Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Qishloq Ovozi

Turkish-Russian Tensions Put Central Asia In A Tough Spot

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (right) and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan review a guard of honor during during the latter's visit to Astana earlier this year. Ankara has cultivated close relationships with the Turkic peoples of Central Asia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (right) and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan review a guard of honor during during the latter's visit to Astana earlier this year. Ankara has cultivated close relationships with the Turkic peoples of Central Asia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
By Bruce Pannier

Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane on November 24 has put most of the Central Asian states in an extremely awkward position.  No one in Central Asia wants trouble with Russia, the former colonial master, but at the same time the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, and Uzbeks are Turkic peoples and in the nearly 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ankara has played on cultural and linguistic affinities to successfully develop relations with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry on November 25 released a statement on the downing of the Russian Su-24 by Turkey, calling it a "tragic incident" that was "regrettable."

After expressing condolences over the deaths of Russian servicemen -- the jet's pilot and a crew member of a helicopter search-and-rescue team -- the ministry quickly moved on, saying: "These days, the international fight against terrorism is taking place. Both Russia and Turkey are acting in this direction. Kazakhstan, too, supports this fight."

The statement continues with calls for Russia and Turkey to deescalate tensions and focus attention on the fight against international terrorism.

It is an example of the tightrope Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are walking right now. Russia is a major trade partner and there are still many ties from Soviet times that bind the four Central Asian states to Moscow.

'Hostage To Power Politics'

At the same time, Turkey has been a natural friend and has become a major trade partner for the four Central Asian countries also. Students from Central Asia have been welcome at Turkish universities for more than two decades. Citizens of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan do not require visas to enter Turkey.

And, although Turkish construction firms are working in all four of these Central Asian states, in Turkmenistan they have a virtual monopoly -- the only other foreign company that has been consistently working in the construction sphere there is France's Bouygues. 

Beyond Russia's long history in Central Asia, there is, of course, now a Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan (one in Tajikistan also, but Tajik is not a Turkic language) and Kazakhstan shares a nearly 7,000-kilometer border with Russia.

Small surprise then that media in these four Central Asian countries have been cautious and brief in reporting on the Russian warplane and the ensuing diplomatic row between Moscow and Ankara.

Kazakhstan's Tengrinews.kz online news agency published an interview with well-known political analyst Dosym Satpaev on November 25. Satpaev said, "Kazakhstan should not be a hostage to Russian power politics, because more and more often, Russia's actions are creating distinct problems for its partners…"

Satpaev said that, in the current stand-off between Russia and Turkey, there was no point in Kazakhstan taking a side. But he warned that, in the future, "a situation could arise that would demand Kazakhstan clearly declare on whose side it is, and to which camp it is going."

Such a scenario is something all the Central Asian governments must be contemplating in the wake of the November 24 incident along the Turkish-Syrian border. 

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service director Torokul Doorov and Shukhrat Babajanov of RFE/RL's Uzbek Service helped in preparing this report
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mamuka
November 27, 2015 21:52
How strong is Turkey's presence in Central Asia compared with Russia's? Certainly much of the new construction in Almaty and Astana was done by Turkish companies and much of the building materials (windows, plumbing, fixtures) comes from Turkey but does this really compare with Russia's influence? In fact, does it even compare with China's? If the Moscow-Ankara feud continues look for similar actions to take place in the capitals of Central Asia.
In Response

by: Mark from: USA
November 29, 2015 14:04
If you forget, those countries are Turkish speaking with deep bonds with Turks, and any aggression towards them by Russia, World will starve Russia, you can count on that.
In Response

by: Mark from: USA
November 29, 2015 14:40
If you forget, those countries are Turkish speaking with deep bonds with Turks, and any aggression towards them by Russia, World will starve Russia, you can count on that.
In Response

by: Mamuka
December 02, 2015 13:07
Well, they do speak languages that are part of the Turkic family, but they do not speak Turkish. Uzbek has a lot of Persian in it. I think a Turkish speaker could get by OK in Turkmenistan, less so in Uzbekistan, and barely in Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan. I do recall that in the Bishkek riots a few years back, one of the targets was a Turkish department store. I don't know about these "deep bonds" beyond a source of trade and a possible work visa.

by: Clint from: Doha
December 04, 2015 01:26
I wonder if this portends a shift on the coming of the centennial of the Urkun.

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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