HUNTINGTONS THEORY AND RELATIONS BETWEEN TURKEY AND THE CAUCASUS

Zurab BATIASHVILI


Zurab Batiashvili, Leading expert, Group of Caucasian Studies, National Library at the Georgian parliament (Tbilisi, Georgia)


In 1993 the Foreign Affairs magazine carried an article The Clash of Civilizations? by Prof. Samuel Huntington, prominent American political scientist and Director of the John Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. It stirred up a lot of interest all over the world. Three years later he developed and specified his ideas in a book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

His new civilizational model was a signal event in the political science of the late 20th century that shook many accepted ideas about international relations. The events of 9/11 added a new dimension to it.

Turkeys Role

In his work Huntington has given much space to Turkey whose role as a Western ally in the post-Cold War world changed. The country, however, preserved its geopolitical value.1 The American professor was holding forth about the so-called torn countries among which he counted countries with civilizationally patchy populations such as Mexico, former Yugoslavia, South Africa, Russia, and Turkey.

As an expert in the Turkish history of the 20th century he has written: Other countries have a fair degree of cultural homogeneity but are divided over whether their society belongs to one civilization or another. These are torn countries. Their leaders typically wish to pursue a bandwagoning strategy and to make their countries members of the West, but the history, culture and traditions of their countries are non-Western. The most obvious and prototypical torn country is Turkey. The late twentieth-century leaders of Turkey have followed in the Atatürk tradition and defined Turkey as a modern, secular, Western nation state. They allied Turkey with the West in NATO and in the Gulf War; they applied for membership in the European Community. At the same time, however, elements in Turkish society have supported an Islamic revival and have argued that Turkey is basically a Middle Eastern Muslim society. In addition, while the elite of Turkey has defined Turkey as a Western society, the elite of the West refuses to accept Turkey as such. Turkey will not become a member of the European Community, and the real reason, as President Özal said, is that we are Muslim and they are Christian and they dont say that. Having rejected Mecca, and then being rejected by Brussels, where does Turkey look? Tashkent may be the answer. The end of the Soviet Union gives Turkey the opportunity to become the leader of a revived Turkic civilization involving seven countries from the borders of Greece to those of China. Encouraged by the West, Turkey is making strenuous efforts to carve out this new identity for itself.2

Recently, Valery Giscard dEstaing, former president of France, who now heads the European Constitutional Convention, spoke against the EU membership for Turkey. He stressed the civilizational differences: Turkey belongs to a different culture; it has different approaches and lives a different life.3 Jacques Attali, former advisor to the president of France, agrees with this: Islam is the main obstacle to Turkeys EU membership.4 Mezud Ilmaz, former prime minister of Turkey, responded with saying that his country had no intention to change its religion for the sake of EU membership.

The positions are obviously the rigid ones and will hardly change in future even though under EU pressure Turkey amended its constitution and laws (in the parts they referred to the ethnic minorities and human rights issues). Europe remains convinced that formal legal amendments are worthless if not applied in practice.

It seems that the idea of a Byzantine Alliance (designed to unite all Christian neighbors of Turkeys) formulated by certain Russian and Armenian analysts is an echo of Huntingtons theory. An agreement on cooperation in the military sphere between Russia and Armenia that irritated Ankara a great deal can be seen as the first step in the chosen direction. Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Rumania, Armenia, Georgia, and Russia were seen as potential members of the new alliance. Russia saw itself as a natural leader.5

The results of the off-year parliamentary elections in Turkey seem to confirm Huntingtons theory: the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party got 34.2 percent of the votes (363 seats out of the total 550). For the first time in the republics history the pro-Islamic forces got a chance to form the cabinet. The winners never tire of talking about their moderate nature and loyalty to the republic. Still, the future looks uncertain: there are signs that the winners and the government do not see eye to eye on certain issues.

