The Organization of Turkic States did some serious restructuring this year and agreed on some critical points that will enhance their multilateral cooperation.
On November 12 2021, the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) held a historic summit themed “Green Technologies and Smart Cities in the Digital Age” in Istanbul, where many crucial decisions were taken.
The decisions involved transforming the organization's structure and obtaining a road map on its common objectives within the scope of its 2040 vision document.
Following the summit, Yavuz Selim Kıran, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkiye, hosted think tanks representing member and observer countries of the Turkic bloc on December 10. They discussed a necessary intellectual framework for evaluating and developing these goals.
''The OTS has successfully passed the earlier phase of institutionalization, and now it is getting filled with content, more cooperation, and more integration,'' Tamas Peter Baranyi, Deputy Director for Strategy of Hungaria Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade, told TRT World during the December 10 program.
According to Prof Dr Yasar Sari, Director of Ibn Haldun University Haydar Aliyev Eurasia Studies Research and Application Center, the interaction between the Turkic States has a history dating back to 1992, with the mutual support of Turkiye's former President Turgut Ozal and the then Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel.
The process of Summits of Turkic Speaking States was founded as a forum after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, with the participation of countries having a linguistic connection with Turkiye, i.e. Azerbaijan in the Southern Caucasus and Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia.
And with Turkiye’s initiatives in 1992, ten "Heads of State Summit of Turkic Speaking Countries" were held.
However, these summits were not held regularly until now. Moreover, the leaders of every country within today's organization would not participate in the past.
''At that time, a common understanding on the concept of Turk was not agreed as well... but after the summit that was held in Nakhchivan in 2009, the idea of transforming these meetings into a structure was put forward,'' Prof Sari told TRT World.
The Nakhchivan Agreement was signed among Turkiye, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan to establish the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States (Turkic Council) to institutionalise the current process.
The aim was to benefit from the historical and cultural collections of the Turkic World and to develop multilateral cooperation among the Turkic-speaking states.
''It should not be forgotten that the main actor who came up with this idea was the former of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev,'' Prof Sari added while saying that the transformation processes of the Turkic states are clearly parallel to Nazarbayev's views.
''As the representative of Kazakhstan, I can say that this country tried and encouraged to create a forward-looking perspective on the creation of a platform that will unite the Turkic states,'' said Dr Sanat Kushkumbayev, Deputy Director of Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies Under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Kushkumbayev also emphasised that the country under Nazarbayev adopted such a vision with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was followed by critical changes in the Eurasia region.
Nazarbayev defined the concept of Eurasia in a speech he gave at Moscow State University in 1994.
While explaining, he describes it by the thesis of common living space between the states, which is known as the Central Asian Turkic Republics.
With the encouragement of both Turkiye and Kazakhstan, Turkic Council came to the scene with an emphasis on language as a common belonging, idea and ground, marked by the Nakhchivan Agreement.
Mutual interests and issues
But why are the changes and decisions made in November 2021 important for this cooperation?
The institutionalisation that started with the name change during the November 12 summit, determination of the vision for 20 years and the establishment of membership criteria of the observer countries, Hungary and Turkmenistan brought a political dimension to the organization.
''This time, the leaders have an understanding of Turkic states, not just in terms of language, but affiliation and origin.''
''Although we do not know yet exactly how the institutional structure will evolve, its acceptance by countries is a very important step,'' said Prof Sari.
Here, Prof Sari emphasized that previously Turkic Council was focusing on cultural aspects and the structure was excluding identity and politics-related dimensions.
Now, the organization gained a political character and identity which means that Turkic states no longer establish relations only through historical and cultural ties, but starting to act within the framework of common interests and values.
At the forefront of common interests is to encourage the Turkic World to become a regional centre on the East-West course with both political and economic cooperation.
''There is interest for a common unifying agenda, and it is not limited only to a common history and culture. For this reason, even observer countries participate at a fairly high level. So this is a good start'' Kushkumbayev said while underlying that bilateral and multilateral cooperation is now more possible with the developed organization.
According to Prof Sari, to understand whether the institution would have a solid base on cooperation and vision, we should have a look at the member and observer states' bilateral agreements, their reciprocal problems, and regional dynamics in the last 1 year.
In this sense, the Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan agreement on sharing private resources in the Caspian Sea, which has been the source of disputes for many years, is critical.
Moreover, signing the border demarcation deal between the two most potent Turkic states in Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and their agreement on the legal registration of land and sea borders is another crucial step.
''Raising the cooperation between countries to the level of alliance, establishing common transportation lines, increasing economic cooperation and solving bilateral problems between states will enable them to be more active in multilateral structures for the future of the organization,'' said Prof Sari adding that positive results will likely be obtained for the sake of the organization.
''The support messages that were given after the 44-day war, in which Azerbaijan liberated almost all of the Karabakh lands from Armenia, display that they can take a political stance within the organization in the future.''
Here, the Karabakh victory of Azerbaijan is a concrete indicator of the understanding of common interest as The Zangezur corridor article in the 2020 Karabakh ceasefire agreement represents this interest.
"If this Zangezur line is opened, the shortest way of cooperation for the Turkic World through Turkiye and Azerbaijan will be reached'' said Prof Sari underlining that this development has the potential of consolidating the integrity as it will likely become an alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative.
The opening of the Zangezur line also means opening the Caspian transit transportation networks in terms of highways, railways, and energy resources.
On the other hand, the Afghanistan issue emerges as a common critical problem for the future of OTS.
''If the OTS countries find a common voice in the Afghanistan issue that would be a golden opportunity,'' said Baranyi, adding it would enhance regional cooperation, stabilize the whole area, and make the OTS as a whole a visible player in a global context.
''Great powers' concerns’ come and go, but neighbours remain the same. That’s why I deem it important to have a common outlook on the Afghanistan issue and start to develop common policies in the refugee situation, economic stabilization and development, as well as combating cross border crime.''
Developments in Afghanistan that result with the refugee crisis and transnational organised crime such as drug traffic impact every state’s security apparatus in this organization due to their presence in the region. Hence, if the member and observer states adopt a common stance and cooperation over these issues, this can move OTS to a higher level than just being a common affiliation.
Eventually, every cooperation that is reached in terms of common problems and interests will likely provide various opportunities for the development of the organization.