From the past to the future
If Turkmenistan' foreign policy is imagined as a pyramid, its top will be covered by the neutral status, unique in its origin, which the word community delegated to the young state in 1995.
And the national traditions of good neighborly relations, in which the attitude of Turkmens to such spiritual value as peace are clearly focused, will serve as the pyramid's foundation.
Hence, there is a great likelihood that having gone deep into the annals of history we can, in addition to being able to comprehend the sources of Turkmen peacefulness as a determining feature of the national character, understand the peculiarities of Turkmenistan's the present-day conduct in the international arena...
...For centuries, the Turkmen land was known, according to the records of annalists, as a "crossing point of seven roads". The major routes of the ancient Silk Road, which earned an epithet "the Great", had run across this land of plenty. We think it was so due to not so much for the colossal achievements in the transcontinental trade, as for the opportunity for peoples living in the vast territory of the Eurasian continent to develop dialogue. It is true this great road helped reunite the Buddhist East with Christian Europe, the Muslim South and the Pagan North, which seemed antagonistic externally, but were very close by inner content.
This divine mission to bring together heterogeneous cultures, unite polytypic nations and different people worshipping various gods created on the land Turkmens inhabited a special aura of spiritual harmony that underlay their mentality, in which such unsurpassed traits as cherishing peace, tolerance and good neighborly relations had taken root. Hence, there are qualities that have become a byword - hospitality, openness and sincere desire of Turkmens not only to understand but, having comprehended the culture of people unknown to them, accept it.
Many tribes and nationalities left their trace in the ethnogeny of Turkmens. They are Scythians, Sakhs, Massagetae, Dakhs, Alans, Guhns, Ephtalytes, Sarmats. The list of names of disappeared nations can be continued. Though, we want to point out that ancient historians sometimes mixed the names of tribes giving one and the same tribe different names, or giving different tribes one and the same name. Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that various ethnic roots formed the mighty foundation of the Turkmen family tree. However, Oghuzes, the Turkic speaking tribes that bore the name "Guzz" in Arab annals and "Uz" in Byzantium annals, played a critical role in the origin of the Turkmen people. Some authors (both contemporary and medieval ones) considered "Oghuzes" and "Turkmens" one and the same nation. For instance, Abu Reihan Biruni asserted that "when Oghuz adopted Islam, he said he became Turkmen". Therefore, a point of view, according to which Turkmens had received their initial ethnic name after their primogenitor - Oghuz khan, has the right to exist. (By the way, one of Oghuz-khan's grandsons' name was Bechene. In ancient Russia, the numerous hordes of Bechene descendants were called Pechenegs, a derivative by this person's name.)
In the ancient times, the ancestors of Turkmens, migrating in the search for new lands, settled in vast territories of Siberia, China, India, Asia Minor and Central Asia. Growing in numbers they moved further to Iran, Syria and Arab territories, as well as to the Caucuses and Eastern Europe. They migrated to remote lands sometimes losing their own one, absorbing other peoples, and sometimes assimilating with other tribes, adopting the best from the culture of aliens and at the same time enriching them with their own experience...
In the course of many centuries Turkmens wandered the routes of History leaving on its winding path the traces of brilliant victories and bitter defeats. It happened so that the nomadic mode of life developed the unsurpassed skill to hold well on a saddle, to shoot accurately from a bow, to act as one team during the collective hunting (it reminds of a military exercise by its scale and nature), to make days-long marches with limited reserves of water and provision. All these skills, dictated by the logic of survival in conditions of permanent war with hordes of ill-wishers, were the consequence of an aspiration to have access to the Eden called Peace on the sinful land.
Perhaps, it is therefore that Turkmens, who lived in conditions of constant wars for a long time, have developed a special cult of respect for peace and good neighborly relations in their mentality. And their extreme bellicosity that the annals often mention became their natural reaction to the persisting external threats. There are historical data on the peacefulness of ancestors of Turkmens that the contemporary scholars also confirm. They have reached us from the ancient past, when the proto-Turkmen states (Margush, Great Scythia, the Kingdom of Massagetae, etc.) shaped that-time geo-politics on the vast territories.
