“Analysts stress Turkey’s key role in Balkans and beyond” – SETimes.com

By Erisa Dautaj Şenerdem for Southeast European Times in Istanbul — 24/04/12

Turkey has followed a more proactive foreign policy towards the Balkan region in recent years, and along with its strong political and diplomatic ties with these countries, it can contribute to regional peace and stability. So say representatives of political organisations and NGOs from the region who urge Turkey to boost its economic presence there.

The signing of the Istanbul Declaration among the presidents of Turkey, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in Istanbul in April 2010 marked an important achievement regarding Turkey’s role in the Balkans. The revitalisation of Turkish foreign policy towards the region is also often referred to as “neo-Ottomanism,” following Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s approach and speeches.

The three heads of state — signatories of the Istanbul Declaration — expressed their “commitment to the territorial integrity, sovereignty and the legal personality of Bosnia and Herzegovina within its internationally recognised borders, while stressing the importance of national reconciliation within BiH,” in the document. This was considered the most relevant part, and although it was not a solution to all problems between the two countries, Turkey was praised for having Serbia comment on BiH’s territorial sovereignty.

“I need to say that we are quite thankful for [Turkey’s] role in whole political process in the region. [However,] in recent years, we did not really have diplomatic and political problems with our neighbours. We [rather] have problems with every day lives … that we need to solve on our own,” BiH’s Federal Minister of Education and Science, Damir Masic, told SETimes.

Among these, he cited trade problems BiH has with Croatia, saying Bosnian companies lacked the same reciprocal treatment that Croatian firms enjoy in BiH. Another concern, he said, is the fact that BiH never established and signed an agreement on exact borders with Croatia and Serbia.

Turkey has definitively had a positive impact and influence across the Balkans in all circumstances, Masic said. “But the part which we are not satisfied and [where] we think there is space for improvement is definitively economic co-operation,” he noted.

Turkish diplomacy’s considerable advancement in the Balkan region gives the country a stronger negotiating position within NATO and with the EU, according to Hüseyin Bağcı, the chairman of the international relations department at Middle East Technical University in Ankara. The country has supported international initiatives regarding regions in the Balkans exposed to conflict, wars and ethnic cleansing after the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and has played an especially active role regarding the BiH and Kosovo crises.

Noting that Turkey has participated in all important initiatives of peace and stability, and has been active in the NATO operations regarding the Kosovo issue, former Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu said it has also contributed to his country’s post-war economic development through strong investments.

“It is crucial that Turkey continues with its strong support for Kosovo, and naturally continues its co-operation with countries [in the Balkan] region that will help build a co-operation climate among these countries and beat eventual obstacles in front of us, particularly Serbia’s unfair approach towards Kosovo,” Sejdiu told SETimes.

As one of the first countries to recognise Kosovo’s independence, Turkey has intensively lobbied for its recognition by other countries, particularly members of the Islamic Conference, Sejdiu said. However, he argued that Turkey had to involve Kosovo in regional official meetings as well, especially referring to meetings Turkey has with Croatia, Serbia and BiH.

“I think Turkey must expand the network in this direction … so that Kosovo is part of the [regional] partnership and that it is not understood as if [the latter] is being avoided.”

“In order to assist in such a situation, there should be will by both parties [Kosovo and Serbia], otherwise Turkey risks taking a unilateral stand,” İlter Turan, a professor of international relations at İstanbul Bilgi University, told SETimes. Turan, however, said that Turkey could show an interest in solving Kosovo’s issue as it did with BiH.

Bağcı, on the other hand, argued that this could be an opportunity for Turkey to play a mediating role, if desired by both Kosovo and Serbia. Noting that Serbia will have to take several steps regarding the Kosovo issue by July, due to obligations regarding its candidate status for EU membership, Bağcı said a demand for mediation could come from the EU as well.

Turkey’s political relations with Serbia have been at their peak in the past couple of years, which is another important element in the context of Turkey’s more proactive role in the Balkans. Highest level officials have paid formal visits to each other in recent years, after ups and downs following Turkey’s recognition of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.

“The priority of Belgrade and Pristina [should be] economic collaboration and [increasing living] standards of the people. Political pressures will be finished with time,” Nebojsa Randelovic, a member of the Serbian parliament and deputy chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party — a political party that supports recognition of Kosovo as an independent state in Serbia — told SETimes.

In contrast to Turkey’s direct involvement in the BiH and Kosovo issues, the country has played an indirect role regarding the Albanian issue in Macedonia, according to Abdula Saliu, vice president of the Skopje-based Balkan Peace Club.

Turkey has not been involved officially regarding this issue, due to very good relations it enjoys with Macedonia, Saliu told SETimes, adding that Turkish NGOs as well as the Turkish International Co-operation and Development Agency had played an important role, supporting Albanian minority people with aid for education and restoration of important cultural monuments.

