Balkans viewed as top priority for Turkey

One of the primary goals of the conference was to increase co-operation and co-ordination between Balkan associations in Turkey and improve Turkey-Balkan relations.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Ankara -- 29/11/11

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Turkey and the Balkans was the topic of the first multinational conference held at the Turkish parliament on Monday (November 28th), drawing representatives from 156 associations, diplomats and Balkan-origin politicians.

  • Balkan associations, diplomats, and politicians gathered in the Turkish parliament to discuss co-operation on Monday (November 28th). [Gunyuzu Daily]

    Balkan associations, diplomats, and politicians gathered in the Turkish parliament to discuss co-operation on Monday (November 28th). [Gunyuzu Daily]

"The aim of the conference is to discuss the problems within Balkan countries, to listen to the concerns of our Balkan-origin people living in Turkey, and to increase dialogue and the ability of associations to act together," Professor Koray Basol told SES Türkiye on behalf of the Turkey Balkan Platform representatives.

Speaking to SES Türkiye , Adnan Vardarli, president of the Balkan Social, Economic and Academic Co-operation Association (BALKANSIAD) explained that the Balkans gained increased importance in the 1990s following the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

"There is a significant Balkan community in Turkey. As [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is sensitive to Balkan matters, the number of related platforms has increased considerably," he said.

According to Vardarli, such conferences are very important for establishing dialogue among relevant associations to increase investment and discuss political issues.

As the keynote speaker, AK Party Izmir deputy Rifat Sait explained that the audience was comprised of associations from every political background. "There are approximately 15-20 million Balkan-origin people in Turkey. And the common concern of this community is the immigration wave from the Balkans," he said.

Sait announced a project to establish a Balkan Parliamentarian Assembly within the Turkish parliament, with the general secretariat located in Izmir.

"In the context of activities to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Balkan wars -- which will be celebrated in 2012 -- we are also planning to organise the first Balkan Forum in Izmir, to which the heads of state and governments of Balkan countries will be invited," he explained.

Sait also said that in co-operation with the foreign ministry, municipalities, universities and associations, an electronic database would be developed to encourage Balkan associations to work together and share information.

A common view running through the conference was that the wide ranging projects supported by the Turkish International Co-operation and. Development Agency (TİKA) in the region are of utmost importance.

"Because Balkan states are going through a process of reconstructing, Balkan countries need Turkey’s advice for capacity-building in legislative, judicial and trade issues," argued Vardarli, adding that establishing friendship links between Turkish and Balkan municipalities and increasing the co-operation with the Balkan countries is critical.

According to Ayhan Bolukbasi, president of Rumeli Balkan Associations Federation, the conference showed the need to bring associations together.

"Before the conference we had a problem of coming together. If not organized, quantitative majority cannot become strength," he emphasised.

The participants of the conference unanimously underlined the importance of the Balkans as cement for the unity and solidarity of Turkey, with Honorary Consul of Bosnia and Herzegovina Kemal Baysak saying "the Balkan world provides the Turkish world with an opportunity to unify under a single roof."

Meanwhile, AK Party Bursa deputy Kemal Serbetcioglu emphasised that a unified Balkans can make Turkey more powerful.

Hakan Okcali, general director of Balkans and Central Europe department of Turkish Foreign Ministry said that "the Balkans is a geography of top priority," adding that the origins of Turkey lay in Balkans. "We will reorient further steps in the Balkan region following the feedback taken from this meeting,” he said in his address to the participants.

As a result of the conference, Basol told SES Türkiye that all possible steps would be taken to broaden the representation of Balkan-origin people within Parliament, the public sector, civil society, bureaucracy and local governments.


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