Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 214

Leaders of Turkic nations are meeting today, November 17, in Turkey’s Mediterranean resort city of Antalya. This first summit of Turkish-speaking peoples in five years appears to reflect Ankara’s ongoing rethinking about its international identity. Increasingly frustrated with the mounting hurdles on the path of its European integration, Turkey seems to be turning its strategic gaze to the east – the Caspian Basin and Central Asia – which is home to the energy-rich Turkic republics of the former Soviet Union.

The presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and high-level representatives from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will be attending the Antalya gathering. It was unclear whether the Russian republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan will be represented.

The November 17-18 event is the eighth meeting of Turkic leaders since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. The last such summit, however, took place in Istanbul in 2001. The gatherings of the leaders of Turkic countries are the brainchild of the late Turkish President Turgut Ozal, who organized the first such meeting in 1992 in Ankara. The current summit convened after intense lobbying by the Turkish government following the September convention of the Turkish-speaking peoples (see EDM, September 22).

A statement posted on Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s website says the summit participants will sign a joint document called the Antalya Declaration. There was no official word ahead of the gathering on the nature of the document. Some analysts predict that the Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will continue its efforts to forge a Turkic Commonwealth that could significantly enhance the Turkey-led Eurasian bloc on the world stage.

It is hard not to notice that Ankara’s Turkic initiative coincides with Turkish opinion polls showing diminishing popular support for European Union membership. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, Turkish support for the EU has fallen to 35%, down from almost 80% three years ago.

Two important developments further underscore the Turks’ disillusionment with the West and their growing irritation at the perceived snub by the Europeans.

First, five former Turkish foreign ministers, including several staunchly pro-EU ones, have recently aired a common view on the country’s NTV news channel, arguing that it could be best if Ankara unilaterally suspends membership talks with the bloc to allow for a cooling-off period in what is becoming an increasingly tense and acrimonious relationship. “There can be no better indication of the growing frustration with the EU and no better explanation for the dramatic decline in support for [Turkey’s] membership in the Union,” one Turkish commentator noted.

Second, Turkey has just suspended military relations with France in a dispute over the controversial issue of the mass killings of Armenians during the twilight of the Ottoman era. The move was the latest backlash against French legislation that, if approved by the French Senate and president, would criminalize any denial that the World War I-era killings of Armenians in Turkey qualified as genocide. France and Turkey, both NATO members, have had close military ties, and Turkey has been an eager buyer of French-made military hardware. But on November 15, Turkey’s land forces commander, General Ilker Basbug, told reporters in Ankara that “relations with France in the military field have been suspended.”

As Ankara’s relations with the EU become ever more problematic, a growing number of Turkish pundits argue that Turkey needs to expand its strategic thinking and get rid of the “unhealthy fixation” on Europe. The contemporary world is not unipolar or centralized, they say, adding that a group of Eurasian countries including Turkey, China, India, as well as some Central Asian states has a “much more viable future in the developmental terms used by economists than do many countries in the EU today.”

The urgent task, then, according to some Turkish strategists, is to explore the possibilities for regional integration and cooperation among the Eurasian countries. “The need for cooperation among us and other regional powers is obvious,” asserts Ali Kulebi, the head of Turkey’s National Security Strategies Research Center, in a recent policy paper.

But other analysts remain skeptical about Ankara’s eventual success with Eurasian integration, including its efforts at building a bloc based on a kinship with Central Asia’s Turkic peoples. There are two main reasons for such skepticism. First, the Central Asian states will likely be wary of Ankara’s intention to play the role of “big brother” in the prospective commonwealth. Second, these countries have not been terribly successful so far in resolving some crucial regional problems – such as the delimitation of the Caspian Sea or competition over water resources.

(Anadolu, Akipress, November 16; AP, November 15; Turkish Daily News, November 16, 14, October 22)