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Turkey at different stages of its history actively used ideological instruments in its foreign policy. Two ideologies that are most actively used presently: Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism. However, these ideologemes in their essence contradict each other.
Pan-Turkism is an ideological and political trend based on the idea of creating a common Turkic state. The ideas of pan-Turkism were expressed for the first time by Ismail Gasprinsky. Gasprinsky’s Pan-Turkism was defined as the achievement of a greater degree of unity between the Turkic people. He assumed that unity would help the fight against the backwardness of the Muslim population of the Russian Empire. Turkish ideologists later adopted the ideology of Pan-Turkism. The Turkish format of pan-Turkism assumed several levels: internal (Turkization of the state) and external (creation of the state of Turan).
Pan-Islamism is based on the idea of the unity of all Muslims and the need to consolidate them in a single Muslim state. For the first time, this concept was put forward by the Turkish educator Namyk Kemal and was continued by Jamal al-Din al Afghani. Based on the Koranic provisions on the brotherhood of Muslims and the need for mutual assistance, the idea was put forward of uniting all Muslims under the rule of one caliph. The Turkish sultan would have played the role of caliph.
The fundamental contradiction between these two ideologies is in relation to the concept of nationalism. In Pan-Turkism, ethnic nationalism is a key element. In Islamic culture, recourse to nationalism is a sin. Referring to the Qur’an, Sunan Abu Daut reported that anyone who calls for asabiya, fights for asabiya and dies for asabiya, is not a member of the Muslim Ummah. Asabiya is understood as supporting one’s own nation in oppressing others. Concerning all forms of asabiya, the Prophet Muhammad, addressing his followers, said: “Leave it alone. It is vile and disgusting ”(Sahih Bukhari and Muslim).
Turkism and Islamism in Turkey’s Domestic Politics
In the modern history of Turkey, Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism often clashed with each other in the domestic political arena. Islam presupposes the rejection of any identity other than religious. However, with the coming to power of Kemal Ataturk, the question of uniting the nation arose before the Turkish elite. The ideas of Turkism were taken as the basis of the state policy. Turkism, as a part of Pan-Turkism, was developed by the Turkish sociologist, culturologist and jurist Zia Gek Alp. In this interpretation, pan-Turkism has turned from a protective ideology of the Turkic minorities into a means of turning Turkey into a unitary mono-ethnic Turkish state.
Throughout the 20th century, the ideologies of Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism were contradictory. Turkism took the secular model of society as a basis. A. Kemal completely denied religion and carried out reforms to oust religious institutions from Turkish society. The secularization of ethics, law, education and other spheres of public life began.
Turkish nationalism has become a fundamental state principle. The entire population of the country, including the Kurds, were declared Turks. All languages, except Turkish, were banned. The entire education system was aimed at fostering Turkish national unity. A complete rupture of the ideologies of Turkism and Islamism occurred after the ban on religious customs and the replacement of the alphabet. The provision on the state religion was removed from the constitution. Islam was completely supplanted from political and social life.
An analysis of the events of those times shows that the Turkish elite understood the importance of tradition for society. Most of the traditions were associated with religion. Therefore, Pan-Turkism became a new religion, which was forcibly imposed on society. The state had greater advantages in the struggle between nationalism and Islam and Islamic leaders went underground. Any attempts to revive Islamist sentiments in the country were harshly repressed by the military, for whom nationalism was the only ideology.
Pan-Turkism was also spread abroad. Intensive work was carried out in the Turkic population of the Volga region, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Turkey tried to promote its ideas in these regions and to attract the most active figures to study at its universities. The work was carried out especially successfully in the interwar period.
