In recent times, separatist movements that erupted in several countries have brought to the forefront Turkic-origin communities living in those countries, such as the Tatars in Crimea, the Gagauz in Moldova and the Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang region.
These communities have diverging wishes and expectations. Turkey, which feels special affinity to these groups, sometimes has to face unexpected problems.
Let’s start with Crimea. The Tatars, who make up 14% of Crimea's population, have been opposing Crimea’s separation from Ukraine and its annexation by Russia. There is historical background to this, as the Tatars have not forgotten Russia’s pressure and deportation policies during World War II. The Tatars don’t like the prospect of their land coming under Moscow’s domination. In May, Russian officials banned Mustafa Abdulcemil Kirimoglu, the speaker of the Crimea Tatar National Assembly, coming from Kiev to enter Crimea first by air and then by road. This created tremendous resentment of Tatars and led to widespread protests.
At that time, Tatars expected active support from Turkey. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had earlier said Turkey would always stand with the Tatars. President Abdullah Gul had decorated Kirimoglu with Turkey’s medal of the republic. Ankara went into line to lift the ban on Kirimoglu, and counseled parties to show restraint. It didn’t work. This visibly disappointed the Tatars.
While Tatars were awaiting support for their stand against separatism and Russia, the Turkic-origin Gagauz people of Moldova have totally contrary positions and expectations. They want to split from the pro-West capital of Chisinau and become independent. As we wrote earlier, Gagauz leader Mihail Formuzal hopes Turkey will support their cause and take up the matter with Moldova. They want to see Turkey more active.
Finally, there is Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China. Uighur Turks in the region have long complained about assimilation and pressure policies. From time to time there are street actions and clashes. In May, there were bomb attacks in town of Urumqi that killed more than 30 people. Many people were detained. Uighur nationalists also want active support from Turkey. Turkish diplomacy, however, doesn’t go beyond advising restraint.
In short, Ankara faces tough choices on the status of Turkic origin people in various parts of the world. Turkey, while showing close interest in these groups and standing in solidarity with them, also has to pay attention to its national interests in relations with the relevant governments. This in turn requires prudent and balanced policies.
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