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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Islamic vector of Kazakhstans development; the Turkish factor

Shapkin Mikhail Nikolaevich

PhD in Politics

Post-graduate student, the department of Political Science of the Countries of the East, Lomonosov Moscow State University

142172, Russia, Moscow Oblast, Sherbinka, Vodoprovodnaya Street 5A

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Abstract: This article presents the analysis of Kazakhstans role in the weightiest of the international organizations, built upon confessional principle and the principle of unity of Turkic countries. The role of these organizations gains a special significance in the conditions of the new geopolitical realities of the global and regional development. The prospects of development of the Islamic vector of Kazakhstan are being examined in the context of the prospects of its impact upon the Russia-Kazakhstan relations. Unlike other regional development projects of the largest geopolitical players such as China and the United States, the Turkish strategy bases itself on the cultural and historical component, aimed at unification of the Turkic people and preservation of the civilizational unity. The scientific novelty of this research consists in viewing Kazakhstan and Turkey as a new alternative integration core of the Eurasian space. The main result of the research is the substantiation of the needto account not only for the pragmatic economic factors in structuring the strategy of the Russia-Kazakhstan relations, but also the cultural, civilizational, and religious aspects.


Russia-Kazakhstan relations, Kazakhstan-Turkey relations, Islamic factor, international organizations, regional development, pragmatic economic factors, cultural aspect, integration, identity, foreign factor

The most important dimension of the modern geopolitical reality is the attempt to recreate the perhaps fragmentary, but a unified cultural-civilizational and economic space of the post-Soviet countries within the framework of Eurasian integration. At the same time, the Central Asia as a whole and Kazakhstan in particular have a number of alternate integration scenarios that are based on both, the pragmatic economic interest, as well as the cultural-civilizational and religious proximity.It is worth noting that this topic has a special significance for the various aspect of the Russia-Kazakhstan partnership.

Discussing the cultural-civilizational identity of Kazakhstan, it is necessary to consider its religious aspect, which is especially important due to the large-scale global Islamization and a fact, that religious self-identificationcan be a mobilizing and cementing factor of various social groups.

Kazakhstan is a polyconfessional nation, in which the interconfessional accord is one of the key factors of political stability. Kazakhstan and Russia are both secular states, in which religion is separated from state. Kazakhstan’s main religion is Islam, proliferation of which throughout the territory of the modern Kazakhstan took place over several centuries.

Confession of Islam on the territories of Kazakhstan and the rest of the Central Asia carries a specific character, due to its prolonged isolation from the global centers of Islam and the secular Soviet past. Some researchers feel that it is reasonable to introduce the notion of “Eurasian Islam”, which should be viewed not as an ideology, religious consciousness or self-identity, but rather as a product of socio-historical processes. The Eurasian Islam is still in the process of establishment and self-determination, which creates favorable environment for infiltration of religious influence from other regions.

Kazakhstan conducts a multi-vector policy that is most beneficial for it due to its geographical position, as well as proximity to the centers of power and various states of both, regional and global scale. At the closing of the 1st Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions held in 2003 in Astana, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev underlined the importance of the spiritual position of the Kazakh people:“God is one, but the paths to Him are different. Diversity is not a flaw, on the contrary – it is a priceless gift from God,which brings mutual enrichment and development. Each nation has its own unique traditions, history, and way of thinking”. Kazakhstan sees itself not only as a Eurasian state, a middle ground – a “bridge” between China and Europe, but is also a member of multiple international organizations and projects related to cooperation with the countries of the Islamic world and Near East.

One of the weightiest international organizations is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) [1]. This organization is the most influential international Muslim organization, whose main goals are cooperation between Muslim nations and insurance of Islamic solidarity in various spheres of social life, including the political sphere. From 1969 to 2011 the organization was known as Organization of Islamic Conferences. Kazakhstan joined it in 1995.

OIC also includes a number of organizations, among which is the Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States [2] and the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), which was established by OIC in 1979 and is similar to UNESCO for the Islamic world. The index of the level of cooperation between Kazakhstan and UNESCO became the choice of Almaty as the capital of the Islamic culture in 2015.

In addition to the aforementioned organizations, Kazakhstan actively cooperates with the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).

The organization was established by Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan in 1985 [4] on the foundation of the Regional Cooperation Organization, which functioned until 1977. The ECO is a multi-state economic regional organization, with key goals oriented towards economic and political cooperation on the integration basis of common economic interests. Collapse of the USSR and membership by Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan in 1992 made the organization a lot more active; it was given the status of an observer by UN and OIC.

Kazakhstan’s strategic interest towards ECO is primarily linked with access to the Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, as well as the markets of the member-states of the organization, including those that act as transit zones. The most important area of cooperation for Kazakhstan is the transportation and communication, alongside the trade, energy, agricultural, and scientific culture cooperation [5].

