Pan-Turanism: Through Russia to Turkey

The book of Armenian writer Zarevand «Turkey and Pan-Turanism» (1930) narrates objectively, with clear set out facts about the conception and development of the Pan-Turanism ideology and Turkey’s role in it, by answering all the questions that may cause concern to the reader in view of this topic.  The book is also remarkable for the detailed foreword of the Russian diplomat, Eastern scholar, legal scholar of the Ottoman Empire A.N. Mandelshtam. Although 90 years have passed since writing the book, but it is still a poignant one, as the historical-political processes described in it are the preconditions of the world order that we have now.  Below are the most important parts from the book.

What is Turan? Pan-Turanism

If you look at the physical map of the world then you can picture the approximate location of the conditional region called Turan. It lies between the Caspian Sea, Iranian and Akmola elevations and river heads of Syr-Darya and Irtysh.  

Hordes of Attila, Genghis Khan, Timur the Lame and others came from the Turan. They invaded Russia, the entire Middle East and part of Europe at one time.

The descendants of these tribes are known as “People of Turan”. Among these are the Turks of the Asia Minor, the Tatars of Southern Russia and the Caucasus, the Turkmen and Turki of Persia and Middle Asia, the Uzbeks, the Kyrgyz, the Mongols, the Tungus and the Tajik, the natives of Siberia, also the Finns, Bulgarians and Hungarians.          

Pan-Turanism is a political trend aimed at uniting all the people of Turan into one national-political space.

However not all the people of Turan live in a solid mass and on the same territory, it can be easily understood by looking at the map of the world.  What is more, they differ by language, religion and culture.  And some of them like the Finns and Bulgarians are away from their tribal roots. Hence the political alliance of all the people of Turan is impossible in an indiscriminate way. 

But there is a group of people among them that are similar to each other by language, religion and culture and also occupy a vast territory from the Mediterranean Sea to the Great Wall of China (interrupted only in one place: in little Armenia).   It is the Turkic-Tatar group of the Turan People and Pan-Turanism seeks to unite them in the first place. 

How did Han-Turanism arise?

Actually Pan-Turanism arose in Russia among the Tatars of Volga and Crimea. It was the Russian Muslims who were the founders of it and spread the idea of Pan-Turanism among the Anatolian Turks. 

It is a fact of life that nationalism (and national feelings in general) is common among the nations that are deprived of political independence. For purposes of self-defense they start set off against the dominant nation.  For the Russian Tatars this set-off was rested upon religion.  The Turkic-Tatar activists who were in « giaour »-Tsar’s control (i.e. infidel – this is how the Muslims called the Christians) began their activities under the slogan protection of «shariat» and Islam from the Orthodox Christianity. Since the religious head of all Muslims; Caliph sat in Constantinople, the eyes of all the Russian Muslims were bent there in this struggle. 

The progressive part of the Muslim movement not only fought against the russification policy but also tried to reform the religious-cultural life of its fellow compatriots.  However at first this activities encountered strong resistance by the conservative Tatars and fighting flared up between them.

In this fight the Russian government stood by the conservative Tatars and began to pursue the reformists who had allegedly introduced “profane practice” in Islam.   

But as is quite common, the prosecutions only intensified the movement, which soon changed over from religious- educational to a pure nationalistic one. 

This transition coincided in time with the revolutionary sentiments among the Russian intellectuals. The Tatar youth who was gradually enlightened started to appropriate with the representatives of the Russian intellectuals and also caught the oppositional sentiments.  Although they agreed on the need to change the government however the goals of these two groups were completely different:  the Russian intellectuals wanted political and social remodeling, while the Tatars sought national liberation.   

It has to be said that the nationalism was yet reviving in the Tatar society, touching only its upper, intellectual layers.  The others were deprived of the national consciousness and lived like religious communities.  So before talking to them about the panturanism, it was needed to revive the nationalism in them, to introduce the idea of tribal community between the Crimean Tatar, Central Asian Uzbek and Turkestani Sart.  And it required a huge cultural-educational work.  So this is where the Tatar nationalists started.

Fine literature is the least dangerous way of advocating national purposes. They published a series of dramatic work, where they praised the heroism and achievements of “glorious” ancestors of the People of Turan who had once dominated in Asia and Europe by uniting all the Turan tribes into a strong independent state.   The scientific work of some European and Russian oriental scholars (Wambery, fon Lekok, Radlov) also conferred the Pan-Turks a great favor in their advocacy.  These scientific works proved the similarity of language, culture and origin of all Tatar people and existence of high level of civilization in the past.     

