Odil Rusaliev, Currently graduate student of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA finishing in spring of 2004. He is originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Between 1995 and 2002, he worked first full-time and then part-time for Uzbek State TV Company in Tashkent and had his own news program in English - First Channel News (FCN). Between 1998 and 2002 he also contributed stories on Uzbekistan for CNN World Report. Between 1996 and 2002 he worked full-time for the American Embassy in Tashkent as a media assistant. At Tufts University he studies international relations and namely, security studies and conflict resolution.

E-mail: info@uzland.info or Odil.Ruzaliev@tufts.edu


In this paper I would like to discuss some of the main barriers, disagreements and conflicts among the Turkistani1 countries hindering integration processes in the region. I will offer some reconciliatory mechanisms that could improve the regional cooperation and promote the economic and perhaps even political integration in the region. I will mention consolidating factors of the past and their irrelevance today, speculate about the possibility of the region's unification into a single Turkistani2 state conglomerate differentiating the approaches taken by the Soviet Union and the European Union in this regard. At the end I will give recommendations on state, non-state and international levels that could potentially contribute to the integration processes in Central Turkistan.

The purpose of this paper is to revive (remind) most of the commonalities among the Turkistani people, their identity and the need for more unity and integration through a call to widely use the forgotten terms of «Turkistan» to name the current region and «Turkic people» to name its Muslim inhabitants. Although the region is now called Central Asia, the paper suggests that it may keep this geographic name only for the outside world, but should be referred to as «Turkistan» for its peoples to help them create a single, Turkic identity, which eventually should eliminate tensions between the countries and peoples of the region. One may argue that this move is reminiscent of the Soviet identity that was imposed during the USSR contributing to the political, social, and cultural repression of certain ethnic groups, which altered the life-style, history, and cultures of these groups. However, it should be noted that unlike the peoples of Turkistan, a few countries of the Soviet Union had such a common ethnic identity, religion, and language. The Soviet identity, thus, was artificial and imposed. The Soviet identity was used more for the outside world and not within the Soviet Union, where groups still retained their names. For Ukrainians or Moldovans, Uzbeks were Uzbeks and Kazakhs were Kazakhs, and not Soviets. For Americans and others, they were simply Soviets or worse Russians. The notion of Turks of Central Asia or Turkistanians should be used for the peoples of the region themselves to promote unity and closeness while retaining their main ethnic identities.

However this paper should not be viewed as promoting the revival of Pan-Turkism. This work does not attempt to reanimate or to promote such an expansionist idea that today can only be achieved at the expense of others. One should clearly understand that the time of empires is gone and the only remaining superpower today is struggling very much to preserve its imperial status in the world.

The paper does not aim to make recommendations to pursue this issue at official government levels either. Such a move would be considered a threat by some regional nations like Russia, China, and Iran and could provoke them to take covert actions to undermine the situation in the region or may lead to the deterioration of economic and other relations between these nations and the states of Central Turkistan.


With the Soviets in power in Central Asia in early 1920s, the Jadidist movement3 sought to define the identity of the peoples of Central Asia and the region's position in the new empire. After defeating all three feudal administrative establishments of the Bukhara, Kokand, and Khiva, the Bolsheviks brought the Central Asians under a single administrative entity Turkistan in an attempt to facilitate and centralize control. This was a chance for the Jadidist movement to defend the rights of the region's Muslims under a single authority within the Soviet Union through education, enlightenment, and a larger political representation within the Soviet Union. The fear of Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism, in the wake of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, forced the Soviet regime to apply the Czarist Russia's policy of divide and rule.4

This division of the nations of Turkistan into five republics proved problematic: borders were not drawn according to ethnic and geographic lines, and new Soviet symbols such as flags, anthems, new geographic names, and separate history books put the rift between the people with a common history, language, and religion..5 The gradual inhabitation of Russians in those republics added to those differences: the Russians of Central Asia appointed by Moscow to higher posts played the Muslims of the region against each other. Stalin's repressions in late 1930s beheaded the Jadidist movement and put an end to the unificationist aspirations in the region once and for all.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, there appeared an opportune moment to restore the common identity and statehood of the Turkistan nations under Islams political leadership. By that time already, the Soviet reign had damaged the historic and cultural links between these peoples. Islam and peoples wavering religious commitment due to a long period of the atheist doctrine could not play fully its role. Inspired by the Turkeys endeavors to lead the union of the newly-formed Turkic states, some of them promptly introduced the Turkish model of economic development and converted their Cyrillic alphabets into Latin script. However it did not take them too long to realize the extent of the problems inherited from the Soviet times: their [problems] utter incompatibility with any remedy Turkey could offer and inability to dispatch them through any known conventional means of Soviet policy-making.

