A new initiative would tell Turkey's story to future leaders of Balkan countries.
By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 10/06/14
Prime Minister Erdogan posed for a selfie with young people from the Balkans during their visit to Ankara in May. [Prime Ministry Office of Public Diplomacy]
Thirty-seven young people from across the Balkans gathered in Turkey last month to participate in a youth conference in order to boost interaction between Turkey and the Balkan countries.
The new project, organised by the Prime Ministry's Office of Public Diplomacy, invited young people from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Bulgaria, Kosovo and Macedonia.
Cemalettin Hasimi, co-ordinator of the Office of Public Diplomacy, said the project aims to create awareness of Turkey's regional and global influence, as well as to provide a platform for discussion about the current international agenda.
"Considering our historical and cultural ties, the Balkan geography has a special significance for Turkey at all levels, and it is a priority place for our activities," Hasimi told SES Türkiye.
The young people that participated in the program were selected from a pool of promising young leaders. One criterion was to select future leaders with a special interest in Turkish affairs.
"Although there have been some negative memories coming from the past that influence bilateral relations, this project aims to tell Turkey's new narrative for stimulating positive perceptions between the Balkans and Turkey through wide-ranging public diplomacy efforts," Hasimi said.
The project is carried out under a wider programme named Youth Bridge that brings young people from countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Yemen, Gabon, Niger and Senegal to Turkey.
During their trip to Istanbul and Ankara, the Balkan youth delegation visited the Turkish parliament, met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Youth and Sport Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic and lawmaker Ismail Safi to get a deeper understanding of political and administrative affairs as well as educational opportunities, sportive collaborations and scholarships in Turkey.
They also visited prominent think tanks and universities, as well as institutions that have been investing in the Balkans, like the Turkish Co-operation and Co-ordination Agency (TIKA), the state-run TV channel for the Balkans TRT Avaz and the Yunus Emre Institute.
Cihad Aliu, 24, is an Albanian/Turkish student living in Macedonia.
"The motto of our union is: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. For a better world, the role of youth in this context is very important," Aliu told SES Türkiye.
Aliu said especially over the last decade Turkey's active diplomacy and political and cultural initiatives have greatly impacted the Balkan countries.
"Popular Turkish soap operas have an undeniable effect. As for tourism, there are no words to describe Turkey's popularity. Turkey is one of the best places that everybody wants to visit. We have been living in the same region for 600 and some years. It is normal that our co-operation will be in harmony. No one can deny this," he added.
Lumturije Limani, 24, an Albanian student, participated in the programme from Kosovo where she is studying at Pristina University.
"Actually, when we talk about Turkey, it is always a pleasure to be a part of any project, program or activity. This one was planned really well and what really motivated me to become a part of it was that I wanted to know something more about Turkey," Limani told SES Türkiye.
Burak Yalim, project manager at the Centre for Development Relations with BiH in Sarajevo and a doctoral candidate at the International University of Sarajevo, told SES Türkiye that young people can make bridges between the two sides by interacting but such relations should be sustained in the long term.
"Turkey's scholarship programmes should be promoted better and be increased for Balkan countries. Turkey should focus on more strategic and wider perspectives rather than on emotional ones in the Balkans," Yalim said.
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