Turkey wants to become a world superpower. But, it cannot complete such an endeavor on its own; Turkey needs its neighbors on both sides of the Caspian Sea: Azerbaijan and the Central Asian countries. Hence why Turkey has the Turkic Council, which is really becoming the Turkic union. Just as the European Union has free trade and security cooperation, the Turkic Council is developing a system of integration involving trade and military alliances. Just as the EU is a major world power (with the biggest free trade zone) led by Germany, the Turkic Council is transforming into a major security bloc and trade zone, led by Turkey. Integration of the Turkic world would mean a powerful international force, a security bloc led by Turkey that the world would have to respect. Such a bloc would be a huge rival against Russia, and would act as a bulwark against Russia in both the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. You already can see Turkey forming this bloc with Azerbaijan. Turkey used Azerbaijan as a proxy to defeat Armenia and, together with their Azeri ally, took the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Now that this region belongs to Azerbaijan (and by extension Turkey), Turkey now has a direct route through Azerbaijan’s region of Nakhichevan, Armenia (through a corridor that Turkey and Azerbaijan want to create), mainland Azerbaijan, into the Caspian Sea. This is significant given the fact that the Turkic Council want to make the Caspian Sea into a major trade route for its bloc. A confederacy of Turkic nations, led by Turkey, would be a major superpower, really an empire. The recent instability in Central Asia, with riots in Uzbekistan, (and also with the riots that happened in Kazakhstan in January of 2022) is indicative that Central Asia is a ticking time bomb, and such instability could be used by Turkey to push for more security cooperation between itself and the Central Asian countries.
Riots erupted in Uzbekistan’s autonomous region of Karakalpakstan. The rioting was sparked as a response to proposed constitutional reforms which would have taken away Karakalpakstan’s right to secede. Violence was so bad that the government decided not to pursue the reforms. Under the current constitution, Karakalpakstan is a sovereign republic within Uzbekistan and has the right to secede through referendum. The government has cancelled the reforms that would have taken away this right due to the severity of the violence. Eighteen people were killed and 243 were injured, according to the Uzbek government. 516 people were arrested but have since been released. The president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, said that there were “civilians and law enforcement officers” among the dead. The government reported that protestors stormed through the streets of the Karakalpakstan’s capital city of Nukus, threw stones, started fires, attacked police and tried to take over government buildings. The police, parliament and cabinet made a joint statement in which they said that “provocateurs” had attempted “to seize state institutions … split the society and destabilise the socio-political situation in Uzbekistan”. This is the second case in 2022 of instability in Central Asia. In January of 2022 there were massive riots in Kazakstan that saw at least 227 people dead, with nearly 10,000 arrested. When this happened, soldiers from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) — which consists of Kazakhstan, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan – were deployed to the country at the request of Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
When poorer countries are in conditions of chaos, more powerful countries arrive to bring about order, and ultimately to establish their rule.
Turkey wants to expand its hegemony into Central Asia, and one of the reasons for this is the Caspian Sea. According to a US government cable from 2008, Turkey is “striving for energy supply security and believes warmer relations with Central Asian leaders can create the conditions for Turkey to realize its Caspian energy objectives.” The same document reads that “ Turkey has offered to play a leading role in developing a trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline (TCP).” A US diplomatic cable from 2009 explains that Turkey “sees itself as a guide and leader for the other ‘developing’ Turkic countries.”
Turkey has several interests in Central Asia: there is of course the cultural aspect in all of this. It was from the lands of Central Asia where the Oghuz Turks — violent marauders — came, storming into Anatolia (present-day Turkey) in the Medieval period, and spreading Islam. Thus, Turkey sees Central Asia as a continual part of cultural territory. And then there is the importance of resources. Kazakstan is a major source of oil, and Turkey wants in on it. As the 2009 US diplomatic cable reads:
“Turkey is positioning itself to become a major
energy transit country, it is paying close attention to
Kazakhstan’s fossil fuel resources (REF A). Kazakhstan
possesses large oil and gas reserves and analysts predict
that it will likely become one of the top 10 oil producing
nations in the near future.”
Turkey wanting to expand into Central Asia is also a counter against Russia and Armenia. A 2007 US diplomatic cable (found on Wikileaks) explains:
“Historical and cultural ties, expanding commercial interests, strategic competition with Russia and Iran, and disenchantment with Euro-Atlantic relations are the traditional drivers of Turkey’s interest in the east. Increasingly, however, military officials justify intensified security ties by citing threats to energy security from perceived Russian conniving with Armenia and Iran to “breach” U.S.-supported east-west routes for Caspian energy.”
