With Increasing Turkic Council Activity, Ties Between Turkey and Caspian Region Ready to Expand
With the possibility of new transit corridors connecting Turkey and the Caspian region, as well as a growing number of bilateral and multilateral partnerships between Turkey and Central Asia, Turkey seeks to increase its economic and cultural presence in the region. The Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States, or Turkic Council, whose last meeting was an informal summit on March 31, is one venue for Turkey to strengthen its cooperation with the member states, including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.
One of the recent developments that could increase Turkey’s role in the region has been the ninth article of a peace deal signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia that outlines the construction of a transit corridor connecting Azerbaijan to its Nakhchivan exclave. The new route would not only allow Turkey to bypass Iran and significantly reduce its transportation costs but would also directly connect it with Azerbaijan and “potentially give the country a tool to anchor its influence in the Caspian region,” noted Emil Avdaliani, professor at the European University in Tbilisi, Georgia. It could also provide more opportunities to expand trilateral cooperation among Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, and open new transit arteries for Turkey to reach Central Asia. Turkey has already reported it would construct a new railway line to Nakhchivan to increase the capacity of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, as well as to build a new gas pipeline.
The Turkic Council, established in 2009 in Nakhchivan, could also become a major platform for Turkey to capitalize on new transport opportunities. In addition to strengthening regional peace and stability, it also aims to build favorable conditions for economic growth and investment development. Recently, the Turkic Council has initiated a series of reforms to further promote pan-Turkic integration through its “Turkic Vision 2025” initiative that seeks to bolster economic and trade relations among the member states. Plans to set up a Turkic Investment Fund and a Turkic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI) are also a part of the ongoing structural reforms that will further increase Turkey’s role in the region.
The Turkic Council is also a venue for expanding pan-Turkic integration through common historical, linguistic, and cultural ties. The International Organization of Turkic Culture (TURKSOY), an affiliated body of the Turkic Council, also seeks to promote friendship among the Turkic peoples and “spread the common Turkic culture and preserve it for future generations,” including through restoration of cultural monuments and sharing common traditions and customs. Education has also been a critical component in forging close cooperation among the member states. Turkey launched a number of Turkish universities in Central Asia and set up various cultural exchange programs providing scholarships for students to study in Turkey. The International Turkic Academy is another agency that studies the Turkic world and further advances research on the history, language, and culture of the Turkic-speaking states to increase ties among the members.
During an informal virtual meeting of the Turkic Council on March 31, Kazakhstan’s president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev noted that “the goal is to transform the Turkic world into one of the most important economic, cultural, and humanitarian regions of the twenty-first century.” In addition to mentioning the cultural and spiritual significance of Turkistan, a city in the south of Kazakhstan that the council declared the “Spiritual Capital of the Turkic World,” Tokayev also suggested establishing a special economic zone in the region, citing its unique geographic location and significant investment, trade, and human-capital potential. He further proposed to establish the Great Turkic People education fund to coordinate activities among educational institutions for internships and career opportunities. As a result of the meeting, member states also adopted the Turkistan Declaration, in which the parties recognized the importance of increased cooperation and partnership in areas of transport, energy, and infrastructure.
During the meeting, member states also noted certain challenges associated with the ongoing health crisis, including the low trade turnover among the countries. They also discussed the lack of efficient cooperation on transboundary water resources and the need for joint water construction projects. The sides also mentioned how the pandemic underscored the importance of contactless operations as well as the measures necessary to facilitate ongoing digitalization efforts. As a result, through identifying areas that still require further collaboration, the Turkic Council seeks to fill the gaps and increase dialogue and partnership in these fields. Although the pandemic and its economic consequences make it harder to evaluate how successful these efforts will be, the growing activity of the organization is already a positive sign for greater pan-Turkic integration and, above all, for regional cooperation.