Kazakhstan crisis challenges Turkey’s leadership of Turkish union

Turkey had a difficult start to the year until 2022. Its foreign policy, which seemed triumphant and highly effective in 2021, has had a difficult start to the year amid a currency collapse and skyrocketing inflation at home. she.

The unprecedented and violent protests that erupted in Kazakhstan on January 2 betrayed Turkey’s claimed flaws in foreign policy perhaps more clearly than any other incident in the past three years. Oddly enough, the protests have received little attention in Turkey due to the country’s dire domestic political and financial situation.

In 2020, Turkey’s military and political role in Libya changed the course of the war in favor of Tripoli-based forces in the country’s civil war. Turkey has defied France, Greece and the European Union in a standoff over conflicting territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean. In the fall of 2020, Turkey’s military, political and diplomatic support for Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh war radically changed the balance of power in Baku’s favor. So, with heightened Trans-Caspian ambitions extending to Turkish central Asia via Azerbaijan, Turkey entered in 2021 as a new revisionist power, albeit not on the same level as Russia and China.

Turkey aims to use the Cooperation Council of Turkish Speaking States to achieve its ambitions in Central Asia. The brainchild of former Kazakhstani leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, the council was planned in 2006 and launched in 2009. In line with its new political stature, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the body’s new chairman in 2021 at a summit held in Istanbul on November 12.

Erdogan’s staunch ally, the leader of Turkey’s arch-nationalist party, Devlet Bahceli, presented him with a giant map of the Turkish world as a gift, encompassing large chunks of the Russian Federation, raising eyebrows in Moscow and irritating neighboring Beijing, who is busy with suppressing its Turkish minority, the Uyghurs.

Nonetheless, it took only two months for the Organization of Turkish States (OTS) to prove its powerlessness, thereby demonstrating Turkey’s worthlessness. On January 2, Kazakhstan imploded. And Kazakhstan’s security establishment has not knocked on the doors of the Turkish Council but rather on the doors of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to maintain its survival in the face of unbridled violence in its commercial capital, Almaty. . The CSTO, founded in 1992 and led by Russia, includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Armenia.

In short, the Kazakh leadership – at a time of urgent security needs – preferred Russia to Turkey and Vladimir Putin to Erdogan. Kazakhstan has special ties with Turkey. The two countries as well as Azerbaijan have been the main pillars of the OTS. Kazakhstan has entered into a military cooperation agreement with Turkey that encompasses cooperation in several areas, including the defense industry, intelligence sharing, joint military exercises, information systems and cyber defense. The growing military ties between Turkey and Kazakhstan as well as with Uzbekistan had given birth in October 2020 to a fanciful idea of ​​creating a Turkish NATO.

In such a context, the choice of Kazakhstan to invite the CSTO in place of the OTS has a highly symbolic significance. The pick also indicated that – unlike Azerbaijani Ilham Aliyev who did the exact opposite almost a year ago during the war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh – the Kazakh regime favored Russia through compared to Turkey to the detriment of any prestige the OTS may have.

The deployment of Armenian soldiers and Russian special forces units to Kazakhstan at the request of the Kazakh president was more striking than anything and perhaps adding further insult to the injuries inflicted on Turkish nationalists. The announcement of the deployment came from Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan – a striking irony showing the degradation of Turkey’s foreign policy.

What is more intriguing is the anti-American and anti-Western obsession of some secular and leftist nationalists in Turkey. For example, in response to ongoing developments in Kazakhstan, prominent retired Turkish Ambassador Cem Gurdeniz blamed the unrest on “”an imperialist plot. “Gurdeniz, who is also an ideologue of the controversial Blue Fatherland doctrine which advocates a more aggressive policy in the Mediterranean, claimed that the unrest came from a” Soros-type provocation “which aimed to sow” unrest in Eurasia ” and has been organized by “imperialists” very angry since the founding of the Organization of Turkish States.

On social media, many Turkish leftists have expressed similar views. Pro-Erdogan circles, in turn citing a former Russian parliamentarian, claimed that supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric accused by Turkey of staging an attempted coup in 2016, could be the ones stirring up unrest in Kazakhstan.

Erdogan was quick to back his Kazakh counterpart, Kassym Jomart Tokayev – Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor. He quickly expressed his support for Tokayev. However, Erdogan’s support for Tokayev was visibly quiet. He didn’t quite grasp the problem. Perhaps he was embarrassed by Tokayev’s choice to invite CSTO troops, thus undermining his prestige. Erdogan’s quiet support could also be linked to the uncertainty around Nazarbayev.

In a Financial Times opinion piece, Gideon Rachman wrote: “Kazakhstan is a country where the average income is around $ 570 per month, but where the family of Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled the country from 1991 to 2019, acquired foreign properties. worth at least $ 785 million. The unrest in Kazakhstan may be linked to infighting within ruling circles. But these kinds of problems are inherent in corrupt autocracies. If wealth is divided under a system of spoils, any hint of a change in leadership creates instability. “

On January 5, Tokayev sacked and arrested Karim Massimov, a long-time loyalist to Nazarbayev, head of Kazakhstan’s intelligence services. He also removed Nazarbayev from his post as head of the National Security Council and appointed himself as the new head.

Turkey seems to have lost track of developments in Kazakhstan. Almost two weeks after the unrest, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called a conference of OTS foreign ministers. In a speech on January 11, he said he was satisfied that the situation in Kazakhstan had been brought under control, not to mention that the precarious control was maintained by a military intervention led by Russia.

“Kazakhstan has a tradition, experience and state capacity to overcome the current crisis,” Cavusoglu said.

Putin, for his part, praised the role played by military troops in suppressing anti-government protests in Kazakhstan. “We will not let anyone destabilize the situation at home,” said the Russian president. His remarks reflected the futility of Turkey and the Erdogan-led OTS at a critical time in the Turkish world.

It is also a blatant indicator of the development of Turkey’s fortunes in its assertive foreign policy. The crisis in Kazakhstan represents a defeat of Turkish nationalism in matters of foreign policy.

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