By Jim Aristopoulos – From September 27 to November 10 there was a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the territory of Artsakh that received the attention of the whole international community. We not only witnessed the great support of Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev towards the war effort, but at the same time other members of the Turkic Council comprising of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and Hungary as an observer state, declared their support for the Azerbaijani cause. These are obvious manifestations of Pan-Turkic ideology that are strongly prevalent in these countries.
1) What is Pan-Turkism
Pan-Turkism is a nationalist ideology that was born in the 19th century, specifically by Turkic-speaking peoples living in Tsarist Russia during the 1880s, and then developed in Asia Minor. Without ever being established as the official ideology of the Turkish state, it has always been supported by Ankara whether they admitted it or not.
The basis of the Pan-Turkish ideology is emancipation, aiming at the independence union of all Turkish-speaking peoples, such as those found in Crimea, Azerbaijan, the Caucasus, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Siberia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Western Thrace, Cyprus and elsewhere with ‘’Mother Turkey’’ to create a large Turkic state with over 100 million inhabitants.
Common slogans used by the Pan-Turkists are:
• “Where there are Turks there is a Turkey”.
• “The world of the Turks is a single whole.”
• “All Turks are one army.”
• “Pan-Turkism as an ideal is a moral food for the nation.”
• “Cyprus is as Turkish as Asia Minor and Western Thrace.”
2) What is the difference between Neo-Ottomanist and Pan-Turkist ideologies?
Ottomanism is actually more of an ethno-religious political movement rather than an ethno-racial one. They declare faith to the holiness and everlastingness of the Ottoman Empire and its Sultan, seeking the idea of an ‘‘empire’’ to replace nationalism and the political order of the nation-states in which they live. Though they do recognise the existence of different ethnicities among them, they believe that cultural and local differences should be left behind when it comes to religious-political unification.
Pan-Turkism on the other hand does not focus so much on religion, and instead looks towards the ethnic tradition of peoples and nations. It seeks to unify, politically and culturally, under a ‘‘greater’’ Turkish nation-state as they share a common Turkish tradition. Pan-Turkism usually associates with countries that have ‘‘Turkish cultural heritage’’ and the Turkic language in official status. Countries/regions that may be included in this list would be Crimea, Azerbaijan, the Caucasus, Turkestan, Kazakhstan, Xinjiang in Western China, Kyrgyzstan, Tatarstan, Siberia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and areas of Northern Greece and the Eastern islands.
3) How does the Pan-Turkic ideology apply in our current time geopolitics??
Pan-Turkism has always been the ideological basis of how Turkey politically worked. It was the ideological foundation on which the Kemalist political ideology was based in order to build a greater Turkey. The uprooting of Hellenism in Asia Minor in 1922, the Armenian genocide in 1915-18 as well as the Assyrian one, the persecution of the Greeks of Constantinople in 1955, the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 have all been effects of the Pan-Turkish doctrine of Turkey’s expansionist policy.
In today’s multipolar world, where the West has lost its values and the East is claiming its conquering historical role, while the traditionally big players on the international chessboard have to face their own internal problems, Erdogan places the dynamics of Pan-Turkist nationalism in order to create a large alliance of Turkic ethnic groups. And the battle in the Caucasus, at a time when no major power is on the side of the Azeris, is another opportunity to spread in the region. The intervention of Turkey in Libya, as well as in Syria and its claims over the economic zones of Greece and Cyprus in the East Mediterranean, is also part of the Pan-Turkist political agenda, despite the fact that it’s Ottomanism being used as an ideological weapon in these cases.
4) Examples of Pan-Turkic policies in modern Turkey
Despite the fact that Turkey during Erdogan’s rule has theoretically abandoned Pan-Turkist rhetoric in favour of Neo-Ottomanism, in practice it is still pan-Turkist ideology that determines Turkish geopolitics. From its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its invasion of Northern Syria, to its involvement in the Libyan civil war, as well as the illegal immigration threats again, Greece and Europe. and the war in Artsakh(Nagorno Karabakh), combined with the persecution of Kurds, are all nothing more than parts of the agenda of the Pan-Turkish doctrine on Turkey’s expansionist policy. During the anniversary of Kemal Ataturk’s death on November 10 2016 Erdogan openly declared that ‘‘Turkey is greater than Turkey’’, while at the same time spoke of his doctrine about the ‘‘borders of his heart’’, declaring at the same time that ‘‘ We can not be imprisoned in 780 thousand sq.m. Our physical borders are different to the borders of our heart. Our brothers who live in areas of Mosul, Kirkuk, Humus, Skopje, may be beyond the natural borders of Turkey, but they will always be on the borders of our hearts.’’ The plan to support the Azeris in the Artsakh War was not spontaneous, but part of the doctrine of the former foreign minister turned Erdogan’s political rival, Ahmet Davutoglu, who published in 2001 a book entitled ‘‘Strategic Depth; Turkey’s International Position’’. In this book, Davutoglu says: ‘‘Unless Azerbaijan acquires a stable and strong regional position in the Caucasus and Albania in the Balkans, it will not be possible for Turkey to increase its weight in either nor develop policies towards the Adriatic and the Caspian Sea, which are in its immediate vicinity and within its sphere of influence.”
Jim Aristopoulos is a social anthropologist and historian.