Eurasia, Lecture 9: R. James Ferguson © 2002

INTR13-304 & INTR71/72-304, The Department of International Relations, SHSS, Bond University, Queensland, Australia

Lecture 9:



Topics: -

1. A New Great Game in Eurasia?

2. Turkey Looks West - and East and North

3. Iran: from Radical Ideology to Pragmatism to Isolation

4. Signs of Regional Cooperation and Conflict

5. Prospects: Beyond Vacuum and Dual Containment?

6. Bibliography and Further Resources 

1. A New Great Game in Eurasia?

Several writers have commented on the possibility of a new Great Game in Central Asia once the Soviet Union dissolved into a Russian Federation and the Newly Independent States of Central Asia and the Transcaucasus region (Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan). The old Great Game, of course, was the 19th century contest between Britain and Russia for influence in Central Asia, with 'lesser' players including the Ottoman Empire, Persia, Tibet, Japan, Afghanistan, Mongolia and China. As we have seen in previous lectures, this 19th century Great Game had serious outcomes for Tibet, Afghanistan, and set the scene for the war between Japan and Russian in 1904-5, thereby shaping later conflict and diplomacy.

Today, some writers have proposed a new great game for influence and power in the region being played out by Russia, the US, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China. From late 2001, with the strong intervention of the U.S. and the EU into Afghanistan, the potential players in the game and their relative balance has changed. From this perspective, the new states of the region will be forced to align themselves, economically, politically and militarily in an environment largely established by the contest of these various powers. From this perspective, it is no longer true to speak a power 'vacuum' (for the older formulation, see Cuthbertson 1994, pp31-2) that had been created by the withdrawal of the dominant Soviet power. Some argue that this gap will be filled by other powers, including the spectre of a resurgent and militant Islam (for limitations in this view of Islam in Central Asia, see Lecture 9). Strategic resources, especially oil and gas reserves in Central Asia and Siberia (Paik & Choi 1997), are central components in this international competition (for some limitations to this view, see Jaffe & Manning 1998; Kemp 1998).

This metaphor of a 'great game' is sometimes used as a way to view the conflict in modern Afghanistan (Klass 1987), as well as a new phase of diplomatic and economic initiatives concerning Central Asia which have been launched since 1989 (Gardiner-Garden 1995a, p2; Malik 1992). Ian Cuthbertson, in particular, has stressed negative threat perceptions to argue that a new great game is indeed afoot, with the Russians and the Chinese as the main protagonists in a potentially destructive course (Cuthberston 1994), though this view will need to be modified in the light of Sino-Russian accords in 1996. Although there were perceptions of an 'ex-cold war warrior' in Cuthberston's analysis, he is correct to suggest that the US and Europe need to play a constructive game in the region, rather than passively let events unfold (Cuthbertson 1994, p42-3), a fact strongly demonstrated with the current effort to stabilise Afghanistan through 2001-2002. One of the clearest statements of this 'great game' scenario has been provided my Mohan Malik, who argues that serious instability in Central Asia could lead to new regional wars (Malik 1992a; 1992b). Other have suggested that at present Russia, China and Iran, have medium and long term converging interests in cooperating to balance influence in Eurasia and in promoting a multipolar world system (Ahrari 2001).

However, several new factors must be noted which modify this perception. The first of these is that Russia, through the Commonwealth of Independent States and through military agreements concerning the borders of the old Soviet Union, has established a special concern with the near abroad, which means that there is at best only a partial 'vacuum' in Central Asia. As a result, prolonged civil wars have only occurred in Tajikistan, in the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, and within the Russian Federation concerning the independence of Chechnya. Second, after the events of September 2001, the United States has moved to strongly intervene in Afghanistan, has strong cooperative agreements with Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and mot recently Georgia, and has moved to apply renewed pressure on Iran and more especially Iraq. This has been followed by strong military cooperation from Britain and France, and a strong diplomatic and economic role for Germany, the EU, and Japan in relation to the future stability of Afghanistan (see lecture 4). In general terms, the Russian involvement is part of its long held regional-security posture, while the action of the U.S. fits in with models of superpower intervention being drawn in by regional threats from smaller forces.

As we shall see, regional relationships in central Eurasia are complex, still in a process of change, and are set within the context of wider regional and global concerns. Regional players with considerable impact on Central Asia include Russia, the US, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, China, India and the European Union. This lecture we will focus on the way Turkey and Iran position themselves within the region.

Turkey and Iran represent, in regional terms, two of the most populous nations, both of whom have had a longstanding cultural contact with Central Asia, and who have medium-level military and economic potentials. Turkey has a population of 64 million, Iran of approximately 64 million also. As we shall see, Turkey's interests in the region are conditioned by its membership in NATO, and its desire for closer economic ties with the EU, while Iran, due to its relative isolation since 1979, has had to try to deepen relationships with China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea, as well as trade ties with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Germany. This isolation has been partly broken down by the more pragmatic approach by dominant government elements in Tehran since the mid 1980s, under former President Rafsanjani and even more so under President Khatami. However, until recently, Iran also found itself largely isolated from a growing pan-Arab consensus on security issues, and with the heavy armament of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait after the Gulf War, now needs to seek greater participation in a stable Middle East. Relations with Saudi Arabia have improved over recent years, but have not solved Iran's regional exclusion. Unfortunately, failures in Iran's human rights record (e.g. in relation to the Bahai religious minority, see Teimourian 1994), charges of supporting terrorism, along with continued fear of the long-term implications of a radical, Islamic revolution, have meant that Iran is still the subject of serious threat perceptions by the West as well as by some Arab states. The question for U.S. and Western policy is whether Iran should be kept 'out in the cold' and weakened economically in the hopes of greater concessions from Tehran, or whether this policy is the long term destabilising, only forcing Iran in much closer regional alignments with China, Pakistan, and possibly even India. A thaw in relations between Iran and the US commenced in the 1998 period, but was not sustained through 1999. In general, the US seem through 1999-2000 seemed happy to keep both Iraq and Iran contained, both relatively weak and yet in some rough balance with each other (the dual containment policy). Events of late 2001 may have shifted this focus, with Iran and Iraq deemed as part of an 'axis of evil', predicated on their capacity to generate weapons of mass destruction, their reported support for terrorist networks, and their divergent (from the point of view of the West) political systems.

2. Turkey Looks West - and East and North

The Turks comprised several tribal groups who entered Central Asia, breaking up in numbers of separate Turkic groups including the Kazakhs, the Oghuz in Turkmenistan, and the western Turks. The Ottoman Turks moved westward in the 14th century to create a great empire focused on Anatolia (modern Turkey). In 1453 A.D. the Ottoman Turks managed to conquer the great classical city of Constantinople (today's Istanbul), thereby destroying what remained of the Byzantine Empire. By the 17th century, the Ottoman empire controlled most of the eastern Mediterranean, all of Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, as well as small parts of Central Asia. They were at first a 'ghazi (warrior) state on the borderland of two rival religions and civilizations' (Heper & Guney 2000, p636), situated on the fringe of Europe and soon controlling much of the Islamic and Arab world.

External Resource:

For Maps of Turkey, go to the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at

It was this historical movement of Turkish speaking peoples, influenced by Islam and elements drawn from Mongol and Persian culture, which helped create strong cultural affinities throughout the entire region of Central Asia. This Turkish linguistic and cultural element provided the background for a early 20th century conception of a modernised, unified state of Turkestan comprising all of Central Asia. Alongside this, pan-Turkic ideas (see Rubinstein & Smolansky 1995), partly influenced by the example of the secular revolution in Turkey in the 1920s, helped promote the jadid movement which sought to unify Islam and the notion of a modern nation-state. Today, Turkey can look east to a vast region with a total of some 150 million speaking Turkic-type languages (Rouleau 1993, p111).

