When Russian Eurasianism Meets Turkey’s Eurasia

When Russian Eurasianism Meets Turkey’s Eurasia

This is the story of an idea. The political concept of Eurasia, or “Eurasianism,” refers to the spiritual linking of the European and Asian peoples in the history and future of Russia. The idea behind the Eurasia movement derives from the works of Prince N. S. Trubetskoi, P. N. Savitski, G. V. Vernadski, and several others. Trubetskoi believed that the inter- connection of Eastern Slavs and the Turkic and Uralo-Altaic steppe peoples — or Turanian peoples — is one of the main building blocks of Russian history. In the 1920s, this theoretical concept found many followers among Russian émigrés dispersed in Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Germany, France, and Czechoslovakia who were searching for a new theory to combat the ideological thrust of the Marxist- Leninist revolution in Russia. A small “Eurasianists” movement developed, yet Eurasianism put down only weak roots and rapidly declined.

Neo-Eurasianism, inspired by the earlier movement, gained traction and considerable popularity in Russia during the years leading up to and following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lev Gumilev, often cited as the founder of the Neo-Eurasianist move- ment, developed a theory of ethno- genesis holding that the peoples of the Eurasian steppe included not just the Russians but also the Turkic peoples of Central Asia. Gumilev regarded Russians as a “super-ethnos” kindred to Turkic peoples of the Eurasian steppe, including the Tatars, Kazakhs, and even the Chingizid Mongolians. With this theoretical synthesis, Gumilev and his followers concluded that Russia is not a natural part of “the West,” that it is instead culturally closer to Asia than to Western Europe. Neo-Euransianism thus resonates with many Russian intellectuals and politicians who fear the West and are divorced from its values.

The Neo-Eurasian idea also took root beyond Russia. In the capital
of Kazakhstan, the L.N. Gumilev Eurasian National University was established through the initiative of President Nursultan Nazarbayev on May 23, 1996. In August 2005, authori- ties in Tatarstan erected a monument to Gumilev. And after 2001, a number of Gumilev’s books were translated into Turkish.

After the collapse of Soviet Union, the terminology of Eurasianism spread
in Russia, the former Central Asian republics, Turkey, and also in the West, although interpretations of its meaning differed from place to place. In Russia, some of Gumilev’s ideas, including some with anti-Semitic overtones, were incorporated into the political agenda of Aleksandr Dugin. In his work Foundations of Geopolitics (1997), Dugin explained that the rule of ethnic Russians over the lands extending from Dublin to Vladivastok was

a preordained and natural phenomenon. In 1998, Dugin’s career took a large step forward when he was named advisor on geopolitics to Genadii Seleznev, chairman of the Russian State Duma. Dugin’s book gained considerable currency, and today it is even being used as a text book at the General Staff Academy. On May 31, 2001, the Russian Ministry of Justice officially registered the “Eurasia” movement.

In Dugin’s view, Russians will create a “supra-national Empire” in which ethnic Russians will occupy a “privi- leged position.” According to Dugin, China is Russia’s most dangerous geopolitical neighbor. Tibet, Xinjiang, Mongolia, and Manchuria (Northern China) together comprise a security belt for Russia that keeps China at some distance. A “grand alliance” of Russia and Turania should divide imperial spoils with “the Islamic Empire in the South.” Russia’s “south” is composed of the Caucasus, Central Asia, Mongolia, the Iranian Empire, and Armenia. Armenia, in Dugin’s thinking, will serve as the center point of a Moscow-Yerevan-Teheran axis whose purpose is to thwart any designs that Turkey might have to its north and east. Azerbaijan will be split up among Iran, Russia, and Armenia.

When the second edition of Dugin’s book (2003) was trans- lated into Turkish, it attracted considerable attention and quickly gained popularity. In 2010, a 7th edition was printed, and in it Dugin’s thinking on Russia’s natural allies in the Eurasia experiment took an important turn.

This was Dugin’s provocative appeal to Turkey in the preface, which made the last edition stand out:

As a national state and NATO member, Turkey is inimical to the Eurasian project...Its selective assistance to the Chechen separatists, the permanent old Turkish- Armenian dispute, its supporting of an anti-Moscow atmosphere in Baku, and all issues connected with
the construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, evidently suits the pro-Atlantic and anti-Eurasian strate- gies of Ankara.

We Slavs understand the urge to empire of our comradely Turkish people, and we are ready to stretch out our hand of friendship. Eurasia is very big and its immense bound- aries will be enough for everyone. But if the ominous notion that the 21st century will become the “American century” becomes reality, then we are going to lose our common fatherland.1

In articles Dugin published later and that were trans- lated into Turkish, he noted the evolving attraction of the Eurasian idea to Turks:

The idea of Eurasianism in Turkey took root first in the leftwing environment... The Workers Party of Turkey under the leadership of Mr. Doğu Perinçek, its organ the journal Aydinlik and other institutions close to them, accepted Eurasianism ... But also rightwing nationalists, centrists, some religious circles, some military leaders of Turkish army, intellectual foundations like the Ahmed Yesevi Foundation and ASAM (Eurasian Strategic Research Center), the ”Dialog Eurasia Platform” move- ment, which tries to bring members of the Common- wealth of Independent States and Turkish intellectuals closer together, and other institutions or movements showed interest to this Eurasia concept.2

Dugin’s Eurasian Political Party could not break the 5 percent barrier in Russia’s 2003 State Duma elections,
but he was undeterred. In 2005, he formed the Union of Eurasianist Youth. Because of his provocative speeches about Russia’s unification with Ukraine, Kyiv declared him persona non grata in 2007. In May 2008 when Moscow sent troops into separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Dugin was there with his youth group as chief ideologist of expan- sionism and as advisor to Putin’s United Russia Party. On August 26, 2008, Dugin visited South Ossetia to celebrate Russia’s recognition of its independence, despite the farcical appearance of this action. (The larger part of Northern Ossetia, about 450,000 citizens, is a part of the Russian Federation, while Southern Ossetia with its 70,000 is now “independent,” thanks to Russia’s intervention.)

