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Food for Thought


The Balkans and Turkey - Foreign Policy and Defence Research Group (DSA)

1.  General Observations:


a)  The Balkans is a vital geographical region, a peninsula that is surrounded by the Black Sea, the Aegean and Adriatic seas and reaches towards the Mediterranean. With these features, it is of high geopolitical value in terms of security, trade routes, all means of transportation, and stability not only for the region itself, but also for the surrounding countries. Throughout the history, this region has witnessed many movements and social unrest due both to internal strife and ambitions of external powers for control over the region. When the Roman Empire was divided, the partition line passed through the middle of the Balkans, leaving the North to Romans and the South to Byzantium. The same line would separate the Austrian-Hungarian Empire from the Ottoman Empire many years later. The region witnessed the formation of new states starting with the rise of nationalist movements in the 19th century.


b)  Due both to internal dynamics and external influences, the Balkans has been one of the most troubled regions of Europe throughout the history. Differences based on ethnicity (Slav, Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish, Gypsy, Albanian, etc.) and faith (Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim) have played big parts as internal dynamics destabilizing the region. Activities of Russia, Austria, Germany, and Italy in search of influence should also be factored in as external dynamics. Finally, the bigger picture of the region would be clearer once we consider also the frictions over land and minority issues within or between countries. Besides the Turkish-Greek controversy, there were others over names between Hungary-Slovakia, Hungary-Romania, Moldova-Romania-Ukraine, Romania-Ukraine, Greece-Albania, Greece-Macedonia; ambitions of Bulgaria and Greece over Macedonia; Serbiaʼs seeing independent Kosovo as part of  a larger Serbia; disagreements in Bosnia-Herzegovina over its internal stability with the Croats and Serbs, all of which constitute examples of ethnic strife in the region.


c)  Recently, The Balkans was divided into different nations after the end of World War II, with some of them remaining behind the iron curtain to be governed by communist regimes. This was an era when ethnic and religious strife and demands for new borders were dormant. Later, with the fall of communist regimes and the break-up of Yugoslavia, these countries were confronted with the challenges of transition from totalitarian regimes to democracy, and from central planning to market economy. Moreover, the air of freedom accompanying a more democratic environment triggered extreme nationalist sentiments leading to bloody conflicts and separatist actions, escalating in some regions to ethnic cleansing. As a consequence, new formations emerged as mass migrations caused immense sufferings.


d)  In the face of these issues, it must be remembered that the EU initially took a rather passive stance -due probably to disagreements among its members- while NATO took a more active position under the influence of the USA. As part of this framework, NATOʼs peace forces of SFOR in Bosnia Herzegovina (later EUFOR under EU command), KFOR in Kosovo, and a similar peace force in Macedonia are to be mentioned as components of the military intervention. The USA, which carried out the military intervention without a United Nations Security Council resolution, later minimized its presence in the region, pointing to the problems in the Iraqi invasion. This, however, constituted no reason for the countries of the region to shy away from having close relations with the US. Especially in Kosovo, the US is seen as the savior of the country and the protector of its independence, and this is most visible in the presence of the US flag alongside the flags of Kosovo and Albania in many public institutions.


e)   Following the breakup of Yugoslavia and with the recent separation of Kosovo and Montenegro, the Balkans now hase a new map. Despite the efforts of Serbia, today the number of countries that recognize Kosovo has reached up to 95 (Kosovo claims there are 98 countries), but due to Russian opposition, the country is yet to become a member of the United Nations. Russia does not recognize Kosovo because of its close relations with Serbia. To normalize relations with Serbia, with the facilitation of the EU, a Belgrade-Pristine dialogue process commenced in March 2011. This process is currently ongoing. Having taken active duty during NATOʼs 1999 operations, and despite being one of the first countries to recognize bothKosovo and Montenegro, Turkey has managed to keep close relations with Serbia. As is known, Turkey regards Serbia as a key country in the region.