Dreams of Turkestan soon collapsed before Russian power and Soviet ideology. One such Turkestan Autonomous Government, centred on the city of Qoqan was crushed during the period 1917-20, (Allworth 1990, pp172-3). The Soviets would also decide in time that a unified Turkestan (incorporating all of Central Asia) was not a good idea, from 1924 dividing the region into the republics (with some further boundary alterations) which we have now. Yet this idea of a greater 'Turkestan' still leaves a legacy today. Furthermore, these different countries, though never unified in a single nation-state (the Turkestan dreamed of by some pan-Turkic thinkers), do form part of a cultural region. As explained by Dawisha and Parrott: -

Although never unified under a single state with borders coterminous with those of Soviet Central Asia, Central Asia once belonged to a common Islamic civilization that encompassed portions of modern-day Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sinkiang, the Caucasus, and the Volga region, and this distinctive cultural heritage is likely to exert a substantial influence on the external relations of the new Central Asian governments. The Caucasus bears a somewhat different stamp, including as it does peoples with ancient ties to Christendom as well as Turkic and non-Turkic Muslims. The resulting historical and cultural mosaic gives the Caucasus certain features in common both with the new states of Central Asia and with the new states situated to the west of Russia (Dawisha & Parrott 1994, p45; see also Taheri 1989, p224)

At the same time, this dream of a unified Turkestan can still have political significance: when the CIS was formed, President Nazarbayev (of Kazakhstan) played on Russian fears by threatening to form a Central Asian union - as a result, Central Asian states were admitted to the CIS as 'founding members' (Dawisha & Parrott 1994, p85).

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul: Symbol of Turkey's Cultural Heritage

(Photo © R. James Ferguson 2000)

There were other impacts on the history of Central Asia. It was mainly Turkish control of the east Mediterranean coasts which cut off European traders from direct access to the Silk route, and which helped force European traders into the great age of sea-based exploration. From the 15-19 centuries the Ottoman Empire played a major role in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, often as an antagonist to European or Russian interests (Goodwin 1998). The Russians, in particular, nibbled away at Turkish possessions on the Black Sea from the late 18th century onwards, allowing the Russian Empire to penetrate into the Caucasus and Central Asian region by 1878 (see Riasanovsky 1993). This empire was only dismantled at the end of the World War I, with the Soviet Union gaining greater control of much of the trans-Caucasus and Central Asia by the end of the 1920s.

Turkey entered the modern era by forcing a constitutional monarchy on its Sultans, then by a nationalistic revolt (1908-1923), led the 'young Turks' and Kemal Ataturk (d. 1938). This revolution was unique in that it tried to propel Turkey into a role as a modern secular state, disposing of much of the Islamic and Ottoman legacy. At the same time, understanding that Turkey could not afford to antagonise the great Soviet power to its north, the Turkish government officially abandoned all of its pan-Turkic policies, rejecting any claim to help Turkic peoples in Central Asia and those under Soviet control. This policy of pan-Turkic solidarity would only be revived after 1989 in a modified and softened form (see below).

These factors help explain why Turkey, though officially neutral in World War II, was somewhat sympathetic to German victories after 1941, since this would weaken the Soviet Union (Calis 1997), and reduce Russian pressure on her north flank and soften Russian demands concerning naval access from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. Yet since the 1930s Turkey began to see itself as a modern nation that belonged in Europe, in contrast to a barbaric Russia and a backward Middle East (Calis 1997).

On this basis, since the end of World War II, Turkey aligned itself with NATO and the U.S., largely as a reaction to a perceived Russian and communist threat. Since the 1960s, Turkey has pushed ahead with a 'western' alignment, seeking continued military recognition as part of NATO. However, Turkey soon found that there were limits to how far it could regard its security as fully guaranteed by this arrangement. It was greatly surprised when the U.S. withdraw its medium-range nuclear missiles from Turkey on the basis of an agreement with Russia to reduce tensions after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Later on, when Turkish policies disagreed with those of the US and NATO, e.g. over the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 or during its period of military rule (1980-1983; earlier coups had occurred in 1960 and 1971), Turkey would find its supply of arms curtailed from Western sources. This type of restriction also occurred again in the 1990s with German cancellation of equipment sales over Turkish treatment of its Kurdish minority, and its invasion of Kurdish territories in northern Iraq in 1995. As a result, the Turkish military has always sought to retain a strong, independent military force (and a bastion of secularism, as well as retaining their elite-privileged position, see Heper & Guney 2000, p636), and in the 1990s has acquired ex-Soviet and East European equipment including armoured personnel carriers and helicopters, and has even considered the purchase of Russian jet fighters.

However, Turkey in the modern period recognised the dangers of trying to directly challenge the Soviets on the battlefield. In fact, since 1921 when an initial treaty of friendship was signed with the Soviets, Turkey has, outside of her NATO membership, sought to reduce any unnecessary bilateral tensions with Russia, though diplomatically uncomfortable with Russia's near abroad policy. On this basis, it has also avoided becoming too directly involved in the dispute between nearby Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, through 2001-2002 there have been greater signs of cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan, suggesting that Russia may be less sensitive on this issue than before.

From 1990 Turkey has pushed ahead to enter a 'trade and tariff' agreement with the European Union - by 1993 40% of its foreign trade was with Europe, as was most of its tourist and technological transfers (Mango 1993, p730. By the early 1990s, 80% of total exports were in the industrial and manufacturing areas (Rouleau 1993, p117). Turkey hoped eventually to enter the EU as a full member, though this path has been complicated by problems over the Turkish economy, over human rights (see U.S. Department of State 1997), and due to opposition from Greece. Relations with the European Union slipped to their lowest level in 1997-1998 with the decision by the EU Conference on expansion to give Turkey the lowest priority on joining - several prospective Eastern European countries are slated for earlier membership. Although a regular conference with Turkey was approved, issues such as improving relations with Greece and supporting UN settlements on Cyprus were quoted as prerequisites for progress on Turkish admission to the EU (Tucker 1997). The then Turkish Prime Minister, Mesut Yilmaz, then threatened to withdraw Turkey's application unless it is granted equal status to other prospective members (Barham 1997). Turkey was also refused admission to the Asia-Europe Meetings (ASEM) of 1996 and 1998. In fact, EU-Turkish relations had been at low ebb during 1997-1998. It was only in December 1999 that Turkey was formally accepted as a candidate for future membership in the EU. European concerns about problems with Turkey's legal and political system remained strong through 1999-2000 (see below), and it seems like that the status of Cyprus will need to be resolved before Turkey gains full membership. In 2001 major concerns about the stability of Turkish currency and its economy also emerged, though Turkey hopes that formal accession talks will begin in late 2002.

This 'westward' policy has only been partially affected by some return to accommodation of Islamic culture, which has allowed elements of Islamic education and custom to return into everyday life. By the early 1990s a major book in publishing and broadcasting Islamic religious and historical ideas had occurred (see Rouleau 1993, p119 for details). This trend also included the Islamisation of opposition parties, in particular with the formation of a coalition government involving the Turkish Welfare Party (Refah) in 1996-97 (Refah had only 21.3% in the December 1995 elections, but was needed to form a government). Refah gained support in particular among the poor, in underdeveloped regions, and in the southeast areas of the country (Heper & Guney 2000, p649). Former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan then emerged as the country's first pro-Islamist leader. This has led some secularist groups in Turkey, especially well-educated professional women, to worry about reforms which might head down the path of placing restrictions on them in the future. Many women in fact have criticised former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller (of the True Path Party) for forming a coalition with the Welfare Party (Ms. Ciller in 1996 took up the post of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister). Yet it is probably this coalition which had also moderated any tendency for Erbaken to head down the line of passing Islamic laws during 1996. Indeed, through 1980s-1990s there was very limited support for the introduction of Shari'a law within Turkey (between 1-7%, depending on the survey, see Heper & Guney 2000, p638). Indeed, support for Refah was based on its record as a clean party with little corruption, and due to its large network of social welfare support (Heper & Guney 2000, pp638-639).

