Turkey's ambassador to Kosovo looks to deepen relations
From politics to economics, Turkey remains one of Kosovo's biggest regional partners.
By Muhamet Brajshori for SES Türkiye in Pristina -- 17/05/12
Since she first took the post as Turkey's ambassador to Kosovo in January 2011, Songul Ozan has sought to deepen Turkey-Kosovo political and economic relations based on the notion that the two countries share common cultural, historical and social bonds.
Characterising bilateral relations as "excellent," Ozan says shared religious, social and cultural values facilitate people-to-people contacts and the development of strong interstate relations.
"In this regard, the contribution given by the Turkish representatives in KFOR and EULEX should be stressed," she said. Turkey has a 380-member military and police presence in Kosovo as part of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping mission. Turkish troops are located in Prizren and Mamusa, which have Turkish minorities.
While Turkey's military presence constitutes one arm of its foreign policy towards Kosovo, TIKA, Turkey's development aid agency, and the Yunus Emre Cultural Centre "provide another very useful contribution to our interstate relations," she said.
Since TIKA opened an office in 2004, it has implemented more than 200 projects in public administration, health, education, culture and agriculture, including the construction of the Mamusa Municipality building and the restoration of the Ottoman era Mehmet Fatih Mosque in Pristina.
In a multi-faceted diplomatic approach towards Kosovo, Ozan said, "We, as Turkey, would like to have excellent relations with Kosovo in any field. The same desire also is noted with satisfaction from the Kosovo side."
Speaking to SES Türkiye at the 2011 Balkan Leaders Summit in New York in September, Kosovo's Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj also noted the "excellent" relations between Turkey and Kosovo.
"But at the same time, we are very much interested to promote relations between nations, between people," the foreign minister said, adding that communication and contacts from one society to another society are very important for a small nation.
In this respect, Ozan says Kosovo Turks "are among the most valuable bridges between our countries."
Turkish cultural activities like the Turkish Jazz Festival and Turkish Film Week have also become a tradition, while Turkish soap operas are increasingly popular.
"We enjoy the fact that Turkish television series, Turkish artists, as in all countries of the region, even in Kosovo are liked," Ozan said.
Ardita Hysenaj, head of the Pristina Culture Studies Centre, agreed that soap operas are having an impact in changing the attitude of people in Kosovo towards Turkey.
"The soap operas show them [Kosovars] how their life has things in common with Turkish culture and lifestyle. This influences them to think differently than they used to," Hysenaj said.
Although some in Kosovo are critical of the Ottoman Empire, the ambassador says many Albanian and Bosniak communities in Turkey and the Balkans have positive perceptions of Turkey based on mutual respect for their common history.
"It is normal to have variations in perceptions and commenting of history. I think that history should not be used to divide nations and states. Instead, we must be constructive and exploit the possibilities of good things that history offers us, such as friendship and peace," Ozan said.
Based on these shared values, the ambassador says Turkish companies have an incentive to invest in countries like Kosovo.
Turkey is Kosovo's fourth largest trading partner, behind Serbia, Macedonia and Germany. Turkey exported $265.9 in goods to Kosovo in 2011, while Kosovo exported $10.1m to Turkey.
According to Ozan, the total value of Turkish private business sector investments in Kosovo stands at $277m, while the value of contracting projects is nearly $1 billion. Investments are focused in education, health, construction and privatisation tenders. The Turkish private business sector in Kosovo employs close to 3,200 workers in a country that is plagued by high unemployment rates and poverty.
"This sector is very interested to invest in the infrastructure projects," Ozan underlined.
Kosovo ultimately looks to integrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions like NATO and the EU, and Turkey has thrown its support behind Kosovo's integration into the international community of nations.
While Turkey is not involved in the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue facilitated by the EU, Ozan said Turkey strongly supports the dialogue process.
"Based on this I'd like to say that protection of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo and all countries in the region is among the essential elements of providing peace in the Balkans."