Last week, I traveled to Samarkand, Uzbekistan as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s official delegation to attend the 9th Summit of the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) Summit. At last year’s Istanbul Summit, the entity had taken a major step toward integration by transforming itself from a council to a full-fledged organization.
At the Samarkand Summit, where Uzbekistan took over the rotating presidency, the Turkic states made several decisions to implement the Vision Document 2040 over the next five years. Among the key issues were cooperation against irregular migration and the establishment of the Turkic Investment Fund. Moreover, another major diplomatic achievement for Türkiye was the organization’s admission of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) as an observer.
In this regard, the relevant nations have taken fresh steps toward integration at the Samarkand Summit. Obviously, integration takes a long time and a lot of determination. It is possible to say, however, that the international climate and the leading players are much more prepared (compared to the early 1990s) for the organization to reach its ultimate goal.
Whereas the great power competition, which continues to deepen in the international arena, entails certain risks and uncertainties, those developments create opportunities for the Turkic world to become more influential as a whole. Specifically, the Turkic state could create a rational platform to address problems among themselves and expedite the process of integration amid tensions between the West, Russia and China.
In particular, President Erdoğan’s 20 years of experience in diplomacy represents a major advantage for Türkiye and the entire Turkic world. In this regard, Ankara approaches all the Turkic states as equals and in light of mutual interests. To be clear, the country does not see itself as a big brother in those relationships.
In addition to building a strong partnership with Azerbaijan in recent years, Türkiye has been pursuing long-term integration with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan within the framework of “experience- and vision-sharing among brothers and sisters.” Indeed, Ankara can make major contributions to the Turkic states in security and defense thanks to the additional capacity that it recently created.
Still, the organization has a long way to go before its members can jointly identify their security interests and pursue political and economic integration.
President Erdoğan received the Supreme Order of Imam Bukhari in Samarkand, too. That award has a lot of symbolic significance. It goes without saying that Türkiye and Uzbekistan share deep-running cultural and religious ties. Indeed, the tombs of Imam Bukhari, Imam Maturidi and Sheikh Nakshbandi – who made their mark on the Turkish approach to Islam – are all located in Uzbekistan. As such, the presentation of the Supreme Order served to highlight anew the multidimensional bond between Türkiye and Uzbekistan.
Going forward, Uzbekistan could benefit from Türkiye’s experience to repair the damage that Soviet rule inflicted on its culture and to build a healthy connection with its history. Religious ties with Türkiye would also be useful for young people in Uzbekistan, who are more religious, to shelter themselves from the radicalizing influence of Salafist movements. For Uzbekistan, which has been opening up to the world under President Shavkat Mirzoyoyev, Türkiye also represents a successful example in diplomacy. In this sense, Tashkent has a lot to win from cooperating with Ankara, as it seeks to develop its relations with the West and others without provoking Russia.
In recent years, Türkiye has emerged as a balancing player that contributes to stability in Central Asia and the Caucasus. As such, Türkiye’s policy serves as a source of inspiration and creates opportunities for a strong partnership for the Turkic world, over which Russia and China are competing.
Coming from the former Soviet world, the Turkic states are compelled to work with Moscow. Meanwhile, Beijing, which has a vested interest in the region, ambitiously shows geopolitical interest in this part of the world – spearheaded by economic investments. Under those circumstances, it is important for Türkiye and the other member states to strengthen the Organization of Turkic States.
Türkiye, which is part of the Western alliance, can work with and compete against Russia and China. Again, given China’s proximity and growing economic interest in the region, Türkiye could serve a balancing role to ensure that Beijing does not engage with the Turkic world as it has with Africa.
For those reasons, future summits should enable the organization to take additional steps toward integrating.