TURKEY’S FOREIGN POLICY IN CENTRAL ASIA AND THE CAUCASUS: ECHOES OF THE ARAB SPRING
Pavel Varbanets, Ph.D. (Political Science), Senior Fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (Kiev, Ukraine)
In recent years, Central Asia and the Caucasus have traditionally been a priority of Turkey’s foreign policy. Since the beginning of the 1990s, Ankara has been pursuing an active campaign aimed at establishing close relations with the Turkic republics in this region. However, despite the loud statements and assorted declarations about the development of friendly relations with fraternal peoples, Turkey has not made any significant progress in this vector (apart from strengthening its relations with Azerbaijan).
Furthermore, when the Arab Spring uprisings began at the end of 2010-beginning of 2011, Turkey’s official authorities were accused, both inside and outside the country, of conducting a one-dimensional foreign policy oriented only toward the Arab world. The opposition also joined these accusations, saying that the ruling Justice and Development Party was ignoring the Central Asian vector of foreign policy.
So two questions arise. First, how can the Arab Spring demonstrations have an effect on the development of Turkey’s relations with the Central Asian and Caucasian countries? And second, what will Ankara’s foreign policy be in the region in the next few years?
The author primarily focuses on Turkey’s relations with the region’s Turkic republics—Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan; other countries remain beyond the scope of this study.
Central Asia and the Caucasus in Ankara’s Foreign Policy Priorities
At present, Turkey’s foreign policy course is being set by the triumvirate of leaders from the ruling Justice and Development Party—Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President Abdullah Gül, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. The latter, a professor and well-known academic in international relations, is the ideologue of Turkey’s current foreign policy. It was he who elaborated the concept of “strategic depth,” the main idea of which boils down to increasing Turkey’s influence on the former Ottoman world and turning the country into a regional super power. According to analysts, this policy shows that Turkey is no longer giving preference to the West or the East; it is making its own debut on the stage.
Turkey embarked on its new foreign policy course in 2009 when the country gradually began moving away from the European integration policy and paying more attention to its own region. According to Ahmet Davutoğlu’s concept, the new policy was to include such vectors as improving relations with immediate neighbors, primarily with Syria and Iran (the “zero problems with neighbors” policy), developing maximum cooperation with the Islamic countries of the Middle East (the “wise country” policy), and moving toward confrontation with Israel; all of this was supposed to promote a rise in Turkey’s authority in the Islamic world.
In keeping with the new course, the Turkish Foreign Ministry mainly concentrated on the Middle East; the Central Asian region was also seen as one of the priority targets.
The election platform of the Justice and Development Party adopted in 2011 defined the main vectors in Turkey’s political and…………..