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News 26 Jan 18

Erdogan’s Spokesperson Says Turkey Wants ‘Stability’ in Bosnia

Senior Turkish envoy on visit to Bosnia has warned local, regional and international actors not to raise ethnic tensions in Bosnia.

Hamdi Firat Buyuk
Ambassador Ibrahim Kalin Photo: Anadaolu Agency

“No one, in Europe, in the region and in the country, should try to open a Pandora’s Box in Bosnia,” the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ambassador Ibrahim Kalin, said in an address during his visit to Bosnia. 

He was referring in part to the recent escalation of tensions caused by the appearance of what some claimed to be a Bosnian Serb paramilitary group – as well as to the Bosnian Croat drive for greater autonomy.

Kalin, a close aide of President Erdogan’s, visited Bosnia amidst these tensions on Thursday. 

For more than two decades, Turkey has nurtured close relations with Bosniak [Bosnian Muslim] leaders), including Bosnia’s late president, Alija Izetbegovic, and his son, Bakir. 

In recent years, it has expanded its influence in the region further, using a combination of political, business and cultural tools.

Recently, Erdogan has also paid special attention to improving Ankara’s ties with Serbia.

“We have good relations with the Bosnian leadership, as with other Balkan countries, Serbia in particular,” the envoy said. 

“Turkish investments are growing in the region and President Erdogan’s last visit to Belgrade and the Sandzak [a mainly Bosniak region of Serbia] was a sign of our good relations. We are also planning to connect Sarajevo, Belgrade and Novi Pazar [in Sandzak] with a motorway project,” Kalin said.

“This situation can only help the peace and stability of the region and of Bosnia,” he added.

A few weeks ago, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic travelled to Ankara to meet Erdogan for a visit that seemed mainly to focus on the political crisis in Bosnia, and especially on the failure of Bosnia’s politicians to agree on changes to the country’s election law. 

Without reform of this law, general elections due in October are at risk, as is the formation of new governments after the election.

However, Turkey seems reluctant to be drawn into such internal issues. 

“Our President … Erdogan made very clear during the Croatian President’s visit to Ankara that changing the election law is Bosnia’s internal issue, and no one has the right to get involved in it,” Kalin said. 

“Bosnia’s people will decide on the election law in coming months and we will respect the decision,” Kalin added.

“Turkey’s first … priority in Bosnia is to maintain peace and stability. Turkey does not want any ethnic tensions in Bosnia. We know that the [1995] Dayton Agreement which ended the [1992-95] war [in Bosnia] has its problems but there is a balance and order,” he added.

He said Ankara took note of recent reports about Bosnian Serb paramilitary units.

“We are aware of the news and claims about Bosnian Serb militia forces which were trained in Serbia by Russians. We do not want any clashes and ethnic tension in Bosnia. We are against making the same mistakes from the 1990s,” he said. 

Kalin also answered questions about Turkish foreign policy in the region and globally, and especially about Turkey’s recent rapprochement with Russia. 

Following the failed coup in Turkey in 2016 and the still ongoing crackdown against Erdogan’s political opponents, Turkey’s relations with its Western allies have soured.

Erdogan has meanwhile made moves to improve relations with Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin.

Turkey and Russia have increasingly cooperated in relation to the Syrian conflict, while the two countries also recently announced that Turkey would purchase Russian missile systems.

This shift in Turkish policy has created some confusion in the Balkans, where Turkey in the past was seen as one of the strongest allies of the Bosniaks, while Russia and Serbia cooperated with and supported the Bosnian Serbs and their hard-line leader, Milorad Dodik.

Kalin defended Turkey’s ties to Moscow, however. “We have very good relations with Russia and we are working well on several thorny issues,” he said. 

“When it comes to Bosnia, we say to Russia like we say to all our partners, that we do not want any ethnic tension in Bosnia. We ask all actors to help Bosnia and not to make things complicated,” Kalin said. 

He concluded: “No one should make some decision against the peace and stability of Bosnia for their short-term interests. They can win in the short term but in the long term we will all lose.”

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