Sunday, November 29, 2015

Moscow’s Campaign against Turkey Seen Alienating Turkic Republics Inside and Outside of Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 29 – Moscow’s war of words against Turkey and its insistence that the rest of the Turkic world break with Ankara over the shooting down of the Russian warplane over Turkish airspace are alienating both the Turkic republics inside the Russian Federation and Turkic countries beyond Russia’s borders that Moscow has wanted to keep as friends.

                Two articles in Kazan’s “Biznes-Online” this weekend discuss these risks, the first focusing on Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky’s call for Turkic republics to end relations with TURKSOY ( and the second, by Rafael Khakimov, on the issue of Russia’s national interests (

            On Friday, the Russian culture minister sent a telegram to the heads of the Turkic rpeublics within the Russian Federation, including Altay, Bashkortostan, Sakha, Tatarstan, Tyva, and Khakasia calling on them to immediately cease cooperation with TURKSOY, an organization that promotes cultural cooperation among Turkic peoples.

            This call, with its suggestion that the Turkic peoples should have nothing to do with anything linked to Turkey, has offended many in these republics, but some experts with whom the online journal spoke suggest the most negative impact may be in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Turkic countries Moscow wants as allies.

            TURKSOY was established in 1993 by the culture ministers of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Turkey, and the republics of Altay, Bashkortostan, Sakha and Tatarstan have joined as observer participants, an action Moscow had supported in the past. 

            “If in Tatarstan people are forced to follow the opinion of the federal minister,” “Biznes-Online” observes, then the first step will be for the republic to withdraw from the TurkicVision music competition modelled on EuroVision. That would be unfortunate, but “it is clear a break of Tatarstan with TURKSOY would be not only cultural but political.”

            Apparently, the online paper continues, there are “certain forces in Moscow” which want “a symbolic gesture” against Turkey, forces which have not considered that such gestures will have an impact not only on Tatarstan and other Turkic republics within the Russian Federation but also on “many other countries in the Turkic world Russia has no desire to fight with.”

            Rimzil Valeyev, a Kazan journalist, said it was clear to him that Moscow had not thought through all of this. But he raised an even more sensitive issue: “Does the federal ministry of culture have the right to give orders to regional ones?  The Russian culture ministry ... cannot prohibit the Tatars and Bashkirs from participating.”

            Did Medinsky speak with the foreign ministry about this? He should have because as a result, “we can lose Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan.” The only good thing about this call is that it did not come from Putin but from Medinsky, “a figure let us say with a contradictory reputation.”

            Talgat Bariyev, a Tatarstan activist, said he considers Medinsky’s proposal “completely insane.” Just because two countries have political differences should not mean that their cultural cooperation should suffer.  Moreover, there is no “power vertical” in the sphere of culture, and decisions about such cooperate are purely “the prerogative of Tatarstan itself.”

            And Razil Valeyev, chairman of the education and culture committee of Tatarstan’s State Council, said that “the easiest thing in the world is to break relations but one must look far into the future. One must find a common language. The Turkic peoples are related to us, and Turkey is our nearest neighbor.” Moscow should not forget about that.

            In his commentary on the current state of Russian-Turkish relations, Rafael Khakimov, the former political advisor to the president of Tatarstan and currently vice president of the republic’s Academy of Science, pointed out that some things change quickly while others do not – and it important not to confuse the two.

            Not long ago, the historian said, many in Moscow were talking about including Turkey in the Eurasian Economic Community. Then the plane was shot down, and now Russians are acting as if Turkey is the most alien place on the planet, an example of the typical Russian logic that “either you are a friend or an enemy. There are no other possibilities.”

            “But life isn’t black and white,” Khakimov said, and “even in old photographs there are half tones. But this isn’t the case for Russia: hear everything must be clear: you are either with us or against us. Such use of language is the source of many harmful ideas,” including the desire to impose sanctions at the drop of a hat.

            In the nineteenth century, Lord Palmerston observed that “England has not permanent allies or permanent enemies. England has only permanent interests.” But unfortunately, Khakimov pointed out, “the diplomacy of Russia is constructed according to a completely different maxim.”

            That one holds that “Russia has no permanent allies, no permanent enemies, and no interests whatsoever.” That is unfortunate because “international relations are a way of advancing the interests of a country. If one compares the strategic interests of Russia in Turkey and Syria, there is no doubt that Turkey is more important.”

            But that is not how Moscow is acting. Moreover, Khakimov says, the state-controlled media are now bleating about how much Turkey will now lose because of Russian sanctions. “But,” he says, he has “another completely foolish question: how much will I lose” as a result of Moscow’s actions?

            No one talks about those either at the personal level where now ordinary Russians cannot vacation in Turkey or at the national level where Russia may be losing the European market for its gas, and yet those are absolutely critical questions. Even in a crisis like the downing of the plane, those are things people should be thinking about.

            “For Tatarstan, Turkey is a serious partner,” Khakimov wrote. “It has taught us to build, to produce inexpensive goods of sufficiently good quality, and to invest in our own economy. What sense is there to break these relations? None.” If Moscow’s military has problems in Syria, then let it and Lavrov “resolve them.”

            As far as Turkey is concerned, Russia should have adopted a “pragmatic” course, one in which Moscow would “think about maintaining the standard of living of the population under conditions of rising inflation and the fall of the ruble. For Tatarstan, it is important not to allow the economic stagnation that the all-Russian situation is threatened by.”

            Hot heads in Moscow in the past and again now are accusing Tatarstan and Turkey of pan-Turkism, forgetting that this charge “was invented by Stolypin to bring to trial the jadids [Islamic modernizers] against whom the Kadimist-Hanafis [Islamic conservatives] had brought denunciations.”

            “At the beginning of the 20th century, a circular was sent throughout Russia with a demand to identify and root out the pan-Turkists and pan-Islamists.” Despite much effort, the authorities “weren’t able to find anything. All the governors answered that they didn’t find such things among the Tatars.” But once again these baseless charges are being made.

            “Tatarstan,” Khakimov concluded, “always has been able to find a common language even in the most difficult political situations. One might even say that the entire republic is by nature diplomatic … And by preserving good relations with Turkey, we can remain a space where negotiations can take place to restore broken ties.”

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