After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the new independent states in Inner Asia(1) and the Caucasus region have become a focus of interest among the international community. What is the future role of this potential regional power, surrounded by Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Russia? What do the enormous energy resources around and in the Caspian Sea signify? The world has undergone radical changes since the Soviet Union's demise; we are still groping for ways to understand the new international order since the end of the cold war, and much attention has been paid to these issues. The Inner Asian republics themselves must find their own methods to answer these questions and to act in ways that will express their ideals. Turmoil continues throughout much of Inner Asia, but it is a matter of crucial importance for the republics to preserve a strong sense of national identity so they can maintain their independence as nation-states.
The National Policy Research Foundation [NPRF], a leading think tank in Turkey, has led a study of these issues (supported by a grant from NIRA), a project that began in the summer of 1997. Turkey occupies a significant geopolitical position between Europe and Asia, and shares many common backgrounds, including history, ethnicity, and culture), with the Inner Asian republics. The results of all the studies, including interviews with a wide array of specialists, were compiled into a research report in November 1998 entitled "The New Independent States and Turkey's Policy." An international symposium followed in December 1998 in Istanbul.
Outline of the Symposium
Participants in the international symposium ("Inner Asia in the 21st Century," organized by NPRF) were from academic, political, and business circles. They included Turkey's minister of state, a representative from the Turkish International Cooperation Agency (TICA), Turkey's consultant on foreign relations to the prime minister, economic advisers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from each Inner Asian republic, Russia's director of the CIS Countries Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an American journalist specializing in the region, and the president of NIRA. Researchers and members of business groups from the Inner Asian republics and Turkey also participated.
Representatives from Inner Asian republics reported that the domestic reforms, including administrative restructuring and legislative infrastructure reforms, were progressing. They also stressed the importance of making further efforts toward democratization and more open-market economies. Each republic also expressed its intent to solidify its relationship with Turkey, which was referred to as "The model country of the market economy" (by Azerbaijan), and as a "window opening to the global market" (by Kazakhstan).
The Russian representative expressed the viewpoint that it is necessary--for the stability of Inner Asian republics--to strengthen mutual relations among themselves, instead of accepting central control from Russia.
The participants agreed to do everything within their power to stabilize the region and to use the development of energy resources to accelerate regional economic development, which will help to guarantee long-term political stability.
The Report: A Summary
The report starts with an overview of Inner Asian history, from the nomadic times until today. On the basis of historical details and a great deal of statistical data, the report also analyzes the various reasons why development in the region has been obstructed. The complexities of the political, economic, and social problems of the region--many of which have been unwillingly inherited from the former USSR--include the lack of democratic institutions, excessive bureaucracy, lack of entrepreneurship, violations of human rights, a steady outflow of the region's Slavic population (the most skilled and educated workers in the region), serious unemployment problems caused by the rapid increase in local population, and the mental exhaustion of citizens.
Moreover, the report points out that most of these problems are potential causes of instability in the region. It also argues the indispensability of steady economic growth and the necessity of foreign investment and technical support, which are needed to compensate for the lack of domestic capability in dealing with these matters.
On the other hand, the report recognizes that the anxiety of foreign investors regarding regional instability has impeded progress in the region. To make real progress toward sustainable economic development, the report suggests, the region's abundant energy resources must be utilized in the most efficient and profitable ways.
It concludes that the region will remain stable for some time, and that stability is reinforced by the "sense of crisis" common throughout the region. Many people are afraid that any turmoil that starts anywhere in Inner Asia will quickly and inevitably spread to neighboring regions. The report also concludes, however, that domestic reforms, including democratization and further opening of individual market economies, are needed. These reforms, together with the exploitation of energy, will help to achieve long-term stability in the region.
(1): "Inner Asia," as presented in this paper, is a cultural rather than a geographical concept. The new independent republics that arose after the collapse of the USSR, including Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan, are the main focus of this paper.