No 3-4, 18.04.2000

This article appeared in the December 1998 issue of "Turkoman" magazine published in London.


By Sabirzyan BADRETDIN

The advancement of pan-Turkism is crucial to both the new Turkic states that have been created by the collapse of the USSR and to Turkic minorities within such nations as Russia and China. Pan-Turkism offers the most attractive alternative to extreme nationalism, fundamentalist Islam, and secular westernization. But to succeed in bringing about greater integration of the Turkic peoples of the world, pan-Turkism must overcome the negative image that may follow from a superficial impression that the movement is nothing more than a front for Ankara’s political ambitions. At least in the short run, therefore, the movement should focus on language, culture, and human rights.

There is no generally accepted definition of pan-Turkism. In the most general sense, pan-Turkism is an ideological, political and, to some extent, cultural movement aimed at achieving a greater degree of unity among the Turkic peoples of the world, perhaps to the point of establishing a confederation of Turkic states or even a Turkic federation. Some might argue that pan-Turkism also envisions liberation of all the Turkic peoples from colonial oppression, or includes such things as a common alphabet or language, uniform culture, etc. In Turkey, pan-Turkism is often defined in terms of extending Ankara’s influence eastward.

While the cultural aspects of Turkic integration do not seem threatening to anyone, a pan-Turkic political agenda causes apprehension in the capitals of countries that are adjacent to Turkic states or have Turkic minorities within their borders. Hence, the defintion of pan-Turkism in Russia, Blugaria, Greece, China and some other countires is usually couched in negative terms and includes such adjectives as "reactionary," expansionist," "irredentist," etc. The negative definition of pan-Turkism has been dominant in the West for the last several decades. Not willing to jeopardize its relations with the West and Russia, Turkey has long been reluctant to play an active role in the Turkic revival. The negative image of pan-Turkism in the West has so far prevented Ankara from assuming the leadership role in the process of Turkic unification. The collapse of the USSR and emergence of five more independent Turkic states will inevitably lead to re-evaluation of this long-standing policy.

The foundations of the pan-Turkic movement go back more than a century. The publication of the newspaper "Tercuman" by Ismail-bey Gaspirali in 1883 was the first major event in the history of pan-Turkism. Thanks to "Tercuman," the idea of Turkic unity began to spread among Russia’s Turkic minorities. Gasirali’s slogan, "Unity of thought, unity of language, unity of action" (Fikerde, telde ve eshte berdemlek) has been an inspiration for successive generations of Crimean Tatar, Volga Tatar, and Azerbaijani intellectuals.

Gaspirali attempted to establish a common Turkic language by eliminating Persian and Arabic loan words from a simplified version of Ottoman Turkish. But various Turkic dialects by then had already matured as languages in their own right, Ottoman Turkish being only one among several. A common language therefore failed to take hold. Later, the Soviets deliberately exacerbated these differences by imposing different alphabets on the Turkic peoples of the USSR.

"Turk," a periodical established in Cairo in 1902, was also active in promoting pan-Turkism as an alternative to westernization and pan-Islamism.

The first theoretical work of pan-Turkism was written by a Kazan Tatar, Yusuf Akchura. In 1904, he published an essay, "Och Tarzi Seyaset" ("Three Kinds of Politics") in which he articulated the basic tenets of pan-Turkic ideology. Four years later, in 1908, an Azerbaijani, Ali Husseinzade published an article "Turkileshmek, Islamlashmek, Zamanlashmek" ("Turcization, Islamification, Modernization") that further developed pan-Turkic ideas. But the major theoretical contribution to this ideology was made by a Turk, Zia Goek-Alp. His book "The Basic Principles of Turkism" was published in 1923 and became the idelogical foundation of pan-Turkism.

The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 in Russia virtually killed pan-Turkism in its infancy. Any attempts at achieving Turkic unity were severely suppressed by the Communists. Moreover, Moscow did its utmost to divide and weaken Turkic peoples.

The collapse of the USSR in 1991 created conditions for the revival of the pan-Turkic movement. Turkey was no longer the only independent Turkic state. Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgystan, and Kazakstan became free of colonial domination. In the same year, the Turkic Peoples’ Assembly was established in Kazan - an event that must be viewed as an important milestone in the history of pan-Turkism because it marks the beginning of the institutional phase of the movement. Until 1991, pan-Turkism existed only as an ideology. With the establishment of the Turkic Peoples’ Assembly the first pan-Turkic organization came into existence. Now the TPA holds regular meetings in the capitals of the Turkic states and its membership represents most Turkic nations and ethnic groups in the world.

How is the movement likely to develop in the future? It is inevitable that pan-Turkism will encounter animosity and resistance on the part of virtually all the countries surrounding the Turkic world. Russia, China, Iran, Buglaria, Greece, and Afghanistan have sizable Turkic minorities and will view any movement toward Turkic unity as a threat to their territorial integrity. Most western countires will also be apprehensive due to historical prejudices against Turks. Because of these prejudicies and animosity, pan-Turkism will have to evolve in a gradual and cautious manner. Here, what we may call a "principle of circumcision" will have to be employed. During circumcision, the boy is distracted with toys and candies. When the inevitable happens, it is already too late to cry or to resist. By the same token, the Turkic nations during the first stage of the movement will be well-advised to emphasize mostly cultural, social and economic ties among Turks. Political goals could be postponed until the next stage of the movement, when economic and cultural integration is already achieved. During the second stage, political consolidation ought to become a priority, but must be limited to the six independent Turkic states. Once a certain degree of political consolidation of the six independent Turkic states is achieved, the Turkic peoples that still remain under colonial oppression ought to become the focus of attention, with the ultimate goal of liberating all the Turkic peoples and uniting them politically. These include the Turkic minorities in Russia (Tatars, Bashkirs, Yakuts, etc.), China (Uighurs), Iran (Azerbaijanis), etc.

Another important aspect of pan-Turksim is the role of Turkey. Turkish expansionism has always been viewed with suspicion by the West and Russia. Therefore, it seems expedient to de-emphasize the political aspect of Turkey’s leadership role at the initial stage of Turkic integration and, instead, emphasize the cultural aspect of Turkey’s leadership.

Finally, it is important to change the image of pan-Turkism in the world. There is no reason to condone the hostile attitude towards pan-Turksim. The goal of liberating Turkic peoples from colonial oppression and uniting them culturally, politically, and economically is a noble aim that any moral person ought to support.

E-mail: irek@moris.ru