Hürriyet Daily News |  January/03/2017

Mehmet Öğütçü

It is possible to travel from China’s Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region in the east all the way to the Adriatic shores in the west speaking nothing but Turkish. Most people living in this vast geography belong to the Ural-Altaic language family, sharing common historical, religious, cultural and ethnic ties.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, this area – possessing many of the world’s vital natural resources, where the “Great Game” was staged in the 19th century, a place forming the back-bone of the revived Silk Road (“One Belt – One Road” Initiative) launched by China, the land called interchangeably “the Turkish World”, the “Turkic World”, “Türkeli”, “Turan”, or even “Eurasia” – could have emerged as a 260 million-strong influential player in the global system.

It has failed to do so. On the contrary, the growing population, the worsening environmental degradation, the ever present clash of interests, the intra-regional bickering, unrest and struggles have led to the weakening of unity and solidarity between the Turkic clans and communities, even to the degree of armed conflict in certain areas such as Fergana Valley.

This was certainly good news for the neighboring countries, which held some historical grudges against Turks. Indeed, the persistent divisive policies of China, Russia and Iran(with their own sizeable Turkic minorities or “autonomous” regions) in Central Asia and the Caucasus ensured that Turkic peoples would live apart from each other geographically and could not achieve any meaningful union that may pose a counterweight and destabilize their own territories. They fight with each other, and investment and trade relations between them are barred and remain at insignificant levels.

Yet, there is still potentially a Turkic powerhouse waiting to be mobilized not as a disrupted force, but as a responsible member of the international community at peace with its neighbors in the vast land stretching from Kazakhstan to Kosovo, from Russia to Saudi Arabia, from Egypt, to Mongolia and China. The peoples of the region do not like to be categorized as “Turks” but rather want to be recognized in their distinct identities as Kazakh, Kirghiz, Uzbek, Uyghur, Azeri, Turkmen, Tartar, Karakalpak, Bashkir and Gagauz.

In the light of the foregoing, the right approach for this region, mostly seen as the new chess-board of the world, must be to put aside such ambitions like a “Turkic Union”, and give priority instead to strengthening commercial relations, investments, and cultural ties between them, developing friendly relations with neighbors, resolving the disputes that often arise, developing their democracy culture, modernizing education, and focusing more on joint innovation and technology projects.

Turkey, with its population of almost 80 million, and a GDP of close to $900 billion and connected to both the West and the East, is the biggest and most advanced among all Turkic states and communities around the world. It has a special role to play. Frustrated by its partnership with the United States and the European Union, Turks are now forging a new alliance encompassing, not only their traditional Western partners, but also emerging powers of Russia, China, Iran, the Gulf and other Eurasian nations.

This re-orientation and power shift could well help forge a new spirit of partnership with, and rediscover, its Turkic brethren, ease geopolitical and economic tensions in Central Asia and Caucasus, and play a bridging role for China and Russia in particular.