YEREVAN, DECEMBER 7, ARTSAKHPRESS. Turkey activated its policy toward the Central Asian Turkic states after the 44-day Nagorno-Karabakh War. The outcomes of the war gave official Ankara a new impetus and confidence to re-engage actively in the Turkic world. The Organisation of Turkic States (OTS) declared 2023 the “Year of the Rise of Turkic Civilization” to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. Similarly, another development reflecting the solidarity culture was the awarding of the “Supreme Order of the Turkic World” by the OTS to Erdogan for his constructive contributions to the integration processes of the Turkic World . It is hard to argue the fact that OTS is gaining more momentum year by year and is gaining significant influence in the region. Despite being founded barely a decade ago in 2009 (with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan as members), this organization has grown into a new regional instrument for advancing international cooperation in the Eurasian continent. OTS’s success can be attributed, in part, to its solid ideological basis that unites the peoples of member countries. As the organization develops the bottom-up integration strategy for its development, it relies on some ideas of Eurasianism that will be analysed below.
The role of common culture in unity
After the Cold War, Eurasianism (Avrasyacılık) became increasingly popular in the Turkish political discourse. Nevertheless, scholars and politicians in Turkey have been interpreting different types of Eurasianism. For instance, during the 1990s, Turkey aimed to become a member of the European Union. Thus, western-oriented Eurasianism in Turkey appeared. Multiculturalism became an important part of Turkish Eurasianism at that time. However, this approach changed very soon when Turkey decided not to try to enter the European Union and concentrated on the East. Thus, the multicultural content of Eurasianism changed into a Turkic culture-based approach. Pan-Turkist Eurasians in Turkey, for example, argue that Turkic peoples might implement their geopolitical ambitions in Eurasia by utilizing the potential for unification of Turkish ethnicity and culture. Another discourse, Neo-Ottomanist Eurasianism, emphasizes racial-cultural identities as a basis for Eurasian solidarity. Turkey pays a lot of attention to its cultural ties to other regional countries. Having a common cultural identity is a good basis for creating and developing tight relations with Turkic states. That is why OTS has such organizational bodies as the Turkic Culture and Heritage Foundation, TURKSOY, and Turkic Academy.
The objectives of the Turkic Culture and Heritage Foundation are to protect, study, and promote the Turkic culture and heritage through support and funding of activities, projects and programs. The Foundation assists in organizing seminars, workshops, conferences, congresses, and field studies, as well as exhibitions and sponsoring contests, festivals, tournaments, etc. TURKSOY (the International Organization of Turkic Culture) has been carrying out activities to strengthen the ties of brotherhood and solidarity among Turkic peoples, transmit the common Turkic culture to future generations and introduce it to the world. The Turkic Academy was founded to coordinate scientific research on the language, literature, culture, history of Turkic people and to evaluate the contribution of the Turkic civilization to the human civilization based on indigenous sources. It leads scientific studies on Turkic history, ethnography, languages, etc., as well as prepares common textbooks/teaching materials across the Turkic world for the use of educational establishments in the Member States.
The common culture, language, and history of the Turkic states are the main pillars that underpin the cooperation under the OTS, making this regional cooperation unique in comparison to others. According to OTS’s perspectives, Turkic states should be united by common cultural richness, values, principles, and interests, learn and grow on their commonalities . It was therefore symbolic that the Second Summit of the Turkic Speaking States was held under the theme of “Educational, Scientific and Cultural Cooperation” and within the Second Summit of the Turkic Council was organized the first meeting of the Ministries of Culture. Cultural cooperation was introduced in the “Action Plan of the Turkic Cooperation Organizations for 2023” and “Turkic World Vision – 2040” which include significant directions in the field of culture. The Secretary General of OTS, Kubanychbek Omuraliev, wrote in his congratulatory message that “Rising on the basis of common language, common history, and a common cultural heritage, the centuries-old fraternal bonds among the Turkic States have been solemnly institutionalized within the framework of our Organization” .
It becomes clear that OTS is not just the economic unity. Turkey does its best to not only cooperate with states’ leaders in the region but also to connect the Turkic peoples of Eurasia via their cultural commonalities for having a successful integration organization.
Common civilization and the Turkic world
Turkish Eurasianism and the concept of the “Turkic world” can be combined into a single ideology. Turkish governments overlooked the Caucasus and Central Asia for a long time so as not to provoke the Soviet Union. Yet, Ankara saw a good chance to establish a “Turkic world” in Eurasia immediately following the fall of the USSR. Turkey sought to forge close political, economic, and cultural ties with the Turkic countries in the region and OTS developed as a perfect platform for creating that Turkic world. The basis for this ambition is the fact that some Eurasian nations in the post-Soviet or post-Ottoman space are willing to accept Russia or Turkey as the “original Eurasian elder brother” in order to unite and solve their regional problems. So, Turkey, by presenting the commonalities of these nations as symbols of common Turkic/Eurasian civilization, proposes itself for the role of such an elder brother. Speaking about common civilization, it should be noted that back in 2015, the Foreign Ministers of the Member States agreed on the establishment of the Center of Nomadic Civilization and took an important step for the institutionalization of this organization.
