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Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States as an Instrument of Turkey’s Geopolitics in Central Asia

Specialist in international relations Adinay Kurmanbekova (Bishkek) discusses about the results achieved by the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (CCTSS) and what its prospects are in an article, written specially for CABAR.asia

Extraordinary meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of the CCTSS. Photo: press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan

More than 10 years have passed since the establishment of the Cooperation Council of Turkic- Speaking States (CCTSS). Currently, 3 Central Asian countries are full members of the “Turkic family”, where the Council seeks to involve Turkmenistan as well, and the only Iranian-speaking Tajikistan remains outside the organization.

Why did Turkey insistently urge Uzbekistan to join the Turkic Council? What results can the CCTS boast of today? How is cooperation expressed within this structure or does it still remain at the level of declarations and intentions?

The Turkic world as a basis for institutionalization

Turkey occupies not the least place in the foreign policy priorities of the Central Asian states. Ankara was one of the first to recognize the sovereignty of the post-Soviet countries and remains one of the most important investors. It was during this period that Turkey began its active work to strengthen ties with the Turkic republics.

After the collapse of the USSR, a new format of relations was developed between Turkey and the Turkic-speaking states in Central Asia – joint summits of the Turkic states began to be held, the first of which was held at the initiative of Suleiman Demirel in Ankara on October 30-31, 1992.[1] The growing role of Turkey undoubtedly frightened the countries of the region, which had only recently gained their independence and did not want to go “from the hands of one empire to another.” Therefore, the proposals to create a structure coordinating the Turkic states were completely rejected. Soon, in connection with Turkey’s support for the Uzbek opposition and Tashkent’s concern over the strengthening of the presence of Turkish interests, relations between Uzbekistan and Turkey became much more complicated. Subsequently, a period of many years of stagnation began between these countries. This failure and disillusionment have changed Turkey’s political approaches to Central Asia. The very next summits scheduled on an annual basis have been moved and canceled.

Before the establishment of the CCTSS, a total of 9 summits of the Turkic-speaking states were held,[2] the International Organization of Turkic Culture (TURKSOY) and the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-Speaking Countries (TURKPA) were also established. Due to these organizations, many projects were carried out and relations between Turkey and the countries of the region have been developed dynamically. Moreover, outside this structure, the Turkish Agency for Cooperation and Coordination (TİKA) was created, which is considered to be one of the main instruments of Turkish foreign policy influence in the region and beyond. This is how Ankara managed to firmly establish its presence in Central Asia in the economic and cultural sphere.

Finally, in 2009, the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States was created, which significantly raised the quality of relations between countries to a new level. However, it should be noted that in subsequent years, Central Asia, and in general the Turkic-speaking states were not in the priority of Turkey’s foreign policy.

As a country that wanted to join the ranks of the European Union, Turkey has been oriented exclusively towards the West for many years. Nowadays, pressure from Western countries prompts Ankara to look for other alternatives. As some experts note, “Turkey needs new geopolitical allies”, “the operation in Syria, all this together gives grounds for returning to the idea of ​​Turkic unity”.[3] Official Ankara’s relations with a number of other countries have considerably deteriorated in recent years. Here, Turkic-speaking countries with a total population of more than 152 million people can be quite useful, not counting other Turkic-speaking states or Turkic-speaking subjects, ethnic groups in other countries outside the CCTSS. Today the CCTSS expresses its intention to join Turkmenistan to the Council as well.

Among other things, the commonality of culture and religion provides the basis for the consolidation of peoples, and in the long term, they give great bonuses. As Recep Tayyip Erdogan notes, “the fate of 1.7 billion Muslims should not depend on five countries – permanent members of the UN Security Council”[4] or “Muslim countries must first of all believe in their own strength”.[5] Therefore, Erdogan is trying to consolidate his leadership in the Islamic world, where Central Asia is the best combination of predominantly Turkic-speaking countries with dominant Islamic religious practices.

Expansion of the Turkic Council

Hungary received the CCTSS observer status in 2018, and in 2019 a representative office of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States was opened in Budapest.[6] This is the organization’s first office in the European area. Hungarians consider themselves descendants of Attila and many people with Kypchak roots live in the country.[7] According to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Hungary will open the way for cooperation with Europe.[8]

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Peter Siyjarto has repeatedly stated that cooperation with Turkey is necessary, referring to the fact that it will soon fall into the ten largest economies in the world and should not be left outside their export markets.[9] He also notes the geographical importance of the country, which can stop the waves of migration passing through it towards Europe.

Secondly, we must not forget about Uzbekistan, which, according to them, has “extraordinary economic opportunities for Hungarian enterprises” and to enter a new market.[10] For example, there has recently been a dynamic increase in Hungarian pharmaceutical exports to the Uzbek market. In the first four months of 2020 alone, it grew by 43%.

