Turkey Using Religion To Promote Its Influence Across Post-Soviet Space – OpEd


When the Soviet Union collapsed, Western governments believed that Iran would promote Islam in the post-Soviet countries while Turkey would promote secularism and that the latter must be supported against the former. That view continues to dominate and has led many to miss the effort Turkey devotes to promoting Islam as well. 

In a new article for Moscow’s International Affairs journal, Mariya Kolesnikova, an MGIMO instructor, says that Turkey is playing a major role in promoting Islam not only in Muslim-majority post-Soviet states but in others, including the Russian Federation, where Islam is followed only by a minority of the population (interaffairs.ru/news/show/43701).

Turkey’s Administration for Religious Affairs, Dianet, is directly subordinate to that country’s president and saw its budget this year increase from 1.3 billion US dollars to 3.18 billion US dollars. It oversees about 90,000 mosques in Turkey and “more than 1500” in foreign countries. Moreover, it promotes Islam via radio and television and educational exchanges.

According to Kolesnikova, Dianet is especially active in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan; but its role in the Russian Federation isn’t negligible. There, most of its work is carried out by TUGVA, the Turkish Foundation for Youth that Dianet completely controls and uses to provide funds to religious groups. 

Turkey’s religious influence in Russia has been on the rise, she suggests, especially after Dianet and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia signed a memorandum of cooperation in 2022.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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