With onset of the Russian revolution of 1905 the advocacy of ideas also reached out to journals and newspapers. A set of periodic publications sprang up in Turkic language.

The Azerbaijani Tatars and awakening of Turan consciousness 

In the Caucasus, Baku was the centre of panturanism and Tatar national movement. There with the financial support of the famous millionaire Zeynal Tagiev the daily newspaper “Caspian” was published which was the symbol of the Azerbaijani nationalism.  But in the Caucasus as well at first it was of religious nature because it would have been hard to approach an Azerbaijani countryman who had no national consciousness, with ideas of pure Turanism.  

Time went by and gradually the national principle took over.  And Turkey which was initially perceived as the center of Islam was now being perceived as a country of the same nationality.   The Azerbaijani Pan-Turks said that the Anatolian Turk was of the same Turanian origin as the Azerbaijani Tatar, that they shared the same culture and language. And since of all the people of Turan only Turks had retained their independence and common culture, the Turkish Sultan is granted with a great honor to liberate the Turkic-Tatar people from the foreign domination and uniting them into one country.  

And where, if not in Turkey to seek help?

Certainly the revolution of 1905 served as a breeding ground to evolve the ideas of panturanism.  Secret meetings of Muslims were convened in the civil disturbance that had embraced Russia.  In one of these meetings discussions were held to establish all kinds of connections with Turkey.  For this purpose, for example, it was suggested to create a common-literary language and the basis for it would be not the dialects of the Russian Tatars but the language of Constantinople Turks, or introduce the school curriculum of Turkey into the Russian Turkic-Tatar schools.  The propaganda began with publishing newspapers and magazines in Turkish language with Turkophile content.  

But it was not to be. After recovering from revolution Russia quickly summoned up all its strength and restored the old methods of governance, by nipping in the bud not only the aspirations to break away from the empire but also the cultural and national self determinations inside Russia.    

In such scenario the only hope of Russian Pan-Turks for liberation was the help from the outside; namely from Turkey.  It was necessary to convince the Turks to take the lead of panturanism movement.  Having this in mind all the prominent representatives of Russian Pan-Turks moved to Turkey one after another.

What sentiments prevailed in Turkey before the arrival of Pan-Turks from Russia?

Towards the arrival of the representatives of Russian Pan-Turks to Constantinople, there was a completely different political atmosphere in there: the society leaned towards the western civilization and all together was shouting for the need of modernization.  Back then the Turks had no idea that they had something in common with the Turkic-Tatar people of Asia. 

The famous Turkologist A. Wambery told a very curious episode. When in 1856 in front of the upper-class society of Constantinople he was advocating his theory of unity of origin of all people of Turan, he noticed a big discontent on their faces: the “civilized” effendi of Constantinople were even offended, as for them “tyuchuluk” i.e. Turkic was the synonym of barbarity and brutalism.  

During this time period of modernization reforms (1839-1876) the Turkish society only acknowledged the Ottoman patriotism, the idea of realistic motherland within certain territory.  (Before that the dominant nation in the Ottoman Empire regarded itself not as a nation but “hummet i Muhammad” i.e. community of Muhammad, thus setting themselves off against the Christian communities of the Empire.  Back then Turks had neither sense of national identity, nor national culture, so they did not try to assimilate the subordinate nations, contenting themselves with dominating and exploiting them).

With the arrival of Russian Pan-Turks from Baku to Constantinople in 1889, they started the propaganda of Pan-Turkic ideas that hit chords with the Turkish youth back then and very soon there was a serious group of Pan-Turks.

Already in the 1890’s three trends fought to gain the mastery of youth:  ottomanism, pan-islamism and pan-turkism (pan-turanism). Correspondingly three political organizations came up:  «Ottoman Unity», «Pan-Islamic Unity» and «Pan-Turkic Unity».

With the advent of sultan Abdul Hamid the territorial (ottoman) patriotism was suppressed. The sultan was a pan-Islamist and an ardent opponent of every kind of nationalism: ottoman or Turkic and acknowledged only Islam (religion) believing that any nationalism would inevitably lead to liberalism.  The Sultan withstood Turan with Koran and did not particularly indulge the delegates of Russian Tatars who often asked for meetings with him.  

Young Turks and Panturanism

In 1908 the Young Turk revolution took place and the party “Unity and Progress” came to power.  The representatives of the party were the Young Turks, they wanted to bring an end to the absolutism and establish constitutional order and civil equality in Turkey.  New political trends, including panturanism began to emerge in new and free Turkey.  Its followers very quickly turned Constantinople into the center of Pan-Turkic propaganda. 