Thirdly, experts also note that through the CCTSS Hungary is trying to find its way to the East, in particular to China. The country will not be able to directly cooperate with China due to pressure from the West, however, members of the CCTSS, in particular, the Central Asian countries, are opening the way to Asia.[11]

Fourth, if a country is part of any union / organization, it always receives certain advantages and support in difficult times. For example, during the coronavirus pandemic, as the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Foreign Affairs of Hungary Levente Magyar noted, “Hungary mainly received assistance from the East, including from almost all countries of the Turkic world”.[12] The aid shipment arrived in Hungary from Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan.

The decision on the official entry of Uzbekistan into the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (CCTSS) as a permanent member of the organization was made on October 15, 2019 during a two-day summit in Baku. It is worth noting that it was Turkey that invited Uzbekistan to join the organization during the visit of Mr. Mirziyoyev to Ankara. Some experts see this event as a “nod towards Turkey” after two decades of stagnation in Turkish-Uzbek relations.[13] An increase in the level of bilateral partnership will undoubtedly be beneficial to both Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan, with the largest population in Central Asia and located in the heart of the region, can be an excellent partner for trade and business. Faced with difficult economic conditions at home, Turkey needs new export markets. In addition, the strategic location of Uzbekistan opens the door to the markets of several countries in South and East Asia.

The recent years have already shown the growth of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries. In 2019, the volume of trade amounted to 2.5 billion USD, which is 22.7% higher than in 2018.[14] Turkey has already started investing in educational institutions, health care and infrastructure, being also the second largest market (after Russia) for Uzbek labor migrants. Due to the geological exploration agreement, Turkish experts have already begun exploration works for gold in Uzbekistan. In all likelihood, by participating in one Council, official Ankara strengthens the level of mutual trust with Uzbekistan and rebuilds bridges on a bilateral basis.

Turkmenistan is not a member of the CCTSS but participates in activities aimed at developing cultural and humanitarian interaction between Turkic-speaking countries. For example, the Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan, Purli Agamyradov, participated in the VII Council Summit. Members of the organization, and firstly Turkey, have repeatedly expressed their call for Ashgabat to join the CCTSS. Turkish Trade Minister Rukhsar Pekjan also called on Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to join the Turkic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI), created in 2019 to develop economic cooperation between Turkic countries. According to calculations, if in 2018 the volume of trade between the countries that are members of the TCCI increased by 6.5 billion USD, then with the accession of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan this figure could increase to 9 billion USD.[15]

To date, the Secretary General of the organization, Baghdad Amreev, claims that “an understanding has been reached” about Turkmenistan’s obtaining observer status in the Council. However, there are no official statements with exact dates on this topic so far.

Turkey has a significant economic impact on Turkmenistan: the main export destinations of Turkmenistan are China, Afghanistan and Turkey, while imports are mainly carried out from Turkey (about 1 billion US dollars in 2017).[16] That is, Turkey is among the top three export countries and the leading importer for Ashgabat. Turkish foreign direct investment by 2013 reached about a fifth of all direct foreign investment in Ashgabat (about 32 billion USD).[17] It is also worth noting that Turkmenistan needs alternative export routes to reduce dependence on China, which dictates its own terms regarding the cost of gas. Europe has always been considered as this alternative, and Turkey in this situation can serve as a transit center. As one can see, Turkey can rightfully represent an alternative partner for Turkmenistan. This may indicate a possible entry of Ashgabat into the ranks of the CCTSS in the future.

However, even if we assume that Turkmenistan will join the Council, the only Iranian-speaking Tajikistan in the region remains on the “margins” of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States. Based on this fact, is there a future for this structure, which does not cover the entire region?

What are the achievements so far?

The accession of Uzbekistan as a full member and the accession of a European country as an observer country can be distinguished as one of the achievements of the CCTSS. It is also worth noting that the main mechanism of political cooperation of the Turkic-speaking states is the annual summits of the heads of state. The Council almost managed to make these meetings regular, which was not observed during the Summits of the Turkic languages. It was possible to create a platform for dialogue for heads of state and foreign ministers.

The economic achievements of the Council are rather modest, but there are attempts to develop this area. For example, the Turkic Business Council functioned until 2019, which was later replaced by the Turkic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI). The Chamber, under the auspices of the Turkic Council, holds business forums, organizes visits for investors and entrepreneurs of states. Also, meetings of ministers of economy are held to develop economic cooperation between countries.

Despite the fact that other areas of cooperation are not that developed, the Council clearly has something to boast about in terms of cultural and humanitarian interaction. For example, the creation of a scientific center for the study of the Turkic world, the International Turkic Academy, turned out to be quite successful. It organizes and promotes scientific research on the history of the Turkic world, the study of the Turkic language and literature, culture, etc. The Turkic library was also created at the academy, which stores more than 32,000 printed publications, a rare fund of books and copies of manuscripts.[18]

Also, TURKSOY, created back in 1993, makes an active contribution to the development and spread of Turkic culture. TURKSOY managed to unite not only 6 founders of the organization, but also 8 observer countries outside of it (the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, regions of the Russian Federation – the republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Altai, Sakha (Yakutia), Tuva, Khakassia, as well as Gagauzia as part of Moldova).[19] Within the framework of the organization, the annual celebration of Nooruz, ethnographic and modern music festivals, events to strengthen cultural ties between the Turkic peoples are held.