From January 1, 2012, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia
will push forward with economic integration by creating
a customs union, a single economic space. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are also showing interest in joining, but Ukraine at the moment shows reluctance. The new customs union
is a first step towards forming an EU-type economic alli- ance of former Soviet states. But this is not the first effort to create an organization for economic cooperation. Uzbeki- stan suspended its membership in the last one, the Eurasian Economic Community, in 2008, and Turkmenistan declared its intention never to join to such organizations. Kazakh- stan’s President Nazarbayev is a different story altogether. His interest in Eurasianism has deep roots. He was influ- enced by Gumilev’s ideas and, as noted, created a university named after him.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Turks discovered their kinship with this geography and a wave of pan-Turkish sentiment arose. Turkey’s president at that time, Süleyman Demirel, spoke often of a “Turkish World from the Adriatic Sea to the Great Wall of China.” By this, he meant almost

all territories of Turkic states in the Caucasus and Central Asia, but also former Ottoman territories in the Balkans, and possibly even the Arab peninsula. Before 1991, the
term Eurasia was seldom used, but after collapse of the USSR, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, scholars, and institu- tions started to use “Eurasia” instead of “the Turkish World,” because it sounded more politically neutral. But many Turks adopted “Eurasia” without knowing the larger ideology

of the original Russian construction. Books, articles, and journals — almost everyone used this term, from left to the right. Nationalists, neo-Kemalists, neo-Ottomanists, and pan-Turkists adopted the term Eurasia to their own needs. In the last five to six years, at least 40 books on the subject have been published in Turkey, but only a few of these deal with the Russian Eurasian theory or project.

This may be changing. The term “Eurasia,” stressing the geographic reality, is becoming common. For example, a marathon project first organized in 1979 on the Istanbul Bridge is now called the “Eurasia Marathon,” as the bridge connects the two continents. An undersea tunnel, which will connect the two continents in a few years, is called the Eurasia Tunnel. The use of the term has grown greatly in the last decade, when economic, political, and cultural relations with the Russian Federation and former Soviet republics began to expand. In 2002, a very short-lived Eurasia Party was founded in Turkey, and today many construction or textile firms, hotels, and even hospitals can be found in Turkey bearing the name Eurasia. In the cultural arena, there are a radio station, several research centers, a research institute associated with Istanbul University, a research foundation, a writers association, and even a private univer- sity in Trabzon (2011) with “Eurasia” in their titles.

As Turkey has failed to align with Europe in a formal way, the idea of Turkey as a dominant actor in Eurasia is catching on. It is hard to imagine that these two influences are unrelated. Eurasia is becoming, at least, a notional refer- ence point for many in Turkish life, including politicians, entrepreneurs, journalists, intellectuals, scholars, and even clergymen as an appropriate cultural anchor. Ideas about

As Turkey has failed to align with Europe in a formal way, the idea of Turkey as a dominant actor in Eurasia is catching on.

the creation of a Turkish political and economic union or building a Eurasian Common Market have emerged and are gaining traction in some quarters. In 2011, the Russian Federation was the leading importer of goods from Turkey. Turkey now relies almost totally on Russian gas via two pipelines, one through the Balkans and the second across Black Sea. And Turkey has just approved a third Russian energy route under the Black Sea, the South Stream pipe- line, which could kill the rival U.S.-Europe Nabucco project to bypass Russian gas in favor of other Eurasian suppliers as a way to ease Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. 


Turkey’s choice is telling. This suggests that economically it is already advanced in its thinking about a different kind of Eurasia, that its vision stretches beyond simple economic determinism.

Russia, Turkey, Eurasia. For at least the last 400 years, as Turks and Russians fought wars and confronted each other repeatedly, such a geostrategic synthesis would have been unthinkable. Today it seems much closer to reality. This begs the question: Can Turkey’s Eurasia embrace Russian Eurasianism? Right now, they are parallel but potentially convergent ideas, both representing powerful and growing forces in their societies. Will the other strong forces, espe- cially energy and economics, that increasingly knit together the burgeoning Russo-Turkish relationship lubricate some kind of ideological synthesis, as Dugin envisioned? Can Ankara’s instincts toward a more integrated Turkic world be made to fit with the Russian concept of ethnic excep- tionalism that includes a strong Turkic component? Or is competition still the more likely scenario, especially as Russians lose their demographic advantage to Muslims within the Russian Federation? Is Eurasia the idea that replaces Europe in the Turkish imagination? 




1 Aleksandr Dugin, Rus Jeopolitiği. Avrasyacı Yaklaşım, 7th ed., Istanbul: Küre Publication, 2010, pp. xvıı-xvııı

2 Aleksandr Dugin, Moskova-Ankara Ekseni. “Avrasya Hareketi” nin Temel Görüşleri, Istan- bul: Kaynak Publication, 2007, pp. 128-129 T