Turkey in the Western Balkans

Turkey in the Western Balkans

May 14, 2014
ISAC Fund
pdf
Place of Publication: Belgrade
Date of Publication: 2011

The International and Security Affairs Centre - ISAC Fund, organized in April 2011 the conference “New Turkish Foreign Policy in the Western Balkans”, which was attended by experts from Turkey, the Western Balkans and the countries of the European Union (EU). The goal of the conference was to present the views and opinions on the recently intensified Turkish foreign policy, in a critical and polemical way, and in a region where the mere mention of Turkey provokes intense emotions. The conference was held under the Chatham House Rule, which contributed to the openness of debate and the extent and quality of its content. The food for thought paper that was used as an introduction to the conference, was sent out to participants by ISAC the day before the conference, in order to set basic guidelines for speakers and thereby initiate a debate during the discussion. The participants at the conference were striving towards in-depth analysis, trying to avoid falling into the trap of sensationalistic incidents that essentially tell so little about the actual state of relations and prospects of their progress. However, participants were not able to, nor wished to avoid uncomfortable topics; such as the role of religion in Turkey’s foreign policy, especially religious bonds with the Western Balkan nations, which accepted the Hanafi School of Islam from the Ottoman Empire. The bitterness of some of the participants from Turkey was noticeable at the conference, because of the fact that religious bond between the Turks and Muslims in the Western Balkans is still viewed in the region as an important determinant of the Turkish foreign policy. Similarly, participants from the Western Balkans paid special attention to some speeches in which Turkish officials emphasized the positive experiences of coexistence among peoples of the Western Balkans in the Ottoman Empire, disregarding the negative ones, as well as the statements
that “Sarajevo is Turkish”, etc. The perceptions of the Ottoman Empire are very different in modern Turkey and the Western Balkan countries, and are a long way off towards bridging such parallel and rarely interconnected perceptions.

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