Monday, January 09, 2006

Turkey’s Kosovo Policy ?

Can Karpat, AIA Turkish and Balkan Section

There are strong historical and psychological ties between the Turks and the Albanians. As to the antagonism between the Turks and the Serbs, it is well known from history. However it seems that Ankara prefers separating emotions from foreign policy nowadays. Turkey, caught between the Ottoman heritage and the European perspective, follows a highly prudent policy about the final status of Kosovo.


“Turkey supports the full implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. Turkey has been contributing to security and stability of Kosovo by providing troops, civilian police and specialists to KFOR (Kosovo Force), UNMIK (UN Mission in Kosovo) and the OSCE (Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe) Mission in Kosovo. Turkey, with its centuries-long historical and cultural ties with the region, closely follows the developments relating to Kosovo. In this respect, Turkey attaches great importance to the preservation of the acquired rights of the Turkish national minority as well as their fair and equitable representation in the political and administrative structures of Kosovo”. This brief account of Turkey’s political relations with Kosovo published by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site is not much telling about Turkey’s real attitude about the final status of Kosovo. This highly diplomatic language, though, tells much about Turkey’s own anxieties in this matter. Turkey’s anxieties match with those of Russia. Like Turkey, Russia has a long history related to the Balkans as the protector of the Slavs. Therefore, apart the purely Russian interest of hindering the full independence of Kosovo for fear that it be a perilous precedent for its Chechen problem, Moscow does not contradict itself defending the Serbian cause, which is also a Slav cause. On the contrary, Turkey, which is supposed to defend the Ottoman legacy in the Balkans, namely Turkish, Muslim Slav and Muslim Albanian existence, defending the idea of a “strong autonomy within the Serbian borders” for Kosovo, seems to contradict herself. Especially when one knows the strong cultural and moral relations between Albanians and Turks coming from history... Albanian Diaspora in TurkeyKosovo Albanians and Albanians in general were the most loyal subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Guards of Sultans were always chosen amongst Albanians for their courage and loyalty. It is used to be told in Turkey that when Abdulhamit II finally gave in and declared the Second Constitutional Monarchy (Mesrutiyet) in 1908, he did it only when he heard about the Albanian revolt in Kosovo village Verisovic (Ferisaj). When Albanians revolted, this meant the end for the Sultan. Turkish-Albanian relations are strongly rooted in history. Albanian presence on Anatolian soil goes back as early as 15th century. A considerable number of Albanians from Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo immigrated in Turkey following conjectural crises since 1913 when the Ottoman rule ended in the Balkans. The most significant aspect of the Albanian Diaspora in Turkey is that they have neither social nor political problem with the Turkish majority. Surprising etymological resemblances between Albanian and Turkish languages, though from different linguistic families, facilitated for the second and third Albanian generations to be perfectly assimilated into the Turkish society. Today there are 14 Albanian and Kosovo Albanian associations only in Istanbul. There are also others in Izmir, Bursa, Adapazari and Adana. All of these lead exclusively social and cultural activities. One exception is the Kosovo Association founded in 1994 with clear political objectives. According to Deputy President of the Association, they aim “to follow Kosovo policy of Turkish parliament and government”. In this regard, the Association organises meetings with Turkish parliamentarians, ministers and high officials, and also prepares press reviews and dossiers about the Kosovo question. As early as 1994, the Representative of Kosovo Republic in Turkey (RKRT) was founded. This institution had the mission to link Albanian Diaspora and political milieus close to Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo. At the end of February 1998, according to the RKRT’s estimation, 3000 Kosovo Albanian refugees arrived in Turkey. With the beginning of the NATO intervention by the end of March 1999, Turkey welcomed a number of refugees from Kosovo as high as 20.000. It is also known that almost 60 soldiers of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK), seriously wounded, had treatment in private hospitals in Istanbul. During this period, Albanian Diaspora in Turkey led intense political activities, such as lobbying with Turkish press, authorities and public opinion. Demonstrations were organised in Istanbul especially in 1998 and in March 1999 on the eve of the NATO intervention in Kosovo. Once the second Kosovo war ended, those refugees returned home. However it is estimated that today almost every Kosovo Albanian family has a relative in Turkey. Kosovo status: Turkey between past and futureSince 1923, Turkey has faithfully followed the “active neutrality policy” in her foreign affairs. Sometimes it did work just as during the Second World War; sometimes it did not. This policy mainly consists in keeping every party in one conflict in balance, and in proposing a median reconciliation formula. At the beginning of the Kosovo conflict too, Turkey made great efforts through bilateral and multilateral meetings so that a solution could be found by diplomatic means. When it is seen that diplomacy could not solve the problem, Turkey participated in NATO’s military intervention on the air. Turkey also contributed in the UNMIK and KFOR settled in Kosovo after the intervention. By 1999, the Kosovo Turkish Battalion Task Force Commandership located in Prizren.

