Turkey Pushes for Closer Political Ties Within the Turkic-Speaking World

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 225

The speakers and delegates of the parliaments of the Turkish-speaking countries—Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Turkey—met in Istanbul on November 20 and 21 for a Conference of Turkic-Speaking Countries’ Parliamentary Speakers. Turkish Speaker of Parliament Koksal Toptan, Azerbaijani Speaker of Parliament Oktay Seidov, Kyrgyz Speaker of Parliament Aytibay Tagayev, and Vice-president of the Kazakh Senate Mukhammet Kopeyev signed a declaration for the establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-Speaking Countries (TURKPA) (Anadolu Ajansi, November 21). The body is open to admitting other countries in the future.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed launching the TURKPA at the summit meeting of the Turkic leaders in 2006. At the time, given Turkey’s more extensive experience in parliamentary democracy, Nazarbayev requested the Turkish Parliament to coordinate efforts toward establishing the proposed assembly. In February the parliamentary deputy speakers met in Antalya to prepare the groundwork for the assembly. A second meeting in Astana in March produced a draft declaration, which was expanded during the conference in Istanbul (www.tbmm.gov.tr, November 21).

Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Speaker Toptan addressed the conference. Referring to the shared historical, cultural, and linguistic ties among the founding members, Toptan called the declaration a historic step toward expanding cooperation. He noted that if these countries could manage to act together in a spirit of solidarity, they could bring peace, stability, and prosperity to Eurasia (Cihan Haber Ajansi, November 21). Gul also stressed that “our brotherhood [of Turkish countries] does not target anyone. Instead, it represents a union of hearts and minds [that has been created] to promote the peace, stability, and welfare of the region” (Zaman, November 22).

Kyrgyz Speaker Tagayev emphasized that closer cooperation among the legislative bodies of these countries could lead to the creation of necessary legal regulations and could also facilitate cooperation in financial, scientific, and cultural cooperation (Cihan Haber Ajansi, November 21). In particular, Gul emphasized that parliamentary cooperation could facilitate the realization of joint projects in economics, transportation, and communications, as well as in the fight against common security threats, such as terrorism and radical movements, drug smuggling, and illegal weapons trafficking (Ortadogu, November 21).

The primary goal of the new assembly is to boost relations among the parliaments of the participating countries, provide a platform for exchanging views, and explore joint projects. Although details about its exact institutional structure, rules of procedure, and committees are unavailable, it was suggested that it might resemble the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (www.assembly.coe.int/; ANS Press, November 22). Gul also referred to similar initiatives in other regions as possible models to follow (www.cankaya.gov.tr, November 21). Sayyad Aran, the Azerbaijani consul general in Istanbul, told reporters that the assembly would meet annually. He also noted that the next meeting, which is scheduled to take place in Baku in 2009, would lay out the assembly’s working procedures (APA, November 22).

Turkey’s leading role in the creation of the assembly is no surprise, given its interest in promoting cooperation with Turkic-speaking countries. Shortly after the dissolution of the East bloc, Turkey initiated several projects to deepen ties with its cousins in the ex-Soviet space. Both the state and private entrepreneurs played a major role in developing extensive relations in economics, culture, and education. Although successive Turkish governments have refrained from promoting a pan-Turkic agenda toward the region, which was advocated by nationalist circles within Turkey, the idea for closer political integration between Turkey and Turkic-speaking countries has always guided Ankara’s policies in one form or another. The Turkish state has institutionalized several mechanisms to facilitate political cooperation among these countries.

The major such multilateral platform has been the summit of the heads of state of Turkic-Speaking Countries, bringing together Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. After the first gathering in Ankara in 1992, seven subsequent meetings have been held at irregular intervals. During the seventh meeting in Istanbul in 2001, internal friction about establishing closer ties among the Turkic states surfaced. Despite Turkey’s expectations to the contrary, the presidents of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the two countries that are also absent from the TURKPA conference, declined to attend the summit.

The failure of high-level summits to institutionalize concrete projects and their ineffectiveness in resolving bilateral and regional problems were reportedly behind Turkmenistan’s decision to opt out in 2001. Publicly, Turkmenistan’s official policy of positive neutrality was given as the reason for its reluctance to maintain closer political ties with the rest of the Turkic world. The lukewarm relationship between Turkey and Uzbekistan largely explains Tashkent’s negative attitude toward the summit (www.tusam.net, December 2, 2006). It was recently reported that Baku would host the ninth summit in the first quarter of 2009 (Trend News Agency, November 11).

The establishment of TURKPA was among the ambitious goals announced at the eighth summit and represents a successful step toward realizing common aims. President Gul, in his address to the TURKPA conference, said that the organization’s meeting after the Baku summit would be held in Bishkek. He also noted that other goals set at the eighth summit would soon be realized. By the Bishkek summit, the legal framework for setting up a Permanent Secretariat in Turkey to streamline the activities of the summits of Turkish-speaking countries would be finalized. Gul also expressed Turkey’s support for the idea of creating a committee of experts (Aksakallar Kurulu), as proposed by Kazakh President Nazarbayev (www.cankaya.gov.tr, November 21).

It remains to be seen whether the members of TURKPA will be able to turn rhetoric into mutually beneficial cooperation and convince the two opt-outs to join their ranks by the time the leaders of the Baku summit in 2009.