The Role of Turkey in Central Asia

The Role of Turkey in Central Asia

Ahmet Furkan Ozyakar

The Institute for Islamic World Future Studies held the webinar on “The Role of Regional Powers in Central Asia” following the series webinars 2020 on 28 October of this year. In the first part, the speaker was Ahmet Furkan Ozyakar, the Ph.D. candidate in Politics at the University of Exeter in London, England. He presented the Role of Turkey in the Central Asia region in particular.

History of Turkey’s presence in Central Asia

During the cold war, Turkey was a part of western block and in that time the relations between Turkey and Soviet Union was limited. The collapse of the Soviet Union, allowed Turkey to reach the region without any permission of any other state. And during that time, we see that the collapse of the bipolar world, caused of less attention to Turkey by the western countries as the Soviet threat ended. Then, Turkey reshaped its foreign policy.

The foreign policy of Turkey after the collapse of the Soviet Union can be explained by addressing some events. Turkey has recognized the indecency of Central Asian countries in 1991. The change of political approach of western countries towards Turkey required an immediate reaction from Turkish political elites as Central Asia would be a good opportunity for new investments for Turkish economic development. In that time, under the prime ministry of Suleyman Demirel Turkey had two choices. Firstly, they would pursue a new foreign policy approach to Central Asian countries. Secondly, Turkey should establish close relations with region countries to present itself as a reliable partner.

When the countries get independence in 1991, Turkey’s foreign policy toward Central Asia was based on the Cultural commonality. Central Asian leaders also focused on this cultural part. And they encouraged Turkey’s intentions toward the region. By the way when I am talking about Central Asia, region countries not include Tajikistan because Turkey and Tajikistan do not have the language commonality but the other four republics are the same in this field.

Turkey’s initiatives by all supporters by western allies and as a regional power have doing Turkey and Ottoman Empire to get the Central Asia. Following the 2002, after the Justice and Development party came to power in Turkey, Turkey’s foreign policy objectives transforming into the multiple section. So in that time, Turkey understood that  the economic power is important but the same time public Diplomacy and soft power would be an important tool to reach Central Asian countries so that why we want to say that under the prime minister of  Rajab Tayyab Erdogan, Turkey pursued more soft power oriented foreign policy toward Central Asia and they created lots of organizations like Turkic Council was established on 2009 and the member states are: Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan and Hungry as the observe state. Established to serve cultural commonalty but also political, economic, education, transport and tourism are the other primaries of Turkic council.

Dramatic changes of Turkey’s foreign policy after the Arab Spring

When the Arab Spring started in 2011, Turkey was respecting the decisions of the publics in the countries wanted to sub determination. After the Arab Spring came to Egypt and Syria, the foreign policy of Turkey had some dramatic changes.  Turkey has been currently hosting about four million of official numbers of Syrian refugess in the South East Turkey and it really increases the economic burden of Turkish economy and Turkey tried to mediate in Syria between the government of Assad and others like nongovernmental parliamentary.  As we know in that time Turkey also attended Astana Summit Russia and Iran to find a common ground to solve the crisis in Syria. However this summit would not reached its targets and objectives because as we see in the field that every country has its own interests and motives and so that why the reach to a common ground between the three countries Iran, Turkey and Russia in my idea were not very efficient results, so that is why we experienced the civil war in Syria in 2011.

The reason Turkey is also actively in Syria increased the changing of Turkey’s foreign policy in this course. Maybe some people think that Turkey is more aggressive in this region but if you look at from the general perspective Turkey is also trying to make the border of Syria and Turkey secure to prevent any terrorism. Because if we remember that Turkey was experiencing a very huge amount of terror attack in 2015-2016. And during this time the whole terror attacks start from ISIS organization so that why Turkey needed to actively attend in Syria civil war and tried to prevent more refugess come to Turkey.

Turkey’s foreign policy in the CA region at the moment

There also many objectives there, like today one of the biggest fears of Central Asia is that they claim that many ISIS members were scaping from Middle East countries to Central Asia and it also increases the separatism and extremism in this region. So, there were many reports especially in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and I think in Uzbekistan because some part of these countries are really poor and ISIS members are unfortunately affected there. So, Turkey’s foreign policy is also coasious to Central Asia right now, trying to balancing there like improving their relations.

Hanging of the president of Uzbekistan, the relation between Turkey and Uzbekistan become better. In Tajikistan as we see there is huge competition and rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia so I’m not sure how Turkey can involve its rivalry here or how much Turkey want to attend this rivalry. We have stable relations with Kazakhstan, even after Nazarbayeb the relation is still good. I think Turkey’s foreign policy in Central Asia is motivating with same targets and objectives. Turkey wants to improving its soft power and economic capability in the region, however although we talk about great powers in Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or any other regional powers are depending on how the global powers are deciding in the region, so that’s why we can not only look at the general foreign policy of Turkey without considering Russia or China, so these are very effective.

But lastly Turkey has been established very good relations with Central Asia countries from 1991 and these relations don’t have any dispute, so I think Turkeys effectiveness is going to increase also in the near future in Central Asia.