Geopolitical minefields of President Erdogan’s ambitious Turkish world
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has breathed new life into Turkey’s vision of a Turkic world
stretching from Anatolia to Xinjiang in northwestern China.
BY JAMES M. DORSEY
Central Asia today resembles the 1990s, when there was huge competition between global and regional powers for influence over the resource rich
Region. Russia’s shadow over the region, coupled with the Central Asian states’ desire to counterbalance Russia and China, helped further
Promoting political and defense relations between Turkey and Central Asian states,” said Eurasia researcher Isik Kuscu Bonnenfant.
Opportunities for Turkey may beckon, but geopolitical minefields poke them.
First of all, the successful development of a battle-hardened killer drone makes Turkey a party to the conflict in Central Asia and a de facto participant in it
Wars in the Caucasus, where Turkey is interested in good relations with Azerbaijan, but also with archenemy Armenia. Use of Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine
Turkish Bayraktar TB2 fighter drones in the Central Asian state’s border clashes with Tajikistan, and Ukraine’s war with Russia has ignited
Even before the recent clashes, Kyrgyzstan was unsuccessfully trying to delay, if not block, the sale of Turkish drones to Tajikistan. In April Kyrgyz
Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev told parliament Turkey had responded to the Kyrgyz request by saying “that it was a deal”. Still Turkey
and Tajikistan have yet to agree.
Remarkably, Erdogan, like his Chinese and Russian counterparts, made no concerted effort to end border fighting despite being only 320 years old
kilometers from the battlefield while attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in September. The clashes were the most
heavy military conflict in Central Asia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Ukraine is an even bigger minefield for Turkey, not only for drone sales, but also for plans to set up a Turkish drone factory
Establishment in the war-torn country and Turkish connections to ethnic Turks in Crimea. In August, Erdogan asked Russia to “return” Crimea to its “rightful owners.”
Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014.
Referring to the Crimean Tatars, Erdogan told Russian President Vladimir Putin: “These are at the same time our descendants, the people who are
live there. If you would take that step forward, if you could leave us, you would also relieve Crimean Tatars and Ukraine.”
To make matters worse, a coalition of 10 Caucasian civil society groups in Turkey is helping Russians fleeing to Turkey to avoid military service
Putin announced a mobilization. Turkey is home to 4 million Turkish nationals whose roots are in the Caucasus. In past times the Caucasian community
supported refugees from Russian interventions in the Georgian regions of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and in Chechnya as well as Circassians fleeing
War in Syria after civil war broke out in 2011.
Support for Russia’s refusal to fight in Ukraine came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Russia’s ethnic peoples to resist
Kremlin military call. The support amid anti-war protests in Russia’s predominantly Muslim Republic of Dagestan
North Caucasus, has not gone unnoticed by Putin’s supporters.
Bini Sultan Khamzayev, a member of the Russian parliament, accused those who protested Putin’s mobilization to be ethnic Turkish Kumyuks
He accused him of waging a Turkish-led jihad against Russia since the time of Tsar Peter the Great. Kumyuks are the largest ethnic Turkic group in
the North Caucasus.
Blaming Turkey for anti-mobilization and anti-Putin sentiment in the Caucasus is more than a convenient scapegoat. The unrest in the region goes to Mr.
Putin’s perception of the Caucasus as Russia’s soft underbelly.
Preventing the Islamist sentiment that flourished in the Syrian civil war from spilling over into Muslim regions of Russia was one of the reasons why Putin
intervened militarily in Syria to ensure the survival of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Should the Kremlin regime falter due to factors related to the Ukraine war, Russia could become… a low-calorie version of the former
Yugoslavia is unable to control its historical territories in the Caucasus, Siberia and East Asia,” said geopolitical strategist Robert D. Kaplan.
Aside from the plight of the Crimean Tatars and ethnic Caucasians’ support for anti-Ukraine war sentiment, another Turkic group is the exiled Uighurs
complicates Turkey’s vision of a Turkic world. The exiles have grown louder in their outcry against China’s brutal oppression of the Turkic peoples
minority in Xinjiang.
Uyghur activity is a particularly sensitive issue for Turkey and China due to Turkey’s longstanding support for their ethnic cousins and the fact that
Turkey is home to the world’s largest Uyghur exile community. China does not take foreign criticism well.
More recently, Turkey has sought to silence Uyghur protests after reports of an easing of the crackdown in Xinjiang. It scored a diplomatic brownie
Points this week by organizing an informal tripartite meeting between Erdogan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol
Pashinyan on the sidelines of a European summit in Prague.
It was the very first meeting between Erdogan and Pashinyan. Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan in the 2020 Caucasus War against Armenia and
Clashes resumed in September, has not maintained diplomatic or commercial relations with Armenia since the 1990s
Fatalities of 1.5 million people killed by the Ottoman Empire, modern Turkey’s predecessor, according to Armenia in 1915, have attempted the
been making contacts since the beginning of this year.
Despite this, Turkey must exercise caution in its approach to Armenia to ensure its diplomacy remains synchronized with Azerbaijan
most important allies in the Caucasus. Turkey’s positioning as the protector of Turkish and Muslim interests may not be enough to keep up with the Chinese
Progress on the ground in Central Asia, although it may benefit from the scramble to operationalize alternative trans-Eurasian transport
Corridor from China to Europe that would bypass Russia by crossing independent former Soviet republics.
Turkey hopes its emphasis on cultural ties will offset its economic weakness. Last week, Turkey became the first non-Central Asian country
Host of the World Nomadic Games, a competition dedicated to the ethnic sports of Turkey. The games were opened by Mr Erdogan, whose son Bilal is in charge of the games
World Ethnosports Confederation. IPA