Interview: Turkish Ambassador to Serbia

Ambassador Ahmet Suha Umar will able to leave from Belgrade with the belief that during the his mandate he did everything: reconciled the feuding leaders in Sandzak and the religious leaders opposed to the Islamic community; that he helped the rapid warming of relations between Belgrade and Ankara, as well as Belgrade and Sarajevo. Many believe that his crown achievement is arranging the recent meeting of the president of Serbia and Turkey, and the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Istanbul. In an interview for Arena, His Excellency denies these achievements: – The meeting was organized through the efforts of Turkey, not me personally. In October last year we started monthly trilateral consultations between Turkey, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which aims to create better relations and deepen cooperation. We already have the obvious results. The first is that Bosnia, after three years, received the Ambassador in Belgrade, and thus a better channel of communication between the two countries. Second is that President Tadic and the Serbian government, together with the Assembly, supported the adoption of the Declaration of Srebrenica, as an important step towards improving relations in the region. And the third was that the three presidents meet in Istanbul. The meeting was successful and fruitful, president Tadic and Silajdzic spoke face to face over an hour and a half. President Tadic has had an outstanding performance, his message was clear, targeted and very useful. He put the knowledge to support the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the current framework and vision for Bosnia to become part of the Euro-Atlantic community. This meeting was met with harsh criticism in the Serb Republic and the Prime Minister Dodik said that “Turkey is more active” and that “this is dangerous,” and that he does not accept “satisfaction Turkish geostrategic interests? – Prime Minister Dodik, of course, has the right to say what he wants. We all know that he is not a person of great help when it comes to the situation in Bosnia and the Western Balkans. I do not want to go into details of why he behaves that way, but I’m afraid his time is running out and that the RS and himself is getting isolated by the day. On the other hand, he has no right to speak for the whole of Bosnia, because it represents only one entity. I would recommend him to take Serbia for example, who is willing to continue cooperation with Turkey and is not be afraid of our intentions and interests in the Western Balkans. You mentioned the Declaration of Srebrenica, after whose adoption the president of the Serbian parliament, and other officials, urged the neighbors to do the same. Do you expect something similar in the parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina? – I think that is what the president of the Parliament said is positive and it is realistic to expect. If other countries in the region have done the same as Serbia, it would improve relations. Events of the nineties can not easily forgettable, but this is true for all nations. Bosniak victims may have more [victims] than the Serbs or Croats, but even if a person has lost life – it is not forgotten. Just because one party has committed more crimes does not mean that it should only to recognize the crimes, that should do it all. Why is Serbia so important to Turkey? – The fact is that Serbs and Turks have been together a great deal in the past. Serbia was the best ally of the Ottoman Empire. Despot Stefan Lazarevic was the best ally of the sultan Yildirim Beyazit in the battles against the Mongols in Ankara. And when we were at Nikopolis towards Europe, the Serbs fought on our side. When Britain asked [Serbian] King Alexander to send troops to occupy Turkey during World War I, he declined with the sentence: “We have settled our accounts with the Turks in 1912 and since then we are friends.” Do not forget the seven great vizier are of Serbian origin, and many others who were half-Serbs. The wife of Suleiman the Magnificent was a Serb … Serbia is the key western Balkan country, without which no peace and stability can happen. And if you want war, you need Serbia again! We can see that President Tadic and his government in the region want peace and stability in the region and we want the same, which is why we are together. Of course, that is not making everybody happy. For example, whom? – I do not think of Prime Minister Dodik, but some important countries do not like these developments. In the past, in order to control the region, these countries manipulated the worsening relations between Serbia and Turkey, escalating them. You do not classified Russia in this group since the Turkish-Russian relations have never been better? – We have good relations with some countries that do not like this development! I am sure that some of the leading EU countries fall into this group. I will give you at least a reason for it. They tried with “Butmir process” to establish order in Bosnia and create better relations between Serbia and the region, but they failed seriously. This happened because the EU tries seek to impose something to these countries. We have no such intentions. The EU does not understand this region. As Minister Vuk Jeremic said, Europeans have to first live 500 years