Turkey: Back to the Balkans?
ANKARA -- An op-ed written by Prof. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the Serbian daily Politika under the title"Turkey and Serbia Key Countries in the Balkans" gives hope that Turkey may be set to strengthen the Balkan dimension of its foreign policy. Turkey has a new foreign policy understanding that aims to transform Turkey into an"independent regional soft power" and a new neighborhood policy that requires extensive cooperation and zero problems with all neighbors. While others have called this new policy neo-Ottomanism, Prof. Davutoglu openly rejected this term although he frequently made references to the Ottoman legacy.
It would indeed be a paradox to talk about neo-Ottomanism when Turkey's foreign policy almost neglected the Balkans, the Ottomans' homeland. Just by comparing the footsteps the Ottomans have left in the Balkans, with traces elsewhere, one could easily see that the center of gravity of the Ottoman Empire was not in the Middle East, but in the Balkans. Even today, Balkan culture is an important element of Turkish culture as millions of Turks migrated from this region to Anatolia when the Ottoman Empire was gradually retreating. When the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923, including Kemal Ataturk, over 50 percent of the population had roots elsewhere, mostly in the Balkans. Their children and grandchildren are proud to have this heritage, and when they talk about their past home in the Balkan region, be it in Greece, Kosovo, or Macedonia, it's always with love and no bad feelings.
During the early phases of the Turkish Republic, Turkey established good relations with the Balkan countries and signed the Balkan Treaty with Greece, Yugoslavia, and Romania. After a long break during the cold war, Turkey once again became active in the region after the fall of the iron curtain. Apart from supporting the international mechanisms in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, Turkey developed bilateral relations with the countries in the region. However this dynamism has lost pace during the last decade, partly because EU enlargement toward the Balkans has decreased Turkey's role in the region. Under AKP governments, Turkey has been hyperactive in the Middle East and parts of Africa because of cultural and historical ties with these regions. One could ask the question,"What about the cultural and historical ties with the Balkans, the homeland of the Ottomans?" The following words of Prof. Davutoglu, translated from his Politika op-ed has the potential to make this question irrelevant, if turned into concrete policy.
"The quicker we can free the Balkans of its problems, and the quicker we can strengthen economic integration, the more easily shall we succeed in facilitating the integration of our region with European and Euroatlantic institutions such as the EU and NATO. Membership in NATO and the EU is the common goal of all Balkan countries. There are different conditions set for each country in that process. It is essential though that that orientation be upheld, and that it be implemented and developed with joint efforts."
With these words, Turkey's foreign minister not only implies a new opening toward the Balkan Region, but also underlines further integration of the Balkan Region with transatlantic institutions, namely the EU and NATO. For one thing, with these words, Davutoglu doesn't at all sound like the foreign minister of a Turkey that has turned its back to the West.
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