has the largest reserves of gold, silver, molybdenum, zinc, copper, bismuth, cadmium, tin and other minerals in Central Asia. Tajikistan’s resources are in demand both in the national economy and in the defense industry. Meanwhile, the country’s geographical position, if isolated from Russia and the ethnically close Iran, pose additional threats and risks for it in the new environment, given the instability and radical Islamic forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Turkic integration of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and the globalizing efforts of China.

Within Tajikistan itself, internal clan-based conflicts, Islamic radicalism, and border issues with neighbors also persist. Alas, the republic’s raw material resources cannot yet ensure its economic and social stability, as there is still a high demand for external investment. Labor migration of Tajiks, predominantly to Russia, creates relative security in terms of overcoming acute problems of social tension. However, poverty and destitution have progressed in parallel with persistent economic problems.

Tajikistan’s external security is guaranteed by Russia, with bilateral Tajik-Russian agreements and multilateral cooperation within the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The 201st Russian military base and border guards are still stationed in Tajikistan. The latter is of particular concern to some external forces with ambitious plans for the whole of Central Asia. These include NATO and Turkey, in particular, as an important component of the bloc.

Ankara does not hide its ambitions for multi-vector (cultural, economic, energy, communication, political and military) integration of Tajikistan with the Turkic world. These plans of Turkey are reflected in its modern doctrines: neo-Ottomanism with an Eastern scope; neopanturnism with an exit to the limits of mythical Turan (historical East Turkestan); Turkish Eurasianism (i.e. “Anatolian bridge” between Asia and Europe) and the “Turkish axis” (i.e. formation of the Turkic pole in the scheme of a multipolar world order led by Ankara).

Naturally, Turkey’s advancement into the two most important post-Soviet regions (the South Caucasus and Central Asia), where Russia’s position has traditionally been strong, implies active work not only with Turkic countries, but also with non-Turkic-speaking republics due to geographical, security and economic considerations. In this case we are talking about a small group of countries (including Georgia, Armenia and Tajikistan).

The fact is that for the same reasons of geography, modern Turkey has no wide direct spatial connection with the Turkic world of the post-Soviet space (with the exception of the Nakhchivan enclave of Azerbaijan and the 17 km border). By 2021, however, Turkey has made significant progress toward integration with Azerbaijan and access to the western coast of the Caspian Sea, made possible by two factors:

a) support of the leading NATO countries Great Britain and the USA in the implementation of a network of transit transport and energy communications to export Azerbaijani oil and gas bypassing Russia through Georgia (the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline, the trans-Anatolian and trans-Adriatic gas pipelines, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad)

b) military success of the Turkish-Pakistani-Azerbaijani tandem in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020-2023, localization of Russia’s military support to Armenia and Ankara’s gaining favorable opportunities for the shortest exit through the Armenian Zangezur corridor (Syunik region) to mainland Azerbaijan and the richest Central Asia up to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the PRC with the center in Urumqi (historical East Turkestan).

And while in the South Caucasus the main problem for Turkey until recently was Armenia and the Karabakh conflict, and more precisely the Russian-Armenian military-political alliance, since 2020 there has been virtually no such obstacle (although, of course, Turkey, having taken away Karabakh, has not yet finally resolved the issue of limiting Armenia’s sovereignty due to the position of Iran, the United States and France).

With the signing of the Turkish-Azerbaijani Shusha Declaration on Strategic Alliance in July 2021 and the establishment of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) in November 2021, Turkey effectively proclaimed a new stage of integration of the Turkic world according to the principle of “One Nation – Six States.” Within Greater Central Asia, Ankara has a fairly productive policy not only with the Turkic countries of the region (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), but also with Pakistan and China.

As the second Karabakh war of 2020 showed, Turkey and Pakistan have become close military allies and economic partners. The latter is determined by the favorable geography of Pakistan, through which one of the routes of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative mega-project to the Central Asian republics and further through the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, Georgia / Armenia, Turkey and Europe is planned. At the same time, Turkey is attracted by the prospect of partnership with Pakistan, given Islamabad’s nuclear weapons and population of over 245 million, which makes the Pakistani market very promising for the formation of a common economic market for the Turan within the OTS.

Turkey, following its success in Karabakh, has been able to make significant progress in actively involving Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in the process of pan-Turkic integration, motivated not only by considerations of ethnic kinship but also economic pragmatism. As for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, there was no particular opposition to Turkic integration in these countries before. Except for the addition of “economic rationalism” and “military calculation” with reliance on modern types of Turkish weaponry (for example, Bayraktar or Akıncı UAVs), which proved to be extremely effective for Azerbaijan during the second Karabakh war.

Accordingly, in the Central Asian space, it remains important for Turkey to absorb Tajikistan in two formats: a) constructive (by developing economic partnership and cultural cooperation); b) destructive (by manipulating the factor of Islamic radicalism or initiating anti-Tajik border contradictions and managed conflicts from the position of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan).

