On July 14 cultural ministers from 12 Turkic countries gathered at the Okan Intercontinental hotel in Astana for the 21st session of Turksoy, the international organization of Turkic-language nations set up in April 1992 to promote Turkic culture and spiritual values. In his opening speech, Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture, Dyusen Kaseinov, said that the world is witnessing a surge of interest in the culture of Turkic peoples, which is receiving greater attention from the academic community (Panorama, July 16). Other participants highly praised this organization for its efforts to bring Turkic nations together against the increasing tide of globalization.
At the same time, Kaseinov cited problems related to the ongoing discussions about the need for all Turkic peoples to adopt Latin script as a culturally unifying factor. Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are the only Central Asian countries that still use Cyrillic script. In Kazakhstan, where Slavs still form a majority, any public discussion of this issue is likely to provoke protests from the Russian population. Nevertheless, during his recent stopover in Tatarstan on the way to Moscow, President Nursultan Nazarbaev implied that Kazakhstan would switch to Latin script sometime in future. Addressing his audience partly in the Tatar language, Nazarbaev stressed the linguistic and cultural affinity between Kazakhs and Tatars. He reiterated the same feeling of brotherhood among Turkic peoples in his talks with the President of Bashkortostan, Murtaza Rakhimov, who suggested that Kazakhstan and Bashkortostan establish direct economic and trade contacts in many fields without asking Moscow’s permission (Khabar TV, July 1).
Moscow becomes uneasy any time the Turkic members of the Russian Federation, particularly Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, demonstrate their independence. Although these two Russian republics are not formally members of Turksoy, they sent delegations to Astana to attend the organization’s meetings, as did Altai, Tuva, Sakha-Yakutia, and Khakasiya.
Despite its frequent calls for closer integration among the Turkic countries, Kazakhstan has always been cautious in dealing with Muslims. Astana has been careful not to appear to be separatist elements in Moscow’s backyard. As such, Kazakhstan did not broadcast the news that it would host the Turkic cultural meeting. Formally, the representatives from the Russian republics were issued invitations as part of the cultural events occurring within the framework of the official “Russian Year in Kazakhstan” celebrations.
After gaining its independence in 1991, Kazakhstan actively espoused the ideology of pan-Turkism and intensified its cultural and economic relations with Turkey, the first country to recognize the independent state of Kazakhstan. Dozens of students were sent to study in Turkey. In 1992 the first Turkish-Kazakh University was opened in Turkestan, the city that symbolizes the revival of Turkic culture. Works of renowned pan-Turkism advocates, such as Mustafa Shokay, Akhmetzhan Baitursyn, and Dulat Mirzhakip, banned under the Soviets, reappeared in dozens of copies. But in the economic sphere, relations with Turkic countries did not show significant progress. Between 1991 and 2003 Turkish investment in the construction industry in Kazakhstan barely totaled $2.5 billion (Kazakstan — Zaman, February 27).
Economic and trade relations with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan’s closest Turkic neighbor among the Commonwealth of Independent States countries, also remain sparse. Theoretically, Kazakhstan could also profit more from Turkey’s membership in NATO and efforts to join the European Union. But Kazakhstan cannot always sacrifice its long-term economic interests for the sake of political ends. That explains Astana’s lukewarm attitude toward strong U.S. and Azerbaijani pressure to choose the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline route because it bypasses Iran (Panorama, June 4).
Other Turkic post-Soviet states were less interested in the Turksoy meeting. Azerbaijan, for example, is in no mood to embrace the idea of pan-Turkism. According to Polad Bulbuloglu, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Culture, it is practically impossible for Turkic countries to resist globalization and the spreading influence of Western culture. Referring to the Karabakh enclave occupied by Armenia, he lamented, “Our Turkic-speaking brothers would prefer to close their eyes to our grief, as if nothing happened.” Uzbekistan conspicuously ignored the Turksoy meeting in Astana and did not send a delegation. Bulbuloglu dismissed this decision as an instance of “political haughtiness” (Aikyn, July 15).
During the meeting, Diman Belyakov from Russia’s Altai region expressed his concern over the Russian policy of forced assimilation of ethnic minorities. He said that students in all educational institutions in his region are taught only in Russian. He was also dismayed by Moscow’s efforts to redraw territorial boundaries. “As a result of this administrative reform,” Belyakov warned, “the existing Altai republic may disappear from the map” (Aikyn, July 15). The Turksoy meeting in Astana emphasized the common bonds among all Turkic peoples, but the speakers also conceded that the Turkic world remains far from unified.