Only in early 1997 were there some signs of serious tensions concerning the secular nature of the Turkish state, e.g. over a proposed law to allow women to wear the Islamic headscarf in offices and universities if they wished. Turkish army chiefs (General Cevik Bir and General Ismail Hakki Karadayi) warned the government that the military would not tolerate any moves which undermined the secular/democratic state established by Ataturk (Straits Times 1997). It should be noted that under the 1982 Constitution Turkey is defined as a secular state, and that Article 35 of the Internal Service Act of the Turkish Armed Forces (1961) makes the army responsible for defending the Republic of Turkey as defined in the constitution (Heper & Guney 2000, p637). The opposition People's Republican Party (CHP) has also expressed concern over possible Islamisation on the Iranian model. In early 1997, likewise, the mayor of Sincan, a suburb of the capital Ankara, also gave strong support to Iran and Islam in his public speeches, resulting in the army later on routing a convoy of tanks and armoured vehicles through the area in a demonstration of their power (Pope 1997). Yet Mr. Erbakan had been able to compromise: 'he has had to sign a new agreement with Israel, give his approval for the expulsion from the military of officers perceived to have Islamist leanings and to allow an elected mayor from his own party to be arrested' (Pope 1997).

However, the Welfare Party coalition did not retain power when nine parliamentarians resigned their posts, allowing a new minority government to form. In part, the failure of the Erbakan's government was based on a political campaign orchestrated by the military, and using secular business groups, labor groups, and women's groups to block any pro-religious legislation (Boudreaux 2000). The Welfare Party then came under Constitutional Court scrutiny for possibly undermining the secular nature of the Turkish state. A new Islamist Virtue Party had been created in case the older party was banned (Barham 1997). In 1998-1999, the Turkish Constitutional Court proceeded to ban the Welfare Party (RP), as well as against other religiously based parties.

Thereafter, coalitions of secular-oriented parties ( at first especially the Democratic Left Party, the Nationalist Action Party, and the Motherland Party) took government (Heper & Guney 2000, pp646-647). In early 2002, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's party, Democratic Left Party (DSP), has two main coalition partners, Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz's center-right Motherland Party (ANAP) and Deputy Prime Minister Devlet Bahceli's far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), indicating once again the need to keep a stable coalition intact. At present, the government parties have been negotiating security and penal laws in order to make them more compatible with EU human rights demands. The implementation of the reformed laws remain somewhat ambiguous: -

Article 312 states that inciting crowds to hatred on religious, racial, social, or cultural grounds is punishable by up to three years in jail. Legislators . . . reportedly added a clause saying that the offense, to be punishable by law, should now be committed "in a way that could endanger public order" or "put people in a dangerous situation." In its previous version, Article 159 said anyone defaming the military, the police, the government, or any other state institution that symbolizes "Turkishness" could face up to six years in prison. The amended version reduces the maximum jail term to three years. (Peuch 2002b)

For President Suleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit remained extremely concerned about Islamic influence in Turkey, and at a meeting of the National Security Council in late January 1999 urged all political parties not to use religion in future elections (Turkish Daily News 1999a). Former leader of the banned Welfare Party, Necmettin Erbakan, wanted to run as a candidate for a new party in the 1999 elections. However, this posed legal problems since according to a former head of the Constitutional Court, leaders of banned parties are not supposed to be founders, members, or directors of new parties, and are not eligible to run for a seat in Parliament (Turkish Daily News 1999b). By March 2000, it seemed that a one year prison sentence against Erbakan would be upheld, using article 312 of the Penal Code which prohibits speeches which might provoke hatred or violence (Cevik 2000).

These events have led to very serious concerns within Turkey and Europe about limits on the freedom of religious expression in Turkey (Cevik 2000; Kinzer 2000), limits which undermine the genuine workings of the electoral system there. On this basis, European officials have argued that of the 13 nations which are candidates for EU membership, only Turkey is insufficiently democratic to meet EU requirements (Kinzer 2000). Religion and religious issues will remain a covert concern in the political life of Turkey, and interact with limits to political freedom. However, through 1999-2001, the new Virtue (Fazilet) Party (led by Recai Kutan) has only secured about 15% of the vote, and has emerged as a more moderate party unlikely to challenge the secular credentials of the state (Heper & Guney 2000, p639, p647).

Yet, in the past the Turkish government has been so pro-Western that some Middle Eastern critiques have viewed it as essentially a U.S. proxy (such were early criticisms from the Khomeini regime in Iran), a view supported by statements by the Turkish Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara in 1993, which suggested that Turkey's main enemies were to the south and southeast, and one possibility was to try to extent the NATO area to cover the Persian Gulf (Mango 1993, p728). Furthermore, this pro-Western policy has also allowed Turkey to engage in trade deals with Israel, and an emerging security cooperation between Turkey and Israel, a policy which has also been widely criticised in some Middle Eastern circles Turkey recognised the state of Israel in 1948 and retained good relations ever since, though it has also supported the demand for a state of Palestine (Rouleau 1993, p114). This has led to complicated Turco-Arab relations and tensions along the Turkish-Syria border (see Bezanis 1996a & 1996b). Turkey has also charged that Syria has been training Kurdish rebels, an issue that had only been resolved with accords signed in October 1998 (Straits Times 1998). Furthermore, the U.S. has hoped to placate Turkey and retain it as a powerful ally in the Middle East and Cental Asia (Barham 1997).

However, Turkey has not received complete recognition as a modern democratic state fit to enter into a closer political association with Europe. This has largely been based on several factors: -

* Limits to democracy in Turkey, which has always had a strong statist approach, emphasising state powers and state security rather than individual rights. This was most extreme under military rule, but has remained problematic down to 1996-2002, with repeated claims of human rights abuses by Amnesty International. These abuses have been directed at left wing groups, liberal elements who oppose police powers, as well as against the Kurdish population generally, who are certainly economically disadvantaged, as well as members of the (PKK) Kurdish Workers Party (see Mango 1993, p733-4 & Rouleau 1993, pp122-125) and against a Shiite Muslim minority, the Alawites (Bal 1997). At the same time we cannot generalise this to Turkish intolerance: a prosperous Jewish community in Turkey has been generally well treated, with the Ottomans willing to take in Jews expelled from Spain in the late 15th century (sumptuous 500yr celebrations of this generous action took place in 1992, see Mango 1993, p753). Young urban middle classes, in particular, look forward to a more free and generally modern-Western lifestyle. In general, trends through the late 1990s suggest some progress in democratic institutions, with the military playing a moderating rather than dominant role in political affairs, and with a new and more positive role for moderate Islamic political parties down through 2000 (Heper & Guney 2000, pp650-653). This trend has been partially reversed through 2001-2002, with much greater sensitivity to organised religious groups, e.g. new tensions with the dervish order, the Alevi-Bektashi Institution, on the basis that it was promoting a sectarian belief and religious separatism (Peuch 2002a).

* Ongoing disputes between Greece and Turkey. In fact legacies of tension have continued since Greece staged a revolution against Ottoman rule, with renewed tensions in 1897, 1918-20, 1955, the early 1960s, and 1974. These disputes have included diplomatic conflicts over small islands along the coast of Turkey and control of resources in the Aegean, with disputes escalating in late 1995. Major disputes have escalated from 1955, especially after 1974 with the Turkish military intervention in Cyprus, and the problem of ethnic warfare in Cyprus between Greek and Turkish groups. Tensions over military exercises in Cyprus emerged again in late 1997. To date, no real solution has been reached on these issues, and Cyprus remains subjected to ethnic tensions which a UN monitored border between the two communities. In the long run, especially if Cyprus and Turkey are to enter into the European Union, these issues will need to resolved. No definitive solution was reached through UN hosted negotiations in September 2000. Relations between Greece and Turkey improved slightly in 2000 when aid and emergency workers from Greece arrived to help with massive earthquake damage, but this good will was not sustained, and in October 2000 Greece pulled out of joint NATO exercises with Turkey due to renewed tensions. Tensions have resurfaced in 2001-2002 over the treatment of Greek religious art and icons in the Turkish controlled part of Cyprus.