There are two primary sources to such a stalemate: firstly, the current leaders of Central Asia are the acolytes of the Soviet system, and after twelve years of their countries independence, they still approach the puzzles of state governance with skills and means inherited from the Soviets. Inadvertent founding fathers, as they are, the leaders of modern nations of Turkistan did not have to lead the fight for their independence. Independence was upon them leaving them with no choice but to accept it, becoming the victims of the Slavic conspiracy. They were neither democrats, nor dictators, nor nationalist heroes, even though they may have been opportunists. They had never made independent decisions in Soviet times and well aware of the highly- vulnerable nature of their nations' premature births, and fully recognized the risk of their own ouster.6

Secondly, since their independence these leaders have been too preoccupied with orientation of their states foreign policy looking for a powerful ally among the larger states. They remained completely oblivious to the idea that together, in unity, they could make up a power stronger than an alliance with any other state. They sought a rich country that could solve their problems instead of looking towards each other and working together to solve those problems. They looked for a stronger power fearing the reanimation of Russia's imperial ambitions or other power's influence with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have become engaged in a regional competition riddled with political ambition and individual agenda of the leaders: a competition focusing more on politics than economics virtually harming more than benefiting both states. Finally, territorial disputes represent another factor making the division and subsequent unification especially difficult Central Turkistan's leaders were also aware that, although each republic was named for a local nationality, none was a "national homeland." The Kirghiz, Uzbeks and Tajiks all have border claims for parts of neighboring territories backed by large irredentist populations on which to base them. Stalin's map-making skills were sufficient to ensure that no Soviet republic would have an easy transition to nation-statehood.7

Todays Turkistani nations frontiers are protected by land mines, shackled with border closures, new check-points and border posts, rended by minor border skirmishes involving casualties, and, most importantly, governed through trade restrictions and inability or reluctance to carry out mutually signed treaties. The Central Turkistanian states have repeatedly tried to solve their problems and agree on differences in foreign policy through constant transformation of organizations like the Central Asian Inter-State Council, the Central Asian Union, the Central Asian Economic Community, and the Organization of the Central Asian Cooperation as well as summits of the CIS, the Economic Cooperation Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the summit of the Turkic-speaking state-leaders. However none of these organizations met the expectations of these summits and participation in these organizations. The documents and treaties signed grow parched covered by dust in the archives.

Bilateral Problems

Each country in Central Turkistan experiences problems in dealing with at least one of its regional neighbors. Uzbekistan especially has problems with every country of the region. Turkmenistan's president blamed Uzbekistan for harboring the alleged master-minds of the plot against Saparmurat Niyazov and both countries view each other as strong rivals in a gas pipeline project extending via Afghanistan to Pakistan. The number of border posts on both sides has increased and military exercises and maneuvers in border areas have become more frequent.8

The water and gas issue is the prevailing problem in Uzbek-Kyrgyz relations. Over the past few years, Kyrgyzstan, as an upper stream country, repeatedly has released more water from its Toktogul reservoir than was agreed to generate electricity, flooding Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in the winter and risking a shortage of water for irrigation in the summer. Uzbekistan has cut off electricity and gas supplies to its upstream neighbors several times.9

When the government of Uzbekistan raised import dues on shuttle-traders, Uzbekistan's major markets lost their customers. The flow of goods into the country stopped and the population could not afford to buy things at expensive supermarkets further enriching some government officials who own or control businesses one of the reasons why the government had made such a move at the first place. As a result, people flooded the Uzbek-Kazakh border trying to buy goods in the neighboring republic which caused a multi-million dollar ebb into Kazakhstan.10 In response the Uzbek officials sealed the Uzbek-Kazakh border «to stop poor-quality imports from China». Many small-scale importers and exporters have gone underground and others have been squeezed out of business. In markets around the country prices have risen and fewer goods and less choice are causing growing discontent.11

The same situation was observed at the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. In Kara Su, a Kyrgyz market town on the border with Uzbekistan, the small bridge that used to connect both countries stops in mid-air half-way across. Last January, Uzbekistan's authorities decided to close the border and simply dismantled their side of the bridge. The idea was to stem the spread of imaginary diseases from Kyrgyzstan while keeping subsidized petrol and fertilizers inside Uzbekistan. Another reason was to keep out cheap Chinese imports, from flip-flops to cooking pots, the sorts of things that are freely available in the Kara Su bazaar. The problem did not vanish with the destruction of the bridge. People turned out to be more creative than the government: they began crossing the river on boats. The creativity appeared to be tragic for some of them. So far around 100 people have drowned in an attempt to cross the river in self-made boats and bridges.12 They could have, of course, gotten to Kara Su legally, through the border posts. But that would result in an extra few miles and in the loss of some nerves or money to be used to bribe the border guards.

Uzbek-Tajik ethnic issues stem from large numbers of Uzbek and Tajik ethnic groups in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan respectively and Uzbek President Islam Karimov's opposition to Emomali Rakhmonov's rule and the support for his rivals like Colonel Mahmud Khudoyberdiev, who allegedly found sanctuary in Uzbekistan.

The economic costs affect not only the border areas, but also the whole region's economy and development. Trade barriers and border closures have been particularly onerous for Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, whose exports have to travel through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to reach Russia and Europe. Corruption and extortion at border posts and along the roads only aggravate the problem.