Ever since, Turkey asks for a larger autonomy than that Kosovo enjoyed between 1974 and 1989. With this formula, the rights of Kosovo Turkish minority and other non-Albanian minorities may be secured on equal basis. The main point in Turkey’s policy was then to protect the vested rights of Kosovo Turks. By 2001, though, Turkey seems to have slightly changed her Kosovo policy. Following the intervention, Turkey is contended to follow a policy centred on Kosovo Turks as mentioned above. However this Turkish policy caused resentment amongst Kosovo Albanians, who had historical and psychological ties with Turkey coming from the Ottoman era. Thus by 2001, Turkey included ethnic Albanians into her regional policy. Ankara and Pristina signed cooperation agreements touching culture and environment. According to that, Turkey

contributed to the restoration of Ottoman works in Kosovo, such as the tomb of Murat I. A link was established between Kosovo Islam Union and Turkish Religious Affairs in order to discuss the most suitable religious establishment for the region. Furthermore, patients, who could not be treated in Kosovo, were taken to the hospitals in Istanbul and Ankara for treatment. Turkish Health Ministry held educative seminaries about cardiology and cancer for Kosovo doctors. However, Turkey that recognised rather lately the UNMIK passports is still hesitant about vehicles with the UNMIK license plates. This shows clearly that Turkey, planning her Kosovo policy, takes into account the fact that Kosovo is still legally a part of Serbia-Montenegro. Turkey’s anxieties about a probable independence of Kosovo can be summoned up in three parties. First of all, Turkey has a “south-eastern problem” since years against the Kurdish separatist organisation, the PKK. In the context of a federal State, one can reason that one federal unit must not harm the territorial integrity of another. Thus, a foreign intervention may be rationalised as Milosevic’s Serbia was violating the autonomous rights of Kosovo. That was a threat to the general stability in the whole region. It may be that Ankara reasoned in that way too at the time of NATO’s intervention. However if then Kosovo is granted independence, this would harm this time the territorial integrity of new democratic Serbia-Montenegro. So, Ankara worries with right that this would be a dangerous precedent for the acute south-eastern problem. On the 11th of June, 1999, Alan Freeman from European Bureau quoted James Ron, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University and a consultant to Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby group: “Relations between Turkey and the European Union have been very tense but they've escaped the blanket sanctions that the Serbs have received. Yet their record is very similar. If you do Kosovo, you have to do Turkey. Otherwise, you've got a double standard. […] but they [the Turks] get away with it because they're an important NATO member". To record probable similarities and differences between these two conflicts is not the purpose of this article. However historical and sociological differences between the past of Serbian-Albanian relations and that of Turkish-Kurdish relations are obvious. All the more that unlike the former Federal Yugoslavian State, Turkey has always been a unitary State as determined in the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 and the Constitution of 1982. Establishment of a rapid parallelism between the Kosovo issue and the Kurdish one is the last thing that Ankara would have wanted to speculate on international platforms. That is why, along with China and Russia, which struggle both against separatist movements on their soil, Turkey defends the principle of immunity of territorial integrity. The second point is that supporting Kosovo’s independence would cause the animosity of Serbia-Montenegro. On its way to the European Union, Turkey does not want to provoke a Slav-Orthodox bloc against its membership. Ankara must count with this “Belgrade factor”. After all, Turkey knows by the Ottoman experience what Kosovo means for Serbians on one side and Albanians on another. Serbians, who were brought up with Prince-Bishop Njegos’ “The Mountain Wreath”, the most famous Serbian epic poem mainly centred on

Kosovo Battle of 1389 against the Ottomans, would feel a great resentment in case Kosovo will obtain its full independence. What this resentment would cause thereafter is hardly predictable. As to the Albanians, who descended from Illyrians, they defend that they were there long before the Serbs arrived in the region. Therefore, Turkey, loyal to its active neutrality policy, prefers proposing what she sees as a median solution: A large autonomous status within Serbian borders and an effective decentralisation. The latter would also consolidate the political and social position of Kosovo Turks, who worry that the independence of Kosovo means the return of Albanian assimilation pressure of the period between 1974 and 1989. Finally, the two closest allies of Turkey in the Balkans are Macedonia and Albania. Turkey has military relations with these two countries. Macedonia, with its large Albanian minority in the north, has great anxieties from a probable independence of Kosovo, which may resuscitate the “Greater Albania” project in the Balkans. Albania, on the contrary, would aspire to this project. The deterioration of relations between Macedonia and Albania would put Turkish diplomacy in a difficult position. One can conclude that Turkey, caught between her past (the historical and moral responsibility coming from the Ottoman heritage in the Balkans) and her future (the European Union membership), follows a highly prudent policy about the final status of Kosovo.

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