We should consider the fact that Kazakhstan’s relations with the ECO members are rather uneven: the bilateral connections with some countries are better than with others. Among states, with which the cooperation is most active, a special place is held by Turkey. Development of Turkey in the XXI century as a strong regional player that expands its influence within the region certainly reflects on the relations between Kazakhstan and Russia.

Turkey’s foreign policy is concentrated on strengthening its status as a regional leader with active influence from the United States. On one hand, Turkey is a confident ally of NATO, while on the other, it possesses all necessary resources for conducting its own independent policy.

The importance of the European Union for Turkey’s development and possible membership in the EU does not diminish the fact that Turkish society has a negative attitude towards such prospects. This is the reason why cooperation with Central Asia, which is one of the key directions of Turkish foreign policy, now becomes especially relevant. We can certainly claim that Turkey has enough weight to be the core and the initiator of successful projects of international cooperation (including integrational) [6].

Turkey’s geopolitical interests spread to the key Eurasian regions, particularly Kazakhstan. One of the most important directions of Turkey’s strategy in the region is the project of creating an energy basin that is independent from Russia. The geopolitical and economic value of such basin for Turkey consists in the fact that it will become the main trade and transportation corridor between the republics of Central Asia and Europe [7]. The Turkish government actively uses the ideas of cultural, ethnic, and language relation between the Turkic-Islamic nations.

In examining the issue of Turkey’s role as cultural and civilizational center of gravity, we often see concepts of “Pan-Turanianism” and “Pan-Turkism”. Pan-Turanianism is a sort of utopian theory, based on the idea of relation between the Ural and Altai languages, proposing the unification of them into one state – Great Turan, which would stretch from the Balkans to Siberia. Pan-Turkism however, can be understood in two different ways: as a concept of language, religious, and cultural commonness of the Turkic-language people, or as an idea of unification of all these nations under the Turkish leadership [8].

Analysis of Turkey’s priorities and projects allows us to conclude that Pan-Turkism as an ideology becomes an ideological basis for the foreign policy of the Turkish government, as well as for the possible projects that serve as the integrational foundation for the unity of the Turkic world. Kazakhstan not only actively participates in such projects as a full partner of Turkey, but is also one of their initiators, which certainly demonstrates Kazakhstan’s desire to become more independent from Russia and diversify its partnership connections, which corresponds with Kazakhstan’s multi-vector policy.

Cooperation of Turkic countriesis mostly similar to the nature of cooperation within the framework of the aforementioned organizations, which include Islamic nations.Thus, the core is the Turkic Council, or Cooperation Council of Turkic-Speaking States [9].The proposal to create it was made by Nazarbayev back in 2006, and in 2009 at the 9thSummit of the Heads of the Turkic-Speaking States in Nakhichevan the organization started to function. Besides Kazakhstan and Turkey, it includes Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.

The Turkic Council has similar structures to OIC, created for development of Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-Speaking Countries (TURKPA) and cultural cooperation (The International Organization of Turkic Culture, TÜRKSOY) between the members.

The idea of creation of TURKPA [10], established in 2008, also belongs to Nazarbayev, who proposed creating this organization on the 8thSummit of the Heads of the Turkic-Speaking States in 2006.Organizations of Islamic and Turkic countries not only act and develop individually, but also enter into active partnerships: thus in 2011 the status of observer in TURKPA was given to the Parliamentary Union of the Member-States of OIC.

The International Organization of Turkic Culture, TÜRKSOY [11] became the herald of the large-scale increase in interconnections between the countries of the Turkic world. It was established back in 1993 and included Kazakhstan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan (6 of the corresponding subjects of the Russian Federation are also part of the organization as observers). If ISESCO in its orientation can be compared to UNESCO, then TÜRKSOYisUNESCO, but for the Turkic world. The main goals of TÜRKSOY are preservation, study, and popularization of the spiritual values and historical-cultural heritage of the Turkic-speaking people.

The assessments of the creation of the Turkic Council differ significantly: some representatives of the expert community or elites see this step as a manifestation of the “multi-vector” foreign policy, aimed at maintaining the balance and preserving the autonomy of the country; others believe that Nazarbayev’s interests are limited purely by the economic aspect; others see this step as an attempt to distance themselves from Russia’s influence [12]. At the same time, we cannot ignore the role of Pan-Turkism as an ideology, aimed at strengthening the Turkish authority in Kazakhstan.

Turkey and countries of the Central Asia differ in their level of development; Turkish foreign policy, which can be characterized as one that has imperial orientation, alarms not only the Russian government, but also a number of countries in the region.This is namely the reason why it could be most beneficial for Turkey to promote Kazakhstan to the post of the formal leader of the union of the Turkic-speaking countries. Turkey recognizes Kazakhstan’s leadership as one of its key partners in Central Asia [13].

