Bitter taste of Turkish Delight

Turkish prime-minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has just finished his two day visit to Belgrade. On December 28th he came to Serbia’s capital and had an official meeting with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić, where they discussed standard topics such as economy, trade, cultural exchange, security in the region etc. After the meeting Vučić and Davutoğlu made a joint press conference full of polite notes and witty remarks from both sides. During the conference, Davutoğlu gave a very “funny” or rather very indicative comment saying, “The Balkans is like a soup into which we wish to put a nice spice to make it even tastier”. In other words Davutoğlu said that nothing can be done in the Balkan peninsula (or as the neo-Ottoman say in the “Rumeli”) without the Turks having a say. This should not come as a surprise, coming from the words of the author of Strategic depth, the bible of neo-Ottomanism. 

So far this Turkish spice was only bitter for the Serbs, as well as the other Balkan peoples, especially the Orthodox Christian nations. Turkey has been, and still is consequently hostile to the Serbs, as the Serbs live in the central part of the peninsula. Turkey (both secular and neo-Ottoman) actively supported Serbian enemies in both Bosnian and Kosovo wars of the 1990's. The Turkish air-force was involved in the 1999 NATO aggression on Yugoslavia, Turkey recognised the illegal proclamation of independence by the separatists in the Serbian southern province, and it still tries to play the religious card from time to time in Serbia proper in regions with significant Muslim populations against the state. Needless to say, it is always hostile to the Republic of Srpska (the Serbian entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina). On the field of soft power Turkey is very present too. Its state agency TIKA (Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency) is giving away money for restoration of old Ottoman archaeological sites and other activities. At the same time the para-state system of Turkish millionaire Fethullah Gülen has a network of schools throughout the region. Turkey also finances the construction of new mosques. Only in May 2015, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during his visit to Albania, personally opened the construction works for what is to become the largest mosque in Tirana, and the whole of Balkans. It will be a part of a compound with an Islamic centre attached to it, all in close proximity of both the Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic churches.

December 29th, 2015, the second day of Davutoğlu’s visit was supposed to be one of those times when Turkey projects its power by rallying local Muslim populations and giving them hope of a possible neo-Ottoman future. Both Serbian and Turkish prime- ministers were supposed to visit the town of Novi Pazar which has about 60% of Serbian speaking Muslim inhabitants. However, the trip didn’t take place. The official reason for the cancelling of this trip was a thick fog that prevented the flight of a helicopter which was supposed to take the two statesmen on board. Interestingly enough, the same day, Kurdish activists in Turkey called for “the proclamation of autonomy”, only two days after the meeting of the Kurdish Democratic Society Congress took place in the city of Diyarbakir. Having in mind that Turkey recognised a similar proclamation by the Albanian separatists in Kosovo-Metohija in 2008, one might say “what goes around, comes around”. Whether or not fog was the real reason for Davutoğlu’s change of plans, this was certainly a symbolical event.

Instead of visiting Novi Pazar, Davutoğlu visited Serbian president Tomislav Nikolić and kindly asking him to mediate between Turkey and Russia and make effort for the settlement of their conflict, which in essence was Davutoğlu’s confesion that Serbia has an increased weight in the international arena, as it is a friend of Russia, a newly recovered superpower. In a coment for Sputnik news agency after this, Nikolić gave a very confident statement saying that Turkey's shooting down the russian SU 24 bomber aircraft was done in order to drag the two great powers (Russia and the US) into a conflict over Syria. 

Nobody seems to even know when Ahmet Davutoğlu actually left Belgrade. The same evening however, president Nikolić gave another very interesting interview, this time for the state TV station of Republic of Srpska, where he said that he was informed by the foreign diplomats that a plot of overthrowing Republic of Srpska’s president Milorad Dodik is underway, in which Dodik’s internal opposition has a role. He warned that if the opposition in Republic of Srpska do not realise that Republic of Srpska is in grave danger, nothing would turn out good. According to the Serbian president the instructions for this plot come from the “international community” (meaning the political West), and that these instructions are implemented by Sarajevo (Bosnian Muslim leadership). Comparing this plot to the overthrow of Serbia’s president Slobodan Milošević back in 2000, Nikolić said that the same scenario is being used now against Republic of Srpska as the one that was utilised for settling scores with Serbia: “personalisation of country's problems leads nowhere as the overthrow of president Milošević didn’t miraculously solve all of Serbia's problems”, Nikoloć said. President Nikolić in effect indirectly accused the political West for being behind the plot. The President of Republic of Srpska. Milorad Dodic, however immediately confirmed Nikolić’s claims, adding that Great Britain stands directly behind this plot.

As an  open enemy of Bosnian Serbs, Turkey would jump on the bandwagon of any destabilisation of the Serbian factor in Bosnia, as they have done before so many times. So this was also, in a way, Nikolić’s diplomatic message to Davutoğlu and Turkey, that their “tasty spices” are not welcome.

In the light of growing civil unrest in Turkey, which can easily become a full-blown civil war of the Turkish state against the Kurds, the neo-Ottoman ambitions of Turkey in the Balkans are placed on the periphery of Turkish priorities. The same can be said for Syria. As the Kurdish and Syrian forces backed by Russian air support clean the Syrian and Iraqi lands of the Islamist terrorists along the Syrian-Turkish and Iraqi-Turkish borders, the risk becomes greater for Turkey, as the two are in effect independent Kurdish proto-states, and gain more power and ground. It is common sense that these would help their ethnic kin in Turkey as soon as they get the real opportunity to do so. And Russian anger with Turkey after the downing of their plane provides this long awaited opportunity. All of these developments will, strangely enough, have a positive effect on the Balkan peninsula, as the potential of Turkey becoming the “spice in Serbian soup”, using Davutoğlu’s metaphor, decreases by the day.