AzVision.az spoke to Professor Ilyas Topsakal, vice-rector at Istanbul University.
- How do you see the future development of the Turkic world?
‘The Caucasus and Central Asia are located bang in the middle of regional powers, such as China, India, and Russia. Periods of confrontation complicate building any kind of balance in this region. Historically, this region was on the trade route called the ‘Silk Road’ that stretched from China to Europe. It is crucial that we start working to bring some order into this disorderly world. Both Russia and China will gladly agree to this in the current state of conflict. Neither of them wants any clashes or wars in the region. Although, there may be other powers that do.
A historical opportunity has arisen for the Turkic world. They can build a space of trade, cultural, economic, and social progress through establishing economic and cultural union along the corridor and ensuring stability. Neither the Russians, nor the Chinese, nor the Indians will oppose it. At the same time, Europe would not either, whereas America might both want and not want the establishment of such a union.
Secondly, the European Union is an important party in this geography because it is a consumer at the very least. While countries such as China and India are producers, European countries are consumers like Turkey. This is precisely why European forces such as Germany, France, Belgium, and England would not want confusion in this region, just as neither France nor Germany agreed with Washington in the confrontation between the USA and China. They are dissatisfied with the pressure on China, who they buy from immensely.
This means, the possible commercial and cultural union will find supporters in the West. In short, I believe the time is ripe.
If the region is to develop and rise, integration is a must, which is especially crucial for Turkey and Azerbaijan, located in the centre. I think it is the same for Armenia and Georgia. If Armenia escapes its reigning psychology of a warring and terror state and joins the union, it will only gain from it. They are destined for destruction otherwise.’
- How much does the potential of the Turkic world enable the strengthening of this union?
‘It’s a very good question. The Republic of Turkey – the country of the Western Turks – is not really a state of great historic influence in Central Asia. The Ottoman Empire mainly ruled in the basins of 5 seas – the Indian, the White, the Black, the Aegean, and the Marmara. At the same time, the Turks of Central Asia have also had their own specific associations. What are these?
We do not need to go too far back in time. Timur had built a large empire in Central Asia. A potential for co-habiting and trading emerged in the region after him. It starts in Eastern Turkestan. The trade route stretched from Urgench to the West passing through Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan. The people of this region also know trade like they do in Azerbaijan. They have a certain way of thinking and networks. Azerbaijan is the bridge that carries that wealth to the West. This potential was somewhat constrained due to lack of free economy during the Soviet era. They did not trade, and the world did not get to know them on a larger scale. However, the 30 years after the USSR demonstrated how successful the tradesmen of the regional countries were. In other words, there is a large trade network in the region. It is a path that stretches all the way to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
It also has a strong human potential and workforce. On the other hand, 30 years is a period too short for political organization. But in the last 3 years we have been seeing the establishment of the Council of Turkic States, its transformation into the Organization of Turkic States, a political union in short. There is no other political organization that has managed to achieve the potential of understanding and around 44 agreements in just 3 years. These cover economic, cultural, art, even military cooperation. Azerbaijan and Turkey are already cooperating in the military field, but we are now seeing that the cooperation is being extended to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.
Russia should not be overlooked as well, because it has a 200-year-old network of historical relations in the region. Russia has built ties with the region starting from trade to politics, from administration to military system. We must state this clearly. Russia may also find a seat at this table and become a citizen of this geography. There are the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) functioning in the region. This project cannot be logically concluded without coming to an agreement within those realities. Therefore, it requires coming up with a project.
Russia alone is also not enough. There is India with a population of 1.3 billion. It reaches 2 billion if you also count Pakistan and Afghanistan. They too have their ties with the region. The Chinese also want to sell their goods. They too will benefit from this cooperation. In case of a problem, what is the use of goods that will go through Tajikistan, East Turkestan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russia or Turkey, Iran and not reach Europe?
Everyone with logic will see how this project will bring salvation not only to the region, but also to the entire world. Both the West and America are too far away. If the people in the region can find common ground in trade and culture, they will definitely come out as the victors. Iran is also implied, as a part of the road passes through the country. But if Iran and Armenia choose to go against the rights of others through terror and provocations, they will destroy themselves. I believe the salvation of the region lies in the unity of the Turkic states and fraternal countries and creating a balance in relation to India, China, Russia, and Iran. Because the world cannot operate without balance.’
- Can we say that the Turkic civilization is in fact the unifying force in Eurasia?
‘You are absolutely right. But you must not only think of Asia and Europe, but also of Africa and the Islamic world as a whole. The Russian population is not too big: there are around 300 million Turks in the region, whereas only 80-100 million of Russians. This forces them to function alongside us. We must pay attention to the demographic situation, not the power, in this issue.
At the same time, we must also take into account that China and India, both possessors of substantial position, might not choose to act along us. If they do, they will end up increasing their wealth.’
- So, what is the future contribution of the Turkic world to the Islamic civilization?
‘The Turkic world is, first and foremost, an example. Countries such as Iran, Iraq, Suria, Qatar, the Gulf states, the Western African countries on the other hand, such as Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, or Morocco do not have very strong statehood culture, as they gained independence after the 1960s. They last demonstrated union relations during the Ottoman period. The West occupied these territories after the Ottoman Empire fell, killing their people, confiscating their property. They rose as newly independent states only in the 60s. Our project will inspire similar ideas in them: ‘If the Muslim Turkic states can unite, we can do the same.’
They, in fact, do already have certain institutions, such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation or the Arab League.
Turkey set an example for those countries with the War of Independence. It also supported the struggle for independence in Suria, Iraq, and Libya. Ataturk did a great service in those countries gaining freedom. Even now, Turkey could similarly support all Islamic states.
You are well aware of their sectarian confrontations. But they will also realize that living in peace, not conflict, brings upon wealth. Living in peace requires understanding not only within your own country, but also with the countries around you. This is where the Turkic World can set an example. They will form an alliance and Turkey will play a leading role. Turkey has always played the role of a patron in the region both during the Ottoman period and now.
Egypt is also an important country in the Islamic world. In this regard, Turkey and Egypt, along with the Saudi Arabia, can set an example in the region. I admit that it is not easy, because both the investment and political thinking is different from that in the Turkic states. It is a completely different region. It is a geography, which is more connected to America, England, and France. But how much more hostility will the West pursue in those regions? How many more people will it destroy? These are not actions that should be continued. Therefore, I believe that the union we are about to build will set an example for new opportunities there.’
- You demonstrated that the Turks are a peaceful and cooperative civilization. However, many experts, especially in the West, talk of the clash and competition of civilizations. Can the Turkic World navigate the competition from not a military, but economic point of view?
‘Competition can only happen among producer countries – between Europe and China, China and India, Singapore and Taiwan, the USA and China… Our geography is not competitive in this regard. We can offer raw materials and logistics.
I believe neither Turkey, nor the Turkic countries, Russia, nor even Iran need to enter any sort of competition. However, they will have systematic competition over available resources. In this regard, it is crucial for the countries that possess that wealth and roads to take steps jointly and build military unity. These countries cannot grow to be like India, China, America, or the West through production. However, all Turkic countries can build balance through unity and shape infrastructure through signing agreements. As a result, China or India can transport their goods through those routes, covering their logistics needs. This will also limit interventions into the region. We can achieve balance only if we act together. We will not be able to live without war in this chaotic and competitive world if we walk alone. Then you must have a very strong army.’