What is the Turkic World and what role can it play in modernity, if historically these countries, connected by the language and the common ethnic roots, belonged to different empires, military blocs and even civilizations?
These are difficult questions, the answers to which seemed to be made difficult by history itself, which placed the Turkic-speaking Kazakhstan, other Central Asian states and Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan in the orbits of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, while modern Turkey is a NATO member and a happy successor to a much bigger and more multicultural Ottoman empire. This adds up to an aggregated market of 150 million people, with the combined GDP of $1.218 trillion.
And we are not even mentioning the tens of millions of Turkic-speaking people living as ethnic minorities on the territories of modern Iran, Russia and China.
In the opinion of pessimists, this configuration might look too complicated, even sinister in some ways, as we all know about modern bloody conflicts around ethnic minorities or even majorities trying to secede from the already existing sovereign states.
But what if we look at this historically complicated situation from a positive, optimistic side? What if we view this “unity in diversity” of Turkic-speaking nations as an opportunity, and not as a challenge?
This was exactly the task which the informal Meeting of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States (Turkic Council) set before itself. The word “conflict”, so widespread today at all international venues, did not sound at that meeting. Instead, the leaders of Turkic-speaking countries concentrated on the opportunities. Turkey is closely liaised with the European Union; Azerbaijan thanks to the Zangezur corridor is ready to connect Turkey with the Central Asian part of the Turkic world; whilst Kazakhstan has already become a powerful bridge between Europe, its Eurasian eastern extension named Russia – and China, with its pivotal importance in the economy of the future.
It is no coincidence that the Turkic Council is headed by its honorary president Nursultan Nazarbayev, the First President of independent Kazakhstan, a great master at turning challenges into opportunities. It should be noted that under Nazarbayev Kazakhstan became literally the only country on the territory of the former Soviet Union, which preserved excellent relations with East and West. Namely, with China and the United States, the European Union and Russia, with its Central Asian fraternal neighbors and the Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan on the other side of the ancient Caspian sea.
So, at the meeting the First President of independent Kazakhstan Nazarbayev gave other participants a master class on how differences can be overcome and diversity be made an opportunity, not an impediment.
One of the main principles here is the pivot to the future combined with respect for each country’s individual history. An accent on continuity in everything and a search for common heritage. One example of such policy was the idea of Nazarbayev to make the Kazakh city of Turkistan, which happens to have the same name as the ancient proto-state of the Turkic-speaking peoples – to make this city a symbolic center, a Spiritual Capital of this new space of cooperation and friendship of Turkic-speaking peoples. The space which expands from the Adriatic Sea to China. However, Kazakhstan by no means wants to have a monopoly here: the status of the Spiritual Capital of the Turkic-speaking world can be given to other cities within that space on a rotating basis.
But history has little value without continuation in the future and oral lessons are abstract knowledge without practice. This pragmatic, modernizing element of the Turkic-speaking world was embodied in the opening statement from the current Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. He noted the exceptional importance of modernizing the entire Turkic civilization for the development of the world. In the resolution of the online summit it was stressed that the drafts of the programs named “Turkic World Vision – 2040” and “Turkic Council Strategy 2020-2025” were obliging documents for the economic development of the Turkic-speaking world.
Kazakhstan sets the example of a conflict-free development and integration. The leaders who took part in the online meeting sought to avoid conflict and see potentials, not impediments, in their history. They congratulated Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, all of them fraternal Turkic-speaking nations, with the coming anniversary of their getting independence from the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991. But participants also stressed that common history and mastery of Russian language was a boon, and not an obstacle in development.
The author is a Moscow-based journalist with 30 years of experience of covering global politics, a frequent guest on BBC, Al Jazeera and RT.