As the USSR recedes further into history, the post-Soviet Turkic nations of the Caucasus and Central Asia are rediscovering their linguistic and cultural affinities with Turkey, and activists are promoting closer cultural, economic, and political ties.
Among the states of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, the pan-Turkic sentiment is most pronounced in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s most ardent support of closer Turkic ties is Nizami Jafarov, director of Baku’s Ataturk Center, a corresponding member of Azerbaijan’s Academy of Science, and head of the Azerbaijani Permanent Parliamentary Commission on the Culture of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Jafarov’s latest project is setting up a new Turkish language TV channel in Azerbaijan to broadcast to the Turkish-speaking world and foster further integration in the Turkic world. “It is possible to say that this idea has become a reality,” Jafarov said during a recent interview. “The issues of the opportunities, main topics, and language of this TV channel have been defined after long discussions. No one is against the creation of such a channel.” According to Jafarov, the only thing currently lacking is money. “ The issue will be fully elaborated after one of the Turkic countries or any international company undertakes the financing of the TV channel,” but he added optimistically, “I think the issue of the channel opening will be settled this year” (Trend.az, January 10).
Jafarov is also chairman of the Turkish-Azerbaijani Parliamentary Friendship Group, which has been promoting the idea of closer Turkish-Azeri relations for some time. In 2006 Jafarov maintained, the idea of a Parliamentary Assembly of Turkish States began to gain serious traction, commenting, “Azerbaijan’s suggestion of establishing a Parliamentary Assembly of Turkish States has been approved by all. The format of the Assembly is to be discussed. Creation of this assembly is inevitable. The ongoing processes in the world make it necessary to set up an organization of Turkish states at least on parliament level” (Today.az, February 28, 2006). As envisaged, the Turkish States’ Parliamentary Assembly would consist of delegates from Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan.
An important element of Jafarov’s plan was Armenia’s reaction to such an assembly. The following month Jafarov said, “The Armenian media writes that Turk nations will create a Turanian State and claims that and this state will be against Armenians… The establishment of such an assembly is important for the maintenance of harmony in the world and is not in contradiction with the norms and principles of international law. On the other hand, Armenians are far fewer in number than Turks. There are 100 million Turks in the world and only about 10 million Armenians. Despite this we will discuss the ‘Armenian issue’ after the formation of the Assembly” (Today.az, March 27, 2006).
On the Turkish side, a non-governmental organization, the Turkish-Speaking States’ and Communities’ Friendship, Fraternity, and Cooperation Foundation (TUDEV) and the annual Friendship, Brotherhood, and Cooperation Congress of the Turkic States and Communities have played a major part in promoting the concept.
The First Friendship, Brotherhood, and Cooperation Congress of the Turkic States and Communities took place on March 21, 1993, in Antalya, and the next nine congresses were subsequently held in Turkey, attracting more delegates each year (Busra Ersanli Behar, “Turkism in Turkey and Azerbaijan in the 1990s,” Eurasian Studies 1996). Over 900 delegates attended the 8th annual TUDEV meeting, March 24-26, 2000; and 500 were from Anatolia. Then-Turkish president Suleyman Demirel was present along with Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) Devlet Bahceli, seven other Ministers, and almost 50 deputies. For the first time representatives of the Turks in Tunisia and Mongolia also attended (Anadolu Ajansi, March 23, 2000).
Last November Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus President Mehmet Ali Telet, attended the 11th Friendship, Brotherhood, and Cooperation Congress of the Turkic States and Communities in Baku. The previous ten congresses were held in Turkey, with the last occurring in Antalya on September 18-20, 2006. At the Antalya conference Turkish authorities first suggested a political alliance of this kind, with an international Turkic union subsequently becoming Erdogan’s idee fixe, (Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 26, 2006).
Also present at the gathering were nearly 800 delegates from over 30 countries. Both Erdogan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev addressed the Congress. In his most implicit endorsement of closer cooperation between Turkic nations, Erdogan told the delegates, “It is time for establishing planned and coordinated cooperation among Turkic republics,” suggesting the founding of a permanent secretariat of the heads of Turkish-speaking states. “This Permanent Secretariat will keep an eye on what we have done, what we are doing, and what we will do, and prepare us for the next Congress. On the other hand, we should start working on establishing the Inter-Parliamentary Council and Advisory Council, which honorable Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, discussed with the leaders at the Turkish-speaking states summit in Antalya. (Azerbaycan Respublikasi Istanbul Bas Konsullugu, November 17, 2007).
For Jafarov, the issue already has an irresistible momentum of its own, and “in the next decade the process of transforming the Turkish language into the united language of the Turkish peoples will be completed” (Trend, January 10).
But the concept has already brushed up against political reality, with both Turkey and Azerbaijan claiming credit for the concept and eventual leadership of the organization. For the Azeris, the recent Congress solidified Azerbaijan’s leadership. According to Nazim Ibrahimov, head of the State Committee on Work with Azerbaijanis Living Abroad, “This congress, which was held on the initiative of President Ilham Aliyev, brought new tone to the Turkish world. In the worldwide Turkish diaspora all Turks are speaking about the congress in Baku. They consider the Azerbaijani President as a new leader of Turkish world” (APA, December 30).
While Azerbaijan’s immense oil wealth gives it a rising presence in the Turkic world, it remains to be seen if that will translate into substantial political power in the Inter-Parliamentary Council and Advisory Council, proposed by Turkey, and whether the heads of the five former Soviet Turkic states will, in fact, be ready to surrender any national sovereignty to such a body. If Azerbaijan and Turkey cannot even agree regarding who provided the impetus for the idea, further integration of the Turkish-speaking world still seems a distant goal.