f)  It appears that the EU and NATO are moving towards connecting this region to European and Atlantic institutions in gradual steps, with an eventual promise of membership and the ultimate objective of containing and stabilizing a region of potential threat, conflict and insecurity. Bulgaria and Romaniaʼs membership to the EU and NATO seems to have influenced and encouraged the small and large countries of the region alike. As a matter of fact, we observe that under different statuses, all the countries of the region are racing to get under the umbrella of the European-Atlantic Institutions. Whether this mandatory expansion of the EU has played any role in the slowdown of Turkeyʼs membership to the EU, besides the major obstacle resulting from Cyprus, is a question that comes to mind. Ultimately, it would not be wrong to say that these expectations have to a large extent helped circumvent the violence in the region, replacing it with relative stability.


g)  Today we observe gradual steps towards a pluralist democracy, regular and transparent provincial and general elections, progress towards peace and stability, and decrease in complaints over human and minority rights in the Balkans. Despite the presence of Albanian minorities in almost all Balkan countries, we see a carefully distanced position by the Albanian state from a discourse of a larger Albania. For the first time in recent history, we see the East and West of the Balkans unite under the single umbrella of European-Atlantic Institutions. This is of great importance for the improvement of human rights and especially for the minority rights record of the region. Despite such positive developments, fragile national economies, lack of success in holding back unemployment and preventing corruption, inability to attract capital due to lack of savings, and the need for foreign investment remain as problems yet to be solved. Foreign aid still does not reflect on people’s quality of life. It is possible for unemployment and economic problems to stand as major threats to internal stability in the future if they are not addressed properly. It is also hard to argue that a trust-based cooperation between the countries in the region has been developed. 


h)  Following the economic and financial crisis of 2010 and 2011, Greece as one of the most important countries in the Balkans is now faced with serious social unrest in reaction to the harsh measures conditioned by the loans of the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF. As the May 2012, elections did not bring about a government majority, and a coalition government under the leadership of the New Democracy Party and with the participation of PASOK and Democratic Left was formed following the re-election in June. Three people of Turkish ethnicity were also elected to the parliament in this election. The situation in the country, however, remains serious and tight. It is difficult to make predictions for the future of the government in light of the ongoing popular protests.


2)  Turkeyʼs Approach:


a) Turkeyʼs social, cultural, and historical ties with the region go back a long time. Turkish minorities are still present in almost all Balkan countries. Moreover, we know that a part of Turkeyʼs population has ancestors who have migrated from the Balkans at different times in history.


b) Excluding Greece, the number of Turks living in Balkans is as follows; 600,000 in Bulgaria, 80,000 in Macedonia, 20,000 in Kosovo and 28,000 in Romania. In Kosovo, the number of non-Turkish people speaking Turkish is estimated to be around 300,000. These Turkish groups have very few problems compared to before, and are able to participate inthe politics of the country they live in. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms and The People’s Party for Freedom and Dignity in Bulgaria, the Turkish Democratic Union of Romania in Romania, the Movement for Turkish National Union and the Democratic Party of Turks in Macedonia where Turkish is an official language since 2010, and the Turkish Democratic Party of Kosovo and the Kosovo Turkish Union Party in Kosovo are active political representatives of Turkish minorities in the Balkans. On a separate note, the Turkish International Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) implements cultural projects in the region, having established Yunus Emre Cultural Centers in Bucharest and Constanta.


c)  In addition to the Turkish presence in the region and the strategic importance of the Balkans for stability and security, the fact that land, marine, air, trade, and energy routes of Turkey to the western world pass through the region also increases the value of the Balkans. It will be remembered that in recent years, there have been problems and increased economic burdens regarding these issues.


d) Turkey has established relations with all of the newly established countries in the region right after their independence, and opened embassies and continues to maintain steady relations at the level of president, prime minister and various ministries, specifically with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Turkey has also supported these countries’ integration to European-Atlantic Institutions and had an active role especially for Bulgaria and Romania’s membership to NATO. In order to maintain peace and stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey formed a trilateral consultative mechanism between Turkey-Bosnia Herzegovina-Serbia in 2009. So far, six meetings have been held and following these, Turkey also formed a parallel consultative mechanism between Turkey-Bosnia Herzegovina-Croatia in 2010. Apparently, the aim of these meetings was to establish a common vision between political wings in Bosnia-Herzegovina concerning the country’s future.


