Central Asia: From the Margins to the Center

تم نشره في Tue 11 February / Feb 2014. 08:24 PM - آخر تعديل في Wed 12 February / Feb 2014. 09:16 PM

By Ibrahim Gharaibeh

In his book, “Central Asia: In Search of a New Identity”, Igor P. Lipovsky says the new Yeltsinian administration in Moscow looked at Central Asia as an unwanted inheritance: Yeltsin was scared of being tied to the conservative, and corrupt, political leaders, the Russian democrats were pushing towards friendlier ties with the west and a fast economic transformation to capitalism, nobody had time for the states of Central Asia, as it was seen as backward and hinders progress and the integration with the west.

That pushed Central Asia to face a seemingly-dark fate and tough choices; do they give up their status and declare bankruptcy, or do they hold on to power and search for new politics, alliances and resources?

Fortunately for the communist leaders, the Islamic, national, and democratic opposition were in a state of shock, confusion, and paralysis, and their leaders were too weak to capture the historic, rare moment in the wake of the failed coup d'état in Moscow in 1991, while the communist parties in Central Asia did, and replaced their Marxist and Leninist names and symbols with Islamic ones, and there was no need for radical change in the structure of influence, politics, and economics.

The biggest surprise for these countries and their leaders were that the region turned out to be an international, political and economic center of attraction because of the promise of oil and gas, but conflicts and new crises have become a candidate and reared their heads; it turned out the Caspian Sea basin is -- economically, ethnically and on religious bases -- highly complex and contradictory, surpassed only by the Middle East. And the United States is in a new regional conflict for the region.

Washington weeks two main goals: Firstly, invest in the energy of the Caspian Sea basin, and secondly, the access of oil and gas to the West’s markets without going through Russia or Iran.

Russia pressured Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to send a large share of their oil exports through southern Russia through the Black Sea, and perhaps for the same reason Russia backed the instability-inducing movement in Georgia to prevent the extension of the pipe that goes through it to Turkey.

Russia and the United States were involved in organized efforts to bolster their military positions, especially in the Caspian Sea. Turkey was looking onto Central Asia as a geographical and a historical depth; the Turkish nation is the leading ethnicity in the republics (except for the Persian Tajikistan), and Turkey has never cut its relations and connection with Central Asia. Abdel Muati Zaki, in his book “The Turkish Role in Central Asia”, says that even though Turkey was under secular rule during Mustafa Kamal’s time, it was still playing a large role in renewing Islam in Central Asia by building mosques, sending preachers, and rescue work. The government maintained its role even after Kamal’s death, and continued with their responsibilities over mosques, training clerics and religious teaching.

Turkey dreams of Turanism, or of a league like the Arab League or European Union: In 1992, it established TIKA and Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), and held a summit for Turkish-speaking countries, and launched the Great Student Exchange Project, 10,000 scholarships that are still going until today in support of education in these states. Turkey also established the Kazakh-Turkish university, dubbed Ahmet Yesevi University, but it couldn’t amass the necessary resources for these projects. These policies agitated Russia, which in turn made their bilateral relations a lot more complicated.

In turn, the leaders of the Central Asia countries, especially the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who seemed weary that Turkey wants to return to the Soviet model and the “Big Brother” rule.

Iran seeks to establish a common market with these republics, which has been inaugurated by the railway in 1996 that links it to Central Asia (Silk Road). The railway seeks to ease goods transportation and commerce. Iran also established a cultural cooperation with Tajikistan, but is weary of a possible Turkish influence on the Azerbaijani citizens who are estimated at 12 million now.


This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.