with Serbs, and then to understand. So we have an advantage. George Friedman, founder of the agency Stratfor predicts that Turkey, Poland, Russia and Japan will be the new global powers, saying the Turkish military power and rapidly growing economy … – Turkey’s economy is now 17th in the world, which makes it hard for the EU to decide on its admission. But we can survive without the Europeans, we can even compete with them. Most European countries are dying, their population is aging and are in a downward path in terms of science, technology, education. EU is not a dynamic entity, while the opposite is the case of Turkey. It is true that we have a large military force, but look at the map. If Serbia is in our place what would it do? I do not want to say that we are surrounded by enemies, but we are surrounded with many serious problems that we did no cause, but we are profoundly affected by them: Middle East, the problem of Palestine, Iraq, of Iran, year ago war raged in the the Caucasus, Russia is back .. . We have good relations, but we do not believe that Moscow has abandoned all its ideas of the past. We have a problem with Greek Cyprus. I do not know how Greece will survive, and they undermined the euro by 17 percent already. If they are joined by Spain and Portugal, there will be a disaster. How do you feel comfortable without a strong army? But as people we are practical and pragmatic. So I do not share the views of Mr. Friedman. But if we become one of the leading powers, no one should be afraid of that. Let Dodik not worry, we will not be back, at least not in any way to be afraid! We are at peace with our history and we will not try to repeat it. We are influencing the EU to better treat the Western Balkans and advise them that it is best that all of these countries be accepted as full members as soon as possible. Including about Turkey? – We do not care! We truly fought to change the attitude of Americans to allow Bosnia to get an action plan for access to NATO. We are glad that the other Western Balkan countries will join or are set to join. We will support Serbia if and when it decides to take such a step, as we support it on the issue of EU membership. If we had backward intentions, we probably would have tried to keep the region outside the EU and NATO, so we could have a dominant role. In fact, it is the EU that is trying to keep us out. Can Turkey help Serbia resolve the Kosovo issue no matter that it is one of the first countries that recognized independent Kosovo? – The Kosovo question is still awaiting a solution and it will take more time. My personal opinion is that it would be much easier to be resolved if Belgrade and Pristina sat at the same table and talked, without unnecessary pressure and intervention from others. When and if the parties can turn to us for help, we will try to do what is best, without imposing anything. Finally, the two sides must live with the agreement they reach and must accept it willingly. Turkey has invested a lot in the region. There were a problems. Are they resolved? – The problem was the prejudice, particularly after the war in Bosnia. Serbs in Bosnia feel that they lost to the Turks, which is not true. They lost because they have sinned. On the other hand, the Turks believe that almost all Serbs are bad. But that is changing. In Turkey, 9.5 million people live, originating from this region, and they are mostly from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo or Albania. Beautiful historical memories suppress ugly. When I came to Belgrade, the protests of workers were outside the presidential palace. On the banner in front of the tent that read: “Brethren Turks Help! You were taking 10 percent, and these are taking our soul!” This is the lighter side of history. I know that the Serbian people respect the Turkish people, and vice versa. And how big are the investments in Serbia now? – Zero. There was a company, “Efes pislen” but they left. However, very soon I expect the arrival of construction and other investors. The meeting in Istanbul, therefore, was not my merit, but I can say that I did something in terms of creating a climate for investors. Last year have announced that Turkey is preparing to invest one million euros in the reconstruction of cultural monuments in Serbia. How far is that plan? – We are currently at the stage of the organization of tenders for various projects. To reach that we had to sign and ratify some agreements. We have started with renovating domed burial sites in Belgrade, the building of schools in Novi Sad and Bujanovac, we will take part in reconstruction of the recently burned block of the hospital “Dragisa Misovic”, we will continue with the project of lighting the fortress Ram, in the Old Slankamen we funded marking hiking trails, we will work on the extension of a school in Senta and the restoration of two departments at the state university in Novi Pazar, where we have supplied a language lab. We will build the Ataturk Cultural Center in Novi Pazar, Tutin and industrial area worth two million euros. I have not mentioned the construction of the monument to Turkish soldiers killed between the Old and Sremski Slankamen Karlovac. No Tutin and Mišovic “projects worth 1.7 to 1.9 million. V. C. Spasojevic is a reporter for the Belgrade magazine ARENA
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