The idea of common civilization and its very important role in relations between Turkic states has remained a key point up until now. Speaking at the OTS Summit in 2022, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev noted: “It is well known that the ancient Turkic land has been connecting the East and the West for thousands of years, bringing the world civilizations closer to each other and enriching various cultures. […] in our multi-thousand-year history our Turkic family is gathering in such a full format, as a part of our renewed organization. Undoubtedly, under the motto “A new era of Turkic civilization: towards common progress and prosperity” we are entering a completely new stage of joint growth” .
Thus, Turkey uses the idea of a common civilization within Eurasia to create the “Turkic world,” which can connect the Turkic people of Eurasia in a solemn unity and chooses the OTS for the role of that unity.
Turkey’s special geographical position and role in Eurasia
In the pan-Turkic discourse on Eurasianism, Eurasia is viewed as a region primarily inhabited by Turkic peoples (i.e., Turkey, the North and South Caucasus, Central Asia, the Turkic regions of the Russian Federation, and northern Afghanistan). According to this discourse, Eurasia is destined to be under the rule of the Turks, as their control over the central parts of Eurasia could only lead to their dominance over Eurasia.
The most remarkable and complete geopolitical concept underlying the Pan-Turkic version of Eurasianism was developed by Ramazan Özey (a professor at Marmara University). The main elements of Özey’s concept can be summarized as follows: Anatolia is the “World Fortress” (Dunya kalesi in Turkish, or Heartland in the classical sense), and the ruler-country in Anatolia, Turkey, possessing this acropolis has the ability to take control of the regions of the “Inner Circle.” According to the Turkish scholar, these are the Balkans and Eurasia. Thus, Özey legitimizes Turkey’s rule over the Balkans and Eurasia, considering it a natural result of the geography of the country. Then he sees Turkey’s rule in Eurasia not as an end in itself but as a means to achieve a greater result—world dominance . Pan-Turkist Eurasians therefore argue that Turkic peoples might implement their geopolitical ambitions in Eurasia by utilizing the potential for unification of Turkish ethnicity and culture.
Former Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem viewed Turkey as a strategic center of Eurasia because it has shared history, a common state, and a common fate over the centuries with neighbouring countries. In relation to Eurasia, Cem noted that “by virtue of its historical and cultural attributes and its privileged European as well as Asian identity, Turkey is firmly positioned to become the strategic center of Eurasia” . The continuation of this idea can be seen in the statements of former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who believes that Turkey is a link that connects Europe and Asia. “…The Western and Eastern ends of Eurasia must be reconnected” . Therefore, Turkey is destined to play a significant role in this region and not follow a passive foreign policy.
This perspective of the organization has been highlighted in several summits and meetings of the OTS. It was even established the Geographical Council of Turkic States within OTS to foster people-to-people cooperation. The first meeting of this council was held in 2023. It is also worth mentioning that OTS attaches great importance to the preparation of the textbooks “Common Turkic History”, “Geography of the Turkic World” and “Common Turkic Literature”, and the inclusion of the mentioned books at the national curricula of the Member States. Of course, it must be noted, that the OTS is placed at the crossroads of important strategic lines between the eastern and western shores of the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and Mediterranean basins. It is the descendant of the historic Silk Road and reaches into three major regions. So, the OTS is intended to serve as the ‘inner circle’ that unites Turkic republics.
Hence, Turkey draws its ‘inner Eurasia’ on the map and attempts to broaden its political and economic influence there through the OTS, despite the fact that it is hard to define Eurasia both geographically and geopolitically and that all definitions are vague.
The role of religion and language
In the beginning of the 2000s, Neo-Ottomanist Eurasianists stated that Turkey does not require the West or Russia, pointing instead to its Ottoman and Islamic past as an acceptable choice. According to it, Turkey has a global ummah role as it is the only state capable of establishing a new justice system in the Sunni world. Only in that case, the Sunni world can counterbalance China and Russia as well as the West.
One of the strategies proposed to strengthen the relationship among OTS’s member states is the prioritization of religious issues. All these states are part of the Muslim world, so they share the belief. The organization brings heads of religious institutions in member states together four times a year to discuss issues affecting Islam in Turkic nations. On October 20, 2022, religious leaders from the Turkic states convened a meeting in Baku and established the Council of Religious Leaders of the Turkic World. The goal of the council is to take a common stance in the fight against Islamophobia and any form of extremism in Turkic nations. In his opening address, Secretary General Baghdad Amreyev emphasized that the Islamic tradition of the Turks has brought up many prominent figures that have rendered great services to Islam, such as Imam Maturidi, Ebu Hanife, Imam Bukhari, etc .