More people joined the discussion with Huntington: Prof. Fouad Ajami, School of Advanced International Studies, the Johns Hopkins University; Kishore Mahbubani, Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Singapore, who served overseas as Singapores Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1984-1989); Robert L. Bartley, Editor of the Wall Street Journal; Liu Binyan, a leading Chinese dissident, Director of the Princeton China Initiative, and author of A Higher Kind of Loyalty: A Memoir; Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Professor at Georgetown University and Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; Albert L. Weeks, Professor Emeritus at New York University, and Gerard Piel, Chairman Emeritus of Scientific American.6 Two American political scientists, G.E. Fuller and I.O. Lesser, opposed Huntington: they dismissed as merely a fashionable invention the idea of ideological struggle between the West and the Islamic world the beginning of which has been associated with the end of the Cold War.7

Turkey acquainted itself with Huntingtons theory in summer 1993: as soon as it appeared in Foreign Affairs it was translated into Turkish and published in Türkiye Gündemi. In 2002 a Turkish translation of Huntingtons book mentioned above was published. It was in spring 1994 that the country plunged into heated discussions of the theory. It was all started by historian Muzaffer Özdag who published an article on the clash of civilizations in Avrasya Dosyasi. He accused the American of egocentrism, racism, religious fanaticism, cultural chauvinism and imperial ambitions.8 The same can be said about his interview to Yeni Türkiye two years later. He compared Huntington with Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, accused him of fanning hatred between nations, and called on him to stop venerating Mars, the god of war, and follow Christ.9

Turkish thinker Emre Kongar offered more specific criticism of Huntingtons theory. He saw no reason to unite states into one civilization according to the religious principle: One may ask whether contemporary Turkish society is closer culturally and civilizationally to Saudi Arabia or probably to Iran or the West. Which road is Turkey following? Is it following in the footsteps of Iraq and Libya or Germany and France? Kongar reminded the readers that throughout the entire history of international relations national interests had prevailed over emotions and cultural specifics.10

It seems that the theory-ignited discussions will go on for a long time to come even though Huntington has offered a hypothesis that the political elites of the certain torn non-Western countries will try to join the West. In the majority of cases they will have to overcome serious obstacles (like the Turkeys EU membership issue). I am convinced that Huntington is not pessimistic about Turkeys future. He has even recommended the West to build up military superiority in Southeast Asia and to support the West-oriented groups.

This means that NATO will preserve its Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, and that the West, the United States in the first place, will continue supporting the Kemalists. This, in turn, will allow Turkey remain a regional superpower.11

The Caucasus: Its Importance

An analysis of historical processes in the Caucasus shows that three religionsMazdaism, Christianity, and Islamleft their traces on the ethnic and cultural makeup of the Caucasian peoples. In distant past religion was politically determined and vice versa: nobody could freely choose ones religion.

At first Mazdaism was the common religion of the Caucasus. Starting with the 4th century as Iran was abandoning its positions Christianity conquered the Caucasus and spread to the Northern Caucasus. Georgia became a Christian missionary country. By the 14th century Daghestan and the country of the Vainakhs as two religious communities belonged to the jurisdiction of the Patriach of Georgia.12

Islam came to the Caucasus in the 8th century; late in the 18th century there were first attempts to unite all Muslim peoples in the Northern Caucasus into one state under the pan-Islamic banner. Those who were fighting under Shamil pursued the same aim. Independence was proclaimed as the final aim of gazavat yet had it won Islam would have been spread to the entire Southern Caucasus. These attempts have not been abandoned.13

After the Turkish expansion of 1918 the Ottoman Empire tried to annex the captured South Caucasian lands. It wanted to see the rest of the region as a federation: its delegation at the Batumi conference was insisting on an attempt to form a single state in the Southern Caucasus and bring Islam there. If it succeeded the Muslims (the North Caucasian peoples and the Azeris) would have been in the majorityin this case Turkey would have found it easy to turn the Caucasus into a pro-Turkish region.14

