By Gulay Mutlu
At the beginning of this month, The Turkic Republics at the 20th Anniversary of Their Independence International Meeting was held at Rixos, and President of the Republic of Turkey Abdullah Gul and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made the opening remarks which drew attention to the relationship between Turkey and the Turkic republics.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Turkic republics emerged as separate political structures in the early 1990s, Turkey had the chance to re-establish and expand political, social, and economic relationships with Central Asian and Caucasian countries. These Turkic republics, which hold Turkic majorities in their societies, heavily excited Turkey. The 20th anniversary of this excitement will enable us to—in Davutoglu’s words—take advantage of the “reconsidering.”
Mistakes during these twenty years in the relationships between Turkey and the Turkic republics are accurately taken into account. However, the last ten years Turkey has been developing a new strategy and policy toward these countries because it has been aware of the past mistakes and taking lessons from them. On the other hand, Turkey never gives up the policy of contributing to the integration of these countries into the international community, which is one of the major principles of Turkey’s foreign policy toward Central Asia. After the independence of these countries, Turkey looked for a cooperation platform with ‘new brothers’ and acted with expectations of the regional collaboration.
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The most significant priority of Turkey’s initiative for the region is supporting these Turkic republics in political, economic, social, and cultural aspects, and integrating their societies into the international arena. Ankara has tried to find new channels to create unity in the Turkic world. For this reason, Turkey encourages these countries substantially and spiritually, and it was the pioneer of lots of initiatives for the region.
Thus, it is difficult to say that Turkey has fallowed a stable and integrated foreign policy toward the region. In addition, for the first four or five years of the relations, an insistence was not observed in Ankara’s policies. Because of Turkey’s internal instability, the PKK issue, and economic crises, Turkey did not challenge itself enough for these countries. In this term, while the world was moving from the ideological world to the new order, in Turkey, according to some people interested in the Turkic world, there was a fascistic attitude. On the other hand, much of the well-intended interference was struck by Turkish government bureaucracy and weaknesses of the economy.
Disconcertingly, Turkish NGOs covered the negative aspects of the state initiative. These NGOs, of which of some acted on ideological, religious, and commercial concerns in Central Asia and Azerbaijan, signed big projects. From the 1990s to today, these NGOs accomplished building a historical bridge between Turkey and the Turkic republics in terms of investments, tenders, commerce, and social reform projects.
Today, Turkey continues to provide foreign aid to these countries by means of TIKA, which is the Turkish foreign aid agency. Turkey is the first donor country in the region. However, at the beginning of the 1990s, this aid was not stable and coordinated. Today, the studies carried out in this area reveal the opposite of that situation. For instance, Turkey provides projects based on foreign aid instead of giving money directly to these countries. Thus, Ankara removes disadvantages which arise from the political structure of these countries.
In brief, between 1991 and 1993 the relationship was dominated by “romanticism,” followed by “face the facts” between 1993 and 1995. In this term, Turkey was awarded by its own capacity and whether its promises would be realized or not. After 2001, Turkey developed a more pragmatic perspective toward the Turkic republics. However, Ankara still continues to support the Turkic republics in the international arena and to contribute to the development of their social, economic, and political infrastructures in terms of foreign aid, projects, etc.
The Problem of “Institutionalization”
It can be pointed out that Turkey has not repeated the same mistakes toward the Turkic republics. Although all of these countries have different and distinctive properties, generally Turkey tries to develop good relationships with them. Therefore, it can be said that today Turkey is becoming a great power among these countries. It is important that Turkey is one of the biggest donor countries in the region, which means that Ankara strives to provide these countries with economic development. Davutoglu emphasized in his opening speech that the economy is an important factor for regional and global integration. He said that “self-confidence is an important factor for global integration. Today, we will be the determiner in the region…for to be factor, it is important to be in the global world. We need to just get together, and act together in the framework of cooperation.” Davutoglu highlighted the lack of institutionalization.
On the 20th anniversary of their independence, these countries strive to improve their social, economic, and politic environments while at the same time move to the forefront of the global agenda. When we look at Turkey, it has been completing its role on the region, especially in the last ten years.
Although institutionalization of the relations seems difficult because of the deep differences among countries of the region, it depends on each countries’ political will and initiative. The fact that institutionalization will accelerate the relations is often voiced by two sides until today. This time we need to exceed this rhetoric and in Davutoğlu’s words “we need to make the ageless new vision visible rather than repeating the same expressions for the next ten years”.