TURKEY IN THE CAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA: THE POST-SOVIET PERIOD

Evgenia GABER


Evgenia Gaber, Post-Graduate Student, Department of International Relations, I. Mechnikov Odessa State University (Odessa, Ukraine)


Introduction

The geopolitical vacuum the Soviet Union left behind in Eurasia was filled with a new regional system brimming with new opportunities and even more regional and global threats.

On the one hand, the Soviet Unions disappearance from the world map and Moscows obvious inability to replace it as the main political factor in the region gave Turkey a unique opportunity to move into the driving seat in the region. Moreover, Ankara could exploit the close cultural, ethnic, and linguistic ties going back to the past it shared with the states of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

However, on the other hand, disintegration of the common state created new dividing lines in the region best described as a mêlée of nationalities and religions; this fanned old contradictions and generated conditions for new ethnic, religious, and territorial conflicts.

This means that the three newly independent Caucasian states not only formed a buffer zone between Turkey and Russia, its old rival, but also developed into another seat of instability on its northeastern borders. Apprehensive of the unrestricted spread of radical Islam which, supported by Iran and extremist movements, could fill the post-Soviet power vacuum, Ankara and the Western capitals offered the new Caucasian and Central Asian states a Turkic model of development: a secular state in a predominantly Muslim country and market economy.

In these conditions, Turkey had to urgently find a new and efficient policy to capitalize on the absence or, at least, the weakness of the extra-regional actors in the Caucasus and Central Asia and to prevent further disintegration and possible armed conflicts in these highly inflammable regions.

This was not Turkeys only concern. A key strategic partner of the United States and NATO in Central Asia and the Caucasus during the Cold War era, now, with no Soviet Union in sight, it could lose its exclusive status since the North Atlantic Alliance was looking for a new idea of its place and role in the world. In the new context, Turkey, likewise, needed a weighty argument in its dialog with the EU and the United States. To remain an indispensable partner of the West as an intermediary between the Soviet successor-states in the region and the Euro-Atlantic institutions, Ankara needed close ties with the newly independent states in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Geographical and Geopolitical Specifics of the Caucasus and Central Asia

Over the last twenty years, Turkey has been operating on identical ideological arguments and pursuing similar strategic tasks in both regions, even though the Turkic factor is much weaker in the Caucasus with its non-Muslim and non-Turkic states. On the other hand, it would be wrong to


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