Turkey has absolutely played a positive role for stability in the Balkans during the post-Yugoslav era and has excellent current relations with all Balkan countries, according to Vujica Lazovic, deputy prime minister of Montenegro

“It is very important to have a common friend-country …, especially in case there is no good collaboration among the region’s neighbouring countries themselves,” Lazovic told SETimes. He also said he hoped more and more Turkish companies would invest in the region. “You know, a [good] economy is the base for everything, the solution to any problem,” Lazovic said.


(An expanded version of this story is being published at turkey.setimes.com)

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.

Source : SETimes.com

“Erdogan pushes for common future with Balkan states ” – SETimes.com

By Chase Winter for Southeast European Times in New York — 28/09/11

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.”

Source : SES Türkiye


“The rise of Turkey in the Balkans” – SETimes.com

“Over the past decade, Turkey has carried out a multi-dimensional and multi-regional foreign policy. With its EU membership prospects in limbo, the country has not only looked to the east, but also towards its “near abroad” in the Balkans.

EU regional player Greece’s increasing social-financial problems provide ample room for Turkey — whose economy now ranks twelfth in the world, with a GNP of $10,000 per person — to take control of the regional rudder.

“After Yugoslavia’s disintegration, Turkey’s strategic interest returned to the Balkans, also a former Ottoman territory. This time around, the influence is economic and cultural but it soon will become geopolitical,” military-political analyst Petar Shkrbina told SETimes. “Erdogan knows that Europe needs Turkey and not the other way around. The main networks of gas and oil pipelines will go through Turkey.”

The Balkan countries, primarily Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), but increasingly Serbia as well, have achieved significant political co-operation with Ankara. In the past several years, the economic ties have strengthened as Turkish investors eye the opportunity to secure a foothold in the Balkans marketplace.

Analysts are unanimous that the pan-European corridor No. 10, which will connect the Balkan countries with the rest of Europe, will command the economic attention of Turkey. The corridor’s left wing will secure a transportation connection between Turkey and the Balkans, and Turkey and the EU.

Though Turkey is keen to develop bonds with Muslim communities in the Balkans, it says it aims to engage all ethnicities and religions in an effort to increase stability in its neighbourhood.

“Turkey has no imperialist ambitions but is trying to help the neighbouring countries as it can,” Turkish Ambassador to Serbia Ali Riza Colak said, answering charges that Ankara is interfering in Serbia’s internal affairs after a senior military delegation visited Novi Pazar, in Serbia’s Muslim-dominated Rashka (or Sandzak) region.

Rashka remains a source of tension in Ankara-Belgrade relations because the Serbs widely believe local Muslim leaders try to obtain autonomy with the help of Turkey, and many Muslims there identify with BiH.

In response, Ambassador Riza Colak says “Sandzak is the bridge for co-operation between the two countries, and Belgrade must understand the sensitivity of the people in this region.”

Turkey-BiH relations are particularly important for the region. Erdogan’s election victory statement last month, in which he said his AKP’s victory would benefit Sarajevo as much as it would Istanbul, triggered harsh reactions in Republika Srpska.

The Serb member of BiH’s tri-member presidency, Nebojsha Radmanovic, said that such statements would cause political problems between BiH’s two entities and could lead to new divisions among the three constituent peoples.

“While Bosniak authorities in Sarajevo see a positive effect from Turkey’s role in BiH, Serbian politicians there are reserved and do not accept any political role by Ankara in the Balkans,” Shkrbina tells SETimes.

“Erdogan’s open ambitions to spread the ‘Green Diagonal’ [spread of Islamic influence through a set of connected countries with Muslim populations] in this space have their own limits. Neither the illegal government of the Muslim-Croat federation will help him to do that nor the political pressures on Croats in central Bosnia,” RS Vice President Emil Vlajki said.

Despite any lingering Serbian nationalist suspicion, Turkey has been playing a constructive moderator role by bringing together the presidents of BiH and Serbia to encourage a policy of dialogue and regional security.

The most recent example is the July 6th visit of Serbian President Tadic to Sarajevo, which was secured at a summit among all parties in Istanbul last April. Serbia now pledges to guarantee BiH’s integrity and wants to close all open questions.

Turkey has also expressed its desire for BiH and Serbia to enter the Euro-Atlantic community through membership in the EU and NATO.

Although several political issues remain an obstacle to better relations, both Ankara and Belgrade aim to smooth over political differences through greater economic co-operation and interdependence.

For example, Belgrade offered Turkish Airlines a meeting in July to chart a strategic co-operation plan to address long-standing problems facing JAT Airways. Analysts expect the final, positive outcome to be the forming of a joint national airline.