* An ongoing special role for the military as defender of the constitution, secularism and (cultural) nationalism, and a key force again Islamism in the country (Heper & Guney 2000). The Turkish generals wield considerable power through the National Security Council, which is made up of the President, four senior ministers, and five top military commanders, and at times seems to act almost as a parallel government (Boudreaux 2000; Heper & Guney 2000, p637). This has led to a overuse of security concerns in political life in Turkey, as well as the maintenance of a strong military machine. The military spends about 9% of the government budget, and also has extensive holdings in the defence, automotive, cement, food and chemical industries (Boudreaux 2000). Summarising events between 1998 and 2000, its has been noted that: -

In the past three years, they [the generals] have rid their nation of an Islamist-led government, crushed a Kurdish separatist insurgency, dissuaded Greek Cypriots from deploying Russian-made missiles against Turkish planes, forged a defence pact with Israel and begun a shopping spree for tanks and attack helicopters. (Boudreaux 2000)

These impediments should not be exaggerated. Turkey's potential as a growing capitalist economy has led to considerable trade and investment with the West, with Germany in particular. Turkey's support for the U.S. intervention against Iraq, with Turkey allowing its air bases to be used by US and NATO operations, certainly has given it some leverage with both America and the EU. Likewise, Turkey has supported the international intervention in Afghanistan, itself strongly sensitive to religiously formed patterns of terrorism. In March 2002, U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney has promoted the idea of Turkey leading ongoing peace-keeping force in Afghanistan, and has offered financial aid in support of this idea of around $228 million (Association Press 2002).

Turkey is in fact seen as a valuable strategic asset which can remind both Russia and the NIS (Newly Independent States) of the ability of the West to intervene directly in Middle Eastern and Central Asia affairs. In this context some reports suggest that Turkey received some $6 billion dollars aid in return for its support in the Gulf War. Turkey has also tried to utilise its position in relation to being a 'front line' state in relation to terrorism. In March 2002, 'Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, speaking at a European Union summit meeting, urged the bloc to give efficient support for Turkey's fight against terrorism', and wanted Turkish 'terrorist groups such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C)' on Europe's list of terrorist organsations (Turkish Daily 2002). In general, Turkey has sought to assimilate, with limited success, the Kurdish minority (Houston 2001), and has sought to avoid any extension of the idea of a Kurdish state centred on a fractured northern Iraq, and issue that may return into prominence in the 2002-2003 period.

It is against this background that we can see the Turkish model is often presented as the preferred one for development for Central Asian states: i.e. a secular, relatively stable pro-Western approach (see for example Bal 1997; Cuthbertson 1994, p38). Proponents of this approach, however, often forget the poor human rights legacy of Turkey, its problems with ethnic minorities, and claims of collusion between a powerful Turkish mafia and elements in the government. Likewise, its economy, though developing, is not strong enough to provide a major input into development in the Central Asian States (Rouleau 1993, p112). Furthermore, the almost completely secular approach of the early Turkish Republic after 1923 was so extreme that it has in the 1980s and 90s had to gradually allow some return of Islam into political life. Such entirely secular approaches would probably lead to mass protests in most states of Central Asia, where Islam is engaged in a kind of renaissance. Likewise, the state of Turkey suffered from high inflation (60-70% through the early 1990s), unwise fiscal policies (printing too much money), and a very high foreign debt ($56 billion in 1993, see Mango 1993, p743). This means that its high economic growth from 1981-1993, (between 6 and 8%, Rouleau 1993, p117) has not fully provided the level of social stability and modernisation it had hoped for. The economy tends to confirm to an export led- cycle through the 1980s, with a strong need for inputs of investment and short-term capital flows through the 1990s to sustain growth and reform (Ertugrul & Selcuk 2001). Its political difficulties include troubles with minorities such as the Kurds, and an inability to create a genuinely democratic, pluralist, industrialised state (Mango 1993, pp726-7). From this perspective, it is a somewhat flawed model, and in fact several Central Asian states have considered looking to East Asian models (Japan and the 'new tigers') as preferred paths of development.

In January 2000, Turkey reached agreements with the World Bank for further structural reform to their economy, resulting in expected agreements of up to US$750 million to support changes in 'public expenditure management, agriculture, energy, social security and privatization' (Turkish Daily News 2000). From 1999, the International Money Fund also began programs in Turkey designed to bring inflation under control (currently running at 26%), but slow reform in the Turkish banking sector led to 12 of these major banks needing support from the Turkish government, with the IMF and the EU providing $11.2 in fresh loans in November 2000 (Zeihan 2001). Problems with the Turkish economy re-emerged in force through February and March 2001. A row between President Ahmet Sezer and Bulent Ecevit made these issues public on 21st February 2001, sparking off a flight of investment and a drop in value of the Turkish lira of over one third (Zeihan 2001). New programs suggested in March 2001 may including the merging of three of these banks which would then be privatised, as well as the sale of 51% of the state telecommunications company (Fraser 2001). Through 2002, the financial crisis has been slowly stabilised, but renewed IMF and EU efforts are likely bearing in mind Turkey's key strategic location.


To date, Turkey has pursued constructive engagement with all Central Asian states, being especially active in trade, investment, education and cultural contacts. Hundred of protocols and agreements have been signed on areas such as 'banking, industry, agriculture, trade, aeronautics, education, publishing, academic and military training', and Turkey has begun 'flooding the Central Asian republics with journals, books, and television programs beamed via a French-built satellite station' (Rouleau 1993, p112). Yet, in the modern world, physical proximity does not provide the advantages it once did, with Central Asia wishing to open to a wide range of global influences (see below).

Turkish relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan have been more complicated. Turkey has always had closer ties ethnically and politically with the Azeri people than with other Central Asians, and has generally sought to restrain Armenian successes by two policies: firstly, by the application of diplomatic pressure, including support of Gorbachev's original position that Nagorno-Karabakh must remain in Azerbaijan, and secondly, by sending arms and equipment to Azerbaijan. At the same time, there are real limits to how far Turkey can intervene in this dispute. Firstly, any large scale intervention would simply justify a Russian military presence along the borders of Armenia and the continuation of Russian military bases in the region. On this basis, Armenia in June 1994 offered bases for Russian forces on a rent-free basis (Lepingwell 1994, p77). In fact, it is probably in Turkey's interest not to have a Russian, or even large CIS force along its own borders. In large measure, Russia has used a range of diplomatic and military moves to largely exclude large-scale Turkish and Iranian initiatives in the region (Cuthbertson 1994, p36). Secondly, world opinion, including that of NATO and the US does not entirely favour the Azeri position, opening Turkey to further diplomatic and economic sanctions if it intervenes too openly. Here, charges of genocide by the Turks against the Armenians in 1922 still remain a controversial issue. Nonetheless, Turkey has managed to avoid allowing the CIS to dominate the issue. Through early 2002 Turkey opened up a security dialogue with neighbouring states in the Caucasus (excluding Armenia), and also began a deepened cooperation with Azerbaijan.

In summary, Turkey remains a regionally powerful but troubled state. Essential political and economic reform needs to continue if Turkey is to balance its hopes of future admission into the European Union alongside the maintenance of a positive international environment in the Black Sea area, Central Asia and in its relations with the Middle East. Recent changes in power relations (2001-2002) within Eurasia have given Turkey a strategic opportunity to increase its regional importance, but Turkey will need to retain economic and political stability to be strong enough to capitalise on this situation. 