The academic community is convinced that there is no single Caucasian civilization: the cultural, economic, political, religious and other differences are too great. There are still burning territorial disputes. When talking about common Caucasian features we can speak only of the identity of traditions and customs. In any case, there is no reason to lump the local peoples together into one civilization.15

This explains why in the post-Soviet years each of the republics preferred to follow a road of its own. Over time religion comes to the fore, the local countries are drifting even farther from each other, they look at the events in the world and in the Caucasus differently. What is the Caucasus, in the final analysis? asks prominent Georgian scholar Prof. Kiknadze. His answer is: We live in a house where each of the inhabitants has made his own choice. Each of the nations was shaped by different confessional and historical factors Islam, Orthodox Christianity and Monophysism are not mere religions chosen by peoples at random. This was not a political choice either. Faith is a strong cultural factor, the lifestyle and mentality in the first place.16

Political tensions in the region created a fraternal country syndrome: Georgia is actively cooperating with America in the military sphere, Azerbaijan with Turkey, while Armenia has chosen Russia as its partner. The nations have accepted this choice. All attempts to replace the main political figures and alter the countrys orientation cause public response.

Lets have a look at the Caucasian states through the prism of Huntingtons theory.

He says that there are close relations between two Christian Orthodox states (Georgia and Russia) though there is any amount of differences between them. The Georgians have a strong feeling of national identity fed by the still living memories of their former independence. Huntington believes that Russia is much closer to Christian Orthodox Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus than to its close neighbors (Ukraine and Georgia).

Huntington surveys the history of Georgia, he has written about its urge of independence, describes the events of the 1990s, says that Moscow supports separatists in Abkhazia and rudely interferes in Georgias domestic affairs. It is this interference that allows Moscow to preserve its military bases in Georgia and to keep the latter within its zone of influence.17

The book was published in 1996 when Georgia was forced to join the CIS. After several years everything changed: Georgia resumed its traditional pro-Western orientation. Though a Christian Orthodox state it is not a Slavonic country and at all times has been looking at the West. Certain of its czars, landlords and even the Patriach embraced Catholicism. In the past it was from the Catholic West that Georgians expected help and support in their struggle against Islamic conquerors. European civilization is much closer to the Georgians than the traditions and beliefs of their Muslim neighbors.18

One cannot calculate the share of the Western, Eastern or Northern elements in the mentality of contemporary Georgians.19 Georgian culture carries traces of Western and Eastern influences; one has to admit, however, that Georgia is more oriented to the Western values. It is not a classical Western countryit can be rather called a candidate to become an associated member of Western civilization.

Georgian culture was greatly influenced by Classical Antiquitythere is no doubt about that. Later it adopted Christianity, became a single state, while at the turn of the 12th century the first shoots of the Renaissance became obvious (in literature this was The Knight in a Tiger Skin by Rustaveli, in politicsthe karavi, a sort of parliament). The Tartar-Mongol invasion cut short these cultural and political developments and detached Georgia from Europe.

Armenia lost its statehood in the 11th century, in the 16th-17th centuries its clergy and secular rulers repeatedly asked European powers to defend their country against foreign invaders. No help came. Huntington is convinced that this forced it to draw closer to Russia. Despite confessional difference Armenia proved to be the most reliable Caucasian ally of the Russian Empire. In the post-Soviet years Erevans military and economic dependence on Moscow deepened. In case of differences with other post-Soviet republics Russia invariably finds Armenia at its side.20

Armenias religion is unique: they are the only Monophysites on earth. Politically the country is Russia-oriented yet its numerous diaspora with its Catholic and Protestant members will find it easy to draw closer to the West. The Armenian Church favors such movement. Despite the differences in religious dogma it is making first steps toward Christian West. The West is ready to embrace it: resolution 907 passed by U.S. Congress in connection with the war in Karabakh ruled to discontinue U.S. aid to Azerbaijan, not to Armenia.

