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Turkey is a Real Country Now, and Gets It (Pt. 3)

October 15, 2010

What began as just a quick little riff on the China-Turkey talks has now taken in far more. We are going to have two more pieces to this before we conclude with a sort of “What does it all mean?” which I’m sure you just can’t wait for.

I’ve written before on the dizzy days of the early 1990s, when the dreams of Enver Pasha seemed like they would become a reality. And it turns out if you google-search Pax Turania you get me and a bunch of weird nationalist-irredentists, which kinda freaks me out. Geeeyuuuh.

Anyways, one of my actual academic interests is this whole “Turkic Brotherhood” thing. Mostly because of its creepy undertones, but also because it can be an engine for actual good and real development. But, of course, the latter two can be awfully pie-in-the-sky sometimes.

In terms of nationalist-irridentists, well, one particular group stands out. They’ve been mentioned in these pages before as part of the Susurluk…thing, but they’ve done plenty of other sketchy stuff as well. It’s also worth mentioning that they are not one-and-the-same with Ergenekon.

On a far more beneficial and good note on the topic of Turkish involvement in Central Asia, the Fethullah schools in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan (and I’m pretty sure Afghanistan as well) are usually pretty well-run schools. I’ve said as much before. And while the movement isn’t hand-in-glove with the AKP government, there certainly is not a terrible amount of space between them, as can be seen in how they have covered the Ertosun supreme court fiasco.

And the Turkish troops in Afghanistan warrant a mention, as well. There it is.

Turkish investment in Central Asia doesn’t come close to Chinese or Russian or even American investment of the same. Those three usually drop in extractive infrastructure improvements or other such heavy industry. So on a currency-amount, it’s just not there.

What does Turkey provide? Well, according to the internet, tourism and hotel support. But the real story is a bit more than that, as you’d imagine.

What’s interesting to me is Gulenglish publishing two of “Turkey reaching out to ____stan!” articles this spring. Turkmenistan on May 25, Kazakhstan on the 26. So yeah, that must’ve been The Company Line that weekend. Dunya Bulteni gets in on the fun re: Kyrgyz Republic, but that was a Bakiyev ago.

I’m not sure what’s really there beyond some light investment and business congresses. I went to one such congress in June when I first returned to Istanbul, and it was a lot of empty suits saying what they thought they should be saying. Well, them and the awesome Nazif Shahrani.

“Will schools and Rotary Clubs be enough?” the Tom Friedman-schooled may ask. “Well,” the answer is, “enough for what?”

If you look at a map of the ol’ Ottoman Empire, it warrants mentioning, Central Asia isn’t part of it.

Not. Even. Close.

That said, there’s more to Neo-Ottomanism than closely hedging to Suleyman’s borders.

The truth is that besides the whole OMG Language! sort of fascination that Turks and Turkics have with each other, there is still a considerable cultural gap. Sure, Turkey would like access to Turkmen and Kazakh gas, but Nabucco doesn’t really look like it’s actually going to happen the way it was supposed to.

They only have so much to offer, really. Right now that only means things that Turkish businessfolk do particularly well are things that they can offer to Central Asians. Like, say, tourism and construction. There just isn’t much of a competitive advantage or geographical proximity compared to what Chinese or Russian companies can offer.

What could change this, of course, is the rise of Turkish  schools and general Turkish language use in the Central Asian Republics. That could really push things in Turkey’s favor in terms of their companies having a bigger footprint in Central Asia (and many other places as well…the Gulen schools are all over).

Turkey’s involvement in Central Asia is a long-arc storyline, and doesn’t fit as many comfortable narratives as we may like. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth following. And if you didn’t already know it, NewEurasia has some fantastic stuff about this sort of thing.


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