Increasing number of Turks putting down roots in the Balkans - Balkan Insight

The increase of Turkish-Balkans relations on a state-level has led to a soaring number of Turks calling the Balkans their new home, which they say contains more Ottoman ethos than Turkey itself, wrote Hamdi Firat Buyuk, Alexander Clapp and Serbeze Haxhiaj for Balkan Insight.

Across the Balkans, an increasing number of Turks are putting down roots in places that were once pins on the map of the Ottoman Empire, the article noted, with many drawn by opportunities for enterprise, investment, education or romance. For others, it is having rediscovered ancestral links to nations on Turkey’s doorstep.

Members of this new diaspora, who are shaped by a more assertive Turkey, a century after the collapse of Ottoman rule, bring Turkish language, culture and values to their adopted homelands, it noted.

Around 60,000 Turks are registered in Bulgaria; 13,000 are in Romania; 12,000 in North Macedonia; 10,700 in Bosnia;  8,000 in Albania; 3,500 in Kosovo; 2,000 in Montenegro; 600 in Serbia; 250 in Croatia and 200 in Slovenia, the Balkan Insight article said, stressing that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not missing out on the opportunity to mobilise Turks abroad to pedal soft power.

Ankara’s influence in the Balkans has long permeated through investment in universities, mosques and infrastructure, it said, adding that Ankara has also exerted soft power through cultural centres, such as the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), in addition to state-backed media outlets broadcasting in regional languages.

Turkey’s strongman is urging Turks in Balkan states to apply for second passports as part of an effort to build Ankara-friendly voter blocs on foreign soil.

“If there were more Balkan citizens who were raised in Turkey, Turkey would be more influential,” Rafit Sait, a former Turkish ruling party lawmaker who leads a Balkan diaspora group and is president of the Balkan Strategic Research Centre think tank in Izmir in western Turkey, told Balkan Insight.

The article pointed out that Turkish citizens living abroad can vote in Turkish elections thanks to a 2012 law passed by the Turkish president’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and that 3 million diaspora votes were cast in the June 208 elections that handed Erdoğan an additional five years as president on top of 17 years he has had at the helm of government.

Almost 60 per cent of ballots cast in Bosnia, Kosovo and North Macedonia went Erdogan’s way, the article said, however, voters in Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Serbia tended to favour his main rival from the opposition secular Republican People’s Party (CHP).

More than six million Turks live abroad, comprising almost 8 percent of Turkey’s 79.5 million population, however, political instability and economic turmoil at home are likely to lead to a surge in this figure, it said.

Turkish emigration to destinations worldwide soared 42.5 per cent in 2017 from a year earlier, hitting almost 254,000, the article said, quoting the latest figures from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat).

“The new Turkish diaspora to the Balkans are educated people, students in search of education, and business-savvy people who recognised opportunities and they see themselves as part of the Balkan space, with which they share historical and cultural experiences,” Osman Softic, a Sarajevo-based independent political analyst, told Balkan Insight.