Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 175

The suggestion to form a Turkish commonwealth among Turkic-speaking countries voiced at the recent gathering of leaders of Turkic states in Turkey’s seaside resort city of Antalya appears to reflect Ankara’s desire to strengthen its economic and political positions in Eurasia. Moscow should not treat Turkey’s growing geopolitical ambitions lightly, some Russian analysts say.

On September 18-20, the 10th Turkic States and Communities’ Friendship and Cooperation Congress took place at the posh hotel complex on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Organized by the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), the Turkic Convention brought together top policymakers from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, as well as delegates representing the Turkic territories of Russia, Ukraine and Moldova — Chuvashia, Khakassia, Altai region, North Caucasus, Crimea, and Gagauzia.

“Turkic summits” were the brainchild of the late visionary Turkish leader Turgut Ozal. Ozal, prime minister and then president of Turkey from 1983 until his death in 1993, entertained a sweeping project that included a vibrant Turkic Common Market and a powerful Turkic Trade and Development Bank. A “Turkish model,” based on Turkey’s imperfect but seemingly workable market economy and somewhat restrictive parliamentary democracy, was offered to the post-Soviet states as a roadmap for their transition.

However, over the last decade, Ankara failed to play a leadership role in the post-Soviet space, and its activism in Eurasia proved to be rather fragile. Turkic summits have become the object of sharp criticism within Turkey’s policymaking and analytic community for their failure to produce any concrete results: the forums were seen as venues where nationalist-minded politicians indulged in their extravagant rhetoric.

It appears that the governm ent of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to reverse this trend. According to TIKA sources, around 100 officials from Turkish state agencies participated in the convention this year, seemingly demonstrating the importance attached to the meeting by Ankara.

At a time when Turkey’s relations with its traditional Western partners — the United States and the European Union — have soured over the war in Iraq and the growing skepticism about Ankara’s European bid, the country’s leadership seems ready to reinvigorate the “Eurasian vector” of its foreign policy.

Invoking the former glory of the Ottoman Empire that ruled across the vast lands of the Balkans, Black Sea area, and the Caucasus as well as the ethnic ties with Central Asian Turks, Turkish leaders suggested their country is destined to play a leading role in Eurasian politics. “Being the children of a historical state, we have to say our word too,” Erdogan asserted.

The 2006 Turkic summit has indeed set quite an ambitious agenda. To further develop commercial activities among Turkic states, participants decided to encourage foreign investment and to provide additional incentives to investors from Turkic states. Common energy projects should be developed and additional backing given to pipeline projects passing through Turkey. A common alphabet should be worked out to improve communication among Turkic peoples. Studies in Turkic culture should be encouraged. The summ it’s participants agreed that there is a need to compile a common heritage list of the Turkic world; they also deemed it advisable “to rewrite our common history and teach it at schools.”

To crown these integration efforts, the world’s Turks will have to establish a Turkic Commonwealth “like English- and French-speaking countries do,” Erdogan suggested. “This way we can encourage our cooperation and become more influential in the world.”

The summit’s Turkish hosts appeared keen not to arouse Russia’s suspicions regarding Ankara’s apparent readiness to infringe upon what Moscow considers to be its sphere of influence. The past several ye ars saw a remarkable Russo-Turkish rapprochement based on the two countries’ close energy ties and their mutual disillusionment with the West. At the same time, the Kremlin has recently redoubled its efforts to restore Russia’s strategic position in the Central Asian region.

So far, there has been no Russian official reaction to the ambitious agenda advanced at the Turkic Convention. In fact, there was no coverage of the event in the mainstream Russian media. But some Russian analysts believe that such an attitude is far too shortsighted, as it ignores a strategically important development. “Is the regaining of [geopolitical] weight by [Russia’s] historical rival, including its attempts to collect piece by piece on the vast expanses of Eurasia some morsels of the collapsed [Ottoman] empire, a topic that is complet ely uninteresting to Russian readers?” asks one commentator incredulously.

A number of Russian strategists warn that although Ankara is cultivating trade ties with Moscow, the Turkish policy elite is keen to turn its country into Eurasia’s major energy hub — a development that will run contrary to Russia’s strategic interests, as it will further undermine the Russian monopoly on the transit of hydrocarbons from the energy-rich Caspian and Central Asian regions.

Speaking at the Turkic summit, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev specifically highlighted the geo-strategic significance of the energy and transportation projects pursued by the “brotherly Turkic nations.&rdquo ;

“The moment we finalize all these projects, the total look of the area will be radically changed,” Aliyev said.

(Turkish Daily News, New Anatolian, September 19-21;, September 21)