3. Iran: from Radical Ideology to Pragmatism to Isolation?

Iran, traditionally known as Persia, was the home of the one of the world's great civilisations which from the 6th century B.C. had a profound influence on the Middle East and the West, first in its challenging influence on the Greek and Roman civilisations, then as a major cultural influence throughout the Islamic domains of the Middle East and Central Asia. Persian influence culturally and linguistically was felt most strongly in Tajikistan, but also formed part of the high culture of the entire region of Central Asia down into the 19th century. The power of the royal Persian state was gradually eroded under Turkish, Russian and then British influence (see Humphreys 1991), and therefore was unable to effectively modernise under the Qajar Dynasty (1794-1925). Likewise, the emergence of limited parliamentary powers in the 20th century did not result in a true democracy under the Pahlavis Shahs, though the country was able to modernise to some extent with the proceeds from oil exports (1925-1979). At the same time, oil made the country strategically valuable, and therefore made it very important to European, British and U.S. foreign policy agendas, as well as to large oil consortiums such as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. This also explained why the U.S. and Britain were willing to intervene in Iranian affairs, e.g. in helping overthrow Dr. Mossadeq government when he sought to nationalise the oil industry, resulting in the pro-Western the rule of the Shah from 1953 (see Appendix for Iranian timeline).

The modern state of Iran has had a turbulent history. From 1953 the Shah of Iran directed Iran into a generally pro-U.S. and pro-Israeli policy which allowed a modernisation and empowerment of Iran in regional terms, and ensured a secure base of operations for U.S. oil companies. However, the Shah became progressively reliant on a repressive secret police (SAVAK) and strictly limited all forms of political freedom. He was overthrown during riots begun in 1978 and culminating in the revolution of 1979, largely under the leadership of the Islamic jurist, the Ayatollah Khomeini. At first a genuinely popularist revolution, drawing in a wide spectrum of Islamic, leftist and middle class intellectual support, within the two years the Revolutionary government had adopted a strongly authoritarian style of government. Soon the Khomeini regime liquidated its socialist and communist allies, up to 3 million of the educated middle class chose to flee the country (at one stage some 1.7 million Iranians were a peak population of exiles in Turkey), while strict censorship still controls intellectuals within Iran (see Teimourian 1994).

External Resource:

For Maps of Iran, go to the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at

The Khomeini regime has been a target for anti-Islamic thought and for an isolationist US policy. This was partly based on American outrage when extremist Iranian students held 53 U.S. embassy staff hostage during 1979-1981 (see Zangeneh 1994). The failure of an early U.S. hostage rescue attempt added extra insult to what seemed a major reversal of U.S. interests in the region. Some of the claims of state-sponsored terrorism (reiterated by President Clinton in March 1996) may have been exaggerated (see below). Such threat perceptions of Iran make the following statement typical: 'Tehran is infiltrating the nascent Central Asian states, primarily through economic and commercial arrangements, as well as establishing embassies . . . ' (Ritcheson 1995, p573). In fact, the only area where Iran has been successful in promoting export of its religious ideas has been into parts of Lebanon, and this is also the only area where there is strong evidence that they have strongly funded terrorism (see below). More recent support for Muslim groups in Central Asia has been suggested, but in fact terrorists in Uzbekistan, for example, are more likely to have received support or training from groups within Afghanistan and/or Pakistan (up to 2001).

However, very real concerns do exist about the future impact of Iran on the region. These include: -

* During the early 1980s Iran was certainly engaged in support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, though it also helped restrain them and return some U.S. hostages. Iranian support for the Hamas group involved in the mid-1990s bombings in Israel is regularly stated as fact in Western sources, but is much more controversial and harder to prove (for an alternative view, see Ritcheson 1995). Under the leadership of President Khatami, Iran has now formally revoked the export of Islamic Revolution as part of its state policy (Alam 2000).

* In 1989 Khomeini issued a religious-legal decree (fatwa) against the Indian author Salman Rushdie for what he considered to be blasphemy in the book, Satanic Verses (see Ahmed 1989). The penalty for such a charge is death. Although Salman Rushdie has not been harmed, perhaps due to the extensive security arrangements around him between 1989 and 1994, others involved in either translating or publishing this work have been wounded or assassinated. In 1995 the Rafsanjani government made a mild compromise statement concerning Rushdie, but the issue was far from being fully diffused, and in 1997 the death penalty was reinforced by raising the reward for its execution. At the wider level, this was an issue of Western and modernist demands for free speech, for democracy and political pluralism, verses coercive demands for respect for one interpretation of Islam, i.e. it was part of a larger political drama. After some hesitation by some Western governments (who considered banning or editing the book), the entire episode has largely rebounded against the Iranian radicals. The sincerity of Rushdie's desire for free speech can be seen in his reaction to a anti-Rushdie Pakistani film which was made demonising him, misrepresenting his character, and showing his eventual death. British authorities had originally denied the film the right to be publicly shown - Rushdie himself wrote to the film board asking that in the name of free speech it be allowed public viewing. It was a great box office flop - both the British public and the British Islamic community knew it was a poor film (Rushdie himself seems to have been most offended by the poor dress sense ascribed to him in the film). Since 1989 hundreds of Islamic writers and artists around the world have expressed their public support for Rashdie's demand for free speech. Likewise, no other Islamic or Middle Eastern nation has supported the fatwa against Rushdie, and many Islamic scholars consider the sentence illegal under Islamic law since Rushdie is not the citizen of an Islamic state, and was not able to answer the charges in a trial. Most recently, reformist elements in the Iranian government have publicly stated the penalty should not be carried out, allowing Rushdie to resume his normal public life.

* Factions or ministers in Iran have been involved in supporting assassination of Iranian dissidents abroad, e.g. in France and Germany. Perhaps the hardest evidence is found in a case where four members of the Iranian Kurdish Party were killed in 1992, with German courts in 1996 claiming clear evidence that the then Iranian Information Minister was involved. Relations improved to some degree in 2000, though Germany remains concerned about the lack of transparency in Iranian court procedures.

* Western analysts, as well as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the small Gulf states have repeated concern about the relative rearmament of Iran since 1989 (see Ritcheson 1995; Chipman 1995). It is true that Iran has managed to gain a sizeable number of interceptors and fighter bombers from Russia, as well as Iraqi planes fleeing the U.S. attack on Iraqi air-bases in the Gulf War. Likewise, Iran has modernised its ground forces and slowly begun to rebuilt its navy. It has also purchased advanced short range and medium range missiles from Russia, China and North Korea (Scud-Bs and C's, plus M-9s and Silkworm missiles). All these factors make Iran a sizeable force in the Gulf region. In 1996 U.S. naval sources were also concerned that Iran had acquired new Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles, the C-802, which could make it much more of a threat in the case of conflict in the Persian Gulf (Prescott 1996). At the same time, it must be remembered that Iranian military spending is among the lowest in the region (dropping to $2.46 billion in 1995; Chipman 1995, p132), and far less than that of Saudi Arabia ($13.2 billion for 1995, Chipman 1995, p145). Defence spending had strengthened to $5.7 billion by 1999 (Chipman 2000, p139), indicating a moderate increase in capability. The net result of these purchases is that Iran is now stronger than Iraq, and may be able to defend itself against any regional Gulf coalition, though only small sections of its equipment are technologically advanced enough to challenge U.S. forces, e.g. possible cruise missile deals with China, protested by US Congress. There have also been rumours in Israeli papers that Iran wishes to develop Russian type SS-4 and North Korean Nodong-1 medium range missiles, but this has been denied by Russian sources (Meredova 1997). Iran also feels clearly threatened by the intervention ability of the U.S. and its coalition since their defeat of Iraq's large army. This issue has come intro prominence with President Bush naming Iran as a threat on the basis of its military capability and it past hostility to the U.S., leading in turn to mass protests within Iran during February 2002 against these views. Perhaps fortunately for Iran, Iraq seems more likely a target for short-term intervention, but the prospect of regional war, refugees, and a stronger U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia will be of serious concern to the Iranian government.