Back then ottomanism was the official doctrine of the ruling party “Unity and Progress” and the main political trend.  With the support of the doctrine the Young Turks tried to unite all the nations living in the Ottoman Empire into the Ottoman nation with one language and culture just like in America.

However they did not take into account the nuance that the historical conditions in Turkey were very different from the American ones: in the Ottoman empire the struggle between the dominant and subordinate nations continued for centuries and no matter the efforts of the Young Turks trying to assure everyone that the massacres and the bashing were in the past, still the ethnic and religious minorities treated them with restraint and had no trust in them.  Moreover the situation in regions inhabited by non-Turkish people left much to be desired: people of Balkan, Arabs and Armenians did not want to disown their self-identity and become one Ottoman family.  This was clearly not what the Young Turks expected, as they anticipated outpouring of patriotism and gratitude from the minorities and a very quick «unity».  They were bitterly disappointed both in the principle and applied political methods after trying for a year and not making the desired progress…

In the meantime the propaganda of panturanism was snapping at the heels of ottomanism that fell short of panturanism.  It slowly but accurately was penetrating into the Central Committee of the party.  The consecutive policy of the Young Turks may be characterized as “blind and upcoming imperialism” directed against “the faithless” and the people that “have defected the country”.  It should have divulged and assimilated all the discontented (non-Turkish) people even by using of force.  When these sentiments embraced a wide range of Turkish intellectuals ottomanism completely made way for panturanism (panturkism). 

Thus, it took half a century for the Turks to comprehend that Turkey is not a European, but an Asian country and they  leaned towards the East, where “”Millions of people of Turan” were waiting for them.  Defeats in the wars, loss of territories and psychological oppression were cured by a new Pan-Turkic ideology, which, however, became a true hard knock for other nationalities of Turkey.  It does not matter whether they are Christian minorities or Muslims, everyone must be made Turkish.  

Panturanism and the WWI

It is commonly known that the Pan-Turkic movement was originated in Russia and it is little wonder that it was mainly directed against Russia; it was considered “a barbaric country, enslaver of people”. 

On the eve of WWI the anti-Russian sentiments were intensified especially among the Turks.  The issue is that upon the request of the Great Powers (Russia, France, Great Britain) the autonomous Armenia was supposed to be established in the eastern vilayets of Turkey inhabited mainly by Armenians. Obviously the Turks considered this reform as an obstacle to develop homogeneous and strong Turkish state and as an attempt “to drive a wedge between the united Turkic world” that way parting off the Turks from the other people of Turan.  Russia was considered as the main instigator of the reforms and as per the Turks with the support of the «Armenian Question» it wanted to conduct a new attack on Turkey, and the Armenian revolutionists mainly consisting of the Caucasus Armenians were simply considered as agents.  The Turks could only impede Russia by joining the war on the side of its opponents. 

The campaign of Enver pasha (a Young Turk, the military minister of the Ottoman Empire) during the war to the Transcaucasia and Dagestan, his plans to conquer Turkestan and Central Asia showed that Turkey had completely taken the path of panturanism and the war fighting mission was the full implementation of panturanism.   The project included the complete annihilation of Turkish Armenians which Turkey implemented in the beginning of the war, thus removing the barrier on the way to Turan.  «To eliminate the “Armenian Question” I did more than Abdul Hamid for the period of thirty years» – declared Tallat pasha (a Young Turk, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Ottoman Empire), and it was, alas, the complete truth.

However the advancements of the Turks were limited to the above mentioned.  The war took an unsuccessful turn for them: the Anatolian regions one by one were passed on to the Russians and the Turks were in despair.

But a miracle happened:  the revolution broke out in Russia and all the advancements took a different path… It allowed the Turks to respite hence engendering them a hope for a final salvation.   The Russian Turkic-Tatars, who from the very beginning of the war between Russia and Turkey sided with the Turks, were even happier:  In 1913 a meeting was held between the delegates of Turkey and Azerbaijan, where a decision was made to focus efforts on uniting the eastern and western Turks.   At first the military advancements of Russia and the firm policy of the Russian government precluded the overt actions of the Turkic-Tatars, but with the abatement of the Russian government they became more and more overt and eventually turned into anti-Russian and Turkophile.  It became apparent more vividly after the Bolshevik revolution, especially in the Caucasus. 

Panturanism and Bolshevik Revolution… the phase of the ideology prosperity

After the revolution and the Bolshevik upheaval the triumphant Russian army that was controlling 1/3 of the territory of Turkey left this regions and went back home.  The Caucasian front line was exposed and Turks were granted with big perspectives.    They returned all the conquered regions and approached the Russian borders on the Caucasus.

