Turkish expansion into Central Asia and the Caucasus

Written by The Frontier Post

Elena Popova

For a long time, Ankara spared no expense in cultural projects that promoted the ideas of the unity of Muslims and Turks in the revived Ottoman Empire, especially in post-Soviet countries. But recently the expansion had to be abandoned. Throughout the year, the national currency was weakening, the population’s savings were rapidly dwindling. Problems in the economy seem to have repulsed Turkey’s geopolitical appetites. RIA Novosti investigated the reasons for the failure of the “powerful” policy.
Poorly played the lyre
Inflation hit 36 percent, the highest annual jump since Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003. If at the beginning of last year the dollar could be bought for 7.4 lira, at the end of 2021 – only for 18.4, an unprecedented weakening of the national currency. The youth are in an endless search for work. Merchants close shops, people take out loans secured by their own housing, not knowing whether they can repay them: they receive salaries regularly and every day this money depreciates.
The economy, which had previously seemed quite prosperous, was cracking at the seams. At the same time, there were no obvious crises: no aggravations on the Syrian border, no prot-ests, no coup attempts. And the pandemic here is the same as all over the world.
However, Turkey has a peculiarity – the economic views of Erdogan himself. The President believes that in order to fight inflation, it is necessary to reduce the key rate, and not at all raise it, as is done in other countries. He does not stand on ceremony with those who disagree: he replaced four heads of the Central Bank in a few years. All of them tried to go against the head of state.
“There are thousands of books on managing the economy. But there was not a single one on how to destroy it. This honor fell to you, Mr. Erdogan. Write a book on how to waste people’s money by hiring people through blasphemy, wi-thout sufficient qualifications,” the opposition lea-der said. “Good Party” Meral Aksener.
Erdogan explains that high rates lead to inflation. The only way to help the economy is by creating jobs and increasing investment in production, and for this, enterprises need cheap loa-ns, that is, a low rate. Inv-estors who are not interested in long-term investments are not welcome in Turkey.
An equally important factor is the scope with which Erdogan implemented his international initiatives and carried out cultural expansion. Turkey acted in three directions at once: focusing on Muslims, in the states that were previously part of the Ottoman Emp-ire, and among the Turkic-speaking population.
The ideas of pan-Turkism, implying the integration of the “Turkic space according to Turkish rules,” were also promoted by An-kara in the post-Soviet sp-ace. Used “soft power” – b-usiness, science, education, formed lobbying groups.
After the collapse of the USSR, Turkey was one of the first to recognize the independence of the former Soviet republics. In the local media, the inhabitants of these countries were called Turks – Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Kyrgyz. The Turkic Cooperation and Devel-opment Agency (TIKA), the cultural centers of the Yunus Emre Institute and the International Organiza-tion for the Study of Turkic Culture (TURKSOY) were responsible for networking.
These organizations financed humanitarian projects, built schools, kindergartens, universities, cultural centers, mosques. There were many pro-Turkish religious organizations involved in charity. And student exchange programs formed new national elites who were educated in Istanbul or Ankara.
“They taught alternative history. Turkish teachers said that Byzantium had not achieved anything, we should look at the Ottoman Empire. In a word, open propaganda of nationalism, they presented everything in such a way that Turkey is the leader around which the Turkic-speaking territories should unite. This also applied to the Russian subjects of the Federation”, – explains Viktor Nadein-Ra-evsky, a leading researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Turkic-speaking peoples live in the republics of Alt-ai, Bashkiria, Sakha, Tata-rstan, Tuva and Khakassia. Moscow is Ankara’s natural competitor in the struggle for the Turkic world. “Turkey is trying to subdue the post-Soviet space and alienate it from Russia,” said Vladimir Avatkov, senior researcher at the Prima-kov Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, associate professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Turkish expansion into Central Asia and the Caucasus
Azerbaijan is quite stro-ngly economically and pol-itically attached to Turkey. “One nation – two states,” they say there. Ankara ac-tively supports Baku in the military-technical sphere.
Turkey included Kazak-hstan and Kyrgyzstan in the Council for Cooperation of Turkic Speaking Countries. The plans of the Turkic strategy for 2020-2025 include political, economic, tourism and cultural integration. Ankara has launched major infrastructure projects in the Caucasus. In the 1990s, the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway began. It is now part of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative to connect China to Europe via Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Caspian Sea and Kazakhstan.
Turkey also unfolded in Adjara, the Muslim region of Christian Georgia. Inve-stments flowed there like a river, mosques, hotels, casinos, restaurants and bars were built.
Erdogan has repeatedly suggested creating a Cau-casian platform for peace and stability to resolve the conflict between South Os-setia and Georgia, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Russia and Turkey. The expansion also extends to Moldova. The Turks are building kindergartens and schools, roads, reconstructing the port on the Black Sea. Particular attention is paid to Gagauzia.
After the change of power, Uzbekistan signed a large package of agreements on military and military-technical cooperation, which provides for sending soldiers to study in Turkey.
Ankara became closer to Ukraine in 2014. Crimean Tatars living in Turkey protested after the reunification of the peninsula with Russia. They launched cultural and educational projects, founded the Fund for Culture and Mutual Assistance of the Crimean Tatars, the Fund for the Development of Crimea and the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, banned in Russia. Recently, Kiev and Ankara agreed on joint actions to “de-occupy the peninsula.” Erdogan supported Zelensky’s Crimean Platform.
In 2020, Turkish media write, Ankara has invested about three billion dollars in Ukraine. As Vladimir Avatkov notes, military cooperation is intensifying. “Ankara sees in Ukraine an opportunity to buy old So-viet technologies at a low price, as well as sell their own. For example, drones, immediately testing them in military operations,” the Turkologist said.
I didn’t have enough strength
But in 2021, Ankara had to slow down. Firstly, Turkey has not pulled the lead – there are sorely lacking resources for this. The recession is deepening, unemployment is rising.
Secondly, they see in the country that the Turkic world is heterogeneous. If in the 1990s these peoples were guided by Ankara as an older brother, now the enthusiasm has diminished. The Central Asian and Transcaucasian countries hoped that Turkey would bring them closer to the West. Now they have realized that Ankara has no chance of joining the European Union, and have revised their foreign policy.
Kazakhstan is closer to Russia and China than Tur-key, Turkmenistan adheres to neutrality. And Ankara’s relations with Kyrgyzstan are deteriorating due to the fact that supporters of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turks accuse of organizing the putsch in the summer of 2016, are hiding in the former Soviet republic.
Baku, although cooperating with Ankara, maintains close ties with Mos-cow. Such a balance is needed to protect domestic politics from US and EU interference.
In his appeals to citizens, the Turkish leader calls for patience until his financial policy bears fruit. In December, he promised to stabilize the situation in the first half of 2022. But for now, these are just words. “We have no confidence in the future, we wake up in the morning, and the dollar and the euro are again breaking records. About forty percent of income is already spent on food,” complains a resident of the Turkish capital, Ilkhan.
Against this background, the ratings of Erdogan and his Justice and Develo-pment Party are falling. For the first time, the leader’s support level dropped to 38.6%. This is the lowest figure in 19 years in power. The president is ahead of the mayors of Ankara and Istanbul, Mansur Yavas and Ekrem Imamoglu – they have 60 and 51%, as well as the head of the “Good Party” Meral Aksener. which has 38.5%. Lira, meanwhile, was recognized as the weakest currency in the world – you can’t pay for Ottoman ambitions like that.

About the author

The Frontier Post