Integration problems

What made integration unattainable during all these years? Why couldn't peoples with a common history, language, and culture find common ground to fulfill their ancestors' dream of a single state or at least a unified region?

To answer these questions, I would like to point the readers attention to the following reasons:

  1. Once independence became a reality for these countries, the leaders of Central Turkistan became preoccupied with solving the immediate economic problems in their countries. The denial to the ruble zone by Russia propelled the states of Central Turkistan to introduce their own currencies. The breakdown of raw supplies forced them to restore the fractured economic infrastructure in their countries by building necessary industries. This in turn compelled them to look towards more developed countries for investments and assistance. The communication went outbound rather than inbound regionally. Russia cut the ties linking it to Central Asia that it had once set.

  2. Regional economic trade declined and regional business projects were absent due to deteriorating infrastructure and vanishing bridging ties between the newly-formed republics. The peoples of the region were more exposed to the culture of foreign businesses operating in Central Asia and knew more about those countries who became new allies than their own neighbors. Kazakhstan remained more pro-Russian, Kyrgyzstan looked towards the West, Uzbekistan constantly changed model-powers among Turkey, South Korea, China, Russia and the United States; Turkmenistan insisted on neutrality. However, none of the Turkistan states was pro-each other. They existed in the same neighborhood, but did not notice or constructively acknowledge each other. The only institution that more or less united and coordinated the life-styles of the Muslims of Central Asia, the Central Asian Spiritual Board of Muslims (SADUM), dissolved itself following the creations of separate boards of Muslims in each republic headed by a separate Mufti. Thus, even the religious ties in the region were falling apart.

  3. Once foreign investments bore some fruit and Central Turkistan had some economic growth,13 the mistaken opinion prevailed that the regional states could do without partnership with their neighbors. Having most of the essential resources at their disposal: Uzbekistan with cotton and gold; Tajikistan with aluminum, Kazakhstan with oil and Turkmenistan with gas, these countries naively relied on their own capacity to prospect the resources in their sole possession and without Russian interference or counsel anymore. The delusion was also partly due to regional competition or rather the ambition of some of its leaders who wanted to be a model of success for their neighbors as soon as possible. Claims of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for regional leadership moved the countries of the region, which had just got rid of one such leader in the face of Russia, away from each other and created mistrust among them. This was also one of the main reasons why the Turkic-speaking states of Central Asia resented Turkey's role of an older brother. The principles of equality that these countries had been demanding from Russia in its relations with the Central Asian states were violated by both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

  4. The rise of militant Islam in the region further deteriorated the inter-regional relations, especially between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan with the latter often criticizing the former two for their weakness in dealing with radical Islamic insurgents leading to mining by Uzbekistan of its borders in mountainous areas, which caused human casualties. The border with Tajikistan connecting Tashkent to the Ferghana Valley via Khojent had been closed for a long time since the civil war broke out in Tajikistan. Mutual introductions of visa regimes in the region between some of the states contributed to further alienation. The Uzbek government's erroneous policy of levying a heavy taxation from domestic shuttle traders made the population travel to neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan for cheaper and deficit goods leaving millions of dollars a day outside the country. This led to more border closures.

However, for the sake of fair judgment, it is important to acknowledge that the regional leaders also made some attempts for closer cooperation and integration, especially at earlier stages. The role of Turkey and regional organizations in this process has already been mentioned. The reason was simple: the leaders did not have enough political experience to run a country independently, nor the necessary expertise in foreign politics. The former Soviet territory and Central Asia were the areas Central Asian leaders knew better. Besides knowing each other personally, they still had strong economic, territorial, and cultural links to each other.

The collapse of the USSR has opened Central Turkistan to the influence of the outside world with subsequent prospects for mutual benefits. The newly-formed states have at first found themselves at a loss trying to pick the right ally. It was during this time,that they created some regional organizations and were very active in attending summits of Turkic-speaking state leaders led by Turkey. At that time Turkey seemed to be a beacon, whose light began to dim very soon by mid-1990s. Turkey's relations with Uzbekistan, the key Turkic state in the region, deteriorated when the secular regime in Turkey could not influence the country's strong religious groups led by Necmittin Erbakan, who was Turkey's prime minister between 1996 and 1997, to break off with anti-Karimov groups based in Turkey allegedly responsible for terrorist attacks in Tashkent in February 1996.14 The Uzbek government closed all Turkish schools and madrasas (religious schools) in Uzbekistan and ordered all Uzbek students studying at Turkish universities to return home, ostensibly to protect them from Turkish Muslim extremist influences15. It became harder and harder for Turkish citizens to get an Uzbek visa. This led to the introduction of a reciprocal visa regime by Turkey, which started in June, 2003. Uzbekistan became the only Central Asian state to receive such treatment.16

Overall Turkey lacked sufficient resources and the political will, even though it claimed leadership in this integrationist process. After decades of waiting for an invitation to the EU in the hope of improving its economic situation, Turkey was not in a position to offer sufficient economic incentives. Turkey also did not consider the national sentiment of Central Asian states who, unlike the East Turkistanis resisting their Chinese oppressors, did not wage a constant underground struggle for independence from the Soviets in the hopes of achieving liberation and unity with their brothers from Turkey. On the contrary, Turkistan was integrated into the single Soviet system. The same can be said about the 20 million Turks of Russia Tartars, Bashkirs, Chechens, Dagestanis, and others.

