According to the decision of the eighth Turkic Council summit in Istanbul, the first congress of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), which will be formed on the basis of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States, will be held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, in November this year. The congress is expected to outline the future contours of socio-cultural, political and economic interaction among the participating states.
In particular, the Organization of Turkic States plans to create common textbooks: on the history, literature and geography of the Turkic world. A relevant protocol on this issue was already signed on June 24 in the Kazakh capital at the fifth meeting of the scientific council of the International Turkic Academy (ITA). However, there is not yet a unified decision among OTS member countries on whether these subjects will be taught as compulsory or optional ones. It also remains to be known in which language the common Turkic textbooks will be published, and who will assume the funding for publishing them, as this is clearly unaffordable for some countries (e.g. the Kyrgyz Republic). This is the reason why some believe that Turkey should take over the funding for publishing the textbooks.
In the course of discussions of the issue in the national media, it has already been noted that the introduction of such textbooks in the Turkic-speaking countries will inevitably entail a certain religious and ideological bias, which may replace the concept of the common Soviet past linking Russia to the post-Soviet republics. After all, it is no secret that education is one of the indispensable soft power tools and mechanisms, that various states can use to promote their interests and shape certain societal sentiments in a non-violent manner.
Given Ankara’s reliance on the OTS, it seems that it intends to turn the organization later into a political and even military alliance, and use it as an additional tool to strengthen Turkish influence, if not to perform an expansion. In particular, Turkey’s ineffectual status as an EU candidate for more than two decades prompts it to do so. Moreover, certain contradictions between Ankara and its partners in the NATO military bloc, especially with the US and with regard to the future membership of Sweden and Finland in that military alliance, further push Turkey towards the Turkic vector of Eurasian space, where Ankara could take the dominant position it is interested in.
It is known that the current members of the OTS are Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Turkey and, as of 2019, Uzbekistan, while Hungary and Turkmenistan enjoy observer status. Turkey has previously repeatedly expressed intentions to include the partially recognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the integration process, which could add a number of conflict dilemmas for Brussels and Ankara in the future. Afghanistan had applied for observer status not long before the Taliban (the organization is banned in Russia) came into power. Kiev has also previously expressed a willingness to join the Turkic Council as a counterweight to Moscow and drawing on “the historical milestones of the Ottoman Empire and its connection to Ukraine.”
The majority of OTS members expect to use the organization infrastructure to enhance trade and economic cooperation, in a hope to get favorable terms for participation in joint projects under Turkey’s auspices. In particular, there is interest in potential logistics programs in the region of the Caspian Sea, with the possibility of pairing them with Chinese transport programs as part of the One Belt One Road project. In fact, Turkey is also interested in expanding its investment presence in Central Asia and Azerbaijan, as can be seen in particular from initiatives to establish an investment fund of the Organization of Turkic States in Bishkek, which could become a powerful institution to finance common projects within the organization.
Ankara, however, in pursuing a policy of strengthening the OTS role, will sooner or later have to decide on the composition of the organization and, in particular, the place of Russia and China at it, primarily taking into account their involvement in the Turkic world, and the presence of large Turkic-speaking populations in these two states. For example, the Russian Federation for centuries has been home to Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvashes, Kumyks and many other Turkic peoples, or some 14-15 million members of Turkic ethnic groups, i.e. over 10% of the country’s total population. In China, the Turks also form a very common ethnic group, in particular the Uyghurs, who live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and are indigenous to it.
However, Ankara’s plans absolutely do not envisage the inclusion of both Russia and China as members of the OTS, as this would not allow Turkey to achieve its main goal through this organization – to solely determine the development directions and activities of the OTS, based on Turkey’s own interests. Ankara’s disregard for the “unfavorable” Turkic peoples of Russia and China will nevertheless certainly limit at least the regional credibility of the OTS, and allow Beijing and Moscow to openly criticize it in case of disagreement with some or other of its activities. For example, their criticism may be directed at the OTS being an outright tool for Turkey to attempt its expansion. The limit for action of this organization without triggering the criticism from the part of Moscow and Beijing given these conditions is joint cultural and humanitarian projects among the member states, and building up trade and economic cooperation to a certain extent.
However, these are clearly not the objectives that Turkey had in mind when establishing the OTS in pursuit of its pan-Turkic policy.
But there is another way which consists of rapprochement and integration with Russia and China within the OTS. In this scenario, Turkey risks a definite loss of hegemony within this project. The truth is that this option would open a window of great opportunities for Turkey, including cooperation in Greater Eurasia with the EAEU, the SCO and China’s One Belt One Road transport projects. Given the current very difficult context of Turkey’s financial and economic crisis, such an option for the development of the OTS is of obvious interest to Ankara, but it can only be adopted by the country’s political leadership.
Valery Kulikov, political expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.