Visits and meetings among religious leaders and OTS’s high representatives are part of the accepted norm. Chairman of the Caucasian Muslims’ Board (CMB) Sheikhulislam Allahshukur Pashazade, for instance, during his meeting with OTS Secretary General talked about the religious and spiritual relations that are developing and deepening on the basis of historical friendship and fraternal relations between the member states of the OTS. It was stated that within this framework, new steps should be taken at the organizational level in order to further improve the existing relations between the Muslim religious leaders of the Turkic states.
OTS representatives have also participated in various summits and conferences organized by Islamic religious unities. For example, in 2019, Baghdad Amreyev participated in the International Seminar on “Islamic Rapprochement Initiative” organized by the General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Kazakstan. In 2022, during the second meeting of the heads of institutions in charge of Religious Affairs of the Organization of Turkic States, Bagdat Amreyev stated that the “Turkic World” has been playing a significant role in the Islamic world throughout history. The Turkic people contributed greatly to the development of the Islamic civilization. He emphasized that Islam is represented in the Eurasian area mainly by the Turkic States, namely, in the Central Asia, Caucasus and Europe .
Another key instrument of integration in OTS is the language.
After the collapse of the USSR, Turkey was offered as an example for other Turcophone nations. Akkan Süver, president of the Marmara Group Strategic and Social Research Foundation, pointed out that Turkey can use Eurasianism to combine Europe and Asia in three stages. According to one of the stages, spoken Turkish ought to be unified. Future generations can so benefit from shared culture and ideas .
Such logic is seen in the formation of the OTS. According to the document on cooperation between Turkic-speaking nations on October 3, 2009, a nation’s official language must be one or more Turkic languages in order to join the organization. Professor Cengiz Tomar noted that the change of the name of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking Countries into the Organization of Turkic States marks a historical and fundamental transformation. The phrases “the Turkic-speaking countries,” “Peoples with Turkic language,” and “Turkic-speaking peoples” were produced by Nikolay Ivanovich Ilminski, the famous Turkologist of Russia in the 19th century, occupied the great geography of Turkestan. These terms were based on the educational method to accelerate Russification activities by dividing the Turkic peoples by making Turkic dialects into different languages. With this name change, the terms “Turkic-Speaking Peoples and Countries,” which are widely used in the geography of Turkestan, have been replaced by “Turkic Peoples or States.” This change can be considered as a radical transformation of mentality rather than a symbolic name change .
The OTS supports or organizes conferences, forums, and meetings for the Ministers of Education that are dedicated to linguistic topics. In 2013, during the second meeting of the Ministers, the issues of teaching languages of member states as elective courses, starting short-term student exchange programs among secondary/high schools of member states, and making available various means, including special scholarships to encourage Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D. students of Turkic Speaking States to focus their academic studies on general Turkic studies have been deliberated. The meeting decided on adopting a common alphabet to be used for scientific purposes. Also, the Turkic Council took a concrete step in the direction of establishing the Joint Educational TV Channel. In the framework of popularising common Turkic history by means of TV, preparing animated films introducing Turkic heroes and broadcasting them on national channels of Member States were among the decisions taken at the meeting.
Undoubtedly, a common language can have a vital role in regional integration that is focused on uniting the societies of member countries. Thus, the idea of saving and spreading the Turkic language is instrumentalized and used in the OTS.
The reason for enthusiasm for using the ideological base in integration projects might be related to the concept that the unifying purpose includes the need for a shared notion within the union. The instrumentalized idea is a tool used by the political elite to win people’s approval and justify their actions. In this way it is possible to achieve integration from below. Such version of integration was motivated by market logic, which includes the importance of common knowledge of the language, similarity of laws and culture, as well as the existence of informal people-to-people ties, so post-Soviet Eurasia can become a natural space for common organizations and unities. Nonetheless, it should be underlined that Turkey has a post-imperialist approach to regional integration and seeks to sustain and expand its political influence throughout Eurasia.
The example of the OTS demonstrates how Turkey frequently relies on the ideas of Eurasianism in its regional integration projects. However, in Turkey, there are different conceptions of Eurasianism and those concepts are at different stages of development. So, different ideas from those concepts are instrumentalized and applied in various ways depending on the context. Probably this is the reason that, despite the increasing popularity of various Eurasianist discourses in Turkey, Turkish Eurasianism has not yet reached the point of a distinct school of thought. Arousing great interest in Turkey in the 1990s and immediately seen as a possible new ideological basis for Turkey to establish and strengthen cooperative ties with the West and the East, this new ideology simply dissolved into other ideologies that were long-established and widespread in Turkey․ That’s how such varieties of Eurasianism formed in Turkey as Pan-Turkist Eurasianism, Neo-Ottomanist Eurasianism, Western-oriented Eurasianism, Kemalist Eurasianism, etc.
Junior research fellow, Institute of Oriental Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Armenia
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