The difference between the Soviet Turks and the Turks from China is that the post-World War II Soviet party leadership did not have an explicit discriminatory domestic policy specifically targeting any of the fifteen titular nations. China, unlike the Soviet Union, does not pursue the policy of «friendship among peoples».

Bearing in mind that language is one of the most important aspects of integration, Turkey did not have enough resources to invest in the educational system of the Turkic states. In fact, the literacy rate in the Central Asian states was much higher than that of Turkey. During the first "Turkic summit", held in November 1992 in Ankara, Turkey employed Russians to interpret between the Central Asian and Azeri participants, who spoke Russian to each other unlike the representatives of Turkey.17 Turkey had also the disadvantage of being territorially separate from the region, creating a transportation problem.18

Turkey also could not openly challenge Russia's geo-strategic interests in the region. Doing so might have jeopardized economic relations with Russia, which is one of Turkeys top-five export-import partners.19 Turkeys vulnerability to Russia became evident during the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh in 1991-1994, during which Turkey avoided explicit involvement by not providing military support to the Azerbaijanis.

And finally, Turkey's new role of «big brother» to the Central Asian Turks, who had just got rid of another big brother, was met with resistance. Apparently, Turkey had learned little from the history of the Soviet Union.20 So, overtime the popular slogan «Turkistan Our Common Home», which referred to Turkey, fell into disuse in Uzbekistan. The Latinisation of the Uzbek alphabet, which had been initiated by the late Turkish president Turgut Ozal, came to a halt.

One thing is crucial for Turkey to understand today: the Turks of Central Asia share many commonalities with Russians and some other non-Turkic nationalities of the former Soviet Union due to historic events. However, the situation is changing with the diminishing status of the Russian language in the educational systems of the region's states due to the growing popularity of the English language.

Chances of Turkic Unification

Some people in the region still hope that the unification of the Turks of Central Asia into a single state is possible. But the majority knows how utopian this idea is due to the factors to be explained below. This year I conducted a poll on my web-site asking mostly Uzbek users the question: «What do you think of the idea of Turkistan uniting all five Central Asian countries?» Of the 558 voters, 58 percent believed it was a good idea; 32 percent disagreed and 10 percent had no opinion on the matter.21 I suspect that the Internet users, when voting, did not think about this issue in a broader sense, nor did they analyze the positive and negative aspects of unification.

Looking at the processes in the European Union, one would think that a similar union of Turkistan's 58 million people would bring the same benefits that the Old Continent is expecting from the United States of Europe.22 The Unified Europe will have two permanent presidents, one foreign minister, a stronger administrative arm, and a Parliament with expanded legislative power. With a total population of 450 million, a single currency, armed forces, and an economy of more than $9 trillion, (close to that of the United States), 23 this will be the most powerful entity in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire - one able to resist economic and military challenges of the United States.

At the first glance, such an entity may seem reminiscent of the Soviet Union: one single great state consisting of several republics without borders and with a single currency and constitution. However, unlike the EU, the Soviet republics were created artificially and not on a voluntary basis; the financing came from the center at the expense of its subjects; the freedom of political activity was absent.

In Europe the process is completely different: fifteen developed states demonstrated their willingness to unite. Ten more countries, some of them less developed but with good potential for economic growth will make up the United States of Europe. Unlike the Soviet Union, all of these 25 states are democratic and economically independent. Even if one of the 25 states withdraws from the Union, the system will not suffer.

In comparing the EU to the Soviet Union, one should note that the unification of Europe is an evolutionary process, without pressure and forcing. This Union attracts everyone: both the rich and not so rich countries of the continent. The benefits offered by this union economic, security and the simplification of various procedures (travel, customs, currency) are obvious. The process of Europes unification, however, has not been wholly evolutionary. It is worth mentioning two important factors that had a very strong impact on the acceleration of the process: the Cold War and U.S. efforts to establish their supremacy through a unipolar world.

From the perspective of political and economic security, the Cold War firmly unified Western Europe. A certain bulk of trade with Eastern Europe propelled the development of commercial ties within the Western European domain. If in the first case the US has been a unifying force against the Socialist Bloc, then in the second, the same United States pushed the Europeans towards another form of unification: this time against themselves, the US. Even though no one openly challenges the United States, the majority in the Old Continent still prefers a purely Anglo-Saxon free European family.

During the Cold War the presence of NATO was another factor to united Western Europe against the Soviet threat. Yet, considering the contrary example of the Warsaw Pact, an external threat alone is often an insufficient factor for unity. Economic prosperity and a common ideology are also needed. The economic power of one state [USSR] along with this state's imposed ideology held the system together in the case of the Eastern Bloc. The realities of life also dictate the unification process in Europe that is the preservation and recovery of European values and a uniform position in foreign politics to avoid internal fracture.

