The New Turkic Empire

Turkey's former President Suleyman Demirel made a speech last week at the European Society of Asian Studies conference held at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. The Turkish Daily News ran a translated version of the speech entitled "Changing Central Asia in the New World Order."

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Turkey, the EU and Public Opinion

I'm never surprised when data from non-EU countries come back showing low internal public support for EU membership. Too often, opinion leaders are far, far ahead of the electorate in terms of support for EU-accession. According to the recently Transatlantic Trends Survey released by the German Marshall Fund, 40% of Turks think that Turkey's membership in the EU would be a "good thing." Frankly, I'm surprised it's that high.

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Fake Polls in Ukraine: So What?

There's a lot of handwringing in Kyiv about all the bad polls the newspapers are publishing in the weeks before the election on September 30th. The sociologists have their panties in a bunch that the science of statistics is being used to mislead voters. Bloggers like Mark MacKinnon worry that it's evidence that it's 2004 all over again.

I say: So what?

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Checking the Power of Turkey's New President

Moderate Voices and Turkish Daily News have an article that argues that the large gulf between the secularists and AKP is caused by a lack of trust between the two segments of Turkish society. The secularists can't believe that the Islamists won't codify their beliefs into law and the Islamists can't believe the secularists will allow them to practice freely.

While I think this is true to some degree, I think there is more to it.

Read more: Checking the Power of Turkey's New President

Is Russian Dying Out in The Soviet Republics?

It always comes as a surprise to me that Russian language skills are in such demand for projects in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Radio Free Europe just ran an article asking if the Russian Language is Dying out In the Former Soviet Republics? In many republics, it most definitely is. If you think you're going to conduct your opinion research in Azerbaijan, for example, exclusively in Russian you're making a huge mistake.

According to the article, only five former Republics still use Russian as an official language -- Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. In Ukraine, it's not an official language but a large proportion of the country (the East) speaks it exclusively (with an almost as large proportion, mostly in the West, who refuse to speak it).

In a place like Azerbaijan, it's more complicated than just a decline in the number of Russian-speaking schools since the Soviet Union collapsed. There are political and social factors to consider as well.

During Soviet times, all "educated" people spoke Russian. In fact, you meet plenty of people who grew up in Baku who have secondary and university educations and who never really learned to speak Azeri. Since many government officials got their start during the Soviet period, it's not uncommon for even high ranking officials to not speak the national language very well.

On the other hand, those who are very well-educated, and nationalist often refuse to speak Russian since they view it as a colonial imposition. When I worked in Baku, I rarely attended meetings in which Russian was the medium. Hearing their President speak Azeri grates on many and they mock leaders who are less than fluent.

These days, young people might only be learning Russian as a foreign language, unless they attend a Russian school.

It's different out in the regions, where the Soviet-education system didn't penetrate very well. Very few people speak Russian at all and even fewer are learning it now. The very well-educated and the least well-educated actually share a common tongue.

Even though Azerbaijan's population is largely urbanized, conducting your research in one language or the other will exclude some people and exclude others so you need to use both. Similarly, in Ukraine survey instruments need to written in both Russian and Ukrainian, in order not to exclude those in the East who don't speak Ukrainian at all or those in the west who refuse to speak Russian. Focus groups in either country need to be segregated by language, as some people are much more comfortable speaking one than the other.

This language puzzle makes getting in a taxi in Baku potentially tricky as well: Is the driver in from the regions and therefore, non-conversant in Russian? Is he an ordinary middle class Bakuvian who has spoken Russian his whole life? Or is he a moonlighting history professor who hates Russian and will speak only Azeri? You can never tell (at least until he starts driving).

Mr. Ilgar Ibrahimoglu Responds From Baku

Last Friday, I received a phone call from Mr. Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, the well-known Imam of Baku's Cuma Mosque, who wanted to comment on my post on Islam in Azerbaijan. We spoke briefly through an interpreter.

He followed up with this email, posted in its entirely (with minor language edits for clarity):

Dear Christine Quirk,

I would like to greet you again. Your article "Islam in Azerbaijan: On the Rise?" was a very unexpected pleasure.

Over the last years, both our local mass-media and the foreign mass-media have speculated about the allegedly rising political Islamization. I do not know if is it naiveté, deliberate indoctrination, or the result of an unprofessional approach. But I am absolutely sure that it is very useful for our corrupted and heavy-handed authorities, for some losers and activists in the opposition, and for hawks in the west that want to apply the process in the Middle East to Azerbaijan.

Of course, such an issue is also very useful for the marginalized and adventurers that cover themselves with Islamic slogans.

Concerning me, you pointed absolutely correct that I am focused like a civic activist and an enlightener.

By the way, there is no political scene in which Islamic powers could participate.

In conclusion I express my deep gratitude for your independent approach in this case, that is far away from general stereotypes and dogma.

Respectfully,

Ilgar Ibrahimoglu

Mr. Ibrahimoglu brings up a whole angle that I opted not to address in the original post: Who benefits from the perception that Islam is on the rise in Azerbaijan? In his email, he mentions the three entities:

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