Geo-cultural dimension of Turkey’s Caspian Sea policy

Turkey’s soft power in the Caspian Sea region stems largely from its sociocultural and economic policies based ethnic, linguistic, religious and historical kinship with Turkic speaking nations of the Caspian region. Ankara has been attempting at projecting its soft power through various educational and cultural institutions, particularly after the 2000s. The opening of Yunus Emre cultural centers is an important development for Turkey’s relations with the Caspian Sea region, since these centers are expected to enhance the cultural dialogue between Turkey and the Turkic-speaking peoples in the region. In fact, the first Yunus Emre center in Central Asia was opened in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana in 2010. Besides, there are several Turkish public and private schools and universities in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Ahmet Yesevi University is Turkey’s joint initiative with Kazakhstan. In addition, Turkey’s TICA (Turkish International Cooperation Agency) established computer centers in various schools and training centers in some of these coun- tries.[1]

The provision of foreign aid is also one of the key aspects of Turkey’s soft power in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The TICA provides assistance to these Central Asian states in the fields of telecommunications and transportation infrastructure, the supply of clean water as well as educational opportunities for the students in Turkey’s universities and training for bureaucrats in various sectors.[2]

It should be noted that Russia and Iran pose significant challenges to Turkey in projecting its soft power to the Caspian Sea regions. Both Moscow and Tehran does not allow Ankara to distribute foreign aid inside their countries out of the fear that Turkic communities in the Russian Federation and the Azeri community in the northern part of Iran would be oriented not only culturally but also politically towards Turkey. In addition, both countries also have considerable geo-cultural influence in the Turkic states of the Caspian Sea region. The Russian cultural influence is considerable mainly in Kazakhstan and partly in Turkmenistan. Iran is also keen, though unsuccessfully until now, on boosting its geo-cultural influence in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan through its overt and covert activities. Although these countries have their own limitations in these Turkic countries in the Caspian Sea region due to the local reactions to the increased Russian and Iranian influence in their countries, Turkey has significant limitations in projecting its geo-cultural influence in this region too.[3]

To sum up, despite Turkey’s stated objective of enhancing the geocultural dimension of its Caspian Sea policy, Ankara has been only partly effective in projecting its soft power in the Caspian Sea region. This is mainly because Turkey’s soft power has significant economic and cultural limitations in this region.

  • [1] See MFA of Turkey, “OrtaAsyaUlkeleriyleiliskiler” available at: (last retrieved on 12 February 2014).
  • [2] G.M. Winrow, “Turkish Policy towards Central Asia and the Transcaucasus”, A. Makovsky, S. Sayari (eds.),Turkey’s New World: Changing Dynamics in Turkish Foreign Policy, Washington D.C., WINEP, 2000, pp. 117119.
  • [3] T.S. Mohammadi, “Tensions Rise between Iran and Azerbaijan”, Deutsche Welle, available at: (last retrieved on 4 April 2014).
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