The relations between Kazakhstan and Turkey at the present stage stand out in their high intensity and multi-vectorality. The reasons for collaboration between Astana and Ankara are the common interests of the two nations on many regional and transnational aspects, questions of energy security, and economic cooperation [14]. Both countries are strong actors, actively participating in various integration projects and align themselves with the multi-vector policy.

Drawing parallels between Kazakhstan-Turkey and Russia-Kazakhstan cooperation, it is worth mentioning that the Russia-Kazakhstan cooperation is more comprehensive and all-encompassing on an array of factors.A good example is the state of the military cooperation between Turkey and Kazakhstan. Since the end of 1990’s, Kazakhstan, along with other republics in Central Asia,receive funding from Turkey for modernization of the armed forces and training support [15], but to speak of fundamental military cooperation between Turkey and Kazakhstan as a counterweight to the Russia-Kazakhstan cooperation would be hasty, since majority of the projects offered by Turkey go through NATO with direct financial and technical support of the United States [16].

Turkey’s attempts are limited by a strict budget; moreover, Kazakhstan has a fairly strong military industrial infrastructure and unified standards with Russia – heritage of the Soviet times. The military needs of this country are satisfied within the framework of its relations with the Russian Federation and other leaders in the military field. Despite the growth of Turkey’s military industry, this country does not yet possess a sufficiently developed scientific-technological base, which is an important factor of the nation’s competitiveness as a partner in defense technology cooperation [17].

Deterioration of relations between Russia and Turkey became the cause for even closer attention of the Russian government to Turkey’s foreign policy and spread of Pan-Turkism in Central Asia, Transcaucasia, and Russia, which can be a threat to Russia’s relations with the rest of the CIS countries that are its strategic and trade partners. Analysis of the current situation reveals that even though Russia and Iran used to have an advantage in influence on the region of the Caspian Sea, they are now losing it to Turkey, backed by the United States [18].

It is also necessary to consider the “multi-vectorality” of the policy conducted by Kazakhstan, one of the goals of which is achieving a balance between different centers of power. An example to that can be Nazarbayev’s proposal to include Turkey into the Customs Union during the session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council on October 24 of 2013, and that Eurasian integration projects would not be viewed as an attempt to bring back the Soviet Union.But this idea contradicts not only Russia’s, but likely the Turkey’s interests as well (Turkey has not officially stated any intention to enter into the Customs Union) [19].Moreover, Armenia, being an active participant in the Eurasian integration, did not have diplomatic relations with Turkey.

It is evident that Nazarbayev’sproposal was an attempt to strengthen Kazakhstan’s position as a strategic partner of Turkey, while discussion of potential participation of Turkeyfor Russia was beneficial because of the elevated prestige of the integration union that is driven by Russia [20]. The consensual version became the discussion of the issue of creation of a free trade zone between Turkey and the countries of then Customs Union [21].

In conclusion it is necessary to note that in light of the transformation of perception of Russia’s geopolitical role in the region and the world during structuring a strategy for Russia-Kazakhstan relations, it is necessary to pay close attention to the prospects of Kazakhstan’s development, considering not only its pragmatic economic interests, but also cultural-civilizational and religious aspects. Deterioration of the Russia-Turkey relations allows us to conclude that the question of Turkey’s membership in the process of Eurasian integration is no longer relevant, while its role in the EAEU will be most likely limited by the development of cooperation in few spheres, and with separate members.Integration of Turkey into the Eurasian Union is also assessed by the expert community as an unrealistic plan. Turkey benefits from relations with the countries of the Eurasian Union, but its relations with NATO and the European Union will remain a priority.

Turkey and Kazakhstan would like to become the “bridge between Europe and Asia”, advancing their Eurasian concept and proposing another model for development of the countries of the former Soviet Union, in which they would serve as the core of the integration.

Various politicians and public figuresdifferently assess the relations between Kazakhstan and Turkey. The predominant opinion is that the relations are built primarily in the economic sphere and are a manifestation of the concept of diverse integration, although there is also a trend of increased Turkish influence in Kazakhstan as a result of the spread of the Pan-Turkism ideology. Kazakhstan holds a special place in the foreign policy priorities of Turkey, which strives for the status of a world power.

Unlike the regional development projects of other largest geopolitical players, such as China and the United States, Turkish strategy leans on the cultural and historical component, aimed at uniting the Turkic people and preserving the civilizational unity. China, U. S., and Russia can be perceived by the Turkic people living in Central Asia as “foreign” partners, while Turkey is “domestic and familiar”.

The current political situation with consideration of the renewal of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh Republic requires carefully structured policy that would be conducted by Russia with regards to Kazakhstan and consider the close relations between Kazakhstan and Turkey.

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