Russia’s invasion of Ukraine breathed new life into Turkey’s vision of a Turkish world
stretching from Anatolia to Xinjiang in northwest China.
BY JAMES M DORSEY
Central Asia now resembles the 1990s when there was huge competition between global and regional powers for influence over resource-rich countries
Region. The shadow of Russia over the region, combined with the desire of Central Asian states to counterbalance Russia and China, has contributed to
foster relations between Turkey and Central Asian states in politics and defense,” said Eurasia specialist Isik Kuscu Bonnenfant.
The opportunity for Turkey may present itself, but the geopolitical minefields mark it.
For starters, Turkey’s successful development of a combat-proven killer drone makes it a party to the conflicts in Central Asia and a de facto participant in
wars in the Caucasus, where Turkey is interested in good relations with Azerbaijan but also its sworn enemy Armenia. the use by Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine of
Turkish Bayraktar TB2 combat drones in the Central Asian state’s border clashes with Tajikistan and Ukraine’s war against Russia have sparked
Even before the latest clashes, Kyrgyzstan tried in vain to delay or even block the sale of Turkish drones to Tajikistan. In April, Kyrgyzstan
Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev told parliament that Turkey responded to the Kyrgyz request saying “it’s a deal”. Even so, Turkey
and Tajikistan have not yet signed an agreement.
Remarkably, Erdogan, like his Chinese and Russian counterparts, made no concerted effort to end the border clashes, even though he was only 320 years old.
miles from the battlefield when he attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in September. The clashes were the most
serious military conflict in Central Asia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Ukraine is an even bigger minefield for Turkey, not only because of the sale of drones, but also given plans to build a Turkish drone manufacturing plant
settlement in the war-torn country and Turkish ties with the Crimean Turks. In August, Erdogan called on 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 our descendants at the same time, the people who are
live there. If you took this step forward, if you could leave us, you would also relieve the Crimean Tatars and Ukraine.
To complicate matters, a coalition of dozens of Caucasian civil society groups in Turkey are helping Russians fleeing to Turkey to avoid military service after
Putin announced a mobilization. Turkey is home to 4 million Turkish nationals whose roots are in the Caucasus. In the past, the Caucasian community
supported refugees from Russian interventions in the Georgian regions of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Chechnya, as well as Circassians fleeing the
war in Syria after the eruption of civil war in 2011.
Support for Russians refusing to fight in Ukraine came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on ethnic Russians to resist
the military call from the Kremlin. Support, amid anti-war protests in the predominantly Muslim Russian republic of Dagestan in the
northern Caucasus, has not gone unnoticed by Putin’s supporters.
Bini Sultan Khamzayev, a member of the Russian parliament, accused those protesting Putin’s mobilization of being ethnic Turkish Kumyuks who
he accused of waging a Turkish-led jihad against Russia since the time of Tsar Peter the Great. The Kumyuks are the largest Turkish ethnic group in
the northern Caucasus.
Blaming Turkey for anti-mobilization and anti-Putin sentiment in the Caucasus is more than just a scapegoat. The unrest in the region goes to Mr.
Putin’s perception of the Caucasus as the soft underbelly of Russia.
Preventing the Islamist sentiment that flourished during the Syrian civil war from spreading to Muslim regions of Russia was one of the reasons Putin
intervened militarily in Syria to ensure the survival of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“If the Kremlin regime falters due to factors stemming from the war in Ukraine, Russia…could become a low-calorie version of the old one.
Yugoslavia, unable to control its historical territories in the Caucasus, Siberia and East Asia,” said geopolitical strategist Robert D. Kaplan.
Beyond the plight of the Crimean Tartars and ethnic Caucasian support for anti-Ukrainian war sentiment, Uyghur exiles are another Turkish group that
complicates the Turkish vision of a Turkish world. Exiles have grown increasingly vocal in their outcry over China’s brutal crackdown on Turkey
minority in Xinjiang.
Uyghur activity is a particularly sensitive issue for Turkey and China due to longstanding Turkish support for their ethnic cousins and the fact that
Turkey is home to the largest Uyghur exile community in the world. China does not appreciate any foreign criticism.
More recently, Turkey has sought to silence Uyghur protests amid reports of a loosening crackdown in Xinjiang. He scored a diplomatic brownie
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 backed Azerbaijan in the 2020 Caucasian War against Armenia and
new clashes in September, has had no diplomatic or trade relations with Armenia since the 1990s. The two countries, despite their differences over the
the death of 1.5 million people, according to Armenia, were killed in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey, sought to re-
making connections since the beginning of this year.
Even so, Turkey must tread carefully in its rapprochement with Armenia to ensure that its diplomacy remains in sync with Azerbaijan, its
first ally in the Caucasus. Turkey’s positioning as protector of Turkish and Muslim interests may not be enough to match Chinese interests
progress on the ground in Central Asia, although it should benefit from the rush to operationalize an alternative trans-Eurasian transport
corridor linking China to Europe which would circumvent Russia by crossing the former independent Soviet republics.
Turkey hopes that its emphasis on cultural ties will compensate for its economic weakness. Last week, Turkey became the first non-Central Asian country to
host the World Nomadic Games, a competition dedicated to Turkish ethnic sports. The games were opened by Mr. Erdogan, whose son, Bilal, leads the
World Confederation of Ethno Sports. APIs