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CAUCASUS UPDATE

In this section, we publish the weekly analysis of the major events taking place in the Caucasus and beyond. The Caucasus Update is written by our Senior Editor Alexander Jackson. Click here to subscribe.

The collapse of the Soviet Union brought about a wave of ‘Pan-Turkism’, the belief that a new commonwealth would form from the Turkic peoples of newly independent states, with Turkey as its guiding force. Ankara’s dream soon faded when it became clear that the new Turkic states of Central Asia had no interest in exchanging Soviet domination for Turkish domination.

Nonetheless, links between Turkey and Central Asia – principally economic and cultural ties – are strong, and the belief that Turkey has a special relationship with the Turkic-speaking peoples of Eurasia still surfaces from time to time. Pan-Turkism is usually driven by marginal right-wing groups in Turkey, one of the most well-known being the ultranationalist Grey Wolves. However in the light of Turkey’s new proactive foreign policy, it is worth assessing how the ‘zero problems with neighbours’ approach works with regard to Central Asia.

As the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad descended into brutal interethnic violence on June 11, the international community stonewalled. The US, which maintains the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan, rejected a request to send military assistance to the interim government of Rosa Otunbayeva, and maintained a low profile throughout the bloodletting (Oil and Glory, June 13). Russia, strikingly for a country which asserts a ‘zone of privileged interests’ in the former Soviet Union, prevaricated. Acting sluggishly, it declared that peacekeepers had to be mandated through the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, the regional military bloc which it dominates. The CSTO refused (RFE/RL, June 17).

The OSCE and the UN have been equally cautious (OSCE, June 16). By the way, the OSCE, inexcusably for an organisation committed to peace and security, has refused on security grounds to send observers to a referendum on constitutional reform, due to be held on June 27 (Yahoo News, June 21).

Whatever lay behind the unwillingness of Moscow and Washington to prevent instability in the Ferghana Valley, there was a clear opportunity for an interested state to play an assertive role. Aside from China the only realistic candidate was Turkey. Fresh from its success in helping to broker the Iranian nuclear deal, and following its vocal response to the Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla which left nine Turks dead, this was a crisis ready-made for active Turkish diplomacy.

Ankara has been chastised for its lack of action. A number of experts have laid into the government’s relative silence on the matter, especially when compared with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bombastic response to Iran and Gaza. Faruk Çelik, the minister tasked with Central Asian affairs, was bluntly attacked by a former official who declared “No one knows his name, as he does not do anything about Central Asia” (Hurriyet, June 15).

Under the AKP government, Central Asia has indeed fallen off the radar at the expense of the Middle East and Russia. Indeed the blossoming relationship with Moscow may be partly to blame for Turkey’s cooling interest in the region. Nationalists within Russian policymaking circles still view Ankara as a rival, and aggressive strategic outreach to the Turkic world may have heightened suspicions.

This is not to suggest a quid pro quo in which Ankara opted to leave its Turkic brethren in Moscow’s sphere in exchange for a closer relationship with the Kremlin, but it does indicate certain priorities. Priorities which, economically and strategically, were understandable – Russia is a far more appealing and accessible partner than the geographically distant and politically awkward Central Asian states. Kyrgyzstan, in other words, was simply not high on the agenda. This was true for most other regional states, even after the April riots which toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and sowed instability across the south.

Perhaps stung by fears that inaction on the Osh crisis could damage its carefully cultivated image, the AKP has moved into action. A Special Representative was dispatched to meet Kyrgyzstan’s leaders, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced that Turkey, along with Kazakhstan (the OSCE Chair in 2010) would prepare an action plan to support the interim government (RIA Novosti, June 21).

Ankara was acting in its capacity as Chairman of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), a low-key regional grouping, but this seems to be a convenient cover for bold unilateral action. In addition, Turkish charities have been heavily involved in the relief efforts, and Turkish diplomats have pledged all necessary assistance (Today’s Zaman, June 18).

Exactly what Turkey or any other state can actually achieve is debatable at this stage. Their main contribution has been, and will continue to be, urgent humanitarian aid to the 400,000 people which the violence has displaced. The ‘action plan’ lacks public details. A planned summit of Central Asian leaders in Turkey in August seems like diplomatic grandstanding, long after the fact.



