Vol. 2, No. 20 (October 15, 2009)

Turkic republics reaffirm ties to Turkishness at Nakhchivan

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy
The presidents of Azerbaijan, three of the five Turkic republics of Central Asia, and Turkey reaffirmed their common cultural and political heritage at the 9th Summit of the Turkic States in Nakhchivan, a meeting of particular symbolic importance given Turkey’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with Armenia and not without practical significance because of the decision of the leaders to create a new Turkic Cooperation Council and to re-energize the TURKSOY cultural cooperation organization. 

As they have done eight times before since October 1992, the presidents of Turkey and of a majority of the Turkic countries – the leaders of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan again did not attend – met at the beginning of October to reaffirm their linguistic, cultural and political commonalities.  This time, they were hosted by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in the city of Nakhchivan, the capital of the non-contiguous portion of Azerbaijan, whose border as both Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul and other leaders pointed out extends to Turkey and thus symbolizes the even more important underlying connections between the Republic of Turkey and the post-Soviet Turkic states.

The importance of that symbolism would be hard to overstate, especially since the Nakhchivan meeting took place only one week before Turkey signed two protocols with Armenia that will upon ratification restore diplomatic ties between Ankara and Yerevan, an action many especially in the Turkic world have viewed so negatively that Turkish leaders have had to reiterate again and again, including at Nakhchivan, that Turkey will do nothing to harm the interests of Azerbaijan and that Ankara will not open the Turkish border with Armenia until there is significant progress on the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the Republic of Azerbaijan.

But in addition to the symbolism, the Nakhchivan session will be remembered for three concrete actions.  First, the assembled presidents agreed to the formation of a Council of Cooperation of the Turkic Countries (to be known as “the Turkic Council”) that is intended to serve as a narrow, executive arm of the recently established Parliamentary Assembly of the Turkic Language Countries which met in Baku at the end of September. 

Second, the leaders agreed to increase the funding and activity of TURKSOY, which works to preserve and develop Turkic culture, a task that is likely to become especially important as negotiations for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijan proceed.  In his speech to the meeting, President Aliyev made it clear that efforts in this direction were especially important from his point of view not only for his own country but “for all Turkic lands.”

And third, the meeting, like its predecessors, adopted a resolution which commits the member states to promote through multi-lateral and bilateral arrangements humanitarian, cultural, economic and political linkages among them and which also reaffirms that all of these states are committed to the principle of territorial integrity. 

One Moscow expert, Aleksandr Karavayev, observed following the Nakhchivan sessions that “the main plus” of the meeting was its reaffirmation of the importance of culture in the political lives of these countries.  References to such “blood family ties in the family of Turkic leaders sounds much more organic and convincing than talk about Eurasian brotherhood out of the mouths of Russian leaders” (Karavayev 2009). 
Indeed, he said, “the civil national paradigm, established by Kemal Ataturk, represents a unique bridge to the West for peoples following these principles and ‘Turkism’ is a mental link to a more modernized social construct than is Islam.”  As a result, those who dismiss these meetings because there are few “practical” actions miss the point: it is that reaffirmation which is critically important for all the peoples of the countries whose leaders take part.

In his concluding remarks, President Aliyev as host said that “at one time, the historical territory of Azerbaijan was cut off and handed over to Armenia.  As a result, not only was Nakhchivan cut off from Azerbaijan, but the entire Turkic world was geographically cut into pieces.  And it is thus symbolic that today we are taking decisions here in Nakhchivan which re-establishes the moral and political unity of the Turkic peoples.”

That unity may soon matter more than ever before.  As political observer Eleonora Abakuliyeva told Moscow’s Nezavismaya gazeta, recent events in this broader region mean that Turkic unity may soon be something more than declarative language but serve as the basis for “an ‘idea of unification’ like that of the Council of Europe or the League of Arab States” (Mamedov 2009).

And because the reaffirmed Turkic unity would both cross the borders of the former Soviet space, something organizations like GUAM have not done,  and be based on an ancient cultural tradition whose followers are now committed to secularism, such a newly organized union could play an even more profound role in the geopolitics of the greater Caucasus and Central Asian regions than anyone can now imagine, especially at a time when changes like those between Armenia and Turkey have put so many things in motion.


Karavayev, Alexander (2009) “IX Sammit tyurkskikh gosudarstv: defitsit obsujdayemykh tem ili svoystvo formata?” [“The ninth summit of the Turkic states: the deficit of the topics discussed or the quality of the format?”], Information-Analytic Center, 7 October, available at: http://www.ia-centr.ru/expert/6064/ (accessed 8 October 2009).

Mamedov, Sohbet (2009) “V SNG poyavlyayetsya novoye regional’noye obyedineniye” [“A new regional association is emerging in the CIS”], Nezavisimaya gazeta, 2 October, available at: http://www.ng.ru/cis/2009-10-02/6_nahichevan.html (accessed 8 October 2009).