The peace concluded with the Bolsheviks in Brest-Litovsk allowed the Turks to take back the regions of Kars, Ardaghan and Batumi captured by Russia in 1879.  Turkey received more than it expected but it continued to advance persistently deeper to the Transcaucasia seeking to unite the Turkic-Tatar population with Turkey, mainly the Azerbaijani population.  Nothing stopped them, even the discontent of the alliance partner Germany who had allotted completely different tasks for the Turks in the war.  

Since the withdrawal of the Russian army all the activities of the Azerbaijani Tatars were strictly coordinated with the military commitments of the Turkish army.  The combined activities of the Turks and the Tatars were first of all aimed at the Armenians who had to take the defense of the Caucasus front line against the Turks and rear areas against the Tatars after the withdrawal of the Russian army.   

The most important thing in the demeanor of the Transcaucasia Tatars was that they were not striving to become independent from Russia but to give themselves and the rest of Transcaucasia under the rule of Turks.  They achieved this very quickly breaking the resistance of the Armenians and taking advantage of the neutrality of Georgians.  Early in September, 1918 the Turkish army “liberated” Baku, massacring 30 thousand innocent Armenian populations and at the end of that month they were already fighting under Petrovsk to “liberate” the mountaineers of the Caucasus. In winter 1918 Azerbaijan became a Turkish province.   It remained the same after the formal proclamation of its independence in May of the same year.  «Long live the Turkish army, long live the alliance of all Turkic people! » – One could hear the exclamations of the head of Azerbaijani government Khan-Khonskoy – «anxiously now are waiting the Turkish army bringing liberation the mountaineers of the Caucasus, the Tatars of the Volga region, the Sart of the Trans-Caspian, the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz (…)».

Suddenly the second miracle happened, that destroyed the plans of the Pan-Turks this time: the war was over with the defeat of the allies of Turkey and its army that had reached the threshold of the Turan had to give up on its further mission and go back to Anatolia again…

Thus on the midway ended the most striking phase of the panturanism movement. 

Panturanism during the Kemalist Movement

After the defeat of the alliance partners in the World War I Turkey faced a serious problem to pull through the eventual division and remain as an independent and strong country.  And not only for the sake of Turks but also for the sake of mighty mission to liberate the people of Turan that the history entrusted on Turkey.  These sentiments provoked national movement in Turkey, called Kemalist, named after its leader Mustafa Kemal pasha.   

This national movement opened a new era in the history of Turkey. Turkey became republic striving for maximum homogeneity of the state.  Continuing the deeds of the Young Turks who had “cleaned” eastern vilayets from the Armenian population kemalists massacred or expelled from the Asia Minor Greeks and were then dealing with the third group: Kurds.  Thus the slogan “Turkey for the Turks” embraced by the kemalists was close to be implemented. The Turkish nationalists-kemalists took the place of the Young Turks who were propagating hundred percent Turkism.

Kemalists sought to save from the victorious powers at least part of what should have been taken away from Turkey as per the alliance members’ project.    

Under the agreements concluded between the alliance members during the war, all the Arabic lands (Syria, Mesopotamia, and Arabia), the southern and eastern coasts of the Asia Minor, Thrace and the Armenian regions were to be withdrawn from the Ottoman Empire. And though facing all these territorial losses the Turkish nationalists’ first and foremost slogan was keeping the Armenian regions and impeding the formation of the Armenian state.   How to explain this?

Having Armenian regions under their control Turkey had an immediate territorial connection with Azerbaijan and other people of Turan from the Central Asia, i.e. it retained the opportunity to implement its panturanistic plans in the future.  

The Kemalists brought up their fight to a happy end by grasping the state authority of Turkey and reaching peace in Lausanne on favorable terms.  

Turkish force of arms played a primary role in the victory of the nationalists.  They also bore pressure upon the alliance members by threatening to raise against them all the Muslims and even the Turan people.  The current political situation helped them too in particular the disagreements between the alliance members and occurring of the Bolshevik power in Russia.    

Union of the Kemalists and the Soviet government: bloody friendship and brotherhood

The biggest support the kemalists received from the Russian Bolsheviks.  It is safe to say that Soviet Russia played a decisive role in the triumph of the kemalist weapons and if today Turkey exists as an independent state then it mainly owes to the Russian Bolsheviks.  What common interests did the Bolsheviks and Kemalists have?

