Erdogan receives award for defending minority rights

22/10/2013

Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was awarded a gold medal by the Bosnia National Council (BNC) for contributing the improvement of minority rights in Serbia.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 22/10/13

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Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was honoured by the Bosnia National Council. [AFP file photo]

The Bosnia National Council's recognition of Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan signifies the importance of Turkey-Serbia relations in the BiH community, an official said.

The gold medal was received on Erdogan's behalf by Turkey's ambassador to Serbia, Kemal Bozay, in a ceremony commemorating the 10th anniversary of the council.

BNC President Esad Dzudzevic said Erdogan's contribution to the improvement of Bosnians' rights and economic conditions in Serbia and his sensibility towards minority rights in general were the reasons behind their decision.

"The message of this medal is that good relations between Serbia and Turkey are vital for Bosnians in Serbia. Bosnians in Serbia serve as a bridge between Serbia and Turkey. With his contributions, Erdogan deserves this award," Dzudzevic told SETimes.

Economic hardship is the main problem Bosnians are facing in Serbia. Sancak, where the majority of Bosnians live, is one of the poorest regions in the country. Turkish officials provided school supplies and charitable donations such as free meals or livestock for the public. The Turkish International Co-operation and Development Agency (TIKA) also renovates schools, builds libraries and donates ambulances to help local municipalities. The prospect of Turkish firms opening businesses in the region also gives hope to unemployed Bosnians and Serbs.

Forum 10 is an academic initiative based in Novi Pazar, the biggest city in Sancak.

Fahrudin Kladicanin, co-ordinator of Forum 10, said Turkey's support to the development of the region through donations has been consistent.

"Erdogan is a key figure in solving these problems and his interest has been confirmed through numerous activities in Sancak, including his personal visit and TIKA's various projects of economic support," Kladicanin said.

Kladicanin said although the award comes from Bosnians in Serbia, it also reflects Serbians' appreciation for Turkish efforts in helping solve some of the issues.

The co-operation between the two countries bloomed in 2007 when then-President Boris Tadic became the first Serbian president to visit Turkey. His visit was followed by Erdogan's visit to Sancak in July 2010.

Dzudzevic said the close co-operation between Serbia and Turkey is not surprising since people in the two countries share similarities in historical heritage, architecture, tradition, and cuisine.

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According to Nikola Knezevic, CEO and founder of the Centre for the Study of Religion, Politics and Society and a professor at the University in Novi Sad, shared religion is an important factor in Serbia-Turkey relations. There are about 223,000 Muslims living in Serbia and Muslims are the third-largest religious group in the country.

"These relations should be seen in an affirmative way in the light of improvement of two countries' bilateral and economic co-operation and, after all, Sancak is an integral part of Serbia and Bosnians are citizens of Serbia. In another words, co-operation between Sancak and Turkey benefits Serbia, which needs direct foreign investment from economically powerful Turkey. Historical, cultural and religious similarities can encourage and enforce this kind of co-operation," Knezevic said.

There are about 2 million Bosnians living in Turkey and Bosnian Muslims in Serbia make up about 2 percent of the population.

How can economic support of Turkey help solve the problems minorities facing in Serbia? Add your thoughts in the comment space below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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