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In this section, we publish the weekly analysis of the major events taking place in the Caucasus and beyond. The Caucasus Update is written by our Senior Editor Alexander Jackson. Click here to subscribe.

The collapse of the Soviet Union brought about a wave of ‘Pan-Turkism’, the belief that a new commonwealth would form from the Turkic peoples of newly independent states, with Turkey as its guiding force. Ankara’s dream soon faded when it became clear that the new Turkic states of Central Asia had no interest in exchanging Soviet domination for Turkish domination.

Nonetheless, links between Turkey and Central Asia – principally economic and cultural ties – are strong, and the belief that Turkey has a special relationship with the Turkic-speaking peoples of Eurasia still surfaces from time to time. Pan-Turkism is usually driven by marginal right-wing groups in Turkey, one of the most well-known being the ultranationalist Grey Wolves. However in the light of Turkey’s new proactive foreign policy, it is worth assessing how the ‘zero problems with neighbours’ approach works with regard to Central Asia.

As the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad descended into brutal interethnic violence on June 11, the international community stonewalled. The US, which maintains the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan, rejected a request to send military assistance to the interim government of Rosa Otunbayeva, and maintained a low profile throughout the bloodletting (Oil and Glory, June 13). Russia, strikingly for a country which asserts a ‘zone of privileged interests’ in the former Soviet Union, prevaricated. Acting sluggishly, it declared that peacekeepers had to be mandated through the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, the regional military bloc which it dominates. The CSTO refused (RFE/RL, June 17).

The OSCE and the UN have been equally cautious (OSCE, June 16). By the way, the OSCE, inexcusably for an organisation committed to peace and security, has refused on security grounds to send observers to a referendum on constitutional reform, due to be held on June 27 (Yahoo News, June 21).

Whatever lay behind the unwillingness of Moscow and Washington to prevent instability in the Ferghana Valley, there was a clear opportunity for an interested state to play an assertive role. Aside from China the only realistic candidate was Turkey. Fresh from its success in helping to broker the Iranian nuclear deal, and following its vocal response to the Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla which left nine Turks dead, this was a crisis ready-made for active Turkish diplomacy.

Ankara has been chastised for its lack of action. A number of experts have laid into the government’s relative silence on the matter, especially when compared with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bombastic response to Iran and Gaza. Faruk Çelik, the minister tasked with Central Asian affairs, was bluntly attacked by a former official who declared “No one knows his name, as he does not do anything about Central Asia” (Hurriyet, June 15).

Under the AKP government, Central Asia has indeed fallen off the radar at the expense of the Middle East and Russia. Indeed the blossoming relationship with Moscow may be partly to blame for Turkey’s cooling interest in the region. Nationalists within Russian policymaking circles still view Ankara as a rival, and aggressive strategic outreach to the Turkic world may have heightened suspicions.

This is not to suggest a quid pro quo in which Ankara opted to leave its Turkic brethren in Moscow’s sphere in exchange for a closer relationship with the Kremlin, but it does indicate certain priorities. Priorities which, economically and strategically, were understandable – Russia is a far more appealing and accessible partner than the geographically distant and politically awkward Central Asian states. Kyrgyzstan, in other words, was simply not high on the agenda. This was true for most other regional states, even after the April riots which toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and sowed instability across the south.

Perhaps stung by fears that inaction on the Osh crisis could damage its carefully cultivated image, the AKP has moved into action. A Special Representative was dispatched to meet Kyrgyzstan’s leaders, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced that Turkey, along with Kazakhstan (the OSCE Chair in 2010) would prepare an action plan to support the interim government (RIA Novosti, June 21).

Ankara was acting in its capacity as Chairman of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), a low-key regional grouping, but this seems to be a convenient cover for bold unilateral action. In addition, Turkish charities have been heavily involved in the relief efforts, and Turkish diplomats have pledged all necessary assistance (Today’s Zaman, June 18).

Exactly what Turkey or any other state can actually achieve is debatable at this stage. Their main contribution has been, and will continue to be, urgent humanitarian aid to the 400,000 people which the violence has displaced. The ‘action plan’ lacks public details. A planned summit of Central Asian leaders in Turkey in August seems like diplomatic grandstanding, long after the fact.

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