The organisation of Turkic-speaking countries, led by Ankara, aspires to be a "new geopolitical reality" in the Eurasian space, while tensions flare up again between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh

The Organisation of Turkic States: an attempt at a European Union in Central Asia

Presidential Press Service via AP - Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, right, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, back left, Kyrgyzstan's President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban during the Summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, Monday, Sept. 3, 2018

From the United Nations (UN) to the European Union, via the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the international scene is full of international organisations and groupings that pursue very different objectives: economic relations, political and diplomatic ties, or ethnic and cultural associations. 

Precisely in the latter group is Turkey's proposed ethnic affiliation for the Turkic-speaking states of Central Asia: the Organisation of Turkic States (OTS), founded more than 13 years ago by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey with the aim of promoting comprehensive cooperation among its member states. A kind of Turkish-speaking European Union in the central territories of the Asian continent. 


In this context, the recent outbreak of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia - Putin's overt partner in the region - and Azerbaijan - a member of the OTS and thus backed by Ankara - seems to place the bloc politically on Baku's side, as it did last August. "The OTS reiterates its support for and commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the brotherly country Azerbaijan and expresses its readiness to contribute to the post-conflict rehabilitation, reconstruction and reintegration efforts in the liberated territories of Azerbaijan," the organisation said in a joint statement. 


"The OTS Secretariat welcomes the return of the town of Lachin, and the villages of Zabukh and Sus [territories disputed between the two sides over the past years], to Azerbaijan, as a continuation of the process of implementation of the trilateral declaration of 9/10 November 2020," added the document, which did not forget to include its support for the normalisation of relations between the Caucasian powers. 

A brief history of the Organisation of Turkic States 

The project to create a Turkish power centre in the Asian region dates back to the time of the late Ottoman President Turgut Özal, who held the country's leadership from 1989 to 1993. In this sense, and backed by a historical regional positioning in favour of the independence of Central Asian countries, Özal's aim was focused on the extension of Turkish soft power - which would make use of linguistic, ethnic and cultural affinities - to build and consolidate its political and commercial relations with the powers of the region.  

Thus, the Organisation of Turkic States, born in 2009 in the wake of this initiative - under the name of the Turkic Council, or Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States - was conceived as an intergovernmental organisation with objectives of economic, political, educational and cultural cooperation, which aspires to become an influential regional hub. The OTS has three headquarters located in Istanbul (Turkey), Baku (Azerbaijan) and Astana (Kazakhstan), where the General Secretariat, the Parliamentary Assembly (TÜRKPA) and the Turkic Academy are housed, respectively. 


As of today, and following the eighth and last summit of the OTS in November 2021 - when it adopted its current name - the organisation is made up of five full member states (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Uzbekistan) and two observers (Turkmenistan and Hungary, through which it hopes to develop important relations with European countries). At the same meeting, the OTS also ratified the 'Turkish World View-2040' document, signalling the primacy of Ankara's power within the group. 

Ankara's interest in this project - as a platform for strengthening its influence in the region - seems undeniable. The establishment of a clear basis for consolidating cooperation among OTS member states is a primary objective, but the creation of strong ties between the organisation and the other Asian and European powers is also of paramount importance. To become a 'new geopolitical reality' throughout Eurasia, international experts have concluded. This would benefit Turkey as a "gateway" to the Turkish world and a common link between Europe, Central Asia and even Russia in the field of hydrocarbon trade.

"It seems that Ankara wants to become the master of the entire Turkish world", was one of the criticisms levelled at Turkey by researcher Vladimir Avatkov in Al Arab. 

An organisation on the rise 

Due to the significant presence of natural resources, energy sources, and modern infrastructure and logistical connections from the OTS territories to the European Union and China, more and more international attention seems to be focused on the organisation. As of July 2022, some 15 countries have expressed interest in joining the OTS as observers, in addition to those that have already applied to become member states. 

The development of export transport routes and energy corridors across the Caspian Sea from Central Asia are among the priority issues for the Turkic States Organisation. This has enabled its member states to receive large infrastructure investments and to draw on their territories some of the most important energy export connections in the world, especially in terms of regional export movements - as was the case, for example, with the rerouting of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline route through Turkmenistan.