The first train on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) Railway departed yesterday. It is a historical development in many aspects. Apart from the commercial significance that an uninterrupted railway network between Beijing and London goes through Turkey, this step will also lead to a big political change in the future. Let us note that the direct political integration between the Asia-Pacific and Europe could not be achieved in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the historical Silk Road lost its significance with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Actually, this was not wanted by the imperialist Western empires at the time. In fact, they knew that if this had happened, Eurasia would prosper out of their control and some economic and political developments that they would not be able to control would take place in this vast region.
Undoubtedly, the BTK Railway and the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), namely the middle and southern trade corridors, and the Southern Gas Corridor, are related. The energy integration starting with TANAP is continuing with the BTK Railway in human and trade areas as well.
Thus, Turkey and Azerbaijan have continued the move of energy integration, which started with TANAP in the form of trade corridors, with the BTK Railway. In fact, the Southern Gas Corridor, which started with TANAP, was a project that distorted the economic and political equations established in Eurasia in the last century and changed the energy balances and, therefore, economic and political balances.
The Western alliance, led by the U.S. during the Cold War, commercialized the energy resources of the Middle East only to the extent that they would serve their interests. They also tapped the resources in the Gulf region and created an energy ecosystem based on them. This was what the petrodollar cycle was. Moreover, the Mediterranean resources held by Turkey, the resources of countries that were satellites of the Soviet Union and the resources of poor Middle Eastern countries were left under the ground in a particular attempt to prevent the region from prospering. The second move to prevent prosperity in the region was the elimination of the region’s role as a bridge between the Asia-Pacific and Europe. The old trade routes of the Silk Road, namely the middle and southern routes starting from the Pacific and reaching Europe via the Turkish mainland, were eliminated by Western imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Political turmoil and civil war disabled the middle and southern trade routes while the countries along this line, which withdrew into their shells under military dictatorships, did not allow them to operate. The railway networks in the region were also rendered inoperable, as they were not renewed and new lines were not opened.
Starting from Sultan Abdülhamid II’s last years in power, the Ottoman Empire discovered the potential for energy and trade routes in this region and strove to take some steps. This time, however, Russia came into play, and the resulting process of war fettered the Ottoman Empire. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed, this awareness of Turkey was completely eliminated and Turkey came to have no interest in the Caspian region’s energy potential and middle corridor trade route, which were considered to be under Soviet sovereignty during the Cold War. It never thought of moving this wealth to itself or to the West via itself. Now, Turkey is a powerful and democratic country that turns both to the west and the east. This undoubtedly brings Turkey to the position of a country that will expand democracy and free market model in its region.
Just like TANAP, the BTK Railway not only connects three countries, but also is one of the main trade and transport routes in Asia and Europe, and particularly Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan ports. It connects Central Asia to Turkey with the Marmaray and via the Caspian region. Along with the Southern Gas Corridor, which constitutes TANAP’s backbone, it will also connect ports on the South China Sea to Europe via Turkey. This is not only energy integration, but also the new consensus of peace, welfare and democracy.
The global economy and politics are heading toward great integration, which has to happen with political consensus. We are going toward a kind of capitalism where structural differences such as economic efficiency, technology, labor costs, infrastructure, environment and education will gradually be eliminated on a global level. Such discrepancies should be removed for the survival of the system even in the medium term. The previous period’s system paradigm was based on these differences and the differences between developed countries and regions were the inevitable consequences of this paradigm. Now, we are leaving this period behind. Customs unions, free trade agreements, the assimilation of standards, free circulation of labor and infrastructural investments that will eliminate differences in productivity have simultaneously started everywhere.
The regions and countries that take these steps will stand out and use the wealth they have. Here, the two main areas of capital accumulation – energy and human capital – are coming to the fore in the short run.
Asia Minor, starting from Turkey, is poised to determine regional development in the sense of human capital and the circulation of qualified labor in the forthcoming period. Certainly, Turkey’s integration with its east will undoubtedly bring new opportunities, new capital power and relevant financial instruments and institutions. This is also the only way to overcome the current economic and political crisis of the West toward democracy and the free market.