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PREVIOUS ISSUES

  Caspian Compromise Backfires for Russia and Iran, CU Issue 83, November 24, 2010
  Turkey in a Tight Spot on Missile Defense, CU Issue 82, November 11, 2010
  The OSCE and Kyrgyzstan’s Election, CU Issue 81, October 30, 2010
  Unblocking the US-Azerbaijan Relationship, CU Issue 80, October 07, 2010
  Nabucco Pipeline: Quo Vadis?, CU Issue 79, September 30, 2010
  Russia tightens its grip in the South Caucasus, CU Issue 78, August 23, 2010
  Armenian Politics: Rigidity Versus Flexibility, CU Issue 77, August 10, 2010
  Russia and Georgia: Ready To Talk?, CU Issue 76, July 21, 2010
  Can the US walk and chew gum at the same time?, CU Issue 75, July 9, 2010
  The Kyrgyzstan Crisis – A Qualified Success for Turkish Diplomacy?, CU Issue 74, June 24, 2010
  Brussels downgrades the Caucasus, CU Issue 73, June 07, 2010
  NATO’s New Strategic Concept and the Caspian Region, CU Issue 72, June 01, 2010
  Joe Biden and European Security, CU Issue 71, May 13, 2010
  Behind the US-Azerbaijan row, CU Issue 70, May 6, 2010
  Turkey and Iran: The risks of failure, CU Issue 69, April 30, 2010
  Kazakhstan, the OSCE, and the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, CU Issue 68, April 19, 2010
  The Implications of the Moscow Bombings, CU Issue 67, April 12, 2010
  Iran Manoeuvres for a role in Karabakh, CU Issue 66, April 5, 2010
  The EU and Abkhazia: Between a rock and a hard place, CU Issue 65, March 16, 2010
  Fallout from the US ‘Genocide’ vote, CU Issue 64, March 9, 2010
  Ukraine's elections and future of GUAM, CU Issue 63, February 10, 2010
  Less Democracy, More Security: Kazakhstan and the OSCE, CU Issue 62, January 18, 2010
  Tackling the North Caucasus Insurgency: Development or Rhetoric?, CU Issue 61, January 11, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 60, January 4, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 59, December 31, 2009
  The Turkmenistan-China Pipeline Changes the Energy Balance, CU Issue 58, December 21, 2009
  Russia’s European Security Treaty, CU Issue 57, December 7, 2009
  The ‘Kidnapping War’ in Georgia and its Implications, CU Issue 56, December 3, 2009
  Azerbaijan Shifts its Energy Priorities, CU Issue 55, November 23, 2009
  The South Caucasian States and Afghanistan, CU Issue 54, November 11, 2009
  Is Turkey turning East?, CU Issue 53, November 2, 2009
  What is Russia’s Gameplan for Iran?, CU Issue 52, October 26, 2009
  Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan: Where Next?, CU Issue 51, October 19, 2009
  The Armenians of Georgia: A New Flashpoint in the Caucasus?, CU Issue 50, October 12, 2009
  Turkey’s EU Membership: Will The ‘Armenian Opening’ Help?, CU Issue 49, October 5, 2009
  The Missile Defence Shift: Implications for the Caucasus, CU Issue 48, September 22, 2009
  Rising Tensions in the Black Sea , CU Issue 47, September 14, 2009
  Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan: The Clock Is Ticking, CU Issue 46, September 7, 2009
  The Battle of the Bases in Central Asia, CU Issue 45, August 31, 2009
  Russia, Israel, and the S-300s, CU Issue 44, August 24, 2009
  The motivations behind Turkey's 'Kurdish Initiative', CU Issue 43, August 17, 2009
  The Implications of the Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan Dispute, CU Issue 42, August 10, 2009
  What has changed since the August war?, CU Issue 41, August 3, 2009
  The Internal Dynamics of Armenia’s Karabakh Policy, CU Issue 40, July 20, 2009
  Gazprom’s Baku Triumph, CU Issue 39, July 06, 2009
  Ingushetia: The New Chechnya?, CU Issue 38, June 29, 2009
  Georgias Economy - A Matter for Diplomats, CU Issue 37, June 22, 2009
  ‘Progress’ In The Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Process, CU Issue 36, June 08, 2009
  Iran's Azerbaijanis and the presidential election, CU Issue 35, June 01, 2009
  Nabucco and South Stream - The Race Heats Up, CU Issue 34, May 25, 2009
  China and Central Asia, CU Issue 33, May 19, 2009
  Russia, Georgia, and NATO - A Bad Week, CU Issue 32, May 11, 2009
  The Obama Administration’s Emerging Caucasus Policy, CU Issue 31, April 27, 2009
  Integration and Division in the Caspian Sea, CU Issue 30, April 20, 2009
  The Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement - Implications for the South Caucasus, CU Issue 29, April 13, 2009
  Turkey's local elections and Armenian issue, CU Issue 28, April 6, 2009
  Is There Life Left In The Nabucco Project?, CU Issue 27, March 30, 2009
  Problems and Prospects for Russian Military Reform, CU Issue 26, March 23, 2009
  Russia and Georgia: Not back to war, CU Issue 25, March 16, 2009
  Armenia: Heading towards crisis?, CU Issue 24, March 9, 2009
  Drug trafficking in the Caucasus, CU Issue 23, February 23, 2009
  Russian-led military block: A real counterweight to NATO?, CU Issue 22, February 16, 2009
  Are the International Missions in Georgia still relevant?, CU Issue 21, February 9, 2009
  Israel and Azerbaijan: Baku’s Balancing Act, CU Issue 20, February 2, 2009
  The North Caucasus in 2009: A Bleak Forecast, CU Issue 19, January 26, 2009
  The Military Balance in Nagorno-Karabakh, CU Issue 18, January 19, 2009
  Russia, Iran, and Barack Obama in 2009, Part II, CU Issue 17, January 12, 2009
  Looking forward to 2009 in the Caucasus and beyond, Part I, CU Issue 16, January 5, 2009
  The opportunities and the risks of NATO’s new supply routes, CU Issue 15, December 22, 2008
  The Black Sea Ambitions of Armenia, CU Issue 14, December 15, 2008
  Another Small Step for Nabucco, CU Issue 13, December 8, 2008
  Will Saakashvili survive politically?, CU Issue 12, December 1, 2008
  The latest fashion: conflict mediation, CU Issue 11, November 24, 2008
  The Baku Energy Summit, CU Issue 10, November 17, 2008
  Obama and the Caucasus, CU Issue 9, November 10, 2008
  Kazakhstan's oil options, CU Issue 8, November 3, 2008
  Is the Minsk Group being sidelined?, CU Issue 7, October 27, 2008
  Gas and oil developments in the Caspian region, CU Issue 6, October 20, 2008
  Where next for the Georgian peace process?, CU Issue 5, October 8, 2008
  Unrest in the North Caucasus, CU Issue 4, September 29, 2008
  Saakashvili's future, CU Issue 3, September 22, 2008
  Iran after the Georgian War, CU Issue 2, September 15, 2008
  Football diplomacy, CU Issue 1, September 8, 2008
       
 
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