Turkish economic activity extends throughout the region. The Turkish company TAV has already invested 200m euro in rebuilding Macedonia’s airports. Since March 1st, the Skopje and Ohrid airports are under TAV control for the next 20 years. TAV’s executives view Macedonia as a Southeast European hub and have announced they will build a new airport in eastern Macedonia.

In addition, Turkey’s Shishe Dzam company has announced its interest in a strategic investment of 150m euro in two factories in Macedonia to produce glass.

Politically, Turkey will continue to be Macedonia’s steadfast supporter in Euro-Atlantic integration, advocating membership under Macedonia’s name despite the longstanding dispute with Greece.

But the relations have a deeper cultural and historical context in Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, who spent his youth in Macedonia and was educated at an Ottoman military school in Bitola, adding an emotional dimension to how Ankara — and the Turkish people — view Macedonia.

A joint celebration of Ataturk’s life and achievement is now held annually in Bitola. Such events contribute to increased tourism in both directions. Turkey’s summer destinations and Macedonia’s mountain and nature potential are attractive to both peoples, and there has been a large increase in tourist agency activity in the past decade.

An important element of Turkey’s “soft power” is the increasing number of soap operas and other TV shows that have conquered audiences throughout the Balkans. In virtually every Balkan state, Turkish shows are breaking records, as well as the long-held prejudice against Islam.

“They are very professionally produced, and they promote not luxury and glamour, but also traditional Islamic customs during marriage and funerals. The series are the cheapest but most effective approach to spread Turkish influence in the region,” Shkrbina said.”

Source : SETimes.com

“After Mubarak: Is Turkey a model for the Middle East?” – SETimes.com

By Justin Vela for Southeast European Times in Istanbul — 11/02/11

In the wake of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation and the continuing protests against ruling regimes throughout the Middle East, a debate is under way about whether Turkey’s path should stand as an example for Muslim governments.

While some secular Turks regard the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as populist and Islamist, Western observers in Turkey view the country’s model as desirable, now that Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah announced they back Egypt’s protesters.

Today’s Zaman pundit Mumtaz’Er Turkone argues that the ordinary people gathered at Tahrir Square in Cairo are the people in power in Turkey. “Egypt is traveling towards the position Turkey has attained after a long and adventurous quest for democracy.”

“On the one hand, Ankara and Prime Minister Erdogan have increasingly spoken of Turkey’s desire to see democracy flourish and justice prevail in the Middle East,” writes Yigal Schleifer.

But Erdogan’s call for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to “satisfy the people’s desire for change”, he argues, was at odds with Turkey’s close support for the autocratic regimes in Syria and Iran. The embattled Mubarak finally heeded that call and stepped down on Friday (February 11th).

Schleifer concludes that the turmoil could give Ankara another chance to put forward “the ‘new Turkish model’ — democratic, Islamic, economically vibrant and rapidly shedding the influence of the military — as one for other countries to emulate”.

But Turkey must first overcome the critic’s argument it is not an Arab country. “The best (and perhaps only) way to do this is to emphasise its Islamic identity, which may explain why in his parliament speech, Erdogan used a distinctly religious tone in his appeal for Mubarak to step down.”

Author and blogger Jenny White discusses a new Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) survey showing trends that may help explain Turkey public’s opinion on the debate.

More than 65% of respondents said they “felt Turkey could be a ‘model for the region'”. Asked why, 15% listed Turkey’s Islamic background, 12% Turkey’s strong economy and 11% its democratic government.

Another 10% listed Turkey’s stance in support of Palestinians and Muslims.

Of the ones who rejected the idea, 12% listed Turkey’s secular political system as the reason, while additional 10% the country’s ties with Western nations.

Journalist Frederike Geerdink argued that events in Egypt could actually strengthen Turkish democracy. 

“As I write this, news is coming in that Egyptian state TV is claiming that countries which once occupied Egypt are now plotting against it. Besides the USA, Britain and Israel, of course Turkey was named — well, the Ottoman Empire is long gone, but we see the point. Erdogan has spoken out against Mubarak, basically saying that he should listen to the voice of the people and step down immediately. “

Geerdink argues the so-called “Ergodan effect” may have even contributed to the uprising in Egypt.

“A democracy with a majority Muslim population daring to speak out against the USA and against Israel, that is rather remarkable. Besides that, Turkey has a rapidly growing economy, and is pushing through democratic reforms while under a so-called mildly Islamic government.” 

Should the Middle Eastern countries remodel after Turkey, they will “make Turkey’s democratisation process stronger”, she concludes, proving that a majority Muslim population and democracy really can go together.


Source : SETimes.com

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