For instance, Lev Nikolaevich Gumilev, the prominent historian and specialist in Turkic philology, mentioned about the ability of ancient Turks to live in peace and accord with other peoples. Professor O.Gundogdiev has collected a lot of information about peace-creating deeds of Turkmen ancestors in his book "History of Turkmen diplomacy". The author notes that Turkmens' famous ancestor, Scythian Anaharsis, in his letter to Krez, wrote: "...we have weapons not against others but for the protection of our own, in case of need". The Roman historian, Pompey Trog, describing the just structure of the Scythian society, wrote with delight: "Oh, if other mortals had similar moderation and abstention from the property of others, there would have been lesser wars at all times and on all lands, of course". When in the VI century BC, the founder of the ancient Persia, Cyrus II, ordered to build bridges through the Uzboy River in order to invade the territory of Turkmenistan, Massagetaen Queen Tomiris, wishing to prevent the approaching bloodshed, sent a preceding letter to him: "Give up your purpose! You cannot know in advance if it will be to your benefit or no..."
Since the ancient times, treaties between the states had played an important role for the cause of peace. The brightest page in the Turkmen history belongs to the ancient country Margush that most of specialists have recently recognized as one of the world civilization centers. According to scientists, it is here that the first world religion, Zoroastrian faith, emerged. The Avesta, the holy book of adepts of this religion, has a call "to be faithful to agreement" addressed both to common people and statesmen: "The agreement between father and son is hundredfold. Between two countries it is thousand-fold!"
Forty-nine years before the Nativity of Christ the ancestors of Turkmens - Huhns (Chinese called them Hsiung-nu, and Europeans - Guhns) concluded the Juratory Treaty with the Ruler of the Celestial Empire. The document regulated interrelations between two states and confirmed that Dynasties of Han and Huhns "shall make up one family and shall never cheat or attack each other... May our sons and grandsons from generation to generation follow this oath on any occasion." The Turkmen history had many such agreements that established peace between nations...
Apparently, more or less regular contacts between mighty powers had to be developed in order to maintain peace. Professor O.Gundogdiev points out that in the early stages of the Turkmen history, stable relations were maintained mainly with neighboring states. In that period, the ancestors of Turkmens had been already using the diplomatic experience of China, Rome, Greece, Byzantium, Persia and other powers in their international activities. Despite the sporadic nature of diplomatic relations, quite imposing embassies comprised of hundreds and even thousands of people, visited the Turkmen states (for instance, to Parthian Empire stretching from Mesopotamia to India). Sometimes, L.N.Gumilev notes, up to ten (!) Chinese embassies arrived.
Peace in the war-torn world depended on many factors. Powerful states divided it into the spheres of influence. Small nations had been conquered long before, so only one thing was left for the bellicose powers - not to miss a moment when their main competitors for the global rule would become weaker for at least a short period. Therefore, states had to thoroughly hide their weakness, even the short one. Only the Almighty could feel secure. Therefore, when important embassies of competitor countries came, the receiving party would often use such efficient technique as demonstration of its military power. Throughout the history of humanity, the powerful states have been using the preceding "muscle game" before a probable adversary. In the epic story "Oghuznama", in which the ancient history of Turkmens is described, the reality and legends are interwoven in the most intricate way. This creation of popular spirit has a fragment narrating how Oghuz-khan, having learned about the arrival of the embassy of Franks, sent troops to welcome them. The Turkmen warriors, accompanying the diplomats to their destination, were in full outfit. Right after the completion of the mission, the ambassadors of Franks told to their ruler about the intimidating strength and greatness of the Oghuz army. Having listened to the report, the Frank ruler had, as the epic story says, "to fasten the belt of obedience and submission". Oghuz-khan used the same maneuver before the envoys of Byzantium that "stroke fear into their hearts" discouraging any wish to make war. Using the modern terminology, one can say that preventive actions in the form of demonstrating military might before the ambassadors of foreign states served as a stabilizing factor in maintaining peace. Nowadays, the far echoes of such rituals (that have lost their initial meaning) can be observed during the protocol activities of official visits.