As a result of localization of the intra-Tajik conflict in June 1997, i.e. the war between different clans (conditional supporters of the secular government led by the Leninabad and Kulyab clans against Islamists from the Badakhshan, Gissar and Garm clans), some representatives of the United Tajik Opposition (including the Islamic Renaissance Party) had to go into exile (including in Turkey).

Subsequently there have been cases of echoes of the ongoing political confrontation between the Dushanbe authorities and Islamists in Turkey. For example, in March 2015, Umarali Kuwwatov, founder of the Tajik movement Group 24, was killed in Istanbul. However, the members of the group detained in Turkey were not extradited to Tajikistan for fear of subsequent reprisals against them.

Given the special interest in Tajikistan within the framework of the regional doctrine of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, in 2021 Ankara canceled the visa regime with Tajikistan, which gave the citizens of the Republic the right of a visa-free stay in Turkey for 90 days. Diplomatic reciprocity was also maintained for Turkish citizens in Tajikistan.

Alas, the rapid processes of migration from a number of Asian countries to Turkey due to ongoing local and internal conflicts, as well as increasing poverty, have objectively created new security risks in Turkey. In particular, Asian migrants are becoming an attractive breeding ground for recruiting militants for international terrorist organizations (for example, the same ISIS that is banned in the Russian Federation). In fact, Turkey has created a platform of the Islamic International from the Middle East, Central Asia, South Caucasus and Africa.

However, within Turkey’s own borders, not only did a favorable environment for the recruitment of militants into terrorist units emerge, but also, apparently, this direction has become a professional quest on the part of both terrorist centers themselves and intelligence services. The fact that special camps for selecting and training thousands of militants operate in Istanbul and southeastern Turkey is no particular secret.

The latest terrorist attack in Russia at the Crocus City Hall shopping mall on March 22, which resulted in numerous casualties and was carried out by citizens of Tajikistan, has once again led the investigation to a “Turkish trail” in terms of the preliminary stay of two militants in Istanbul and possible special training at a local training center.

Taking into account the level of Russian-Turkish relations and the extreme unwillingness of the Turkish side to spoil relations with the Russian Federation in connection with these events, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered the law enforcement agencies and special services of Turkey to rapidly carry out a series of operational measures and detain in more than 20 provinces of the country persons suspected of terrorist affiliation to ISIS (banned in Russia).

The head of the Turkish Interior Ministry, Ali Yerlikaya, almost in the mode of weekly reports, tells about other mass roundups and arrests of dozens – even hundreds – of suspects. In total, the Turkish Interior Ministry reports that 3,000 people have been detained in the country recently. As we can see, this is a very large number of suspects capable of forming entire groups within the terrorist organizations mentioned.

The also begs another question: how many more of them are left? Finally, if the Turkish security services arrested 3,000 people in such a short time, how far does the degree of secrecy of their presence and special training in the same camps near Istanbul correspond to reality? How did the intelligence services of Turkey not pay attention to this earlier, if the authorities of Ankara declare their intransigence against international terrorism? Or do Turks only prosecute the Kurdish resistance (terrorism)?

Meanwhile, on April 6, Turkish authorities announced the termination of its visa-free regime for Tajik citizens; this goes into effect on April 20 this year. Ankara retains a visa-free regime for those Tajiks who transit through Turkey to third countries. Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Shohin Samadi responded to this decision of the Turkish side by stating that the principle of reciprocity for Turkish citizens is respected.

According to the Turkish ambassador to Dushanbe, Ankara’s decision is dictated by security considerations and may be temporary. However, the Turkish embassy does not yet know how long this temporary measure will be in effect.

Why did Turkey so abruptly change its visa regime with Tajikistan, even though its relations did not seem to be deteriorating? Some experts (for example, from the Russian publication Tsargrad) believe that such a decision by Ankara is dictated by the desire to protect itself from the external threat of the spread of criminal elements and radicals, i.e. the potential terrorists breeding ground. In addition, on April 1, a Tajik national and a Kyrgyz national were detained in Istanbul on terrorism charges.

Well, if Turkey acts so quickly and promptly, the question remains: why doesn’t Ankara introduce similar temporary visa-free measures for other countries, whose citizens are in no small part on the list of 3,000 detained suspects, according to Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya. Are they all citizens of Tajikistan? At the same time, Ankara retains a visa-free regime for those Tajiks who transit through Turkey to a third country. This means that the same criminals and much worse terrorists from this ethnosphere can freely flow to third countries (including to Russia).

Of course, the decision of the Turkish authorities to strengthen effective counter-terrorism measures and introduce preventive legal measures to limit their path should be respected. However, no hasty conclusions should be drawn about the improvement or deterioration of Turkey’s relations with third countries, including Russia and Tajikistan.


Alexander SVARANTS – Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

Related articles: