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December 18, 2006 (the date of publication in Russian)

Yaroslav Butakov

PANTURKISM: A UTOPY OR A THREAT?

"Great Turan" ideologues rely upon upsurge of separatism in Russia's ethnic republics

THE PROJECT OF "TURKIC COMMONWEALTH"

In autumn 2006, the International Turkic Kurultai – already the tenth event of this kind Ц took place in Antalya, involving over 600 delegates from state bodies and public circles of various countries, and coinciding with the VIII summit of Turkic-speaking nations.

The summit was organized for the first time in the last five years, being not so representative than earlier events. The most serious drawback was the absence of the President of Uzbekistan, which was a serious blow for the summit's reputation; earlier, Islam Karimov used to be a frequent guest of such events. Experts believe that Karimov's absence was an answer to Turkey's own unfriendly act – namely, its support of EU's proposal to bring the issue of violations of human rights in Uzbekistan to UN's General Assembly. Tashkent's reaction was displayed not only in the neglect of the summit but also in a number of harsh statements of Uzbek officials, who pointed at Turkey's reluctance to admit the fact of genocide of Armenians in 1915 as another example of Ankara's double standards (though the recognition of genocide is what the same European Union is trying to achieve from Turkey, even drawing it as a condition of Turkey's entry in the EU).

In the absence of Mr. Karimov, Turkey's President Ahmet Necdet Sezer greeted his colleagues from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Still, these four sides signed a declaration, including not only routine and non-committal formulas of democracy, joint anti-terrorist efforts, etc., but a number of significant provisions. Namely, the four countries appealed to a joint approach of Turkic states towards the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon (the latter regarded as disastrous), as well as resolution of the conflicts in Cyprus and Karabakh (in both cases, naturally, in favor of the Turkic side of the conflict). In addition, the state leaders agreed to support each other in such political objectives as Kazakhstan's chairmanship in OSCE in 2009, Turkey's entry in the EU, and selection of Turkey, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as non-permanent members of UN's Security Council. As Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said, "the problem of one Turkic state should be a problem for any other Turkic state".

Still, the most significant achievement of the Antalya summit was the visible progress of the foundation of the Commonwealth of Turkic Peoples, which Turkey had been pursuing for many years. At least, the members agreed to establish one more body of the Community – the Council of Elders. The idea belonged to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the champion in involvement in various kinds of integration initiatives. Kazakhstan's President also endorsed the candidate for chairing the Council of Elders Ц Suleiman Demirel, the former President of Turkey. Still, the architecture of the Turkic Community, its functions, and even membership is still remaining unclear.

 

A "UNITED FRONT" OF COMMON GRUDGES

One of the directions of the Antalya summit was development of a common view of Turkic states on a number of foreign policy issues, the necessity of which was declared very pompously. With no fear of being accused of "double standards", the participants arrived to the decision that the Karabakh problem should be resolved only on the basis of re-establishing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, while an obviously similar problem of Northern Cyprus – on the contrary, through legitimizing the island's separation and through political r4ecognition of the unlawful separatist entity. In this context, the President of Azerbaijan made quite clear that his country has also got serious grounds for drawing territorial claims to Armenia, with reference to centuries of history: "We may declare that the Irevan Khanate Ц as the southern districts of Armenia, including Yerevan, were historically named Ц should be regarded as a part of Azerbaijan".

Still, the major points of the Antalya summit's agenda were transport infrastructure and energy policy. The participants of the event reiterated the importance of construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railroad (which Georgia is not allowed to join by the United States), supposed to link Turkey's transport system with the railway systems of the former USSR's south, circumventing Armenia and Russia.

The participants also emphasized the importance of joint exploitation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, launched in 2006. The sides expressed accord on the use of energy resources as a factor of collective political power and of the possibility to "guarantee diversity of transport routes for hydrocarbons".

Conveying its transit potential to the Turkic-speaking countries of the former USSR for new possibilities of access to the global markets of energy resources, Turkey intends to use the new transport corridors for a stronger economic and political penetration to the regions of Southern Caucasus and Central Asia. Speaking in Antalya, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized that the newly emerging Commonwealth of Turkic Nations "is preparing the conditions of economic integration, and therefore a possibility to express a unified view on the global scene. History has given u a unique opportunity for unifying the efforts of our countries, with their common culture and historical roots. We'll either become a subject of global policy, or remain an object".

