Central Asia: Another Turkish proxy war in the offing?
Recent clashes between civilians, border guards and troops of Central Asian nations Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over a long-standing water dispute have resulted in the deaths of over 30 people, the wounding of 150 and the displacement of more than 10,000.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are members of the Russian-led Collective Treaty Security Organization (CSTO), which did nothing to defend member Armenia in the Turkish-Azerjbaijani military onslaught against hopelessly outnumbered Nagorno-Karabakh last year. Russian officials went out of their way to claim that as Nagorno-Karabakh was not part of Armenia the CSTO had no obligation to defend it. Even after a Russian military helicopter was shot down and two of its crew killed by Azerbaijan over Armenian territory. Employing the same logic, Russia should not have intervened when Georgia invaded South Ossetia in 2008, nor express any concern over the fate of the people of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics in the Donbass. South Ossetia and the Donbass republics also aren’t members of the CSTO.
Although one might expect the CSTO to be the ideal mechanism for discussing disputes between two of its member states, the only organization that has issued a statement on the conflict is the Turkish-controlled Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States, better known as the Turkic Council, consisting of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan considers itself a Turkic nation; Tajikistan speaks an Iranian language related to Farsi and Dari.
The secretary general of the Turkic Council, Baghdad Amreev, today called on both sides to desist from further violence, citing the religious backdrop of Ramadan, and stated, “The Turkic Council will continue to maintain close contact with brotherly Kyrgyzstan, a founding member of the Turkic Council, on this issue.” One can’t expect the Turkic Council and its member states, especially Turkey, to remain neutral in the conflict.
At the beginning of the year the leaders of the Turkic Council held an informal virtual conference and issued a declaration which proclaimed the city of Turkistan [in Kazakhstan] “a spiritual capital of the Turkic World,” and that “other prominent ancient cities of the Turkic world might be accorded with similar statuses on a rotating basis in the future.” The participants also applauded the preparation of the Turkic World Vision – 2040 document. Intriguing title to be sure.
Last month the same Amreev said to a meeting of Turkic Council personnel: “We are very glad that Azerbaijan has liberated its de-occupied territories. We, the Turkic states, express our solidarity with Azerbaijan.” He was of course referring to the Turkish-backed war against Nagorno-Karabakh last year. A 44-day war that was celebrated in a victory ceremony in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, in December where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the guest of honor.
Also last month Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, posed in combat garb in a so-called War Trophy Park amid the helmets of slain Nagorno-Karabakh defenders. His government proudly released a photograph of that event to news agencies around the world, one that to a healthy mind would be grotesque if not ghoulish. On the occasion of the opening of the museum he said: “We have created a new reality. We created it by shedding blood, showing courage, driving out the enemy. Today everyone should reckon with us and will reckon with us.”
He not only celebrated his dubious success against a largely defenseless opponent, but revealed the pan-Turkic motive of the war in these words: “Our Victory is not only the victory of our people, the entire Turkic world is proud of it.”
The Kyrgyz government and armed forces are aware of Aliyev’s statement as they are of Amreev’s. With sponsors like Azerbaijan and Turkey – whose slogan is one nation, two states – and their combined population of 95 million, Kyrgyzstan has little reason to negotiate with Tajikistan, which has no one to defend it. Surely not the CSTO.
If anyone in Tajikistan thinks otherwise, they may want to read these words of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov of two days ago:
“Turkey and Turkey’s commitment to its independent course of development…this is a subject of US concern and the way the United States is trying to raise its voice at Ankara…obviously indicate that Washington does not like how [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is confidently leading Turkey forward and that they would prefer a more compliant Turkey.”
After successful and mainly uncontested Turkish military actions in Iraq, Syria and Libya; proxy roles in the armed conflicts in the South Caucasus and Yemen; ongoing territorial disputes with Greece and support for its Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus client against the Cypriot government in Nicosia, why not move further east into Central Asia? Neo-Ottoman aspirations are being realized in the Middle East and North Africa, and the pan-Turkic road lies open to the Chinese border.
Putin is a fox and knows there is a huge payoff with Turkey’s continued estrangement from NATO. It was probably no accident that Putin’s colleague, Trump, badmouthed NATO for four years, increasing internal NATO fracturing. Putin will multi-dimensionally prod Turkey along until the point of diminishing returns for Russia and will selectively use/not use the CSTO to that end.
This is a big game. Russia does not have many avenues to take advantage of since NATO is encircling it. Interestingly, many countries ostensibly in NATO’s frontline positions have NATO/EU-inspired policies clashing with their cultural norms; Hungary and Poland come to mind. Alternatively, many newly added ex-Warsaw Pact NATO members appear to have replaced Moscow’s dictates with those from Washington, probably not adding much to NATO’s party. Aspirant Georgia is being tolerated by “both sides” as long as it flies the EU flag next to its Crusader flag and complains about Russian occupation. At the same time, its parliament and oligarchs are effectively quiet, as Turkish soft power out-competes local farmers and runs their airports.
In any case, weak people will suffer in this game of domination.
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Thanks. This excerpt says it all:
I would like to say that no matter how much fun they make of Mr. Erdogan here, today he is one of the most effective politicians and leaders. He is cynical, he is shrewd, and he and his council are able to foresee situations. If we simply evaluate our relations with Turkey under Erdogan’s rule (I am saying this with a feeling of certain shame), he had us everywhere, wherever it was possible. We labored to build a nuclear plant, we laid pipelines, we opened our markets for him, and so on. Today, after the immense expenses for construction of those gas and oil pipelines, factually, the delivery [supply] has been stopped. We are suffering losses all around. Moreover, this war, which Azerbaijan instigated under Turkey’s pressure, is extraordinarily dangerous for the Russian Federation.
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The British Empire decided in the 19th that its best interests required the Ottoman Empire to be shored up. The American Empire has followed that lead with Turkey. The result could be horrors for all non-Turkic peoples living in the region until some power manages to make the Turks behave. The US likely would give serious thought to using tactical nuclear weapons to prevent Russia or China from leading a coalition to stop Turkish aggression.
Your insights are as astute as they are unsettling.
Thanks for the reposting and for adding the photograph.