Since the 1991 collapse of the USSR, the former Soviet republics, now independent nations, have regrouped in a variety of political and economic configurations. These include the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) The first three organizations are notable for Russia’s presence, as well as for its frequently less-than-subtle attempts to dominate the groupings, propelled by its rising economic strength due to world-high oil prices. While for a time Uzbekistan was a member of GUAM, Moscow has never belonged to that organization. Now several former Soviet Turkic-speaking republics are coalescing into a political grouping that will similarly exclude Russia.
Meeting in Antalya, Turkey, the deputy parliamentary speakers of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey have signed a protocol to create an inter-parliamentary assembly of Turkic-speaking states. The protocol is a direct result of a political initiative made by Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the November 2006 Friendship, Brotherhood, and Cooperation Congress of the Turkic States and Communities summit (Interfax, February 26). The parties have established a working group to prepare a draft agreement on the inter-parliamentary assembly. According to President Nazarbayev, the assembly would seek advice from a Council of Aksaqals (“white beards” or elders) that would include “prominent political and public figures, artists, and other persons of authority in the Turkic world.”
The question from Moscow is whether this new assembly will remain primarily a discussion group with little real political authority, or might it develop into a potential political counterweight to Russia’s attempt to retain influence and power in the post-Soviet space. There are a number of points of interest about the proposed assembly, not least of which is the inclusion of two of the Caspian’s rising petro-states: Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Equally noticeable is that both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are missing from the proposal. For a Russia that proposal cannot help but bring back echoes of what it regards as a dormant yet potentially political viable force in Eurasia, namely Pan-Turkism, which has political roots stretching back more than a century.
At the very least, Turkey’s linguistic affiliations provide a bond of cultural affinity that stretches from the Mediterranean to western China. In the post-World War I era, however, the founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk, firmly turned his back on any pan-Turkic political aspirations even as the founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, saw it as a possible tool to weaken the British Empire, appointing former Ottoman leader Enver Pasha to govern Turkistan. But in pursuing his Pan-Turkic dreams Enver turned against Moscow and ignited the Basmachi revolt, which flickered across Central Asia until it was finally repressed by Soviet forces in the late 1920s.
What is unclear at this point is what political influence the inter-parliamentary assembly would have on the policies and politics of the member states. Turkey can contribute both its spirit and its three generations of democratic political experience as well as its military expertise, having the second largest armed forces in NATO. On the economic front, the petroleum revenues of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan will give both states a prominent voice in the upcoming assembly. As a measure of the importance that Baku attaches to the proposal, First Deputy Speaker Ziyafat Askarov headed the delegation from Azerbaijan, which also included MPs Rafael Jabrayilov, Ahmad Valiyev, and the head of the Parliamentary Secretariat Sayad Alaskarov (Trend, February 21).
There has already been an intensification of bilateral relations between several of the states participating in the assembly talks, most notably between Turkey and Azerbaijan, whose deepening relations and shared slogan of “one nation, two states,” last month was obliquely criticized by U.S. State Department officials (Anadolu Ajansi, January 16). Despite the growing ties between Ankara and Baku, however, significant divergences of political opinion on current issues remain, most notably over Kosovo’s declaration of independence, which Turkey almost immediately recognized, but Azerbaijan vehemently denounced, going so far as to consider withdrawing its contingent of peacekeepers from the troubled former Serbian province.
If political divergences remain, however, the one item that will be increasingly significant on the inter-parliamentary assembly’s eventual agenda is the improvement of economic ties, and it is here that the quickest significant progress will undoubtedly be made. As both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are scheduled to massively upgrade their Caspian oil production, the fact that Turkey imports nearly 90% of its energy needs will provide a natural economic bond among the Turkic states, between producers and consumers. But here too, the energy policies of Moscow also impact the region, which Russia has seen traditionally both as its sphere of influence and consumer base.
Despite the association’s divergent levels of political and economic development, the members broadly share the desires to not see Moscow’s influence increase in the region. As the Kremlin monitors this realignment of cultural and economic forces along its southern frontier, it might hear historical echoes from the Russian Revolution and of political and Islamic extremism, but for the present, the Turkic nations seem to be more interested in improving their economies than reviving the martial glories of their ancestors. As the recent Turkish incursion into northern Iraq has proved, however, military operations remain an option in that volatile part of the world, and it is doubtless this aspect of the Turkic nations’ political coalescence in Antalya that will draw the greatest interest from the Russian government. Ankara could have much to teach the Turkic former Soviet states, and Moscow may not like the lessons.