Friday, September 17, 2021

Turkmenistan Appears Set to Move Away from Neutrality, Giving Turkey a Major Boost

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 16 – Next month, senior officials in Ankara say, Turkmenistan will become a full member of the Turkic Council; and the Council will be transformed into the Organization of Turkish Language States. Both of these developments, if they occur, will represent a major change in the geopolitics of Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

            Since the Turkic Council was formed in 2009, Turkmenistan has refused to join, because of its constitutionally defined status as a neutral state. It has remained an observer; but after high level meetings in Ashgabat earlier this summer and Turkmenistan’s concerns about the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, Ashgabat appears ready to change.

            If that happens, it will represent a major victory for Ankara and an even bigger defeat for Moscow which has sought to rope in Turkmenistan as a member of the Organization for the Collective Security Treaty. Ashgabat has refused repeatedly, including most recently in the wake of the fall of Kabul (

            But if Turkmenistan joins the Organization of Turkic Language States, that will change the balance of influence in the region, even though Ashgabat is likely to present its membership as a cultural link rather than a security one. But everyone else will see this as a radical departure from its longstanding policy.

            Equally dramatic in terms of its consequences is the decision to change the name from the Turkic Council to the Organization of Turkic Language States. As recently as the end of last year, it was unclear whether Ankara’s vision of the future was its leadership of Turkic nations or Turkic states, two very different things.

            The former, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to express during a visit to Baku, would involve Ankara in relations not only with existing Turkic countries but with submerged Turkic nations in other states, including most prominently the Azerbaijanis of Iran and the Turkic nations of the North Caucasus and the Middle Volga in Russia.

            By changing the name of the organization, Ankara is signaling that at least for now, its primary focus will be on Turkic language states rather than Turkic nations, something Moscow and Tehran will welcome but that many of the Turkic nations still seeking statehood may see as a betrayal.

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