No 3-4, 18.04.2000


By Sabirzyan BADRETDIN

Forecasting the future is a risky undertaking, especially predicting economic, political and social trends of a country or a group of countries. Nevertheless, extrapolating current tendencies into the future and trying to foresee their possible implications is a perfectly acceptable way of expanding the scope of our understanding of the world’s future. What developments are likely in the Turkic community of nations within the coming decades? Let’s try to imagine the future trends and changes within the Turkic world.

In the economic area, the oil and gas boom in the Caspian region is undoubtedly going to have a profound effect on a number of Turkic nations. Current tendencies indicate that Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and, to some degree Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, are likely to embark on a one-product path of development in which only one industry is given priority while all other industries are neglected. This could make their economies vulnerable to oil price fluctuations on the world market. Moreover, in case of a global energy oversupply or the development of new energy sources the petroleum-only producing countries might be adversely affected and suffer severe economic and social consequences.

The oil and gas boom in the Caspian area is likely to create a new social class - the compradore bourgeoisie (members of the local economic elite who are closely connected to foreign companies and act as agents of their influence), linked to transnational (mostly Western) oil corporations. By its nature, the compradore bourgeoisie tends to be unpatriotic. It is not interested in developing a diversified economy and is usually opposed to a democratic political system. An authoritarian system better suits its desire to enrich itself at the expense of other segments of society. The oil boom is likely to produce many multi-millionaires who will try to keep their money in Swiss bank accounts, away from possible domestic instability.

The involvement of American companies in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan will produce a "pro-Turkic" faction in the US Congress. This will give the Turkic countries a powerful ally in international relations. Western Europe, on the other hand, will probably continue excluding Turkey from the European Union due to its bias against Muslims. The long-term trends seem to indicate a stable US-Turkic alliance in the future at the expense of European-Turkic ties.

Tensions with Greece, the Kurdish problem and the legacy of Kemalism will, most likely, prevent Turkey from becoming the undisputed leader of the Turkic world. The lack of such leadership will produce a vacuum, that may lead to competition (perhaps even rivalry) between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to fill it, at least in Central Asia.

The unfairly drawn borders among Central Asian states might in the future lead to border disputes, especially if the disputed areas are rich in natural resources. The issue of natural resources might even divide Central Asia into two camps, due to the growing gap between oil and gas producing states on the one hand and their poorer neighbors on the other.

Another danger that Central Asia will have to deal with is the growing influence of the Wahhabi sect among the local Muslims. Recently, the government of Uzbekistan took drastic actions against the fundamentalist sect, which originated in Saudi Arabia. Currently, Islam is developing in three forms: fundamentalism (advocating the return to basic principles of the Koran and strict adherence to them), traditionalism (preserving the traditional forms of Islam as they exist in a particular country) and reformism (attempting to adapt Islam to modern life). Traditional Islam predominates in Central Asia but fundamentalism is being gradually introduced into the area through the influence of Central Asian theology students returning from their studies in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. The future tensions between the Wahhabis and the local traditionalists may undermine stability in Central Asia.

In order to prevent this from happening, the Central Asian governments will have to limit the ideological influence of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries by reducing the number of theology students being sent to Middle Eastern countries and by setting up their own Islamic universities. The decline of Saudi Arabia’s influence may create favorable conditions for establishing closer ties between Central Asia and Israel. In general, Central Asia’s economic future seems to be brighter than its political future.

Russia’s almost certain breakup into a number of independent states will undoubtedly have a profound effect on many Turkic peoples in the near future. Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Yakutia are likely to become independent within a decade. Tatarstan’s and Bashkortostan’s oil, Yakutia’s diamonds and gold will ensure their economic viability. Russia’s breakup will embolden Turkic nations to seek closer ties with each other in the form of economic and political cooperation. Only Eastern Turkestan, held captive by China, is likely to remain isolated from the rest of the Turkic world.

Azerbaijan’s oil boom will elevate the living standards in the republic to such a high level that the Azeris’ poorer brethren in Iran might become increasingly unhappy about the growing disparity and demand unification with Azerbaijan. The Turkic integration in general might make some countries (Greece, Armenia, China, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia or Russian successor states) feel threatened and drive them into alliances with each other. They will try to prevent further integration of the Turkic world.

In the military area, the Turkic states are likely to remain non-nuclear, despite having the necessary know-how and technological preconditions for building nuclear weapons. The main reason for this is that, besides the Japanese, the Turkic peoples are the only ones who have experienced the full horror of the damaging effects of radioactivity. (Tatars and Bashkirs - after the nuclear accident in Chelyabinsk in 1957, Kazakhs - during the former USSR’s nuclear tests in the Semipalatinsk region and Uighurs - as a consequence of China’s nuclear tests at the site near Lop Nor in Eastern Turkestan).

The future of the Turkic world outlined here is a mixture of both positive and negative developments. What could be done to make sure that the positive outweigh the negative? Here are some possible measures that could be implemented now:

1. To establish a network of Islamic universities in Turkic countries, where students of theology could learn religion without being indoctrinated with the ideas of fundamentalism.

2. To take measures that would ensure the diversification of economic systems in Turkic countries and reduce their exclusive reliance on oil.

3. To set up an international committee with the purpose of demarcating the current borders among Central Asian countries so as to prevent future conflicts.

E-mail: irek@moris.ru