Turkish interests in the Caucasus

By Andrey Barinov

In recent times, the role of Turkey is growing in the Middle East due to the Syrian events increasing the general tension in the region. It is no secret that Turkey has an interest in spreading its political influence on neighboring sub-regions, for example in the South Caucasus or Central Asia. Such directions of Turkish geopolitical development are not new in the history of the country. At the same time, and it is very important, motives and reasons for them are different. In the early 20th century political development of the Ottoman Empire was defined by a difficult complex of internal contradictions and external disability; but today revival of old ideas is initiated by the economically, politically and military strong country.

In the early 20th century Turkish emissaries began to penetrate the Russian territory, considering a priori principle that Muslim and Turk population of the Caucasus and Turkestan is against the Russian government. Under the guise of traders, dervishes, and religious teachers they collected money for anti-Russian propaganda and organized armament storages. A special analytical center was organized in Kabarda – the Bureau of Information on Internal Life of Russia. Turkish committees secretly acted in Irkutsk, Ufa, Orenburg, Samara, Baku, and Moscow. Even recruiting of Russian officers was used for getting tactical information.

However, Turkey repeated the German strategy of activity in the same regions, trying to involve the Caucasus and Central Asia into its political field, while Germany was aimed at weakening of the Great Britain and Russia. The old Turkish elites were ineffective, while the Young Turks government was torn by contradictions.

Meanwhile, Turkey experienced the systemic crisis, including economy, during implementation of such a significant political project. Turkish military and political circles’ independent activities didn’t go beyond the general German strategy and were subsidiary, while geopolitical aims surpassed abilities.

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After the defeat in the First World War and Europisation during presidency of Mustafa Kemal, a turn to thoughtful and reasonable political steps was undertaken. During the Second World War the president Ismeth Inonu held the country from acting on the side of Hitler and on the side of Allies. In 1952 Turkey joined NATO and became a strategic southern platform of the bloc directly near borders of the Soviet Union.

The former political targets were revealed in modern times. The key reason was political and economic stability of Turkey, which it lacked during the Ottoman period. In the early 2000s Turkish economy began to demonstrate a stable growth. It is connected with the work of the government headed by Recep Erdogan. In 2001 inflation was 70%, in 2004 it fell to 10%, in first quarter of 2008 it was 4.72%. The real growth of GDP will remain at the 6% level in 2011-2017.

It is difficult to give a clear-cut characteristic to Turkish ambitions because it implements many-sided policy. On the one hand, the country experiences revival of the Ottoman ideas. In modern times they are strictly geoeconomic and cultural. Turkey invests into Central Asian and South Caucasian states; about 10 thousand citizens of these countries are studying in Turkish schools and universities.

The focus is made at international cooperation within Turk community. Execution of the modern Turk idea expressed in establishing of the Turk Council in 2009 which includes Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan.

In addition, Ankara tries to play a key role in transit of oil and gas from Central Asia to the Western markets being an active participant of the pipeline project Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan. The oil and gas transit contributed to approaching with Azerbaijan which led to the Turkish-Azerbaijani Union in 1998. Georgia is also an important part of the Turkish strategy in the situation of tension with Iran and Armenia. Georgia is a link with Azerbaijan and Central Asian countries.

On the other hand, Turkey wants to be a mediator of Russian-American relations in the Caucasus and makes very thoughtful steps. Situating within the circle of instability (the Balkans – the Middle East – the Caucasus), Turkey is inclined to cooperation with the US. However, it doesn’t want to worsen relations with Russia. According to the State Statistics Institute of Turkey, in 2009 Russia took first place in trade turnover with Turkey among the CIS countries. Moreover, Russian tourists are also a significant factor.

Therefore, we cannot expect radical steps from the Turkish government even if it concerns old ambitions. The most difficult aspect is a balance between interests of the US and Russia in favor of interests of the Turkish strategy. Whether Turkey will manage to fulfill its planned concept completely time will tell.
Vesti Kavkaza