The USSR was the product of a revolutionary movement. Even though the initial structure was erected on fair and equal terms, within a decade it became very difficult to imagine that any of the republics could leave the Union freely, using its constitutional right (the Constitution of the USSR of 1972, Article 72). The fear of an imaginary threat from the West, a belief in the future triumph of communism, and a fallacious ideology formed the framework of the Soviet republics. The threat of Western aggression in the post-World War years has largely subsided, allowing changes in the internal ideology creation of better relations with the West.

It is almost impossible nowadays to imagine an artificial country of such a scale as the Soviet Union. Even a unified Central Asia is beyond the domain of the real world, merely because such a unification in the present circumstances would deprive a number of powerful economic and political players in the world their share of the pie of financial benefits. It is worth pointing out that the West was unable to prevent the emergence of the Soviet Union due to the post- World War I exhaustion of the European powers. France and Britain were still the allies of Tsarist Russia, while Germany was held hostage by the Treaty of Versailles. Essentially, the Treaty kept two major world powers busy dividing the German and Ottoman colonial legacy, while the struggle for independence in Europe brought about the emergence of new states from the rubble of the Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman and Russian empires. Thus, Europe and the United States did not manage to avert the creation of the new socialist union of Russia and its republics.

The thinkers of those years could hardly foresee Russia, weakened by wars and internal conflicts, turning into a mighty military-industrial empire in some 30 years and its subsequent 45-year threat to European civilization. The enormous internal political changes and revolutionary turmoil turned Russia into the Soviet Union in the period most convenient for such a transformation. The external support of the White Army and remnants of the former Tsarist government against the Bolsheviks together with allied interventions were so insignificant that Western powers did not have a real say-so in the emergence of the USSR. The collapse of the Russian Empire did occur, yet against many expectations it occurred in a systematic and not in a territorial fashion. The attempts of the outside powers to expropriate the chunks of the former Empire were unsuccessful, while the Bolsheviks themselves started expanding the borders of their own new empire.

Contrary to such a scenario, any attempts to bring about the unification of Central Asia will be thwarted by the current political forces in the region. Once a certain status-quo has been established it renders impossible any clandestine unification endeavors. The most convenient moment to unite the countries has passed with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the whole world welcomed the process of disintegration in the former Soviet Union.

While Europe is uniting based on economic achievements and universal political ideals, some propose that, (however paradoxical it may sound) in Central Asia, the regional problems (water, border, Aral Sea) may compel the states to purse further dialogue serving as integrating factors. However it is unlikely that anytime soon these problems can play such a role. Following the September 11 attacks and as a result of the fight against terrorism and drugs-trafficking, as well as some other internal processes, one may observe border closures, visa regimes, irrational use of limited resources, and the dislocation of military units along the borders. Mass media in each of the Central Asian states also worsens the situation by creating a negative image of the Turkic neighbors.

The absence of democracy and trust between states, a high level of corruption, clan resistance, and alleged ethnic superiority of titular nations of the region have also become a barrier for political and economic intimacy, not to mention unification. It is difficult to imagine a strong fraternal alliance when the average per capita rate of GDP is 3,500-4,000 US dollars a year even lower than the world's average per capita index ($7,500). EU-member states' indexes are much higher such as Luxembourg ($43,000), Germany ($26,000), Hungary ($13,300) or Latvia ($8,300).24

The EU model of unification demonstrates that a country should first of all be able to sustain itself economically, provide basic principles of freedom, create not only a consistent legislature, but also its enforcement mechanisms and only then to consolidate with like countries. Without such preconditions, any unions or blocs are only a search for a free cheese. It is also worth noting that the process in Europe can also be characterized as an attempt to create a Christian union that Pope Paul John the Second very much would like to see in reality25 with support from countries like Germany, Italy, Poland and Slovakia,26 However at this point in history, Islam as a religion cannot be a consolidating factor for the unification of Central Asia. One should admit that the anti-terrorist policy of the regional states, and especially, of Uzbekistan in light of the September 11 events, is implicitly aimed at persecution of Muslims and preventing Islam from playing a major political role in the countries.

From my point of view, currently there are two factors hindering the unification process: external and internal. One of the external factors constitutes a group of states that benefit and do not benefit from a Turkic Union in the region.

For Russia a large Muslim country like Turkistan may provoke similar irredentist movements among the Muslims of Russia. Besides, Russia may lose its influence in the region as well as big economic projects. Today it is easier for Russia to negotiate with each Central Asian leader separately taking into account the interests of each individually and bilaterally without coordinating with the neighbors in the region. On the contrary, it is more difficult to deal with a larger country that may have bigger interests. Russia also fears that a single Central Asian country may fall under the influence of such counties like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Iran as it was in the first years of these countries' independence. Even though the Central Asian states are secular today, the regime may change in favor of Islamists in the future.

