Author`s name Andrey Mihayloff

Neo-Ottomanism and Pan-Turkism of Recep Erdogan

When they speak about the modern politics of Turkey, one can often hear such words as "neo-Ottomanism" and "Pan-Turkism." Both of these terms are the cornerstones of the foundation of the foreign policy course of the leader of the Turkish state, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Revival of neo-Ottomanism and Pan-Turkism

Neo-Ottomanism and Pan-Turkism are closely related. The rise of Ankara as a cultural and religious center of the Turkic peoples increases its ability to consolidate them around the idea of the brotherhood of friendly nations to pursue a common course towards the alliance of Turkic peoples.

The transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, which took place on July 10, 2020, at the initiative of the Turkish president, became a symbolic step to demonstrate the role of Turkey as an important center of the Islamic world.

Pan-Turkism in history

Modern publicists and political scientists often succumb to the harmonious ideology voiced in pro-Turkish theses that artificially age the idea of Pan-Turkism. In fact, the formation of the Turkish nationality per se from motley Oguz-Turkic tribes took place during the period of time between the 13th and the 16th centuries. It was only after the formation of one joint ethnos from those peoples, when one could start talking about Pan-Turkism.

The irony of modern neo-Ottomanism lies in the fact that the idea of the consolidation of the peoples of the "Great Turan" (the Turkic world which opposes itself primarily to Iran) is an integral part of the ideology of the Young Turks, who took the Ottoman Empire to its destruction.

The term "Pan-Turkism" disseminated primarily in tsarist Russia thanks to the Crimean Tatar public figure Ismail Gasprinsky (Gaspiraly), who was widely known among a wide circle of Russian Muslims.

In contrast to modern Pan-Turkism, the idea of the "Great Turan" was largely based on the geographical representation of Turan as a global supranational entity, uniting both Turkic and other peoples of Central Asia and Siberia.

Turkic peoples in Russia and abroad

Speaking about the Turkic peoples, one cannot but note their ethnic, religious and even racial heterogeneity. Various Turkic peoples were formed under the influence of mutual assimilation of Caucasian and Mongoloid races and may not have any external similarities at times. At the same time, common linguistic peculiarities testify to the undoubted community of nations populating vast expanses of the Eurasian continent.

The most numerous Turkic people in the world are the Turks (67.6 million people). A significant part of the Turkic nations live on the territory of Russia and other former republics of the USSR. They are:

  • Azerbaijanis (about 50 million people, of whom more than 30 million live in Iran),
  • Uzbeks (35.3 million),
  • Kazakhs (16.5 million),
  • Turkmen (8 million),
  • Tatars (6.8 million),
  • Kyrgyz (6 million),
  • Bashkirs (2 million),
  • Chuvash (1.5 million),
  • Karakalpaks (836.6 thousand),
  • Kumyks (520.2 thousand),
  • Crimean Tatars (about 250 thousand),
  • Yakuts (more than 500 thousand),
  • Karachais (346 thousand),
  • Tuvans (273.1 thousand),
  • Balkars (112 thousand),
  • Nogais (about 110 thousand)
  • Gagauz (177 thousand).

In China, the most numerous Turkic people are the Uighurs (12.9 million), and in Iran, in addition to the Azerbaijanis - the Khorasan Turks (about 1 million people).

Erdogan's neo-Ottomanism and pan-Turkism

Another spiral of pan-Turkism in the world is associated with neo-Ottoman aspirations of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who proclaims his country the center of the Turkic world.

At the moment, Turkey has managed to extend its influence primarily to the neighboring state of  Azerbaijan. Despite the availability of significant hydrocarbon reserves capable of ensuring Baku's economic independence for many years to come, Azerbaijan has been running its policies symmetrically to Ankara's views.

Thus, the military, economic and foreign policy campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh was unleashed by Azerbaijan in accordance with directions received from Turkey.

In addition to the concept of ethnic community, Ankara actively supports Islamic (often radical) communities in Europe. This has led to a new rise of tensions in Turkey's relations with France, where the threat of terrorist activities with the participation of radical Islamic groups has increased.

In late October 2020, a bill was submitted to the French National Assembly about the recognition of Artsakh (the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) "in connection with the aggressive policy of Pan-Turkism and Islamism that threatens Europe."

It is obvious that the Pan-Turkist ideology may pose the greatest potential threat to the countries with ethnic Turkic minorities - Russia, Iran and China.

Any concept of the aspiration of Turkic peoples towards the center of power abroad is in fact separatist and unacceptable for all of the above countries.

A rather cynical approach to the Ottoman domination over other Turkic peoples manifested itself to the fullest during the rule of the Young Turks. Having secular, rather European upbringing, they were far from Sharia norms, but it did not stop them from encouraging Sharia norms among "fraternal" nations.

The sad experience of the Young Turkish model of the Turkic world suggests that the role of any peripheral "brotherly" nation will be unenviable. This is evidenced by the use of Syrian Turkomans and Chinese Uighurs as cannon fodder to destabilise their countries of residence.

Ankara does not provide any guarantees of security, economic and other stability to those peoples.

Numerous testimonies from representatives of the non-indigenous population of Turkey indicate that the slogans of the neo-Ottoman leadership about the unity of the Turkic peoples end when one crosses the border of the Turkish Republic.

Peripheral Turkic nations are seen in Turkey as secondary, auxiliary peoples, who serve to strengthen the Turkish center.

According to domestic and foreign analysts, pan-Turkic ideas may have a significant impact only on Central Asian republics of post-Soviet space - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

For the Turkic peoples of Russia, the attractiveness of Turkey as a political and cultural center remains dubious.

Ankara's influence on the Russian Turkic population is more cultural and religious rather than ethnic. Non-Muslim Turkic peoples of Russia (for example, the Tuvinians and the Yakuts), as well as the Moldovan Gagauz, have nothing in common with Turkey. Chances to promote pan-Turkic views among them in order to undermine Russia as a state are more than just slim.

Possible consequences for Russia

At present, the relationship between Russia and Turkey is based on contradictions. Russia and Turkey continue mutually beneficial economic cooperation, but their geopolitical rivalry in the Middle East and Central Asia persists as well.

This is primarily due to Erdogan's desire to revive the greatness of the Ottoman Porte. His rush between the West and Russia, worthy of the treacherous sultans of the past centuries, makes the Kremlin believe that the Turkish elite has a grudge against Russia.

History shows that Ankara's "soft power" may have real influence on the Russian Turkic peoples only during the weakening of our state. The revival of Pan-Turkism ideas took place after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today, the secular equality of the peoples of Russia as a whole does not allow marginalized ethnic and religious minorities show a significant impact on the situation in the country.

However, both Turkey and its NATO allies seek to take advantage of any ethno-confessional contradictions to destabilize the state of affairs in the Russian Federation.

The current political picture of the world demands the Russian administration should take most balanced actions both in foreign and domestic policies.

Coordinating efforts with Iran is extremely important, as there is a threat of Turkey's influence on the 30-million-strong Azerbaijani population; with China, which has the problem of Uyghur separatism, as well as with European countries that suffer from Ankara's destructive activities to Islamize the region.