The experience prompted our ancestors that it is better to demonstrate the military readiness to formidable opponents in conditions of peace than to use it in practice during war. Therefore, it is natural that Turkmens practised such preventive actions with quite reasonable regularity. For instance, while the envoys of Emperor U-di of All under Heaven (he ruled in the II-I century BC) were marching towards the Turkmen land, the Parthian ruler ordered his cavalry of 20 thousand soldiers to wait for them at the border. The armed troops of horsemen accompanied the Chinese embassy all the way along, from the one hand, protecting the diplomats, and, on the other one, demonstrating the might of the Parthian Army to them.
Professor O.Gundogdiev tells the story of a medieval geographer, Yakut, who, referring to the records by Ibn Al-Fakih, narrated how the ambassador of Omeyad Caliph attempted to persuade Suluk-khan to become a subject of the Caliphate. It meant a polite invitation to become a vassal. The Turkmen khan, knowing the spirit of the Arabs, who by that time had successfully conquered Northern Africa, most of the Pyrenean peninsula and other territories, nevertheless decided to diminish their aggressive appetite by demonstrating the capabilities of his army. Accompanied by ten standard-bearers, he invited the ambassador onto the hill surrounded by the dense grove and ordered the first warrior to unfold the banner. In a moment, as if on wings, a detachment of ten thousand horsemen came out of the grove. Further actions, according to Yakut, stroke the foreign ambassador: "One after another all standard-bearers unfolded their banners, and every time ten thousand horsemen lined up at the hill. When all ten flags were spread out, hundred thousand horsemen stood at the foot of the hill armed from top to toe". Likewise, the other Turkmen khan, Shabolio by name, acted the same way while receiving the Chinese embassy. Evidently, the phrase "If you want peace get ready for war" was widely used in that ancient period, confirming the idea important nowadays - presence of the well trained army is a deterrent against the intention of other states to change the world order to their benefit with the use of military force. Here, it would be appropriate to mention the words by Mubarak-shah (advisor to Shamsutdin Iltutmysh, the Turkmen ruler of the Delhi Sultanate), a warning to those who excessively relies on the military force: "No matter how numerous your army is in relation to the troops of your foe, don't seek war... A suitable peace is better than an unsuitable war, as you don't know (in advance) what will be an outcome of war. Such peace can be better than victory".
However, in the ancient times, the ruler could change the plans that a probable enemy might have nurtured by showing his countless riches, in addition to his military might. The dazzling luxury showed the might of the state, with which it would have been better not to engage into military adventure. Therefore, such actions helped preserve balance of more than fragile peace at that time. Historian Menandr tells about it describing a three-day reception that Istemi-khan gave to Zemarkh of Byzantium - an ambassador of Emperor Justinian II: "They dined and spent all that day in the marquee. It was made of silk fabric skillfully speckled with various colors... The other day, they (the Byzantium envoys) were taken to the other marquee full of silky clothes. Dizavul (Istemi-khan) was sitting on the couch that was made of gold. There were golden vessels, aspersoriums and barrels in the middle of the premise...On the third day, they moved to the other room where there were wooden poles, and a couch plated with gold and supported by four golden peacocks. In front of the room, on a wide space there were carts full of silver..." As we see, the ancient Turks gave an extremely pompous reception to the Byzantium guests and accompanied it with luxury that Menandr recorded in details. To our mind, apart from it, in order to establish truly stable contacts, the Byzantium historian left other very important details. They are his observations about some closeness of cultures that two different in appearance peoples had. If one of them had given the world the Orthodox Christian culture, the other one had been called "barbarian" in Europe. In his report to the Emperor, the historian honestly noted that "many pictures of animals made of silver do not yield to the ones made in our country".
Such concerned, impartial attitude to each other has been always treated as the first step to building a bridge of mutual understanding capable of bringing together even the most irreconcilable opponents...