The humanitarian cooperation of the CCTSS countries is also developing quite successfully. As an example, we can cite the mutual assistance of states during the coronavirus pandemic: relatively well-coordinated work was carried out to evacuate citizens, humanitarian supplies were sent and, within the CCTSS, one of the first humanitarian assistance was provided to Hungary.

Conclusion

The Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States is rightfully considered one of the main instruments of Ankara’s foreign policy. In 2019, the CCTSS undoubtedly achieved considerable success – expanding at the expense of Uzbekistan, opening a representative office in Europe. Because of this, many started talking about the formation of an influential political association.

This Council is a dialogue platform with good development potential. However, in the context of the coronavirus crisis, the global economic crisis, lockdowns, local conflicts in the post-Soviet space, the structure will have to go through many pressure tests.

As history shows, the Central Asian countries cooperate much easier on a bilateral basis. In addition, the countries of the region are members of a number of other international organizations. Geographic remoteness will always be an inhibiting factor for Turkey to coordinate joint efforts through this Council. Moreover, geopolitics dictates that Ankara in Central Asia will always need to take into account the interests of Russia, the West and China.

However, considering the above-mentioned circumstances, it is too early to talk about a significant development of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States in the vastness of geopolitics. Economic and political directions are so far limited only to consultative meetings. Different economic potentials, different trajectories of foreign policy and competition for dominance will always be factors in the distance between Turkic-speaking countries. However, if the expansion of the CCTSS and the potential of influence are still in doubt, one thing is certain – cultural and humanitarian cooperation remains and will be an important direction for the development of this structure, bonuses from which will be received in the long term.


This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or the donor.


[1] Demoyan, G. Turkic summits: goals, objectives, priorities, and position on the Karabakh issue. See http://www.noravank.am/upload/pdf/62_ru.pdf

[2] Official page of the CCTSS. Presidential Summits. See https://www.turkkon.org/en/zirveler

[3] Edil Osmonbetov: Turkey does not abandon the idea of uniting the region. 2018. CABAR.asia//URL: https://cabar.asia/ru/edil-osmonbetov-turtsiya-ne-ostavlyaet-idei-obedineniya-regiona/

[4] Abdullaev, R. The fate of the Islamic world should not depend on 5 countries in the UN Security Council. See https://www.aa.com.tr/ru

[5] Defender of the Islamic World: Erdogan criticized the UN and outraged Israel. See https://eadaily.com/ru/news/2019/11/27/zashchitnik-islamskogo-mira-erdogan-raskritikoval-oon-i-vozmutilsya-izrailem

[6] Yilmaz, M., Asgarly, A. & Ismailova, H. A representative office of the Turkic Council was opened in Hungary. See https://www.aa.com.tr/ru/%D0%BC%D0%B8%D1%80/

[7] Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the 7th Summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States. 2019. See www.kormany.hu

[8] Hungary can offer Turkic Council connection to Europe. See https://www.kormany.hu/en/the-prime-minister/news/hungary-can-offer-turkic-council-connection-to-europe

[9] Website of the Hungarian Government. See www.kormany.hu

[10] Website of the Hungarian Government. Uzbekistan holds extraordinary economic opportunities for Hungarian enterprises. See www.kormany.hu

[11] Website of the Hungarian Government. The countries of Europe should not act as if they do not want good relations with China. See www.kormany.hu

[12] Website of the Hungarian Government. Medical equipment arrives in Budapest from Turkey. See www.kormany.hu

[13] Khashimova, U. Uzbekistan joins the Turkic Council. Diplomat. 2019. See https://thediplomat.com/2019/09/uzbekistan-joins-the-turkic-council/

[14] Uzbekistan and Turkey intend to bring trade turnover to $ 5 billion. Sputnik. 2020. See https://uz.sputniknews.ru/economy/20200729/14650921/Uzbekistan-i-Turtsiya-namereny-dovesti-tovarooborot-do-5-mlrd.html

[15] Turkmenistan was encouraged to join the Turkic Chamber of Commerce and Industry. CentralAsia.news. See https://centralasia.news/4595-turkmenistan-prizvali-vstupit-tjurkskuju-torgovo-promyshlennuju-palatu.html

[16] Council on International Trade. See https://tradecouncil.org/turkmenistan-economic-statistics-2019/#

[17] Rickleton, K. Turkmenistan is a dangerous place for investors, even for “beloved” Turks. Eurasianet. 2015. See https://russian.eurasianet.org/node/62126

[18] Official site of the Turkic Academy. See http://twesco.org/

[19] Official site of TURKSOY. See https://www.turksoy.org/ru/turksoy/about

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