* More controversy has raged over whether Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, a fear sparked by some Iranian statements that since Israel has the bomb, an 'Islamic' bomb is needed to counter it. Various estimates suggest that Iran in the mid-1990s was between 3 and 10 years from being able to develop a nuclear weapon, with CIA reports being the most alarmist (see Ritcheson 1995; Chipman 1995). However, the IAEC has inspected several Iranian sites, and has found nothing inconsistent with a peaceful nuclear energy program, and no evidence of a large scale enrichment programme for weapons-grade plutonium or enriched uranium has been discovered. The problem here, of course, is that much nuclear-know-how is potentially 'dual use'. Such fears of an Iranian bomb largely stem from the assessment that Iran should not need to develop a large nuclear power sector since it has plentiful supplies of oil and gas, and assessments that Iran will need such a bargaining chip to enhance its regional power. To date, Russia, China, Pakistan and India have helped provide components and training for Iran's nuclear energy programme. Nuclear scientists and technicians have also been imported from Central Asia. As of January 1997, Iran has stated that it expects a nuclear power plant at Bushehr (a southern Iranian port) to be operational within three years - the plant will completed with Russian help at the cost of $800 million (Meredova 1997). Note, of course, that Iran has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and can therefore be inspected for compliance. If Iran is secretly developing nuclear capability, I would suggest that it may be heading be a 'pre-nuclear' capability that would enhance its regional leverage, but which would not make its facilities the major target that Iraqi and North Korean facilities became. To come too close to actually assembling a bomb would make Iran a target for Israeli, US, and even Saudi Arabian pre-emptive actions. As a threshold state, however, Iran might gain more regional and international leverage. Nor has the Pakistanian development of an 'Islamic bomb' in 1998 really aided Pakistan's prestige internationally, a trend which has been watched closely by Iran.

To date, Iran has avoided playing a major intrusive role in Central Asia, reducing entanglement in either Tajikistan or Azerbaijan, largely because it has its own ethnic balancing act to perform (considerable numbers of Azeris are found in northern Iran). In spite of some efforts to built cultural and religious ties with Central Asia, it is possible to argue that through 2001 Iran 'has failed to formulate a long-range foreign policy for Central Asia' (see Efegil & Stone 2001). In August 1998 Taliban forces had arrested a number of Iranian diplomats and nationals (Economist 1998). This resulted in a partial mobilisation of Iranian forces along their border with Afghanistan border, and eventually the Iranians were released. Iran has also been concerned about drug routes out of Afghanistan crossing through its territory, and has tried to close down this route for international heroin smuggling. To do this, it claims it needs more support from the international community. Iran has had an interest in moderating Taliban influence in the region, and therefore has been watching closely the stabilisation program for Afghanistan, a process it has been willing to support financially. Iran was one of the first countries to re-open its embassy in Kabul, and through 2002 has been trying to deepen its engagement, and therefore influence, in Afghanistan (Samii & Recknagel 2002).

Likewise, Iran has pursued a policy of cautious engagement with Turkey, with trade booming during the period of the Iraq-Iran war. Since then, there have been efforts to increase trade, and to secure deals whereby Turkey and Iran would share in profits from prospective oil and gas lines routed through their countries. Such policies are based on mutual pragmatism, in spite of the genuine ideological difference between the two countries, with Turkey the most secular state in the region, Iran the most revolutionary in its Islamic politics. There are real differences in foreign policy between the two states, with Turkey engages in security cooperation with Israel, which has been strongly criticised by Iran. The U.S., of course, has tried to discourage any resource pipelines being routed through Iran, and has strongly supported longer pipelines options through Turkey.

In large measure, Iran has much more pressing concerns to deal with rather than giving priority to the export of its brand of Islamic revolution. Although Iran has managed to conduct a high level of trade with Germany, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, and even some U.S. companies, the political isolation of the country has made it difficult for the country's export-based economy to greatly improve. Quotas within OPEC, difficulty in routing oil through other routes than the Persian Gulf, and lasting infrastructure damage from the Iraq-Iran war have had an enduring effect. Likewise, the flight of businessmen and scientists from Iran has made it difficult for Iran to manage its resources effectively. In 1996 the economy remained relatively weak bearing in mind Iran's growing population, with inflation at 17.1% (1991), unemployment at 30%, and with income for most individuals dropping in real terms since 1978. This is an ironic situation, since new rail and prospective pipeline links between Iran and Central Asia make it the short route for access to these land-locked countries (Tarock 1997). GDP growth improved through 1999 reaching some 5.5%, but much needs to be done if Iran is reach its full economic potential.

Through the 1990s, the government of Iran under the leadership of then President Rafsanjani (and Khatamai) has tried to present a more moderate face to the world, with the President making repeated statements opposing terrorism, the last in March 1996. Basically, to date, the pragmatist faction in government has been keen to open the country to more trade and even to foreign investment. Yet it may be hard to sustain these more open policies, especially if there is no positive response from American or European nations. Religious and political leader, and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Ayatollah Kamenei controlled more hard line factions that have slowed political reform.

To date, the U.S. has been reluctant to normalise relations with Iran. In large measure, this is based not just on 'hard feelings' over the past. The U.S. may be capitalising on fears of Iran to build a stronger, pro-Western alliance in the Gulf based on bilateral relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, as well as establishing a new circle of cooperation within Eurasia based on the containment of terrorism. However, there are also real fears that the public policy of Iran covers secret agendas to strengthen Iran and eventually pose a real threat to Western interests in the region. The danger, however, is that if Iran is left 'out in the cold' too long, this will force the regime to more extreme methods to secure popularity. Already Iran has needed to align itself more closely with North Korea, China and India, something which is not necessarily in U.S. interests. Future alignments with China and Russia are alos possible, depending on U.S. bilateral relations with these two powers (Ahrari 2001). However, in presidential elections in 1997 Khatami won a strong victory over his conservative rival Nateq-Nuri (Alam 2000). Trends from 1997 in general supported reform, though conservative clerics still retain strong influence. If so, constructive engagement of Iran will easier so long as reform continues.

Iran's current President, Mohammad Khatami, is also a moderate, and hopes to normalise Iran's place in world affairs, in spite of opposition from conservatives. This has lead to a contemporary debate within Iran as to whether Islam can sustain its own version of democracy and civil society. Elections in Iran during February 2000 generally supported this edging towards reform. Khatami's Islamic Iran Participation Front wont 141 seats in the 290-seat parliament, while hardliners only won 44 places. President Khatami is calling for more person freedoms, an independent media and judiciary, and had hoped to restore normal relations with the US (Maclean's 2000). President Khatami favours a 'dialogue of civilisations' rather than a 'clash of civilisations', and has hoped to improve relations with the U.S., EU, and with the potential regional rival Saudi Arabia (Alam 2000; Ahrari 2001). Part of this policy includes an effort to re-engage the Arab world, increase stability in the Persian Gulf, and continued diplomatic to the presence of U.S. military forces in the Gulf area (Alam 2000). In support of these efforts, Khatami visited Saudi Arabia, Syria, Qatar, the Vatican City, Italy and France (Alam 2000).

