Turkey’s Diplomatic Advances in Balkans Stalled by Domestic Difficulties

Turkey’s Diplomatic Advances in Balkans Stalled by Domestic Difficulties

Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power in 2002, Turkey has been reorienting its foreign policy toward increasing Ankara’s weight within the perimeter of the former Ottoman Empire through a combination of economic policy, diplomacy and an emphasis on historical and cultural ties. Dubbed neo-Ottomanism, this approach represents a departure from the strictly NATO-oriented vision Turkey followed in the 20th century, and Turkey has pursued it even more actively since Ahmet Davutoglu, the academic who elaborated the concept, was appointed foreign minister in 2009.

In addition to Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, the Balkans are a key laboratory for neo-Ottomanism. Turkey’s surging influence in the Balkans is visible in several areas. First, Ankara has enhanced its existing commitment to brokering stability in the Western Balkans, where Ankara was already contributing to peacekeeping operations and taking part in democracy promotion and regional cooperation organizations such as the Sarajevo-based Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR). What has changed during Davutoglu’s tenure is that Turkish diplomacy has become more directly involved in mediating local disputes, which Ankara sometimes does without coordinating efforts with international partners.

The most successful such initiative, launched in 2009, led to a breakthrough in Serbia-Bosnia relations, which at the time were at the lowest point since the end of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Their dialogue had collapsed, and the post of Bosnia’s ambassador to Serbia had been vacant since 2007. Ankara promoted a series of trilateral consultations, ultimately ending the impasse in February 2010. A month later Turkey’s shuttle diplomacy produced another valuable result when the Serbian parliament adopted a resolution apologizing for the killing of more than 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia, in July 1995. Although Serbian members of parliament used the word “crime” instead of “genocide” to describe the massacre, the document contributed to mending ties between the two countries. The same year, Serbia and Bosnia also signed a joint declaration, under Turkey’s aegis, focusing on mutual trust.

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