Whenever I talk to “old Turanists” I am quite impressed by the way they see the 90s; with a lovely nostalgia. The joy and enthusiasm of the unveiling of the iron curtain and battle cries “To the Ancestral Lands!”, while witnessing post-soviet tragedies like those depicted in Nicholas Cage’s famous “Lord of War” movie on the other hand… Undoubtedly the 90s were the era when Turkey managed to re-establish its ties with the rest of the Turkic World, however, undoubtedly indeed, Turkey as a state, as well as Turkish nationalism as an ideology, were caught unprepared.
A Turkic union, a “Union in language, ideas and deeds”, according to a Crimean Tatar intellectual İsmail Gaspıralı, has always been a beautiful dream; however the history repeatedly taught us that mere sincere emotions are not sufficient to make see dreams come true. Of course it is wonderful that Turkic World has its cherished place in people’s hearts, conscience and mind, but the realistic vision to reach the goal and the realities of the Turkic World are more important. (As we are more emotional and less rational-realistic regarding the issues of Turkic World, the so called rational reports and publications on this issue are usually made by those who serve Russian interests; this is an important matter in its own right.)
Nowadays I am observing a new opportunity to arise in Central Asia, though not as clear, visible and advantageous as the one we missed in the 90s. To analyze the matter It is important to understand that these Central Asian countries are landlocked. Even if they develop a vast and effective industry and sell their natural resources themselves, they will still have to reach the sea and connect themselves with the international trade and communication routes.
This is why one of the “hottest” regions in the world, after Middle East, is the North Pole. There are new settlements along the northern coasts of Canada and Russia are being established as the North Sea emerges as an alternative route that decreases the shipment costs and time required to transport goods. Besides, another reason that “heats” the region is the race to exploit the rich natural reserves in the region.
Landlocked and away from trade routes, Central Asian states are quite unlucky; Turks in the region have always flourished due to the Silk Road, as well as connected with the rest of the world. The reason for the region once managed to raise intellectual-kings like Tamerlane and Babür Shah, is now somehow backwards; as well as the deliberate Soviet policy that left the region dependent on Russia, destroyed its nature and overexploited its resources.
However, Russia is now experiencing hardships to fulfill its function since Soviet era: Russian trade is in decline, economic sanctions are being felt at its worst. I do not want to suffocate the reader with lots of data and statistics, but in general, there’s a decline in cash flow and trade from Russia to the region. Moreover, the low oil prices directly affect these countries as it is also indirectly affected by crushing the Russian economy.
Besides, there’s a terrorism threat in these countries. Kerimov’s death, aging Nazarbayev, ethnic tensions, political instability… Social and political setting, totalitarian regimes seem to be no longer able to survive, as they emerged a palliative solutions in the Post-Soviet era. The radical Islamism is a serious threat and curiously, all resistance and opposition movements are somehow affiliated with the radical Islamism; allowing the regimes to suppress the discontent as they see fit, without fearing the international condemnation.
Moreover, China is also a player. China’s trade volume with the region and Russian Far East is now higher than that of Russian core. Besides, Chinese people as businessmen, workers and visitors keep flowing to the region. Considering the low population density in the region and Russian Far East, this is a serious demographical threat, as there are 110 million Chinese people living in the immediate neighboring Chinese regions.
As we all saw –however flawed and controversial- in Kyrgyzstan, a revolution or change movement, not affiliated with the radical Islamism movements, can achieve its goals. When the authoritarian regimes are changed, free market economy is established and hoarding riches thanks to natural resources do not go directly into the pockets of “oligarchs” but boost the industry and shared by people, the image of the region can change in a couple of years.
However, in order to achieve this, the region must be connected to the international market via a third alternative, other than Russia and China. Turkey has to develop all projects and strategic movements in accordance with a vision that would provide such an alternative for the region. The threat of the region’s falling into the Chinese sphere of influence is close; Chinese core is adjacent to the region compared to Russia’s.
Economic overview, combined with political developments and events, prove that Central Asia is about to enter a phase of change, in my opinion. Turkey, learnt its lesson from previous mistakes and operating within the Western Block, will earn a strategic weapon that would force the West and Russia to more favorable deals in Middle East and Crimea.
No rational country would like to have a neighbor that frequently invades its neighbors (Georgia, Ukraine), violates airspaces of countries as far as France, moreover, has a nuclear power. Turkey has to take this into consideration: Economic sanctions hit Russian Far East and Central Asia more than the west of Russia and this can lead to a change and this change can be favorable to China. Turkey’s main strategy should aim at making this change, this time, favorable to Turkey and Turkic World.
Perhaps the Gordian Knot in Syria will be untied from far away, Central Asia, in the ancestral lands of the people who once managed to bring Pax Turca to the region, Middle East.
M. Bahadırhan Dinçaslan
Turkish Language Chief Editor of CNA