Turkey just had a proxy war with Armenia through its main Turkic ally, Azerbaijan, in which the latter defeated the Armenians and took the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Now that Nagorno-Karabakh is under Azeri control, Turkey seeks to have a corridor built that would go from the Azeri region of Nakhichevan (which borders with Turkey), through Armenia, into Azerbaijan (specifically where Nagorno-Karabakh is) and into the Caspian Sea, from where Turkey would have access into Central Asia. Thus, from Azerbaijan Turkey has direct access into the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.
This is part of the dream of establishing a Turkic union — or really a Turkic NATO — led by Turkey, of course. The umbrella organization for this is the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking Countries, and it is meant to be a power bloc of countries all sharing the Turkic heritage. Michael Wilson of Stratfor wrote in 2010:
“The Council of Cooperation of Turkic-speaking countries will be the basis for a new regional Turkic union, designed to strengthen the unity of the peoples living in similar linguistic and cultural environment, and to strengthen political and trade relations.”
Turkey’s desire to deepen itself within Central Asia is seen in its trade and security agreements with Uzbekistan. But there is a rival that Turkey is dealing with — Russia. As Gorkem Dirik explains: “Nevertheless, Uzbekistan is not a hassle-free country and yet again, Russia stands as Turkey’s main rival on its path to penetrate Uzbekistan culturally and economically and to provide it with military assistance when necessary.”
While Turkey does have diplomatic ties with Russia, the two countries are still at odds, being historically enemies and rivals over Asia, especially the Middle East and Central Asia. In fact, Turkey regarded the collapse of the Soviet Union as its opportunity to expand its influence into Central Asia. Another security bloc that Turkey has formed as a way to establish its own Turkic coalition is the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), founded in 2009 and consisting of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, while Turkmenistan and Hungary have observer status. This group of Turkic states are becoming more and more into an equivalent to the European Union, but for Turkic countries. What we are seeing is the rise of a Turkic Union, and just as Germany leads the European Union, Turkey is leading its own union.
In 2019, Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev (who is also the honorary president of the Turkic Council) proposed coming up with a “Turkic World Vision 2040” for the Turkic Council at the Baku Summit. Nazarbayev proposed strengthening ties in “foreign policy”, indicating how this union wants to become a major international force. In the Baku Summit of 2019, it was said by General Secretary of the Turkic Council, Bagdat Amreyev, that the Turkic Council was entering a new phase of integration between Turkic countries: “The last decade was a period of development. We achieved this development thanks to the decisions we made for the political will and unity of the Turkic world. Now we have stepped into a new phase, the phase of great integration.” Just as there is integration between EU countries, the Turkic Council wants integration between its member countries. This, of course, would involve free trade. The Daily Sabah reported in 2021 that the 2040 vision for the Turkic Council entailed “signing free trade agreements, opening borders in transportation and strong cooperation between member countries.”
The Turkic Union wants to form a collective shipping company and establish the trans-Caspian trade route into a transport corridor. General Secretary Amreyev explained:
“We are bringing up the issue of creating the most favorable conditions in the field of shipping and customs in order to transform the Trans-Caspian route into an effective transport corridor in trade between East and West. It is imperative to reduce logistics costs while increasing the efficiency of shipping and customs operations along this corridor. For this, we are planning to establish a joint Caspian shipping company.”
Turkey and Russia are rivaling over the Caspian Sea, and Turkey wants a Turkic Union to act as a counter to Russia and also to be a major international power. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, declared: “We will strengthen our international power as we consolidate our unity without forgetting our roots”. So, Turkey wants to become a world superpower as the head of a union of Turkic countries with which it is partaking in a policy of integration involving trade and security cooperation. Since we know that Turkey wants the Turkic Union to become a world power, then we know that Turkey needs to penetrate Central Asia. Since Central Asia is in a moment of instability — be it riots in Kazakstan and Uzbekistan, or Afghanistan dealing with the aftermath of the US’s withdrawal — then it is evident that Central Asia is a ticking time bomb. An explosion, caused by a chaotic political, could be used to Turkey’s advantage to entrench itself deeper in the region.