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News 11 Dec 15

Bosnia's Presidency Visit To Turkey Highlights Ankara Role in Bosnia

Two members of the Bosnian Presidency have started a two days visit to Turkey, marking the growing importance of Ankara as a partner for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Rodolfo Toe
BIRN
Sarajevo
Recep Tayyp Erdogan with Bakir Izetbegovic and Dragan Covic | Photo: BETA

The Croat and Bosniak members of the Bosnian Presidency Dragan Covic and Bakir Izetbegovic met yesterday with the Turkish President Recep Tayyp Erdogan in the first of a two days visit to Ankara and Istanbul.

During their visit, the members of the Presidency will meet also with the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davatoglu and visit the Turkish Parliament, the mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk and the University of Gazy in Ankara.

The trip highlights the importance of the relations between the two countries, seven months after Erdogan made his seventh official visit in Bosnia Herzegovina in eleven years.

Even though Turkey is still not one of the main partners of Bosnia and Herzegovina, its importance has been growing in recent years.

According to data provided by the Foreign Chamber of Commerce of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the commercial exchange between the two countries has increased sharply during the past five years.

“From 2010, the total import of Turkish products [which was around € 250 million in 2014] in Bosnia increased by 50%, whereas the total export of Bosnian products to Turkey [€ 117 million in 2014] almost triplicated”, Aida Kapicija, the spokesperson of the Bosnian Foreign Chamber of Commerce, told BIRN.

“Bosnia mainly exports agricultural products, and imports textile products from Turkey”, Kapicija explained.

Even if the commercial relationship between the two countries is growing, Turkey is not yet one important commercial partner for Bosnia, lagging behind other European countries like Germany, Italy, Austria and neighbours like Serbia and Croatia.

The situation is the same when it comes to direct Turkish investments in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“According to our data, investments from Turkey represents only 2,3% of the total, and the country ranks 12 on the list of the foreign investors in Bosnia”, Jasmina Alilovic, the advisor for public relations at the foreign investment promotion agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, told BIRN.

During his last visit in May, the Turkish President Erdogan vowed to “increase the economic cooperation between our two countries”.

The so far small economic connections between Turkey and Bosnia Herzegovina don't exclude, however, stronger cultural ties.

“Bosnia was once part of the Ottoman empire and Turkey is obviously trying to exploit these connections to try and build a bigger influence in the country”, Milos Solaja, Professor of Political Science in Banja Luka, told BIRN.

In the recent years, TIKA (the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency) has also financed several reconstruction projects in the country, mostly aiming at preserving and restoring the Ottoman heritage in Bosnia, like the Mehmet Pasa bridge in Visegrad or the Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka.

The historical ties between the two countries have also helped the development of tourism, with Turkish citizens being the fourth national group providing visits to Bosnia and Herzegovina, after Croatia, Serbia and Italy.

“You'll never find Turks who have been to Bosnia and who will tell you that they didn't feel at home”, Emre Erdogan, a 28 year old Turkish citizen living in Sarajevo, told BIRN.

“When they come here, Turkish citizens are impressed with the similarities of our cultures, also when it comes to religion. You can walk in the Bascarsija [the old city center of Sarajevo] and you'll find mosques, Turkish symbols, sometimes even Turkish flags. It's really rare in Europe, and it's something that Turks appreciate. In our culture we do give an enormous importance to symbols”, Emre said.

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