By Shaima Hefzy
The Turkish state under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still exploits all that it sees may achieve its dream of restoring the “Ottoman Caliphate”. Perhaps what is happening in the Balkan countries is proof of this Turkish exploitation, even at the expense of a “humanitarian” issue, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bosnia and Herzegovina “was one of the most prominent regions of the Balkans, which underwent major transformations, especially during the period from 1992 to 1995, in which Muslims were subjected to racial persecution of the degree of genocide and war crimes.
After the so-called “era of ethnic cleansing” practiced by the Serbs against Muslims, Turkey is now trying to establish its roots in Bosnia and Herzegovina, taking advantage of the Muslims’ thirst to see mosques and return to the spirit of Islam – which was previously forbidden to them.
According to a study entitled “New Turkish Activity in the Western Balkans: Ambitions and Obstacles” published in 2013, Turkey returned to the Western Balkans in 2009 after taking over the chairmanship of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP).
Turkey has adopted an initiative on Bosnia and Herzegovina, but has been criticized for the move, driven by Ankara’s desire to regain its former power and influence in the region, and accusations of nurturing trends to revive the Ottoman past.
In January 2011, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed that Turkey would become one of the world’s largest economic powers in 2023 and would have an effective regional and global role to play in the region.
According to the study, Turkey’s ambition can not be carried out with good faith, especially since Turkey’s effectiveness in the Balkan countries reinforces these fears, as noted in the Davutoglu speech in Sarajevo on October 16, 2009. In the speech, Davutoglu announced that the goals of Turkey’s foreign policy is the status of the Middle East and the Caucasus with Turkey at the heart of future global politics, which has been interpreted as a promotion of the so-called “neo-Ottomans”. This shows that Turkey’s intervention in the Balkans has an ideological nature with historical and religious roots.
In a statement to Turkish President Erdoğan in November 2018, during a speech on Bosnia’s 25th anniversary, he claimed publicly that the late Bosnian President Ali Izzet Begovic asked him to take care of Bosnia. Erdogan said: “Begović asked me to take care of Bosnia before his death. He grabbed my hand and said: “Protect Bosnia.”
Reasons of interest
Turkey’s interest in the Balkans is due to five reasons:
Firstly: The long history shared by Turkey with the peoples of the Balkans and thus the knowledge of the two peoples of the culture of one other.
Secondly: The Turks living in the Balkans. After centuries of immigration, Turkish society and the Muslim communities living in the Balkans were closely linked.
Thirdly: The Balkan countries have a strategic geographical importance for Turkey, because any problems in this region affect them politically and economically, especially as economic cooperation with the Balkan countries increases with stability.
Fourthly: Turkish citizens of Balkan origin are considered pressure groups within Turkey.
Fifthly: The Balkans represent a guarantee that will support Turkey’s accession to the EU in the future. Turkey is therefore working to improve its relations with the Western Balkans.
According to the study, Turkey is primarily interested in the Balkans in Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially since the more religious circles in Turkey view Sarajevo as the “holiest of Europe”. Turkey can also be considered as the spokesman for Bosnia and Herzegovina in international forums.