Over time, the processes of uniting the ideologies of Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism began. The organization “Gray Wolves” (Boz Kurt) was created whose was to strengthen the ideological foundations in the country based on Pan-Turkism, reinforced by some reliance on Muslim traditions. Already in the 90s, against the background of the collapse of the USSR, supporters of nationalism and Islamism began to converge. On the domestic political arena, the nationalists “The Party of the Nationalist Movement” and the “Party of Great Unity” and the pro-Islamic party “Refah” begin to actively interact. Within the framework of this union, these parties actively supported Islamic militants in Chechnya and Dagestan. In general, when it came to countering Russia, Turkey has always used both ideological concepts, which in such cases mutually complemented each other. It is important to mention that such an alliance of Islamists and nationalists continues to this day.
The 1990s were a time of special metamorphoses in the internal politics of Turkey. These changes still affect the political environment of Turkey, including in determining the country’s foreign policy. The economic crisis in the country, inflation, rising unemployment, coupled with the active financing of Islamic institutions in the country by Saudi Arabia and Libya, led to a sharp increase in the influence and political positions of the Islamists in the country.
The leaders of the «Refah» Party began to bring a new meaning to the basic tenets of Ataturk. Laicism was interpreted as ensuring freedom of religion from encroachments. Nationalism was perceived as a set of established national and spiritual values. Synthesis of nationalism and religion in the political sphere began. The Turkish elite believes that Islam and nationalism complement, support and feed each other. New ideas arise in which the Turks, who have been following the word of Islam for a long time, should lead the historical mission of uniting all Muslims. The synthesis of Islamism and nationalism is essentially a brief description of the entire political situation in Turkey. Supporters of these ideas have been in power for more than 20 years and determine the entire development of the country.
Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism in foreign policy
Despite the obvious ideological differences in the interpretations of these ideologies, they do not lead to any disagreements in foreign policy as in domestic policy. Pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism primarily act as instruments in foreign policy, which replace each other when necessary.
The Turkic space is an obvious example of the symbiosis of these two ideologies. Turkey is actively instilling the idea of the need to unite all Turkic peoples on the basis of a common origin, culture and language. Attempts were made to create a unified Turkic alphabet based on the Turkish alphabet. Foreign policy pan-Turkism became a continuation of internal Turkism. This meant that Pan-Turkism is imposed on the condition of Turkey’s unconditional leadership. In the countries of Central Asia, reforms are being imposed in the public sphere, as they were carried out at the beginning of the creation of the modern Turkish state. Along with this, realizing that the majority of Turkic peoples profess Islam, political Islam is also applied in the Turkic space. Islamic nationalism is cultivated in these regions. Islamic nationalism is an ethno-confessional symbiosis.
In 1992, the Agency for Turkic Cooperation and Development (TIKA) was established. The purpose of the agency is to coordinate all activities aimed at the unity of the Turks professing Islam at the State level. The agency is engaged in a wide range of activities, from publishing magazines in various languages, to implementing various educational, scientific, and social projects in the republics of Central Asia and even some regions in Russia. A special place in this scheme was taken over by F. Gulen’s educational institutions. In these schools the ideas of pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism were imposed within the framework of the concept of “service”. A number of Turkish experts claim that this concept of activity was recommended to Turkey by US intelligence.
Other regions are covered by the ideology of pan-Islamism. Turkey creates the image of the protector and mouthpiece of the Muslim world. Ankara sees itself as a leader in the Muslim world. On the initiative of Turkey, the D-8 “Islamic G8” was created. D8 did not become a separate center of influence capable of opposing the G7. However, Turkey is actively promoting its ideas within the framework of the summit: agreements on preferential trade, agreements on cooperation between the Islamic Development Bank and the D8 organization have been signed. It has proposed to create a customs union for greater integration of the Muslim world. Contradictions between the main members of the organization do not allow all plans to come true, but the organization’s potential remains high.
Ankara is actively promoting the interests of the Muslim world on international platforms. Many foundations are being created that sponsor many social, humanitarian projects in the Muslim world. All such actions are aimed at creating an image of Turkey as the savior and protector of all oppressed, the center of the Muslim world, which is opposed to Western influence.
Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism have a number of obvious contradictions at the dogmatic level. In domestic politics, this fact leads to conflicts between different groups. This is largely due to the power distribution, as it was during the conflict between Erdogan and Gulen. The Turkish authorities have to skillfully maneuver between supporters of pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism.
On the foreign policy course, these two ideologies go hand in hand and complement each other. Neither the Turkish authorities nor Turkey’s partners raise the issue of the contradictions between the two ideologies imposed by Ankara. Turkey seeks to spread its own influence in various regions. This requires a wide range of tools in foreign policy, including both a return to Islamic religious traditions and traditions of nationalism. Turkey’s foreign policy ideologies are aimed at transforming the international system. Ideological doctrines do not pull Turkey into rigid dogmatic boundaries, but, on the contrary, lend it flexibility. Thus, at this stage, geopolitical pan-Turkism and the ideas of a new caliphate do not compete with each other, but mutually complement each other.
In many ways, such an alliance of ideologies is possible thanks to Erdogan. The role of personality in Eastern societies plays a special role. Erdogan, an ardent nationalist, brought up in Islamic culture, managed to find a balance of ideologies in both foreign and domestic policy. With Erdogan’s leaving politics, the balance will certainly be disrupted. There are no more people in the political environment of Turkey who are able to maintain this balance. As long as Erdogan is in power, both ideologies will work in concert, which in the short term is the most correct tactic in foreign policy so as to increase the geography of influence in the Turkic world.
If we consider the medium-term and long-term prospects, a number of doubts arise about the interaction of Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism. Turkey’s work with the Turkic ethnos is obvious. However, there remains a question: is the Turkish elite ready to admit representatives of other Turkic ethnic groups to the leadership? Obviously not. The closest ethnic group to modern Turks is the Turkmens. For all the success of Turkey’s foreign policy, there is not a single sign of rapprochement between Turkmenistan and Turkey. The Turkmen authorities do not allow the Turks to come to power, they are fighting Turkish propaganda. This means that the Turkic states will also not agree to rapprochement in the role of a junior partner. No elite will agree to reduce their own power for the sake of some abstract ideas propagated by Turkey. Even Azerbaijan, having used Turkey to return the territory of Karabakh, is now trying to separate itself from it as much as possible. Turkish nationalism has a long history and is part of the cultural code of Turkey. The history of the formation of the statehood of the Turks and other Turkic peoples is different. All this in the medium term will become a serious constraint on the Turkic unity.
As for Pan-Islamism, Turkey will face competition here. There are 4 Islamic (Sunni) geopolitical constructs in the modern world. The first is Arab Islamism. This vector is being developed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to expand their spheres of influence. Under this vector Arab nationalism is hidden. The elites of these two countries are at the center of this ideology, and all the others are perceived as colonies that should ensure the interests of the Saudi Arabia or Qatar. The second vector is Turkish, which was described above in the article. The third is radical Islam. This trend was promoted by ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Interestingly, this ideology was forced to develop on the terms of equality of the members of the Ummah, there were even social elevators. The fourth construct is Eurasian Islam. This ideology unites Muslims in Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. Because of the multinational community that forms the Ummah, it is impossible to put a certain ethnic group at the center of ideology, everyone is equal among themselves. We can also single out a fifth vector – southeastern Islam, but this region is heavily influenced by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Turkish Islamism, projected in foreign policy, clashes with Arab and radical Islamism. The more actively Turkey works, the more resistance it receives. These religious ideologies are doomed to constant conflict. Any conflict, even at the ideological level, drains the resources of the state, which limits its capabilities. The history of the Ottoman Empire confirms this. Erdogan is now repeating this story and the current attempts to speculate on Islamic ideology are fraught with enormous problems for Turkey in the future.
Avoiding failure in the long term is possible only on one condition: Turkey must change itself. Turkish elites should develop a new cultural strategy. Will Turkey be able to realize the need for change? What direction will these changes take? Time will tell.
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