The countries of Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – are divided between the rest of the influence of Russia, heir to the Soviet Union, which plays a considerable cultural and military role (for example, in within the Collective Security Treaty Organization) in the region and China’s growing economic influence. However, this apparent bipolar equilibrium is incomplete, as the weight of a third country, Turkey, must be taken into account when talking about the future of Central Asia.
Although Ankara is not in the geographic proximity of the region or does not have a nuclear arsenal, and therefore cannot be considered a superpower like Moscow and Beijing, it has managed to maintain its influence in Central Asia for several years. centuries – thanks to religion (Islam) and the Turkish language, the significant impact of which is still felt in the region. Thus, while China is now the region’s leading economic partner, while Moscow is in charge of regional security, it is Turkey which has the most considerable soft power, an asset that Erdogan is trying to strengthen. through the Turkish Language Cooperation Council. States (the Turkish Council) to increase its global influence.
While it offers an alternative to the vision of a Central Asia under the bipolar influence of Moscow and Beijing, the Turkish Council is nonetheless imperfect, as this article intends to show, but it has development potential. which could open up Central Asia and bring it closer to the Middle East, while allowing Turkey to reconnect with the glorious history of the Ottoman Empire.
In the end, it is through the Turkish Council that Ankara could once again become a world power and, like Konrul (a Turkish version of the Western phoenix), assert itself as a great power on the international scene, without having to resort to obtaining any nuclear arsenal.
The Turkish Council in the spotlight
The Turkish Council is an international organization founded on October 3, 2009 in Nakhichevan, Azerbaijan, comprising some of the Turkish countries – Turkish-speaking states, of Turkish origin or both – including Turkey, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. , so to speak most of Central Asia.
It should be noted that the idea for the Council did not come from Turkey, which at the time was mainly focused on European integration, but emerged from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2006, the same political leader who proposed the idea of a Eurasian Union became a reality in 2015.
The principle was quite simple at the time. Countries like Kazakhstan had to find a way to be connected to the rest of the world. While the Eurasian Union could increase economic and military relations with Russia, the Turkish Council would represent the cultural and religious interests of Central Asian countries.
Like many of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s plans, the Eurasian Union and the Turkish Council have evolved. The Eurasian Union has evolved into purely economic cooperation, and the Turkish Council is struggling to integrate states like Turkmenistan, which is currently not a member of the Council due to its neutral status.
Nonetheless, the Council is among the fastest growing international organizations, and on April 30, 2018, it was announced that Uzbekistan would join. The country attended the organization’s summit before formally applying for membership on September 12, 2019.
Interest is growing and since the end of 2018 Hungary has had observer status and could potentially apply for full membership. Moreover, in 2020 Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Ceppar said Ukraine wanted to be an observer like Hungary. Meanwhile, on May 3, 2021, Afghanistan formally requested observer status. Overall, the potential is impressive as Turkish influence in the world remains strong and could be of interest to some Turkish minority countries, like Gagauzia in Moldova, and possibly states, like Germany, due to the Turkish diaspora. (3-7 million people of Turkish origin). of origin currently live in Germany).
The differences between the participating states are obvious, and while the Central Asian states are interested in membership to avoid dependence on Russia and China, some countries, such as Azerbaijan, are doing to strengthen relations with Turkey and gain more support in Nagorno. Karabakh conflict. Hungary, in turn, is exploring alternatives to the European Union.
The projects are grouped into six areas of cooperation: economy, culture, education, transport, customs and diaspora. Examples of projects include the establishment of the Union of Turkish Universities and the writing of a common history textbook. The Turkish Council is also working on ways to boost economic development and functions as an umbrella organization for cooperation mechanisms such as:
– Parliamentary Assembly of Turkish Speaking Countries (TURKPA) in Baku;
– International Organization of Turkish Culture (TURKSOY) in Ankara;
– Turkish International Academy in Nur-Sultan;
– Turkish Cultural Heritage Fund;
– Center of Nomadic Civilizations in Bishkek;
– Turkish Business Council in Istanbul.
Unlike many other international organizations, the Council presents itself with labels of “family” and “brotherhood”, emphasizing the difference from the Western world. As such, the ties between the members are rooted in blood and Islam, a component certainly more emotional than in the case of the EU or the Eurasian Economic Union.
FinTech and cryptocurrencies: a missed opportunity
In 2021, there are no plans to establish a digital currency or adopt a common cryptocurrency for all Council members. This approach may surprise, because each member country has its own currency with significant fluctuation rates, which hinders the implementation of common projects and exchanges, in fine leading to the adoption of the US dollar for large-scale projects.
The adoption of a new or existing cryptocurrency (e.g. Stellar), whether centralized or decentralized, by all Turkish Council states would enhance economic cooperation among members. Recent Turkey attitude on this issue in spring 2021 could nevertheless delay the adoption of this technology.
A Turkish or Central Asian institution?
Looking at all the elements, we can say that Ankara is the main country interested in the Council because it remains the greatest military, economic and demographic power there. In addition, it strengthens Turkish influence, as membership of the European Union is no longer a target for Ankara.
Nonetheless, from the point of view of the Central Asian states, the Council appears to be more of a Kazakh project as it avoids the containment of Central Asia and offers an alternative to the two surrounding giants, Moscow and Beijing. As such, the Central Asian states strengthening their ties with Turkey aim to guarantee respect for Muslim values and develop new partnerships to export gas abroad, Turkey being a large market. The Turkish Council thus seems to represent the diversity of interests in the region, each country having an interest in joining.
A modern view of Islam?
Another interesting element is that the Turkish Council promotes a different view of Islam, which can be considered a “soft” Islam. Turkish Council member states are less fundamentalist than Middle Eastern countries and alcohol consumption is not prohibited, while many families are monogamous. This is crucial as it could have an impact on the practice of Islam among future new member states, such as Afghanistan.
While Western organizations often come into confrontation with the Muslim world (e.g. Iran-US relations), the Turkish Council might present a better way to engage with other Muslim countries, as it is about a milder version of Islam which nevertheless shares the same religion. beliefs.
Opportunities and challenges of the Turkish Council
Even if it has ambitions, the Council remains a complementary alliance and cannot replace the security organizations (NATO for Turkey and CSTO for the States of Central Asia). Moreover, while strengthening economic partnerships, China remains the main player in Central Asia, and it is not possible for the Council to become an alternative to establishing trade links with Beijing.
The same goes for Azerbaijan, and while Baku has received the support of the Muslim world in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the main decision-maker on the outcome of this conflict remains the Kremlin, Russia being a nuclear superpower.
Another limitation of cooperation is that Beijing may want to strengthen its soft power in Central Asia in the years to come. So far, China has agreed to remain a mere economic power (with an attempt to bolster its military might in the Wakhan Corridor). Nevertheless, Beijing should take a more active approach to soft power by increasing its investments in promoting Confucianism and the Chinese language in the world, and more in its neighborhood.
The Turkish Council has carried out many valuable projects, especially in the field of education, and although its potential remains great, the members of the Council must ensure that it works in accordance with Chinese interests in Central and Middle Asia. -Orient to avoid a confrontation.
Ultimately, the Turkish Council is a valuable tool to develop the Turkish religious approach and soft power in Central Asia, but the economy and the implementation of advanced technologies should remain in the hands of the Chinese, while Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union are complementary. and could contribute to the emergence of a tripolar order in the region.
From our partner RIAC