When the national movement arouse in Turkey it did not have common borders with Russia and the Russian territories (Transcaucasia) that interested the Turks for panturanism purposes were out of bounds of the Soviet power.  There were the alliance members who took away Azerbaijan and Dagestan from Turkey and threatened with their plans to create Great Armenia and once and for all put an end to the idea of pan-Turanism.  That is why back then the struggle for Turan meant struggling not against Russia but against the alliance members mainly against England.

The Russian Bolsheviks also hated England and Entente in general having their own reasons for it.  The common hatred led the kemalists and the Bolsheviks to an agreement and union.

By concluding the alliance with the Soviets the Turks were guided entirely by their own national interests.  They were in such a situation that this union would only do good for them even if the Bolshevik Russia safeguarded neutrality.  Imagine for a moment what would happen to Turkey if his neighbor was not even hostile but even ill-natured Russia!    Then nothing would have saved him.  And instead the Turks got Russia as an ally that supported them morally, diplomatically and materially, most important of all-without expecting anything in return!

The Turks used the altruistic friendship to the full extent, and not only in the struggle against the Allies but also promoting their panturanistic goals.  

The first goal of the kemalists was the annihilation of the Armenian cline (independent republic of Armenia) and establishing territorial ties with Azerbaijan. However before then it was necessary not to let the Armenian regions of Turkey join the republic of Armenia.  With this purpose on April 15, 1920 they concluded military agreement with Azerbaijan on mutual assistance and collaboration against Armenia.  Soviet Russia too undertook to protect the rights of Turkey on the Armenian regions signing the treaty with Turkey and Azerbaijan.  One of the points of the treaty was about the struggle and fight against the projects of establishing united Armenia.

The army of the Alliance members left Transcaucasia facing the threat of clash with the Red Army, and now its southern borders were open for the Turks and the northern ones for the Bolsheviks.  Here the economical interests of Russia (Baku oil) confronted with the political interests of nationalistic Turkey (panturanism); the conflict was resolved through mutual concessions to each other: the kemalists confident that Turkic Azerbaijan would always be loyal to Turkey gave its consent to bring there the Bolshevik troops.  

“Sacrificing” Azerbaijan the Turks demanded compensation in the Armenian question.   They wanted to destroy the republic of Armenia and seize the Armenian lands but they needed the help of Soviets to do so.  The help came soon.  On the second day of the sovetization of Azerbaijan its new government together with the  force command of the 11th Red Army started to attack the Armenian government with ultimatums that all ended with threats.  In autumn 1920 the Turkish forces were concentrated on the borders of Armenia.

Now they needed to find out the position of Georgia on this matter.  And thus on the insistence of Kemal pasha a delegate was sent from Baku to Tbilisi where the next day he had a meeting with the head of Georgian government and minister of foreign affairs.  This meeting ended with a dinner in honor of the Baku delegate which indicated that the mission of the Turks went off well.  

The military actions between the kemalists and Armenia began…they attacked from the east from Nakhijevan and Kazakh.  Soon they occupied Sarikamish and Kars. Armenia was defeated and Turks faced the Armenians with very difficult terms.  On November 30, 1920 the Soviet representative in Armenia issued an ultimatum on behalf of the Central Committee of the Communist Party to Armenia demanding to hand over power to Bolsheviks over the Armenian territories that were not yet occupied by Turks.  To protect the rest of the people from the Turkish knife the Armenian government agreed on it and the division of Armenia between Turkey and the Soviets became a done deal. 

The Turkish-Bolshevik relations reached completion with the conclusion of the Moscow treaty of “Friendship and Brotherhood” on March 21, 1921. Under the agreement the Kars and Ardahan regions and Surmalu district was given to Turkey.  Georgia, Azerbaijan and part of Armenia became part of the USSR as independent national-Soviet republics.  With a view to keep territorial contiguity with Turkic Azerbaijan Turkey added a separate point to the treaty according to which the Nakhijevan region located between new Turkish territories and Azerbaijan would be taken from Armenia and given under the aegis of Azerbaijan.  

Although Turks failed to accomplish their national ideal; creation of united Turan, the great empire of Turkic-Tatar tribes but thanks to their friendship with Bolsheviks they managed to retrieve the idea from ruin and establish initial and quite convenient grounds for the practical implementation of their panturanistic plans in the future.   

Does Panturanism have future?

One may consider without reservation that the ideas of Panturanism not only exist, but are actively developed: both the Turkish and the Azerbaijani pan-turanists acknowledge the need for political and cultural unification of all Turkic people; both agree that the centre of the unification must be Turkey.  All the pan-turanists are united and integrated in their goals and most important of all it is their will that is the same…

by Eleonora Sargsyan

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