As Turkey opens schools in the Balkans, regional officials hail education's role in promoting good relations.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 21/12/12
The Turkish-funded school in Bornja Banica, Macedonia is the largest Turkish school in the Balkans. [Turkish Co-operation and Co-ordination Agency]
Ankara's expanding network of schools in the Balkans is deepening centuries-old ties between Turkey and its southeast European neighbours.
Turkey sees the schools, which have been built by the official Turkish Co-operation and Co-ordination Agency (TIKA) as NGOs and a tool to promote understanding and friendship between young people. Balkan officials have hailed them for the same reason, as well as for expanding the range of educational opportunities available to locals.
The biggest Turkish school in the Balkans was opened recently in Gornja Banjica village in Macedonia's Gostivar municipality. The school, which was built jointly by TIKA, the Union of Turkish World Municipalities and Gostivar municipality, will serve 1,400 students of Turkish, Albanian, and Macedonian descent, according to TIKA.
Gostivar Mayor Rufi Osmani told SETimes the school will help cement positive relations among Macedonia's ethnic communities and with Turkey.
"We must build tolerance and good relations between all nationalities, and [this school] represents a symbol of co-existence and tolerance in Macedonia," he said. "This school is a great investment. For the time I've been mayor, Gostivar has paid special attention to relations with Turkey's municipalities."
Turkey's network of schools in the Balkans has strong roots and continues to grow. Bosna Sema, a Turkish educational organisation, has opened 14 schools in four cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1996. The group's schools offer education at all levels, from primary school to university.
"We are very satisfied with the dynamics of education and achieved results, and we intend to make it stay that way in the future," Mubera Saracevic, secretary general of Bosna Sema schools, told SETimes. "When we started with this story in 1996, we had only two classes of pupils. Today, we have over 3,500 pupils and students in our educational institutions, and over 500 employees. We intend to continue to expand our schools and build new ones."
Tina Hadzibegovic, 23, is studying informatics at Sarajevo College, which is run by Bosna Sema. Like many officials, she's pleased with the level of service offered by Turkish schools.
"I'm very satisfied with the educational programme and, some young people from the place where I was born already asked me how they can start studying at this college," she told SETimes.
In Romania, Turkish schools have also helped strengthen bilateral relations. There are currently 10 Turkish private primary and secondary schools in various Romanian cities, including Bucharest, Constanta, Timisoara, Iasi and Cluj-Napoca. There's also a Turkish university, the Lumina University of South-East Europe, which was established in 2010.
"Co-operation in the fields of culture and education is one of the most important aspects of deep-rooted and excellent bilateral relations between Turkey and Romania," the Turkish Embassy in Bucharest said in a statement for SETimes.
The first Turkish-Romanian public school, Megidia Kemal Ataturk National College, was founded in 1995. It provides mother language education to the members of the Turkish and Tatar minority living in the Dobrugea region, operating on the basis of an intergovernmental protocol between Turkey and Romania. The college also provides the Romanian students with the opportunity to learn the Turkish language and culture, the embassy added.
"We see education as a fundamental tool in furthering the understanding and friendship between the young generations in our two countries. Turkish schools in Romania play an important role in this regard," the embassy said in its statement.
Serbia's most significant education project with Turkish partners is the ongoing construction of a primary school in Novi Pazar, which will have capacity for some 1,000 pupils.
Faruk Suljevic, a foreign affairs advisor at Novi Pazar municipality, told SETimes the project would help address gaps in local educational services.
"In this part of the city, we did have a big need for primary school since children had to pass several kilometers from their homes to school in the city centre," he said.
Suljevic added that the 1.7 million euro project, which is being completed with TIKIA's support, is set to be completed in March.
During a visit to Podgorica earlier this year, Mustafa Aydin, president of Istanbul's Aydin University, told reporters he was considering opening a world-class university in Montenegro.
"We're interested in opening a university in Podgorica in which personnel from the whole region would be educated according to modern scientific teaching methods," he told reporters.
TIKA didn't reply to SETimes' repeated requests for comment.
Correspondents Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade, Paul Ciocoiu in Bucharest and Menekse Tokyay in Istanbul contributed to this report.