Kosovo and Turkey have what former Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu describes as "golden relations", strong political and economic ties bound together by religious and cultural affinities developed over more than five centuries of Ottoman rule.
By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 30/04/12
When Kosovo declared its independence in February 2008, Turkey was among the first countries to recognise it. Moving quickly in the months that followed, Kosovo opened an embassy in Turkey by year's end. Bekim Sejdiu was appointed charge d'affaires to oversee its establishment, and was later named ambassador to Turkey.
Since that time, "Relations [have been] conducted on a state-to-state basis. This was not the case during the nine years of international administration over Kosovo," Sejdiu told SETimes.
"Second, the establishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of resident embassies enhanced the communication and co-operation between the two countries. There are also other factors of geopolitical, economic and other natures, which impact positively relations."
Kosovo and Turkish officials have paid frequent visits to each other's countries. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the most senior official to visit Kosovo in 2010. Just last month, Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga was in Istanbul meeting with Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gül.
Jahjaga praised the help and support that Turkey has been providing and called for the expansion of mutual co-operation, especially in trade.
During the last two years, Turkish companies have won bids for some key strategic public projects in Kosovo.
The Turkish-American consortium Bechtel-Enka is building Kosovo's first highway, which connects it to Albania in the south and to Serbia in the north. This project has created around 4,000 jobs.
Turkish company Limak won the tender to manage Pristina International Airport, which is being renovated and expanded. Turkish companies are also contenders for other strategic projects, including Kosovo's new power plant. Others are working in the health and education sectors. Ambassador Sejdiu says that attracting foreign direct investments in Kosovo is one of the government's main objectives.
"There are many Turkish companies that have invested in Kosovo in sectors such as banking and other services, mining, construction and so one. Our aim is to increase this. In pursuit of this objective, our embassy [sponsors] four to five business forums and similar activities in different cities of Turkey every year, which promote investments from Turkey to Kosovo," he told SETimes.
As of now, Kosovo and Turkey have signed 16 agreements, a testament to the dynamism in their relations. But ties with Turkey have been focused also on getting more recognition for Kosovo. The issue assumed central importance in terms of political co-operation.
"During the last four years, the major foreign policy objective of Kosovo has been to increase the number of bilateral recognitions of independence … and membership in international organisations," added Sejdiu.
He stresses that that every shred of support from Turkey that enhances capacities and the effectiveness of state institutions, or boosts economic development, or promotes Kosovo internationally, fosters the Euro-Atlantic integration of Kosovo.
Sejdiu describes Turkey as a crucial Euro-Atlantic ally, something confirmed repeatedly during Kosovo's most difficult chapters: the 1990s war, reconstruction and the aftermath of the declaration of independence.
"In my view, these decisive moments show that Turkey's stance on Kosovo is articulated along the lines of the Euro-Atlantic framework and hence is in full compliance with that of other key strategic allies. One just needs to see the list of the countries that recognised the independence of Kosovo in the week following the declaration ... to confirm this."
But the neo-Ottomanism of Turkish foreign policy is not universally regarded as positive among some academic circles in Kosovo. Sejdiu acknowledges as much, regarding the impact of the Ottoman Empire heritage on bilateral relations. He says that the interaction between the past and the present in the Balkans illustrates Winston Churchill's famous observation: sometimes the Balkans produces more history than can be consumed.
"It is not realistic to neglect totally the historical perceptions, in shaping the foreign policy outlooks. It is not the most influential factor when it comes to formulation of foreign policy parameters of states, be it Kosovo, Turkey or others. I'm not implying that the historical heritage plays in the same way in every country or region of the world. What I want to underline is the fact that historical perceptions and feelings are always intertwined with other factors, when it comes to their impact on foreign policy paradigms," Sejdiu explained.
Turkey has been an important partner in defence matters, but while other countries in the region have signed a Defence Co-operation Agreement with Turkey, Kosovo has not. Sejdiu says that nonetheless, the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) has strong co-operation with the Turkish Army and that relations between the KSF ministry and the Turkish Defence Ministry are dynamic.
"Some agreements in this field have already been signed between Kosovo and Turkey. They correspond to the needs and realities in Kosovo… I can say that this [co-operation with KSF] is one of the most active forms of co-operation between the two countries, and the Kosovo Security Force has benefited a lot from this co-operation."
He says that the Albanian community living in Turkey and Turkish community in Kosovo are a key factor in fostering bilateral relations.
"I am of the opinion that the underlying factor in relations between two countries is their vision for the future. Conceptually, this is where their paths might join or separate, or even collide. Kosovo and Turkey share the same vision for the Balkans. Namely, they both want to see a stable, democratic and prosperous region, integrated in the EU and NATO."