According to Huntington, Azerbaijan is part of the Islamic world. Before it was made part of Russia it had been a purely Oriental country. It owes its European features to the Russian Empire. In the post-Soviet period the independent country is slowly but surely returning to its Islamic past: religion is coming to the fore; more and more Azeris observe the Ramadan, greater number of them perform hajj, etc.

It should be said that its rulers political will may greatly affect the future of the entire region: its oil may make it one of the richest countries in the region where it potentially may become the leader of all local Muslims. The Administration of the Muslims of the Caucasus is found in Baku. The Azeris are the largest Muslim nation in the Caucasus yet the developments inside the country will greatly depend on the developments in Turkey: if the religious factor in Turkey strengthens Azerbaijan will become even more Islamic.

There was a commonly shared illusion that Aliev in Baku and Shevardnadze in Tbilisi may alter their countries political orientation. This did not happen and will probably never happen.

Azerbaijan is a natural ally of Turkey in the Caucasus. While cooperation between Turkey and Georgia is limited to economy and military-political contacts cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey rests on a much firmer foundation: common language, common religion, and close cultural traditions.

Relations between Turkey and the Caucasus

To illustrate his theory Huntington frequently refers to the Caucasus and the attitudes of its neighbors to it as an example. Moscow is the main rival of Ankara there. Throughout the last ten years Turkey and Russia have been displaying fundamentally different approaches to the regional problems: Russia supports Armenia and Nagorny Karabakh while Turkey sides with Muslim Azerbaijan; Russia accuses Turkey of supporting Chechens while Turkey accuses Russia of supporting the Kurdistan Workers Party. Turkey is convinced that the Russian military bases in Armenia and Georgia threaten its security while Russia is worried over the stronger Turkish Navy in the Black Sea especially because the former Soviet Navy has grown weaker.

When talking about the Caucasus Huntington pays particular attention to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as to the conflicts between Ossetia and Ingushetia and Russia and Chechnia. He emphasizes that during the periods of increased tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia Turkey and Iran pushed aside their old contradictions. They found common points and demanded that Armenia should leave the captured Azerbaijani territories. Turkey wanted to bring its troops to Azerbaijan while Iran intended to deploy its troops in the border area. Russia sharply criticized Iran, its strategic partner, and accused it of escalating tension. Russian politicians were convinced that Tehran had brought the problem to the last brink.21 Huntington calls this the fraternal countries syndrome manifested by the conflicts on the post-Soviet territory. The Armenian military successes of 1992-1993 forced Turkey to step up its support of religiously, ethnically, and linguistically kindred Azerbaijan. It is impossible not to be affected when your kin are killed, one Turkish official said. We are under pressure. Our newspapers are full of the photos of atrocities Maybe we should show Armenia that theres a big Turkey in this region. President Turgut Özal agreed, saying that Turkey should scare the Armenians a little bit. A year later Özal was still belligerent. Turkey will show its fangs. Turkey, along with Iran, warned the Armenians it would not countenance any change in borders. Özal blocked food and other supplies from getting to Armenia through Turkey.

As the Soviet Union was collapsing, the Gorbachev regime dispatched troops to the region to support what was viewed as a loyal communist government in Baku. After the end of the Soviet Union, these considerations gave way to historical and cultural ones, with Azerbaijan accusing the Russian government of turning 180 degrees and actively supporting Christian Armenia.22

In 1992 more active maneuvering around Nagorny Karabakh began. The Armenian government announced that it were only Karabakh Armenians who were involved in fighting. Everybody knows that the Karabakh volunteers depended for their success on Armenian support that, in its turn, relied on Russias military might.

On 28 February, 1992 on the initiative of Turkey the OSCE conference discussed the use of force in an effort to alter the borders. Nagorny Karabakh was recognized part of Azerbaijan. This did not prevent the Armenians from occupying Nagorny Karabakh and opening a corridor between Armenia and Karabakh. The Armenian armed forces bombed the western part of Nakhichevan, an Azerbaijani enclave on Armenian territory bordering on Turkey.