The U.S. Clinton administration had responded cautiously to Iran's suggestion of dialogue between the two counties (Clark 1997). In early 1998 'wrestling-diplomacy' took place with the Iranian wrestling team visiting the U.S., and with overtures for more normalised relations being pursued through 1998. By 2000, the US Clinton administration had edged towards cautious 'policy engagement', with a lifting of the embargo on the import of caviar, carpets and pistachio (Alam 2000). However, this progress then faltered, with annual U.S. sanctions banning oil contract being extended through 1999 and 2000, though medical and agricultural trade has been allowed (Schweid 2000). However, the State Department and the current Bush administration still argues that 'Iran sponsors terrorism, is aiming for an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and is trying to sabotage Arab-Israeli peacemaking' (Schweid 2000). This suggests that any normalisation of relations between Iran and the U.S. could only occur after very hard bargaining on a range of complex international issues. Iran is still opposed to Israel, as well as U.S. forces in the Gulf region (Alam 2000). In the current climate, there may be little need for the U.S. to soften its views of Iran.

On the other hand, European countries and Japan have been willing to give support to a World Bank loan of US$231 million, aimed at improving health care and a major sewage improvement project (Dunphy 2000). Support for the loan might indicate some effort to reward movements towards reform within Iran. Likewise, through 1990s relations between Iran and India steadily improved, with India charting a policy of 'energy diplomacy' aimed at accessing Iranian gas reserves (see Naaz 2001; Alam 2000). From 1999 the isolation of Iran economically began to weaken, with major French and Italian companies (Elf Aquitaine and ENI) investing in the development of oil fields near Kharg Island (Alam 2000). India, Pakistan and Iran have begun serious talks over the possibility of a major overland gas pipeline from Iran, with this now faltering on Indian distrust of Pakistan's reliability (Naaz 2001). Other options include a pipeline along the coast shelf, or building large LNG handling facilities in both countries to use tankers to boost gas exports.

External Resource:

For an IRAN TIMELINE 1795-1979, go to

4. Signs of Regional Cooperation and Conflict

To date, Iran and Turkey have shown signs of competition for influence, but not the large-scale conflict suggested by the Great Game model. Aside from factors already mentioned, indicators include: -

* The clearest sign of regional cooperation are a number of fledgling regional organisations. Aside from the Caspian Sea regional organisation, these include the Black Sea Economic Cooperative Community (formed June 1992, strongly supported by Turkey, see Rouleau 1993, p113) and the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO). The ECO is something more than a reborn version the RCD (Regional Cooperation and Development organisation, or of CENTO, the Central Treaty Organisation). The ECO links Central Asia to Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan in a cooperative arrangement which seeks to improve trade, investment, travel and communication links (Yasmeen 1995, p9). The strength of these regional forums is yet to be fully developed: the ECO in particular does not have strong economic complementarities, is plagued by low intensity competition between Turkey, Iran and Pakistan for influence in Central Asia, and has found the recent turmoil in Tajikistan and Afghanistan particularly disturbing. Yet such organisations are beginning to develop common banks, shipping companies, airlines, simplified visa and trade arrangements, and agreements to reduce drug traffic (Yasmeen 1995, p9). Furthermore, the ECO provides a forum for future tensions to be aired on a regular basis. In early 1997, for example, Western observers were somewhat surprised at Turkish initiative to improve relations and trade with Iran, and even to possibly purchase oil from her (Boustany 1997).

* Turkey, due to its linguistic and ethnic commonalities, was keen to enter into a constructive role in Central Asia and Azerbaijan. This has included considerable investment and trade in the region. Specific projects included negotiations for new pipelines and gas lines to be routed from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan via Turkey (Gardiner-Garden 1995b, p31; Bushev 1994). Efforts have been made to improve telecommunications (CIA 1993-1994), improve road routes, and smooth passage for trade at border crossing. As well, there have been upgraded levels of diplomatic and military cooperation.

* However, the early euphoria for a new 'pan-Turkic' Central Asia, and early hopes by the US administration that Turkey could become the conduit for the Westernisation of Central Asia have largely failed. The Turkish model could not readily be exported into Central Asia. This has been due to the fact that western Turkish dialects are not directly, easily intelligible in Central Asia, due to Turkey's lack of export capital, and due to the fact the most Central Asian states would like to create their own direct links with European and American nations, and not use Turkey as some kind of middleman.

* Other prospects include possibilities of increased rail and road links through Iran to the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. These links were effectively upgraded in 1996-1998, and will continue to be improved in the near future (See Tarock 1997). Iran in particular has a major advantage in that it offers the shortest route to the sea for the southern Central Asian states, and has a long contiguous border with them (Dannreuther 1994, p61). From Iran, border trade into Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan has increased, as did Turkish and Iranian trade during the 1980s. Turkmenistan has also proposed the possibility of building pipelines for export of gas through Iran. However, all deals to build pipelines through or from Iran have to face the opposition of the U.S., which consistently tries to bar any aid, official loans, or Western involvement in such pipelines. In this context, the US Congress in early 1996 even tried to ban the Australian company BHP from building a major pipelines from Iran to Pakistan. Attempts by the U.S. to impose trade sanctions on foreign companies doing business with Iran resulted in a strong protest from the EU in April 1996, which threatened retaliation against such unilateral policies (Straits Times 1996). Apparently this U.S. law would mainly apply only to new contracts, and to ventures which involve more than US$40 million annually of benefit to the Iranian economy - thus the US$23 billion pipeline deal to transport natural gas from Iran to Turkey is likely to draw sanctions (Tsuruoka 1996). Recently, however, it has become apparent that the $200 million Iran-Turkmenistan gas pipeline development project will go ahead (Corzine 1997), and that sanctions will not be sufficient to stop Iran being used as an access point. Major road and rail-links through Xinjiang have also begun to link China into Central Asia.

As of 13 May 1996, major rail links were established between Iran and Central Asia, with a rail route connecting north Iran with Turkmenistan (from Meshhed in Iran to Tedzhen, Turkmenistan). This route allows Turkmenistan to 'consolidate its position as a neutral political entity' (Pannier 1996) by reducing Russian domination of its economy. At the same time it also helps reduce Iran's economic isolation, and reinforces her influence in the region. It is estimated that 'in the first year the line will carry half a million passengers and two million tons of freight' (Pannier 1996).

* Generally, at the economic level, Russian policy in the region is not confrontational outside of its special zone of interest in the former republics. This does not mean that Russian policies will always accord with 'Western' interests. Since 1993 Russia has played a more assertive role in the UN, increased trade with China, and attempted to improve or revive relations with Japan, Iraq (see Dannreuther 1993-4), Iran and India. Its special foreign and military policy to the near abroad also gives it reasons to intervene if its interests in the region are seriously hampered (see lectures 1-4). Russia, however, has played a very tight game on the issue of Caspian Sea oil, and the future of pipelines in the region. This problem of wider access to Central Asian oil and gas has not yet been solved. At times, Iran and Russia have agreed on their policies towards the legal control of Caspian Sea oil, them both extra leverages over these resources. Russia has also aided Iran with its military technology, as well as support in developing the nuclear power project at Bushehr in spite of US opposition. It is expected that over several years some $4 billion worth of military material will be purchased from Russia by Iran (Alam 2000). Recent small level tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan over resources in the Caspian Sea has not changed this situation (Lelyveld 2002), but as a whole Russia seems to be gaining more influence rather than less on the diplomacy of Caspian oil.

