otorbaev9_TUR PresidencyMurat CetinmuhurdarAnadolu Agency via Getty Images_turkic council meeting TUR PresidencyMurat CetinmuhurdarAnadolu Agency via Getty Images

A More Perfect Turkic Union?

Russia, China, and the West have so far said relatively little about the seven-member Organization of Turkic States. But with the Eurasian chessboard becoming increasingly pivotal as great-power competition heats up, they are unlikely to remain silent for long.

BISHKEK – I still have vivid memories of my first trip to Turkey in 1993. After the Soviet Union’s collapse two years previously, we Kyrgyz gained access to a world we had hitherto only imagined. We all had Turkish relatives somewhere in the West with whom we had lost contact. And there was a similar emotional reaction on the Turkish side: Turkey was the first state to recognize the independence of my country and the other Soviet Central Asian republics.

So, when I arrived at Atatürk airport in Istanbul, I approached ordinary Turks and tried to speak with them. To my disappointment, we didn’t understand each other. I realized that although many elements of our respective languages were similar, differences in pronunciation and the many Persian, Arabic, and Latin words that had become a part of modern Turkish prevented me from communicating freely with the people I met. Despite a shared culture and traditions, history had separated Turkic-speaking people not only geographically and linguistically but also in essence.

But a gradual cultural rapprochement has taken place in the 30 years since the ex-Soviet Turkic states gained independence, and major powers are increasingly taking note. The latest step came at a summit in Istanbul in November, when the seven members of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States – Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan, plus Hungary and Turkmenistan as observers – renamed themselves the Organization of Turkic States.

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