e) Turkey has been and is still being actively involved in all the efforts directed at establishing peace and stability in the region. Within this framework, Turkey sent 1500 soldiers to SFOR (and subsequently 500 to EUFOR) and 750 to KFOR. The country also participated in the EU force in Macedonia with two task forces and has military personnel at the NATO headquarters in Skopje and Tirana. In addition to these, Turkey is also a member of all the regional organizations aiming to increase cooperation between the countries in the region, and contributes to the South-East European Cooperation Process.  


f) Turkey’s regional policy can be summarized as follows: to establish peace and stability, to develop cooperation among countries in the region in every possible aspect, to support democratic values, human and minority rights and make necessary contributions accordingly. As part of its policy, Turkey tries to develop its political relations with the countries of the region as well as diversify and develop its commercial and economic relations. Attached to this article are data from countries in the region and a table with figures pertaining to their commercial activity with Turkey. The data in the table are approximate figures from 2011 and 2012. In the region, Turkey has various private sectorinvestments, which can be regarded as significant for these countries. Within this framework, the amount of investments in Kosovo has reached 1 billion Euros, İşbank and TEB have branches in the country as well as the Bank of Albania (BKT), 60% of which is owned by a Turkish company, is operating with its 23 branches in the country. The investments in Macedonia amount to 75 million Euros. Apparently as a result of current investments in the country, it has been stated that 2400 Turkish citizens live in Kosovo. It is also understood that the contractual work of the Turkish private sector in the region has reached a considerable amount.


g) Relations with Greece have entered a new period based on cooperation and dialogue after 1999. Moreover, during Prime Minister’s visit to Athens in 2010, the first meeting of the High Level Cooperation Council (YDİK) was held with the participation of Minister of Foreign Affairs and various ministers, and 22 agreements promoting cooperation in various areas were signed. On the other hand, due to the economic/financial crisis that followed, the second meeting of YDİK was never held. There seem to be ongoing discussions about the delimitation of territorial waters between two countries, use of the continental shelf, the arming of Aegean islands, geographical formations and the issues of national airspace in Exploratory Talks held by two countries’ ministries of foreign affairs. Even though no statements were made concerning these subjects, it is understood that Exploratory Talks still continue, and the 54th round was held in Athens on January 28, 2013. Furthermore, 29 confidence-building measures have been taken since 1999 in order to prevent tensions that arise from time to time and carry the risk of relapsing into conflict during the military operations of Turkey and Greece in the Aegean Sea. Currently, there are no proposals on the agenda. Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Avramopoulos arrived in Ankara on February 15, 2013 for a one-day business visit. According to the released statement, two ministers discussed agreements concerning issues that will be addressed in the High Level Cooperation Council meeting to be held in Ankara on March 5, 2013 and they shared their views on the relations between the EU and Turkey, as well as developments in the region.


h)  Since the end of the Cold War, Turkey’s foreign policy in the Balkans has been successful. On the other hand, it becomes apparent that the progress of Balkan countries towards EU membership will prevent Turkey from realizing the full potential of its relations with the countries of the region.

Foreign Policy and Defence Research Group:
President: İlter Türkmen, Ambassador (R)- Former Foreign Minister, Vice President: Salim Dervişoğlu Admiral (R), Members; Oktar Ataman, General (R), Cemil Şükrü Bozoğlu, Rear Admiral/Lower Half (R), M. Doğan Hacipoğlu, Rear Admiral/Upper Half (R), Oktay İşcen, Ambassador (R), Güner Öztek, Ambassador (R), Seyfettin Seymen, Air Major General (R), Necdet Timur, General (R) Turgut Tülümen, Ambassador (R).





















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