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October 26, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10283

Russian Experts On Central Asia Warn: Turkey Has Far-Reaching Plans For The Post-Soviet Space, Including Parts Of Russia

October 26, 2022
Russia, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 10283

Turkey has enjoyed friendly treatment in the Russian press that has praised Turkey for refusing to knuckle under to the Americans and join the sanctions against Russia. It is the tough interlocutor that looks after its interests as opposed to the supine Europeans, who are shooting themselves in the foot by following the American lead. Yes, there are places such as Syria, where Russian and Turkish interests diverge, but this only attests to the diplomatic acumen of Vladimir Putin, who manages to achieve a modus vivendi with Ankara that serves both Russia's and Turkey's interests.

While this is the dominant narrative buttressed by the diplomatic reality that in Russia's current diplomatic isolation, beggars can't be choosers, a residue of suspicion remains that resurfaces like the following one by political scientist Gevorg Mirzayan, who on most issues backs Putin to the hilt. Mirzayan, citing the opinion of scholars Vladimir Avatkov, and Nikita Mendkovich warns of Turkish cultural penetration in the Turkic Central Asian countries that were formerly Soviet republics. Turkey has invested a great deal in this effort and it plays a long game. If it succeeds in winning Central Asia, the next target will be the Turkic regions in Russia itself.

Mirzayan's article follows below:[1]


Vladimir Avatkov. The heading reads Turkey's imperialist syndrome (Source: Mammul.am)

"One nation, one language, one leader," this is the narrative that guides Turkey’s current policy of increasing Ankara’s influence over the Turkic peoples, i.e., across the entire expanse from northern Syria to the Russian and Chinese borders (Turkic peoples reside both in Russia and China as well, but Erdogan is not yet ready to openly contest the sovereignty of Moscow and Beijing over them).

The establishment of a special commission to create a unified alphabet by the Organization of Turkic States (which includes Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan) was one of the latest initiatives in this direction. The commission will consist of two members from each of the official structures dedicated to linguistic policy in the Turkic states. The first meeting of the commission will be held in Kyrgyzstan.

The current initiative is a logical consequence of three trends: Ankara’s systematic policy of transforming the Turkish part of the post-Soviet space into its sphere of influence; the inability of local authorities to create competitive cultural projects to the Turkish ones , and the absence of a competitive alternative from other regional players (Russia and China).

Ankara began transforming the post-Soviet space into its sphere of influence immediately following the USSR's collapse, that is, long before President Recep Erdogan's advent to power. "Turkey is actively and, to a certain degree, brazenly engaged in the formation of a single Turko-centric body. It has been engaged in this task for quite a long time.

After the USSR's collapse, a political "vacuum" was formed in the post-Soviet space, of which Ankara did not fail to exploit, by presenting itself and its logic to Central Asia," wrote Vladimir Avatkov, Head of the Department of the Middle and Post-Soviet East at INION [Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences] of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

"Turkey strives to promote its own language and its own way of life, as well as its own popular culture among the Turkic peoples of the post-Soviet space." Ankara has been openly stating since the 1990s that this is part of a policy of effective colonization of the post-Soviet space. Turkic peoples aren’t perceived by Turkey as distinct ethnicities; they are perceived as Kazakh or Azerbaijani Turks, who are to supposed to be implanted with the Turkish language, Turkish culture, and Turkish identity," argued Nikita Mendkovich, Head of the Eurasian Analytical Club.

True, not everything worked out for Ankara in the 1990s. This was largely due to the opposition of the new Central Asian nationalist leaders to "colonization" and resistance to an entire series of Turkish "integration" initiatives, in particular, the first attempt to create a unified alphabet failed. However, the Turks got their way by hook or by crook: failing to pull it off, they continued to pursue a successful decades-long policy of "Turkicization" of the local population via culture, economy and education.

"To facilitate the creation of this sort of Turko-centric integration, quite a few bodies (among them are: the Turkic Academy of Sciences, the Turkic Parliamentary Assembly, TURKSOY (International Organization of Turkic Culture), TIKA (Agency for Cooperation and Communication) and many, many more) were created and are still being created, which develop and provide support to integration process in all spheres, from economy to literature," said Vladimir Avatkov, "Such institutions allow Ankara to delicately substitute "Turkic "for "Turkish," encouraging participants to follow exclusively Turkish narratives. We have already encountered unified textbooks on common Turkic history, heard about unified myths, the next quite logical step is the creation of a unified language.”