A single Turkic state in the region that carries pan-Turkist ideas may pose a threat to Iran, as the latter is concerned about the possibility of disintegration of its own Turkic population in Southern Azerbaijan.

China would oppose the creation of a Turkic state in Central Asia fearing similar movements like in Iran: Uyghurs would very much want to be part of the new Turkic state. It would be harder for China to influence on the region dealing with one country as opposed to five. So it will continue to resist, now, within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The fight against international terrorism dominates the SCO agenda and China is already taking advantage of its membership in the organization to silence the Uyghurs,27 unfortunately, through connivance of Central Asian Turks, members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Turkey is a natural supporter of this idea, both for natural reasons and in light of its unfulfilled dreams of becoming a legitimate part of Europe. Economic interests as well as future involvement of both Azerbaijans in this process would weaken the position of the Turkeys geopolitical rival Iran.

It is in direct economic and security interests of the United States to support a Unified Turkic state as it supported Europe's stance during the Cold War. A large secular state with a Muslim majority in Central Asia backed by the United States would be a model for the rest of the Islamic world in combating international terrorism and pursuing democratic reform. Such an alliance also would deter Iran and Russia from imposing their influence in the region. But most importantly the US, as a regional sponsor, can play on the issue of the Uyghurs China's Achilles' heel. China will have to agree to be manipulated by the US if it does not want its Uyghur population to accelerate its separatist movement with covert US help. Considering US' excellent relations with all the Central Asian countries, as well as Turkey and Azerbaijan, it would not meet any resistance in being a sponsor. By assisting new Turkistan in its development, the Americans could also demonstrate that Islam and democracy can coexist, implicitly pointing the Middle Eastern states to the need to follow the same model.

Russia also can use Turkistan to its advantage if approached properly. If Russia succeeds in establishing equal partnership relationships and pursues a consistent, predictable and transparent foreign policy, it can gain substantial commercial dividends from the whole region. It will also be easier to influence one single country than maneuvering between the five, where Turkmenistan is neutral and Uzbekistan is pro-American. Russia also can deter the United States and China with the help of unified Turkistan.

There are several internal factors: different level of economic development in the region; aspirations of the leaders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for regional hegemony; the unwillingness of authorities in each of the republics to compromise their independence in favor of a single Center and material comforts; new national ideologies in the republics not considering the interests of the regional cooperation and closeness of the peoples; newly written histories conflicting with each other; putting the achievements of one nation over those of the others; and the orientation of each Central Asia republic for competing powers. Histories primarily focus on the titular nation rather than the common Turkic values.

Recommendations for Integration

While the political unification of Central Asia into a single state seems unrealistic and utopian, it is however essential to revive old spiritual and cultural ties keeping the nations from distancing from each other without altering their territorial boundaries and political systems. This can be done on three levels: state, non-state, and international.

  1. On a state level Islam and education can play a major role. It is imperative to restore the authority of SADUM [Central Asian Spiritual Board of Muslims] in a modified form to use it as a single religious authority for the Muslims of Central Asia. Muftis can take turns representing each country of the region every two or three years or form a board of muftis. This should not worry the governments who should understand that by recognizing the legitimacy of a single regional Islamic institution, in addition to bringing the region's Muslims together, they can also easily outlaw other Islamic groups perceived by these governments as a threat and a catalyst undermining their authority. In this connection the authority of the ancient city of Bukhara as a regional Islamic center and SADUM's headquarters and the operation of the famous madrasah of Mir-Arab in Bukhara that used to serve as the supreme Islamic school in the post-Soviet Union should be restored. A compromise can easily be reached in terms of the status of Bukhara versus Tashkent, each claiming to be the center of Central Asia. The new status of Bukhara and the madrasah of Mir-Arab would also play an international role for Muslims worldwide.

  2. Bearing in mind the lack of communication in the region, which is the one of the causes of misunderstandings and misperceptions a University of Turkistan should be founded in Almaty or Samarkand (again as a compromise) to allow students from the region to pursue their Bachelor's and Master's degrees in various fields. The university would give its students a better idea of regional problems and would work on projects aimed at resolving those problems jointly.

    On a state level the governments should also coordinate their policy by rewriting and systemizing their histories so that they do not contradict common Turkic values. While each nation of the region learns their history, regional scholars should also develop the history of the Turks of Eurasia to be taught at secondary schools and universities. The establishment of a regional Academy of Science would contribute to that. It is also imperative that regional nations share their famous pre-Soviet period ancestors scholars, statesmen, religious scholars, poets and writers as Turks and not as Uzbeks, Tajiks, or Kazakhs.

    The regional leaders should establish a Central Asian preventive diplomacy and conflict management center as proposed by the Kazakh Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly's 58th session28 to use preventive diplomacy as a tool to secure peace in the region. In order to increase the flow of information throughout the region and to inform its population of each other, the leaders should also encourage the creation of a Central Asian or Turkistani regional television channel.