It is difficult to set the date when representatives of different confessions on our planet started to argue about the subject "whose God is better", which is senseless. In the course of time, their confrontation reaching its climax started to transform into violent religious wars that left the bloody trace in the human memory. Therefore, at all times, the way the ruling elite approached to the issue of religion was of great importance. Turkmens, due to their mentality, have always been tolerant to worshippers of other faith. It is most vividly observed in the history of medieval states, including the multinational Great Seljuk Empire founded by Turkmens in 1038.
The well-known Russian oriental scientist, V.V.Bartold, highly rated the role that the nation, which laid the basis of this mighty power, had played in global processes. He wrote: "Owing to the establishment of the Seljuk Empire, the Oghuz or the Turkmen people won such recognition in the Muslim world that none of other Turkic nations had had in the medieval age". The great achievement of Turkmens or Seljuks and their rulers was that they, from the one hand, united the Muslim world, which was disintegrating to opposing sects, and, on the other one, provided an opportunity to the citizens of their state to freely worship any religion. Also, during the cruel crusades when the streams of encased in armor knights poured into the Middle East, Turkmens-Seljuks rose to defend Muslims and representatives of other confessions. L. Paul Stanley wrote that "the crusaders most of all owed their frequent defeats to Turkmens".
There are a lot of historical documents written by foreign annalists about the cherishing of peace and righteousness of Turkmen-Seljuk rulers. These sources give us a ground to consider the facts as impartial. For instance, the Armenian author, Kirakos Gandzakeci, wrote that Sultan Malik-shakh "conquered the universe not so much by war or violence, as by love and peace". The Persian chronicler, Sadr ad-din al Hussaini, in lines written in poetry, informed that Sultan Alp Arslan "extended the wings of justice over his subjects and kept them under the protection of mercy and generosity". The data by 12-century annalist Mikhail the Syrian is no less curious. He wrote that Turkmen Sultan Gylych Arslan II, being a Muslim, provided patronage to the heads of Christian churches, and exempted the churches from taxes.
Folklore is the true fount of wise statements that vividly illustrate views of Turkmens on such everlasting values as friendship, peacefulness and good neighborly relations. Many objects of material culture of Turkmens that have reached us from the ancient times provide the unambiguous solution to the dilemma "war or peace" in favor of the latter. One of them is a sword exhibited in one of the museums in Tehran, the capital of neighboring Iran. There is an engraved inscription on its sharp blade: "Turkmen will never unsheathe a sword against his neighbor!"
Mubarak-shakh we have talked about earlier in the text in his treatise titled "Rules of conducting war and fortitude" addressed to the powers that be persistently mentioning that "in the past, matters had been solved with the help of arguments, debates, plenty of knowledge and wisdom. Therefore, no one had craved for war and bloodshed... and people of the world and states had been unanimous in it".
Although, there were periods of dark revolts and internecine feud, neglecting historical memory and spiritual emptiness in the past centuries in the history of Turkmens, the Turkmen people, having gained independence, have revived the best spiritual qualities, ineradicable conviction that the peace can be safeguarded if the whole world unites for it. Speaking to the 62nd UN General Assembly session, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov clearly identified the directions of Turkmenistan's foreign policy: "Today, Turkmenistan is open to the world; it is open for broad-scale partnership in all areas of activity. Together with the Community of Nations our country is ready to work further to promote the principles of the international law, ideals of humanism, justice, tolerance, mutual respect as determinants of modern interstate relations".
The Turkmen leader announced the main directions of Turkmenistan's activities in the international arena. There should be no doubt that the same foreign policy doctrine based on the same principles of permanent neutrality, the sources of which are traced from the wonderful traits of the national character - peacefulness, religious tolerance, openness and permanent readiness to the dialogue that were developed by ethno-cultural realities throughout the long historical period - will always remain the only acceptable model of the realization of the young Turkmen state's national interests. There is nothing surprising in it, for the path to the Future, indeed, begins in the past.
Published in "Turkmenistan" magazine, N 12 (33)