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news 20 May 15

Turkish President Cements Ties With Bosnia

On a visit to Sarajevo, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown the extent of Turkish support for Bosnia - while some suspect the visit is designed also to boost the hand of Erdogan's main Bosnian ally, Bakir Izetbegovic.

Elvira M. Jukic

Mladen Ivanic, Chairman of BiH Presidency, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish President in Sarajevo. I Photo by AP/Amel Emric


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Sarajevo on Wednesday on a trip packed with diplomatic and business events and designed to highlight close Turkish ties to Bosnia - an almost half-Muslim country and a former province of the Ottoman Empire.

Many suspect that the timing of this visit was designed also to showcase Erdogan’s personal support for Bakir Izetbegovic at a critical moment in his battle for control of the main Bosniak [Muslim] party, the Party of Democratic Action, SDA.

Erdogan’s visit started in the Bosnian Presidency, where he was welcomed with full military honors before he met the members of the tripartite presidency, the Serb Chairman Mladen Ivanic, Bosnian Croat member Dragan Covic and Izetbegovic himself.

Ivanic thanked Turkey for opening itself to quotas of meat exports from Bosnia. “People have come here who want to invest in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Ivanic said, referring to Turkish businessmen who came as part of the delegation.

Erdogan for his part said Turkey wanted to increase economic exchanges with Bosnia and added that there were many potential investors from Turkey in various sectors such as culture, tourism, military production and agriculture.

“When I was a premier [of Turkey] I promised a loan of 100 million euro for agriculture [in Bosnia] and much of that has already been implemented. We will now issue another 50 million euro for small and medium enterprises,” Erdogan said.

  From left: Mladen Ivanic, Chairman of BiH Presidency, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish President, Bakir Izetbegovic, Bosniak member of BiH Presidency and Dragan Covic, Croat member of BiH Presidency. I Photo by AP/Amel Emric

The meeting with the Presidency was followed by another meeting of Bosnian and Turkish delegations, which signed several bilateral agreements, including on diplomatic training, as well as on cooperation in science and technology, transport and veterinary services.

Erdogan was also scheduled to meet the chiefs of Bosnia’s state parliament and the government – the Council of Ministers.

Erdogan’s visit is scheduled to end with additional time spent with Izetbegovic. The two are planned to jointly open a recently reconstructed hammam (Turkish bath) and walk through Sarajevo’s old town, known as Bascarsija.

Many local experts and diplomats believe the timing of Erdogan’s visit was not a coincidence and that it was picked to come just days ahead of the congress of the SDA, which on May 26 will elect a new leadership.

When the SDA’s founder and Bosnia's first president, Alija Izetbegovic, withdrew from political life in 2001 due to his age and ill health, he surprisingly entrusted the leadership to little-known Sulejman Tihic, rather than to his son, Bakir.

Tihic was re-elected SDA leader three times, while Bakir Izetbegovic held a number of top party positions, as a member of the party presidency, its main board and vice president, but he never managed to defeat Tihic in inter-party elections.

As Tihic's health declined in 2013, he and Izetbegovic agreed to effectively share the party leadership and postpone party elections for after 2014 general elections. Izetbegovic became deputy party president and then acting leader for more than a year while Tihic struggled with cancer before dying in September last year.

Izetbegovic over the past few years has increasingly relied on his personal relations with Erdogan, first when he was serving as Turkish Prime Minister and now as President.

He has never missed an opportunity to support Erdogan’s political activities in Turkey. When  Erdogan won last year's elections, Izetbegovic called it a victory for all Bosniaks as well.

Some Western diplomats believe that the Bosniak political leadership is trying shift the focus of Bosnia's strategic alliance from the EU and the US towards Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

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