    Turkmenistan must also abandon its neutrality with time and take a larger role in regional developments. After all, neutrality does not imply inactivity (passivity) and it should not be used as an excuse for the Turkmen leadership's accountability for the region's current and future problems. Neutrality should not lead to self-isolation and should not be used as a shield from the world community, which would permit the country's leader to suppress its isolated nation.

  3. On a non-state level, priority should be given to the work of regional NGOs in all possible fields. The major problem in the region now is the lack of communication, so NGOs can build those bridges linking nations with one another, increasing awareness and understanding, and encouraging the nations in the region to jointly carry out certain projects. Popular music and film festivals and other cultural projects should be revived with the help of NGOs.

  4. On an international level, states should support such an endeavor in the Central Asian region by increasing their foreign assistance funds, financially supporting regional NGOs, and rendering technical assistance and know-how. It should especially be the priority for the US, Turkish, and British foreign policies in the region.


One would think that all the myriad of problems in Turkistan should bring the states closer to each other. However, the past 12 years have shown that none of the major problems has served as a consolidating factor. Disagreements over the rational use of water and the maintenance of vital hydro structures, continued border conflicts, and reciprocal accusations on different levels have only contributed to a further deterioration of relations. Different conflicting national ideologies in the countries are further separating the nations from each other. At this point there is a need for a single unifying historic identity, the Turkic identity. The empty geographic term «Central Asia» invented by the Soviets should be used less and should be substituted by the historic term «Turkistan» to give its people the sense of belonging to the great Turkic legacy. It is the task of scholars, journalists, and students of international affairs to frequently use these terms «Turkistan» and «Turkic people» to cultivate (foster) the practice so that with time people would become accustomed to it and when asked where they are from, they would not reply «Central Asia», but rather «Turkistan», which contains more meaning, a longer and richer history, and a sense of unity.

However the language is still another very important issue which also plays the role of a consolidating factor. What language should be used for communication in the region? Although the languages in Turkistan, except for Tajik, have much in common, they are still not fully mutually intelligible. There also is no common script: Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan use Latin. The rest use Cyrillic. Uzbekistan now is in the process of switching to Latin. So the choice is between the three: Turkish, Russian, or English. If it is Turkish, a language unknown to many in the region, it will again be considered by some in Turkistan as an attempt to impose the Turkish leadership and influence. If it is Russian, known to many in the region except for Turkey, then it will represent a very awkward picture: the Russian language as a consolidating factor for Turkic people. So since there is no single Turkic language, English may be a compromise language. However this task can be delegated to the Academy of Sciences of Turkistan which would bring prominent Turkic linguists and writers together in order to create a Turkic alphabet that would be understandable to all.