This attack on the enclave proved to be a critical point for Turkey: hostilities had moved too close to its borders. If Armenians conquered the enclave that would mean violation of the 1921 Treaty of Friendship between Turkey and the Soviets under which the enclave was made part of Azerbaijan without the right to transfer it to any other state. Muhittin Fisunoglu, Land Forces Commander (now ret.), announced that his country was ready to open hostilities.

Marshal Shaposhnikov, the then Chief Commander of the CIS Armed Forces, warned that any intervention from an outside (by which Turkey was meant) may develop into a large-scale war. Albert Chernyshev, Russian Ambassador to Turkey, issued a similar warning.23 We should bear in mind that on both sides there were many of those who fought for religious reasons.

The Minsk Group was formed out of representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey, the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Belarus. Its aim was to settle the conflict. Azerbaijan and Turkey were the only two Muslim members, all other countries being Christian. Regrettably, the group failed to show any meaningful progressBaku never tires of reminding about this.

Practically on the second day after the parliamentary elections in Turkey that took place on 3 November, 2002 Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the General Chairman of the Justice and Development Party that won the elections announced that his country would not support the U.S. and U.K. in their one-sided anti-Iraqi actions. On the same day speaking over the Azerbaijani TV Bülent Arinc, one of the partys leaders (later elected speaker of the Milli Mejlis of Turkey) described Karabakh as a dagger drawn into the body of Azerbaijan, criticized the previous Turkish government for its inadequate treatment of the Karabakh issue and promised that the new cabinet would be more determined. He pointed out that any restored relations with Armenia were out of the question. Erdogans deputy Abdullah Gül, who later became prime minister, pointed out: Turkeys relations with Azerbaijan and, in principle, with all Turkic states have not yet reached an adequate level. Mutual visits are formal and look aimless.

We need to develop more intensive contacts. I am sure that the present cabinet will work in this direction: contacts with Azerbaijan are top priority for Turkey.

We are resolved to help settle the Karabakh problem. Today, about a million of Azeri refugees are living in tent camps while the world community has chosen to ignore them. We should insist that the double standards policy be abandoned. I believe that together Turkey and Azerbaijan will finally resolve the conflict and liberate the Azerbaijani lands from occupants.

Joint antiterrorist efforts including against those in Nagorny Karabakh are part of the relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan. We shall discuss this aspect too. Regrettably, so far nothing has been done in this sphereeverything stopped at mere talking. Today, we have to do something very specific. I should say that the military contacts between our countries should be intensified.24

Huntington has never studied the Abkhazian conflict in depth yet he discovered in it certain signs of the clash of civilizations. In this case the confrontation is dual: between Russia and Georgia and between Islam and Christianity. The Abkhazians worked hard in Turkey to present themselves as a Turkic-speaking Muslims to gain support of the Turkish authorities. Nokta, a Turkish journal, reported that during the early stages of war Abkhazians enlisted several dozens of volunteers in Turkey in several days and dispatched them to the front.25

A large group of Islamic fighters arrived from the Northern Caucasus to help the fraternal Abkhazian people. At first glance, Russian-Muslim aid to Abkhazia may look strange yet a more careful observer can discover that Russian and Muslim interests coincided when they were aimed against Georgia. This explains why the Georgian society expected the West to help resolve the conflict.

When writing about the Caucasus Huntington also touched upon the civilizational conflicts between Russia and Chechnia and between Ossets and Ingushes. Russian Cossacks were actively supporting the Ossets. A greater part of the Turkish population was on the side of the Chechens: they organized rallies in their support and collected money. According to the Russian media, Turkish citizens fought together with Chechens in the Caucasus.

In Lieu of Conclusion

Huntingtons theory is worth of serious study at least to discover its weak points. If developments follow his script the Caucasus will find itself in danger. This is especially true of Georgia, which is home for people of various civilizations. One cannot exclude a possibility that the civilizational fault line will cross its territory. In this case all Caucasian nations will suffer.