5. Prospects: Beyond the Vacuum and Dual Containment?

As we can now see, Central Asia is anything but a vacuum. In fact the 'vacuum' metaphor is a rather simplistic dynamic metaphor (derived from the mechanical sciences). From Chinese and Central Asia perspectives, vacuums, even when they exist, do not necessarily need to be filled - the demands for strategic manoeuvre and disentanglement from dangerous future obligations suggest that they should not, especially by medium powers or even by great powers uncertain of their future commitments. In any case, the changing face of Russian interests in Central Asia does not create a vacuum even in the traditional sense. As Turkey found when it hoped to capitalise on its cultural connections with the region, Central Asia is a wide and complex geographical terrain, which has an underdeveloped infrastructure, a complex ethnic, religious and political ecology, and the potential for dispersed conflict as well as nasty border incidents. All these factors mean that rather than a vacuum, Central Asia provides a thick, not easily penetrated medium for external interests. These factors have been recognized by both Turkey and Iran, both of whom have demonstrated considerable caution in recent years in their attempts to gain advantages from the region. Both have been restrained in their support for the Azeris, for example, with Iran repatriating some 100,000 refuges who fled into Iran due to the conflict with Armenia. Especially since 2001, Russia, China, U.S. and European interests represent stronger if less clearly focused influences on Central Asia than either Turkey or Iran. Turkey may be able to contain some strategic advantages from the political climate inspired by the 'war on terror', but there is no guarantee that it will be viewed as a suitable model for Central Asian states. Likewise, if the U.S. moves against Iraq at some stage to change its government, then the dual containment policy will end and the U.S. may also need to re-think its relationship with Iran as well.

Regional uncertainties and conflict have stopped both a wider Eurasian region, or the 'fourth region' proposed by Milad Hanna (Hanna 1993) from effectively integrating. Whether constructive integration will occurs, largely depends on the mutual restraint of Russia, Turkey and Iran, and a more proactive, long-term policy being developed in the U.S., China and Europe. The future economic development of Turkey-EU relations and U.S.-Iran relations are central to progress in the region.


7. Bibliography and Further Resources


For news on Turkey and the region, see The Turkish Daily News, an English-language newspaper site with free and subscriber sections. Homepage located at

A wide range of international and local Iranian news sources on Iran are collected in the news section of the Persepolis Webpage at

NetIran was a wide range of informational data, as well as links to news services and political analysis. Located at

Further Reading

ALAM, Shah "The Changing Paradigm of Iranian Foreign Policy", Strategic Analysis, 24 no. 9, December 2000, pp1629-1653 [Internet Access at]

BRONSTONE, Adam European Security into the Twenty-First Century: Beyond Traditional Theories of International Relations, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2000 [See Section III concerning Turkey and its regional environment]

EFEGIL, Ertan & STONE, Leonard "Iran's Interest in Central Asia: A Contemporary Assessment", Central Asian Survey, 20 no. 3, 2001, pp353-365 [Bond University Library]

HEPER, Metin & GUNEY, Aylin "The Military and the Consolidation of Democracy: The Recent Turkish Experience", Armed Forces and Society, 26 no. 4, Summer 2000, pp635-657 [Access via Proquest, off Bond University Library Webpage]

RUBIN, Barry & KRISCI, Kemal (eds.) Turkey in World Politics: An Emerging Multiregional Power, Boulder, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001

TAROCK, Adam "Iran's Policy in Central Asia", Central Asian Survey, 16 no. 2, June 1997, p185-20 (Vertical File)

TORBAKOV, Igor "A New Security Arrangement Takes Shape in The South Caucasus", Eurasia Insight, 24 January 2002 [Internet Access at]


AHMED, Akbar S. "A Third Encounter of the Close Kind", History Today, 39, November 1989, pp4-9

AHRARI, M. Ehsan "Iran, China and Russia: The Emerging Anti-US Nexus", Security Dialogue, 32 no. 4, December 2001, pp453-466

ALAM, Shah "The Changing Paradigm of Iranian Foreign Policy", Strategic Analysis, 24 no. 9, December 2000, pp1629-1653

ALLWORTH. Edward A. The Modern Uzbeks: From the Fourteenth Century to the Present - A Cultural History, Stanford, Stanford University, 1990

ALMOND, Mark "The Russian Giant Stirs - And Is Armed", The European, 30 July - 2 August 1992, p9

Associated Press "Cheney Offers Aid to Turkey for Peacekeeping Mission", 20 March 2002 [Internet Access via]

BAL, Idries "The Turkish Model: The Place of the Alawites", Central Asian Survey, 16 no. 1, March 1997, pp97-102

BALMFORTH, Richard "Russian Army Doctrine Sanctions Crushing of Revolt", 19-11-93, Reuters from On Line Service

BARHAM, John "US: Washington Set to Soothe Turkey's Wounded Pride", Financial Times, 19 December 1997 [Internet Access]

BARYLSKI, Robert V. "The Russian Federation and Eurasia's Islamic Crescent", Europe-Asia Studies, 46 no. 3, pp389-417

BELOKRENITSKY, Vyacheslav "Russia and Greater Asia", Asian Survey, 34 no. 12, December 1994

BENNIGSEN, Alexandre "Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism in History Today", Central Asian Survey, 3 no.3, pp39-49

BEZANIS, Lowell "Demirel's Middle East Tour: Turco-Israel Relations Warm, Turco-Arab Relations Cold", OMRI Analytical Brief, 1 no. 34, 21 March 1996 []

BEZANIS, Lowell "Turco-Syrian Tensions Escalate", OMRI Analytical Brief, 1 no. 174, 17 June 1996 []

BOUDREAUX, Richard "Turkey's Generals Face New Kind of Challenger: The EU", International Herald Tribune, 9 March 2000 [Internet Access]

BOUSTANY, Nora "Turkey: Bridging Two Worlds", Washington Post, 21 February 1997, pA24 BUSHEV, Alesksandr "Turkmenistan - A kind of Prosperity", The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 1994

CALIS, Saban "Pan-Turkism and Europeanism: A Note on Turkey's 'Pro-German Neutrality' during the Second World War", Central Asian Survey, 16 no. 1, March 1997, pp103-114

CEVIK, Ilnur "Do We Have the Luxury of Living with Article 312?", Turkish Daily News, 14 March 2000 [Internet Access]

CHIPMAN, John (Dir.) The Military Balance 1995-1996, London, IISS, 1995

CHIPMAN, John (Dir.) The Military Balance 2000-2001, London, IISS, 2000

CIA "Kazakhstan", CIA World Fact Book, on-line access, 1993-4

CLARK, Bruce "Iran: US Grasps Olive Branch", Financial Times, 16 December 1997 [Internet Access]

CHUBIN, Shahram "The Super-Powers, Regional Conflicts and World Order", Adelphi Paper 237, The Changing Strategic Landscape, Part III, Spring 1989, pp74-93

CORZINE, Robert "Gas: Iran Celebrates $200m Caspian Pipeline", Financial Times, 30 December 1997 [Internet Access]

CUTHBERTSON, Ian "The New 'Great Game'", World Policy Journal, 11, Winter 1994/5, pp31-43

DANNREUTHER, Roland Creating New States in Central Asia, Adelphi Paper 288, London, IISS, 1994

DAWISHA, Karen & PARROTT, Bruce Russia and the New States of Eurasia: The Politics of Upheaval, Cambridge, CUP, 1994

DUNPHY, Harry "World Bank Likely to OK Iran Loans", Washington Post, 11 March 2000 [Internet Access]

Economist "Iran and Afghanistan" Tetchy Neighbours", 15 August 1998, pp41-42

EFEGIL, Ertan & STONE, Leonard "Iran's Interest in Central Asia: A Contemporary Assessment", Central Asian Survey, 20 no. 3, 2001, pp353-365 [Bond University Library]

Emerging Markets Week "Turkey at the Crossroads", 24 December 2001 [Internet Access via]

ERTUGRUL, Ahmet & SELCUK, Faruk "A Brief Account of the Turkish Economy 1980-2000", Russian and East European Finance and Trade, 37 no. 6, November 2001, pp6-30 [Access via Proquest Database]

FRASER, Suzan "Turkish Economy Minister Confident New Program Will Get International Funding", New Jersey Online, 11 March 2001 [Internet Access]

GARDINER-GARDEN, John Beyond the Soviet Union 1 - Eurasia in Transition: Internal Change and International Interests, Canberra, Parliamentary Research Service, Paper No. 28, June 1995a

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