1 Throughout my paper, I will use the geographic term "Central Asia" along with its early and historic term "Turkistan" or even "Central Turkistan" to mean "Central Asia". Although historically the term "East Turkistan" is used to point to the area where Uyghurs another Turkic people of China live, I would like to call the region where Turkey and Azerbaijan are located "Western Turkistan", even though historically Russians used this term to mean the Soviet Turkistan.
2 There may be objections from the Tajik side for the re-instatement of Turkistan as Tajiks do not consider themselves to be members of the Turkic world. It should be noted, however, that before the Soviet regime, there was no Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, or any other nation in the region. Even during the first years of the Soviet rule, Tajiks lived within the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and later on entered as an autonomous republic into the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. Tajiks' use of their Persian language is the only factor which contradicts a Turkistani identity. Inter-marriages with members of other ethnic groups of Turkistan, co-existence with these groups for many centuries, the tolerant influence of Sunni Islam, and the practice of common traditions, culture, and governance in Transoxiana in the last few centuries have significantly reshaped the Tajik community according to the Turkic fashion increasing their gap with Persian world.. In addition it is important to remind that the Turks make up around 30 percent of Tajikistan's population. Without sharing a common border with Iran - their claimed historical Motherland, Tajiks' aligning themselves with Persians does not count as a proper comparison. With the same result one can try aligning the Sunni Turks of Turkey with Shiite Azeris. Likewise, the only difference between Tajiks and Uzbeks is the language. Other differences have been artificially formed since the Soviet rule to give each group their own strong peculiar identity: one of the principles of the divide and rule policy.
3 «Country Study & Guide: Uzbekistan», «1Up Info» reference web-site, (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.1upinfo.com/country-guide-study/uzbekistan/uzbekistan17.html
4 Georgios Niarchos, «Continuity and Change in the Minority Policies of Greece and Turkey» (Paper for the 1st LSE PhD Symposium on Modern Greece:  "Current Social Science Research on Greece" LSE, June 21, 2003), 6, (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/hellenicObservatory/pdf/symposiumPapersonline/Niarchos.pdf. Georgios Niarchos says that although the Kemalist Turkey was more for territorial citizen-nationalism than extra-territorial ethnic Pan-nationalism.
5 Jyotsna Bakshi, «Russian Policy Towards Central Asia», Part 1, Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, January 1999 Vol XXII No. 10 (accessed April, 2003); available from http://www.idsa-india.org/an-jan9-9.html. Bakshi argues that all these states are quite heterogeneous in their ethnic and national composition. Their borders are also artificial cutting across various ethnic groups...The legacy of seventy years of Soviet rule in Central Asia has imparted the CARs with distinct features of their own which separate them from countries towards their south-east and south-west.
6 Martha Brill Olcott, «Central Asia's Catapult to Independence», Foreign Affairs, 108, summer, 1992 (accessed October, 2003); available from Lexis-Nexis Universe.
7 Ibid.
8 Kamol Kholmuradov, «Turkmen-Uzbek Tension Easing, But Ethnic Minorities in Both Countries Continue to Suffer», Eurasia Insight, May 15, 2003 (accessed April, 2003); available from :http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav051503.shtml
9 «Hanging separately», The Economist, sec.: Survey, 9, July 26, 2003 (accessed October, 2003); available from Lexis-Nexis Universe.
10 One Kazakh report gauged that roughly 50,000 Uzbeks visit the Kazakhstani border city of Shymkent every day, spending roughly the equivalent of $4 million. («Uzbek Border Row Introduces New Element of Tension in Central Asia», Eurasia Insight, January 27, 2003 (accessed April, 2003); available from http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/business/articles/eav012703.shtml)
11 «Cottoning on», The Economist, sec.: Survey, 11, July 26, 2003 (accessed October, 2003); available from Lexis-Nexis Universe.
12 Zokirjon Ibraghimov, «Attempts on Illegal Shopping Lead to the Deaths of Many Uzbeks», IWPR, August 13, 2003 (in Russian, accessed October, 2003); available from http://news.ferghana.ru/detail.php?id=440769026017491
13 «Uzbekistan's Economic Condition», Uzbek web-site «UzLand», (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.uzland.info/1997.htm
14 Turkish Miliy Gurush (National Outlook) organization based in Cologne, set up by Turkey's former Prime Minister Erbakan, gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars to the IMU, with Erbakan's consent, to buy arms through Milliy Gurush Secretary Muhammad Kuchak on condition that the IMU would become subordinated to Milliy Gurush and only Erbakan can specify a precise time when the jihad against Uzbekistan would begin. Leading Turkish company Ulker, controlled by Milliy Gurush, generates 1.5 bln. U.S. dollars in profits annually. (Bakhram Tursunov, «Extremism in Uzbekistan», Conflict Studies Research Centre, British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, July 2002 (accessed March, 2003); available from http://www.csrc.ac.uk/pdfs/K37-hpz.pdf)
15 Gordon Feller, «Uzbekistans President Charges Turkish Role in Bomb Attacks», Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 151, September 1999, (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.washington-report.org/backissues/0999/9909027.html.
16 «Turkey Introduces Visa Regime on Uzbek Citizens as of June 1», Uzbek web-site «UzLand», (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.uzland.info/2003/june/03/07.htm and the web-site of the Consulate General for the Republic of Turkey in London, (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.turkconsulate-london.com/visa.htm.
17 Freddy De Pauw, «Turkey's Policies in Transcaucasia» in Contested Borders in the Caucasus, ed. Bruno Coppieters (VUB University Press, 1996), Ch. 7 (accessed October, 2003); available from http://poli.vub.ac.be/publi/ContBorders/eng/ch0801.htm
18 Turkey has only nine kilometers of common border - a bridge, in fact - with Nakhichevan, an Azeri enclave in Armenia.
19 CIA World Factbook for Turkey for 2003) (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/tu.html#Econ
20 Gareth M. Winrow, «Turkey and the Newly Independent States of Central Asia and the Transcaucasus», Middle East Review of International Affairs, July 1997, Volume 1, No. 2 (accessed October, 2003); available from http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/1997/issue2/jv1n2a5.html
21 Uzbek web-site «UzLand», (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.uzland.info/vote3.htm
22 Julian Coman, «Prodi Lays Foundations for 'United States of Europe'», Daily Telegraph, July 11, 1999 (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.antipas.org/news/europe/us_europe.html
23 Elaine Sciolino, «Europe Drafting Its Constitution», The New York Times, sec. 1, p. 1, June 15, 2003 (accessed October, 2003); available from Lexis-Nexis Universe.
24 CIA World Factbook data.
25 Roland Flamini, «Pope Wants EU to Call Itself Christian», UPI International, January 23, 2003 (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.valleyskeptic.com/xtian_eu.html
26 «EU Urged to Leave God Out of Constitution», The National Liberty Journal, March 2003 (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.nljonline.com/march03/eu_urged.htm
27 «China Slams Xinjiang 'Terrorists', Claims Tolerant Policy», Agence France Presse, May 26, 2003 (accessed October, 2003); available from http://coranet.radicalparty.org/pressreview/print_right.php?func=detail&par=5838
28 Kassymzhomart Tokaev, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Statement at the General Debate of the Fifty-Eighth Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 25 September 2003 (accessed October, 2003); available from http://www.un.org/webcast/ga/58/statements/kazaeng030925.htm

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