Huntington has issued a warning: In the coming years, the local conflicts most likely to escalate into major wars will be those, as in Bosnia and the Caucasus, along the fault lines between civilizations. The next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations.26

Obviously, the conflicts in the region should be promptly settled (Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Chechnia, and the opposition between the Ossets and Ingushes). All Caucasian nations are differentthis is obvious. These differences will not disappear yet the religious, ideological and other differences apart they should find a formula of peaceful coexistencethis is their duty to the past, present and future generations. War is the only alternative to peaceit has already caused innumerable sufferings. In the Caucasus even a chance shot may invite a long string of misfortunes.


1 See: Z. Batiashvili, Spravochnik o Turtsii. Bulleten tsentra strategicheskikh issledovanii i razvitia Gruzii (Tbilisi), No. 23, April 1999.
2 S. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3, Summer 1993, p. 42.
3 Gazeta 24 chasa, 9 November, 2002.
4 Yeni Yüzyıl, 13 November, 1997.
5 See: Rezonans, 11 August, 1997.
6 See: Ajami Fouad, The Summoning, pp. 2-9; Kishore Mahbubani, The Dangers of Decadence, pp. 10-14; Robert L. Bartley, The Case for Optimism, pp.15-18; Liu Binyan, Civilization Grafting, pp. 19-21; Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, The Modernizing Imperative, pp. 2224; Albert L. Weeks, Does Civilization Hold? pp. 24-25; Gerard Piel, The West Is Best, pp. 25-26, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 4, September/October 1993; Diskussia vokrug tsivilizatsionnoi modeli: S. Huntington otvechaet opponentam, Polis, No. 1 (19), 1994, p. 49.
7 See: G.E. Fuller, I.O. Lesser, A Sense of Siege: The Geopolitics of Islam and The West, Boulder (Colo.), Westview, 1995, p. 1.
8 See: S.A. Şenel, Medeniuetler Çatişmasi Üzerine Muzaffer Özdağ ile Mulakat, Yeni Türkiye, Türk Oiş Politikasi Özel Sayisi 3, Ankara, Mart-Nisan, 1995, p. 616.
9 See: Ibid., pp. 618-621.
10 See: E. Kongar, 21. Yüzyilda Türkiye. 2000`1; Yillarda Türkiyenin Toplumsal Yapisi, İstanbul, 1999, pp. 238-239.
11 See: Z. Batiashvili, Teoria Huntingtona i Turtsia, Perspektiva XXI (Tbilisi), No. 3, 2001, p. 57.
12 Z. Kiknadze, Tserkov vchera, segodnia, zavtra, Tbilisi, 2002, p. 128.
13 Ibid., pp. 126-128.
14 See: O. Gigineishvili, Ocherki iz istorii Turtsii, Tbilisi, 1982, pp. 145-148.
15 K. Katsitadze, Teoria stolknovenia tsivilizatsiy i budushchee Gruzii, Akhali 7 dge, 20-26 March, 1998.
16 Z. Kiknadze, op. cit., p. 129.
17 See: S.P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Touchstone Books, London, New York, 1998, p. 165.
18 See: M. Papashvili, Rimsko-gruzinskie otnoshenia VI-XVII, Tbilisi, 1995, pp. 5-6.
19 See: L. Berdzenishvili, Dalekaia Evropa, Akhali 7 dge, 20-26 March, 1998.
20 See: S.P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, p. 164.
21 See: Ibid., pp. 278-280.
22 Ibidem.
23 See: M. Komakhia, Rossiisko-turetskie otnoshenia i Iuzhniy Kavkaz, Bulleten Tsentra strategicheskikh issledovaniy i razvitia Gruzii, No. 66, March 2002, p. 11.
24 Zerkalo, 5 November, 2002.
25 See: Nokta, 6 September, 1992.
26 S. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations? pp. 38-39.

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