Thus, Turkey has not abandoned its dreams of an imperial revenge, which the ideas of Panturkist unity and relevant intergovernmental projects of integration are perfectly matching. For us, it is essential to determine to what extent the implementation of the Panturkist ideals represents a potential challenge to Russia's integrity and national interests. In this regard, a brief review of the history of Panturkism could be useful.

 

DREAM OF REVENGE AFTER LOST WARS

There are various interpretations of the origin of the Panturkist concept. One of them suggests that Panturkism has emerged as a response to Russia's ideas of Panslavism and Russia's religious protectorate over Turkish Christians. According to a number of authors, the Panturkist concept emerged not in the Turkish population but rather in the minds of West European (particularly German) ideologues. In any case, Panturkism should be qualified among similar ideologies of supranational ethnic-based unity, emerging in the second half of the XIX century, such as Pangermanism, Panslavism, Panarabism, etc.

As any ideology of this kind, Panturkism acquired a range of expressions – from research in cultural heritage of the Turkish-related peoples to a doctrine of territorial expansion. The latter trend was the clearest in the platform of "Young Turks" (Unity and Progress Party), which came to power through a military coup d'etat of 1909. Tekin Alp, one of the ideologists of this flank of the Panturkists, dreamed of a Great Turan, spreading from the Pacific to the Baltic and Adriatic seas. The Great Turan was supposed to emerge from a total war, the New Jenghiziade.

On the eve of World War I, the ideas of aggressive Panturkism were adopted by the ruling establishment of the Ottoman Empire, which was under a strong German influence. A declaration of Young Turks, dated 1914, explained the motives of Turkey's involvement in the war against Russia as follows: "The national ideal of our people and our state requires extermination of the enemy of Moscow, in order to reach the natural state borders, unifying all of our ethnic relatives. Our religious passion is leading us towards the liberation of the Islamic world from the reign of non-believers".

In World War I, the Ottoman Empire was defeated, losing all the non-Turkish-populated territories. The Republic of Turkey, emerging on its runs, developed on the base of secular nationalism, or Turkism. The Panturkist doctrine was left aside, and even denounced as a prohibited teaching.

The revival of Panturkist views started after World War II, originating from Turkey's key role in NATO. The Democratic Party, dominating in Turkey in the period of 1949-1960, as well as the oppositionist Nationalist Movement Party, along with others, actively exploited certain guidelines of Panturkism in their ideological arsenal. Charles Warren Hostler, a US special agent in the Middle East, wrote in his book "Turkism and the Soviets" (London, 1957): "The fact that Turkey has repeatedly expressed its interest in liberation of USSR's Turkic peoples, makes Turkey important for the West, regarding the fact that in case of World War III, Panturkism will play a decisive role in Turkey's policy".

Still, the power of the USSR left no theoretical opportunity for implementation of Panturkist ideas. Only the events of 1988-1990 opened favorable perspectives of penetration into the post-Soviet space – in economic, political, and cultural aspects.

 

LATIN SCRIPT AS A TOOL OF PANTURKISM

Expansion of cultural cooperation between Turkey and Turkic-language republics of the CIS and Russia is supervised by a number of Turkish state institutions and non-governmental organizations. The most significant state institutions include the Agency of Turkic Cooperation and Development (TIKA), existing under the auspices of Turkey's Foreign Ministry, and the Turkish Directorate for Religious Issues (TDRA). The government also includes a special ministry for connections with Turkic nations, this definition being applied not only to newly independent states, but also to a number of Russia's regions.

Relevant non-governmental institutions include Turan Yazgan's Turkish International Research Center, Fethullah Gulen's Center of Education of Religious Communities, among others. Gulen's Center was especially active in 1990s, but its activity was undermined with the criminal persecution of its leader for extremist religious propaganda. The Center's activity in former Soviet republics was thus also curtailed. Still, postgraduates of the Center's high schools had already overtaken significant positions in the establishment of the post-Soviet states.

Generally, the period of late 1990s was politically unfavorable for Panturkism. The leaders of the newly independent states treated Ankara's attempts to occupy the role of the withdrawn Big Brother with superstitious caution. That was the reason for the involuntary 5-year gap in the tradition of Turcic summits, and Turkey's frequent emphasis of equality of partnership in its relations with "ethnic relatives".

The Turkish political model was not very attractive for the establishment of the former Soviet countries, which had made a more significant progress in secular statehood. Meanwhile, Turkey's membership in the EU, potentially significant for its partners as a source of possible preferences, is being delayed to a distance as far as the global victory of Communism.

In today's ideological and political arsenal of Ankara, Panturkism is visible but not central. Today, Panturkism is even not an ideology but rather an element of promotion of Turkey's political message and influence outside the country. It is used pragmatically, in dependence from the particular objectives of a certain period of time, in a particular direction. In this regard, Panturkism may be compared with other known supranational ideologies with the prefix "pan-": an instrument of elevation of authority on the global scene, but not a purpose, like Panslavism in Russia's foreign policy in the late XIX-early XX centuries, or in the USSR in 1941-1949.

Panturkism successfully finds common points with other ideological trends, popular in the Turkish political class. The ideology of Turkism, a secular nation state, as well as the intention of integration into Europe, is not given up. In addition, ideas of neo-Ottomanism, which suggests revival of Turkish influence across the former territory of the Ottoman Empire, are getting more and more influential supporters. One more popular ideology is "Islamic liberalism", based on glorifying the Turkish nation as most successful among Moslem peoples and therefore, predetermined for leadership in the Moslem world. Those doctrines demonstrate a significant deviation from the idea of integration into the West, and recognition of Turkey as a major regional center of power and political attraction. The diversity of the ideological arsenal of the Turkish establishment explains the obvious flexibility of the country's foreign policy approach.

"The commonwealth of Turkic peoples" is thus an important but not unique and necessary objective of Turkey's foreign policy, also regarding the difficulties in implementation of this concept. Still, Turkey will undoubtedly try to achieve expansion of its influence in the available regions, using Panturkism as only one of practical instruments.

One more effort of increase of cultural influence in Turkic-language states is Latinization of the alphabets. In 1926, the Soviet leadership initiated a reform of languages of Turkic peoples, introducing an adapted Latin alphabet. In 1940, however, the Latin script was replaced with Cyrillic, this new reform being followed with a campaign against a number of party functionaries and scholars.

After the former Soviet republics became independent, a reverse process started in some of them. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan re-established Latin script. Last autumn, Nursultan Nazarbayev declared a similar reform, in his address to the Assembly of Kazakhstan's Peoples.

The desire to re-introduce the Latin script is routinely explained with the desire to integrate in the "global information space", and in particular, to facilitate the expansion of Internet in national languages. Relevant initiatives refer to the example of the Turkish language. As a matter of fact, Latinization is another form of Panturkism, this time in the form of cultural expansion.

In Russia, a relevant initiative emerged in Kazakhstan, but the Russian Federation's Constitutional Court was reluctant to approve it. Generally, democratic procedures, like broad discussions, polls and referendums, would be a more reliable method to prevent Latinization than disapproval "from the top". It is quite probable that the majority of Tatarstan's residents would reject the reform of script on their own accord. Imposing methods of prohibition in such a sensitive issue as language, the state faces a risk of transformation of cultural enthusiasts into nationalist militants.

 

EXPANSION TOWARDS SIBERIA

"Peoples, representing the great Turkic world, should be identified with their with their indigenous name with a prefix "Turko-", such as Turko-Tatars, Turko-Sakha, Turko-Chuvashes, Turko-Khakassians, Turko-Nogais, Turko-Kyrgyz, etc.

These definitions, applied to peoples, representing the Turkic ethnos, are to be used in all the documents of the Government and public organizations.

This measure pursues the goal of a single identification of the Turkic people and re-establishment of historical justice towards both colonized Turkic peoples and those Turkic peoples which have acquired statehood".

If you think this to be a political joke or an excerpt from a fantasy novel, I'll have to disappoint you. The authors of the quoted text are quite serious persons. The presented excerpt is a part of the resolution of the XII Kurultai (Congress) of the International Assosication of Turkic Youth, convened in Istanbul in late 2005.

Definitely, contemporary Panturkism is a powerful "ideological weapon" for radical ethnic separatist groups across Russia. Political efforts to set off a federation of Turkish peoples against Russian statehood are likely to emerge in future for a long time. Ethnic (often supranational) ideas contain a high mobilizing energy in the XXI century, too. Moreover, their influence and popularity is likely to increase. This means that Panturkism, in its radical version, remains a potential challenge to Russia.

This suggestion is confirmed with the fact that the geography of the regions, involved in Turkic kurultais, is exceeding the traditionally Moslem-dominated territories. The event in Antalya was neglected by such Turkic-populated republics of Russia as Kabardino-Balkaria, Dagestan, and Bashkortostan. Meanwhile, the broadly represented republics included Yakutia, Tuva, and Altai. Neophytes are usually most enthusiastic, and their passions may add a new strong impetus to the popularity of Panturkism across the expanse of Russia.


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