Russia vs. “Pan-Turkism”: problems and opportunities from Gasprinsky to Hitler and NATO


December 6, 2015 –

Svyatoslav Knyazev, PolitRussia – 

Translated for Fort Russ by J. Arnoldski 

“Pan-Turkism: from a peaceful cultural movement to a weapon of anti-Russian hegemons” 

In the context of openly hostile manifestations from the side of Turkey and the fully logical decision of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation on suspending contacts with the international organization TURKSOY, some intellectuals have voiced disapproving comments on the policies of the Russian leadership. In fact, however, restructuring policies aimed at contemporary Pan-Turkist structures has been long overdue.

What is Pan-Turkism? Various referential publications give this phenomenon a very contradictory identification and evaluation. And the problem is not only the position of the authors of encyclopedias and scientific articles. The very content of Pan-Turkism itself has repeatedly and radically changed over the time of its existence. In fact, in the shortest possible time.

One of the founders of Pan-Turkism is the well-known Crimean-Tatar cultural figure Ismail Gasprinsky. The second half of the 19th century was the time of the establishment of a number of idealistic national-cultural movements and the activism of Ismail Gasprinsky is no exception. He became interested in the prospects of creating a common Turkic language without Persian and Arabic borrowings. But it became clear that this idea was profoundly utopian since Turkic languages spread among separately existing peoples over centuries have insurmountable differences. Politically, Ismail saw the Turkic peoples as unified either under the patronage of or within the framework of Russia where, in is opinion, the best conditions would be created. Ismail Gasprinsky was more than upset by Russo-Turkish conflicts and believed that they were only the fault of the West. As we see, there is nothing bad and destructive here if one does not consider its kind of national-cultural utopianism, and its thoughts are quite reasonable and constructive. 

But, unfortunately, Ismail Gaprinsky’s followers cruelly perverted his ideas. A number of new Pan-Turkists, on both the territory of the Russian Empire and Turkey, began to develop an openly anti-Russian discourse “under its banner.”

The idea of Pan-Turkism, in conjunction with Turkish nationalism, was taken up by the Young Turks.

Under the slogans of Pan-Turkism and Turkism, a monstrous crime was committed: the genocide of the Armenian people on the territory of Turkey. 

Rivers of blood were shed on the territory of Soviet Central Asia under its slogans and with foreign support. 

A significant portion of the Pan-Turkists considered its ideas to be an alternative to both simultaneously Islamization and national modernization along the Western model. It was a kind of “national hegemony with a Turkish accent.” For some time, the wings of Pan-Turkism were clipped by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who professed a secular version of Turkish nationalism and at least declared friendly relations with the USSR. But after the Ataturk’s death, the “third birth” of Pan-Turkism began. Relations between Ankara and Moscow worsened. In Turkey, although it formally remained neutral, pro-German and pro-Fascist forces gained weight and Pan-Turkism, in the event of a major war, opened fabulous prospects for Turkey.

The role of Turkey in the events of the Second World War is overall unpleasant. 

At a time when the West (including the “Euro-Atlantic” area and the fascist bloc) opposed the USSR and Czechoslovakia, Ankara’s sympathies were definitely with the West. It is difficult to determine when relations between the former allies began to deteriorate. For some time, Turkey was more or less in the orbit of British influence, but in 1941 German influence became more felt. On June 18, 1941, 4 days after the Third Reich’s attack on the Soviet Union, the Germano-Turkish Agreement was signed. Berlin pressured Ankara to agree to the final decision of entering the war. Ankara tried to stall the point in order to get certain guarantees. However, the nature of its military preparations left no doubt as to the real goals of Turkey. 

The country began mobilizing and concentrating three quarters of its roughly million-man army on the Soviet-Turkish border. “Border incidents” came to take place. Historians agree that the go-ahead for Turkey’s participation in the war was supposed to be the victory of Nazi forces at Stalingrad. But, as we all know, thanks to the fantastic courage of Soviet soldiers and the talent of Soviet generals, this never happened. And the pendulum of Turkish politics again swung in the direction of neutrality. Nevertheless, Turkey managed to have a huge, destructive impact on the actions of the anti-Hitler coalition. The need for the Soviet leadership to constantly pay attention to an obviously hostile neighbor and maintain a group of 200,000 Soviet troops kept in a small area on the Soviet-Turkish border seriously helped Hitler…