Turksoy's Facebook cover page photo. Note the Russian flag on the extreme right reflecting the organization's cultural outreach ambitions to Turkic peoples in Russia (Source: Facebook.com)

In turn, over these few decades, the Central Asian states' authorities have failed to create their own competitive national-cultural projects. Attempts to come up with a history of national statehood haven’t been very successful yet, partly due to the frail state of the local educational systems and partly due to the authorities' authorities to provide an adequate standard of living for the countries’ population.

This is a population that began searching for "success stories" to "import" into their own countries and found them precisely in tales about Turkic identity. Turkish TV series, the Turkish economy, the Turkish case of successfully mixing Islam and democracy, the glorious Turkish history - all this creates an aspiration for communion.

True, reality, as is usually the case, is far from fantasy, because Turkey by no means perceives other Turkic countries as equals.

"At best, we are talking about "Anschluss"["unification”] of these territories into the "Grand Turan." In the worst-case scenario, which is more likely, we are talking about transformation of these states into colonies.

Currently there are many guest workers from Central Asian states in Turkey, where they experience discrimination, and find themselves in the position of harshly exploited second-class people. This, in turn, indicates that Turkish society perceives them as colonial peoples, and not as a fraternal ethnicity," said Nikita Mendkovich. However, this reality doesn’t prevent propagandists of the Turkic world from offering the local intelligentsia and the new elites (some of whom are already studying at Turkish universities and/or receive Turkish financial support) a Turkic identity in a beautiful wrapper.

And this identity is successfully being marketed as there is no competition to it in the form of cultural integration projects from other regional powers. One cannot expect to see such a project from China, after all, Chinese ideology is deeply Sino-centric, and it’s very difficult for China to integrate even the Turkic population that resides on the PRC's territory (i.e., the very same Uighurs).

As for Russia, its influence in the post-Soviet space could’ve been enormous.

It is Russia (not Turkey) that "feeds" the local states, i.e., the money remitted homewards by migrant workers from the very same Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is equivalent to these states' national budgets.  It’s Russia (not Turkey) that protects these states from external and internal adversaries under the CSTO framework and bilateral agreements, as in the case of Kazakhstan in early 2022, when Russian security forces defended Kazakh sovereignty from local nationalists and Islamists, nurtured, inter alia, with the help of Turkish funds.

However, all this economic and power influence is offset by the lack of cultural expansion (it’s enough to compare the operations of Russian and Turkish cultural institutions), as well as the political peculiarity of the bilateral relations between Russia and these states; relations, under which states dependent on Russia can allow themselves demonstrative acts of disloyalty in difficult times for Moscow.

This appeared, for example in the refusal to service [Russian] Mir credit cards in a number of national banks, as well as the declared readiness to comply with the US sanctions imposed on Russia. It’s precisely this peculiarity of bilateral relations that prevents Russia from pursuing a more active cultural policy, in particular, from popularizing Russian culture, a Eurasian identity, and the Russian language (which prompts an aggressive reaction by local nationalists, who are indulged by the local authorities).

Meanwhile, it’s extremely important that Moscow does not allow the post-Soviet space to turn into a Turkish backyard.

"Naturally, Russia cannot remain absolutely indifferent towards attempts by a NATO member-state to turn our neighboring countries into its own colonies. This is contrary to Russia’s interests, especially since in a number of cases Turkish so-called "cultural organizations "are engaged in blatant subversive activities," claimed Nikita Mendkovich. Besides, these subversive activities are being pursued not only outside of Russia’s borders, but also within them. Should Turkey become stronger in Central Asia, should it win over this region for itself, it will intensify its cultural expansion to the Turkic peoples of Russia, not only in the Crimea and the North Caucasus, but also in Siberia and the Volga region.


Nikita Mendkovich (Source: Ukraina.ru)

Turkey works on a long-term basis and doesn’t renounce its claim to full sovereignty over all Turkic-speaking peoples. It strives to transform the formula "one people, one language, one leader" into "one people, one state, one leader."

 

[1] Vz.ru, October 23, 2022.

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