Wrapping up his visit to New York, Erdogan sends a message of universal values and pushes for a common future with Balkan states.
Speaking alongside leaders of the Balkan states at the New York Balkan Forum last week (September 22nd), Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed the cultural and historical ties between Turkey and the Balkans, while calling on the region to overcome its troubled history to co-operate and integrate to form a common future.
“In the future, the Balkans’ most pressing need is to learn a lesson from its experience and start working towards prosperity, development, and peace,” he said, adding that any problems experienced in the Balkans directly reflect on Turkey because of historical ties of brotherhood.
However, the absence of Serbia and Greece at the forum due to the presence of Kosovo and Macedonia, respectively, was a clear reminder of a Balkans still divided.
Intra-Balkan economic integration and investment were key themes, while Turkey’s fast-growing economy and investments in the region provided the backdrop to the growing importance of Turkey.
Describing the Balkans as “Turkey’s door to the West”, Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) President Rizanur Meral said Turkey has undergone an economic transformation since 2002, with the world’s second fastest growing economy and a jump in exports from $35 billion to $135 billion.
Balkan countries will need to expand markets due to the small size of domestic markets, Deputy Governor of Turkey’s Central Bank Ihbrahim Turhan said, adding that countries like Turkey and Russia afford opportunities.
According to Timothy Ash, the head of emerging markets research at RBS global banking, as Europe faces financial trouble Turkey can play a role as a driver for Balkan growth. However, he warned, Balkan states will have to do more to attract FDI as European financial resources run dry.
As the largest investor in Kosovo, Turkey plays a unique role in the country due to a “common past, religion, geographic position and the big support we’ve got from the Turkish government” Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhai explained.
Pointing to the free trade agreement between Albania and Turkey, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said that Turkish investment in Albania increased four fold between 2005 and 2010.
Meanwhile, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov said that energy co-operation with Turkey, especially finalising Nabucco, are his country’s top priority.
“Connecting energy markets, making sure we have a southeast European energy market with a common strategy to make sure energy networks are connected,” is one area Mladenov said the Balkan states could make tangible efforts at co-operation and integration.
On the political front, Mladenov said working together to overcome the difficulties of the past is necessary for regional co-operation. “One of the very important examples over the past few years has been the role Turkey has played in pushing and helping countries strengthen their co-operation together, particularly Bosnia and Serbia,” he said.
All the states including Turkey said their future is within the EU and NATO, which will act as an anchor for regional co-operation and security.
However, Erdogan highlighted that for a common future there needs to be more than economic growth and material gain: human rights, democracy, and the rule of law are also of equal importance.
Speaking on Saturday (September 24th) at an event organised by the Turkish Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), Erdogan said the age of autocratic regimes is over and that Turkey would act according to universal principles and the will of the people.
By framing the Balkans as being the heart of Turkey and stressing universal rights, Erdogan tried to place ideology and principles to the forefront of his message.
“Sarajevo’s fate is Edirne’s fate, Skopje’s fate is Kosovo’s fate, Palestine’s fate is Istanbul’s fate, in that case the fate of humanity should become the fate of Ankara,” he said.”