As regards the actual interests of the Pan-Turkists, these were made by the authorities of the Third Reich itself. Hitler, along with his entire entourage, relied on a number of odious leader  such as Seydametov, Validov, and Veli Kayum Khan, and began to try to foment Pan-Turkist fascist sentiment among Turkic Muslims.  Before the war, similar initiatives were taken with the Poles, but did not have any concrete result. The Germans, in a sense, succeeded. Representatives of the Eastern Nations en masse began to join the Wehrmacht and the SS (the largest case was the service of Crimean Tatars to the Nazis), and carry out reconnaissance and sabotage assignments from the Abwehr. If some Turkic peoples only imitated a desire to serve the Third Reich in order to get weapons and escape from captivity and later continue the struggle against Nazism, then the others served Hitler faithfully…

In 1945, when all the endeavors of Hitler failed for obvious reasons, his vision of Pan-Turkism, on the contrary, did not disappear. These ideas, together with a number of goals, were gladly picked up by American and British intelligence agencies. Yesterday’s spies of Hitler and invaders went to serve London and Washington along with his former agents and subordinates. Persons recruited by the Abwehr in the name of the Turkistan of Hitler began to be sent to carry out subversive activities in Central Asia under the command of former participants in the anti-Hitler coalition. The irony of fate… 

Turkey made political maneuvers. Moscow was willing to “pay its bills” in 1942, regaining former Soviet territories in the Caucasus and the right to control over the straits. But the West, naturally, could not allow this, so it took Turkey under its wings and included it in NATO. Turkey became a beachhead for Western intelligence agencies against the Soviet Union. How this happened was reported to Moscow by the legendary Soviet agent Kim Philby, who officially was a high-ranking member of British intelligence. 

However, Turkey could not even dream of doing anything against the mighty Soviet Union alone, so Pan-Turkist ideas were taken from the practical to the theoretical plane until the 1990’s.

The hour of Turkey came with the 1990’s. Against the background of the “parade of sovereignties” in 1991, Ankara, without wasting any time, rushed to spread its influence in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and in the regions of the Russian Federation inhabited by Turkic-speaking peoples.

Ankara sought to increase its influence in every sense, but the main “bridge” to former Soviet territories was represented by “cultural-educational” programs. Like mushrooms after rain, NGO’s under the auspices of Turkey presenting the Pan-Turkist plan arose. They actively worked on academic exchange programs. “Schools” sponsored by Ankara worked in seeking to take on the education of the children of local elites and the most capable students – people of Turkic heritage. Literature promoting the idea of Pan-Turkism spread. Moreover, the countries which experienced the severe crisis of the 1990’s, including Russia, had nothing with which to oppose this policy….Moreover, it was obvious that Turkey was warming its hands at the fire of its “Western friends.” 

After Russian policy began to rapidly change in the early 2000’s, the US had to drop the mask and go into battle with an open visor. On the eve of the NATO summit in Istanbul in 2004, a program was started with the name “The Wider Middle East and North African Initiative” which, in fact, already covered the entire Islamic world. The results of the implementation of this project can be seen in the cases of Libya, Tunisia, Syria, and Egypt. And this was only the beginning. Among its first tasks, it started working on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Its base for realizing its goals was, just as 70 years ago, Turkey, in which “Pan-Turkism under the pretext of neo-Ottomanism” was inflated. 

Therefore, the suspension of contacts with the “International Organization for Turkic Culture”, which had observer status in six Russian regions, by Russian authorities looks like a logical and timely move.

And it is very symptomatic that the Russian “free” press immediately began to print the comments of representatives of the creative class and its public figures who “suffered” due to the ending of “cultural contacts”…

Now, of course, a public vacuum in the space of these organizations has arisen. How and with what can it be filled? There is no need to reinvent the wheel. It helps to go back to the basics and recall the ideas of Ismail Gasprinsky, as with the ideas of the Eurasianists. The Turkic peoples, like other peoples of the East, make up a major part of the contemporary Russian people. Rus and Russia have always existed as a landscape on the border between the forest and the great steppe. Russia has a powerful potential for Eurasian unification on the basis of equality and mutual respect. Economically, this trend has already been outlined by the Eurasian Economic Union. Now, its cultural outline should be considered. After all, Russia is not Europe and not Asia. It is a unique civilization which many have correctly called “Eurasian.” 

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