Why in the News?
At a summit of the Council of Turkic States leaders last week in Istanbul, it was announced that the forum has been elevated to an “Organisation of Turkic States”.
What is India’s Concern?
The international symbol of solidarity among peoples of Turkic ethnicity has been the Council of Turkic States, formed in 2009 by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Delhi, which has been worried about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist politics, must now begin to pay attention to another political idea from the Turkish president — promoting pan-Turkism.
What is Pan-Turkism?
- The ideology of pan-Turkism is not new.
- Its origins date back to the mid-19th century when campaigns for uniting Turkic people in Russia gained traction.
- Its geographic scope would eventually become much wider, covering the huge spread of Turkic people from the “Balkans to the Great Wall of China”.
- A defining slogan of pan-Turkism is this: “Where there are Turks, there is Turkey.”
- The decline of Turkey and the integration of Turkic people into other states steadily diminished the salience of the idea in the 20th century.
- As the Cold War came to an end and the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, Ankara saw new opportunities to engage with the newly independent republics of Turkish ethnicity in post-Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Council of Turkic States
- The then President Turgut Ozal convened the first Turkish summit with some central Asian states in 1992.
- The arrival of Erdogan as the leader of Turkey in 2002 speeded up the process.
- He converted the annual summit with the inner Asian states into a Council of Turkic States in 2009.
- Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan joined Turkey as founding members.
- In Ankara, it was hailed as the “first voluntary alliance of the Turkic states in history”.
- Uzbekistan joined the council last and raised its profile at the Istanbul summit last week.
- Hungary, which has a long history of association with Turkic people, and Turkmenistan have observer status.
- At least a dozen other countries have apparently shown interest in getting observer status.
- The OTS also adopted a vision document called “Turkish World 2040” that will guide the organisation’s efforts to develop intensive cooperation among its members and contribute vigorously to regional and international security.
Turkey’s Growing Stature in Central Asia
- Over the last three decades, a number of soft power initiatives — in education, culture, and religion — have raised Turkey’s profile in Central Asia and generated new bonds with the region’s elites.
- But it is in the domains of hard power — commercial and military — that Turkey’s progress has been impressive.
- Nearly 5,000 Turkish companies work in Central Asia.
- Turkish annual trade with the region is around $10 billion.
- This could change as Turkey strengthens connectivity with Central Asia through the Caucasus.
- Turkey has also made impressive progress in building transportation corridors to Central Asia and beyond, to China, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
- The so-called Lapis Lazuli Corridor now connects Turkey to Afghanistan via Turkmenistan.
- Turkey has stunned much of the world with its military power projection into the region.
- In the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan earlier this year, Turkish military intervention decisively tilted the war in favour of the latter.
- Many in the region are beginning to purchase Turkish drones that played a key role in Azerbaijan’s victory.
- Last year, Kazakhstan signed an agreement for wide-ranging defence and security cooperation with Turkey.
- That Kazakhstan, a member of the Russia-led regional security bloc, is moving towards strategic cooperation with Turkey, a member of US-led NATO, points to the thickening pan-Turkic bonds in a rapidly changing regional order.
- For the Central Asian states, living under the shadow of Chinese economic power and Russian military power, Turkey offers a chance for economic diversification and greater strategic autonomy.
Scope of India-Turkey Tie
- Pan-Turkism certainly adds another layer of complexity to Eurasian geopolitics.
- That is a good reason for India to explore a more purposeful engagement with Turkey.
- But there is no denying that the current differences between Delhi and Ankara over Kashmir, Pakistan and Afghanistan are real and serious.
- The current political divergence only reinforces the case for a sustained dialogue between the two governments and the strategic communities of the two countries.
- Dealing with Turkey must now be an important part of India’s foreign and security policy.
- Turkey’s own geopolitics offers valuable lessons on how to deal with Ankara.
Erdogan’s Clever Foreign Policy
- Turkey is a NATO member but it did not stop Erdogan from a strategic liaison with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That he purchases advanced weapons like S-400 missiles from Moscow does not stop Erdogan from meddling in Russia’s Central Asian backyard.
- Ankara’s criticism of China’s repression of Turkic Uighurs in Xinjiang — that was once called “Eastern Turkestan” — goes hand-in-hand with deep economic collaboration with Beijing.
- Erdogan’s ambitious pursuit of the Islamic world’s leadership does not mean he will break diplomatic ties with Israel.
new opportunities for Indian foreign and security policy in Eurasia.
- Erdogan’s enduring enthusiasm for Pakistan does not preclude Turkey from doing business — economic and strategic — with India.
New Opportunities for Indian Foreign and Security Policy in Eurasia
- Erdogan’s ambitions have offended many countries in Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Caucasus.
- Many of them are eager to expand strategic cooperation with India in limiting Turkish hegemony.
- After nearly two decades at the Turkish helm, Erdogan’s grip over power looks shaky and he is having trouble getting Turkey’s economy back on a high growth track.
- This opens a range of new opportunities for Indian foreign and security policy in Eurasia.
As a great civilisational state, Turkey will endure as a pivotal state in Eurasia long after Erdogan is gone. Independent India has struggled to develop good relations with Turkey over the decades. A hard-headed approach in Delhi today, however, might open new possibilities with Ankara and in Turkey’s Eurasian periphery.