For centuries Ottoman Turkey ruled the Balkans and this colonial past has not been forgotten, particularly among Orthodox Christians in southern Europe.
Turkey has long had connections to an increasingly radical regime in Bosnia-Herzegovina and while Erdogan has not invested as heavily in stirring up radical political Sunni ideology in Albania (not that his help is required), Turkey has strongly backed the Albanian radical separatist party Besa in Macedonia. BY contrast the radical Albanian faction backed by the US is the Democratic Union for Integration. This underscores yet another of the many outstanding con flits between Turkey and the US, two countries that can now legitimately be called ‘former’ allies in many respects.
Albanians throughout the Balkans have been agitating for something called Greater Albania, something which amounts to an illegal land-grab of foreign territories with an Albanian population, however small.
The countries which stand to have their territory annexed in such a move include Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece.
The Tirana Platform which provides a blueprint for creating the first part of a Greater Albania carved from the sovereign Macedonian state is strongly backed by the west.
However, Turkey now appears to have backed fully away from the project.
Erdogan told Albanian television the following,
“These are bad things. You see what is happening in the Middle East, in Iraq, Syria … We do not want such crises to happen in the Balkans. There are those who try to design such plans for the Balkans, but we must not let them. We advocate respect of sovereignty and integrity of states and this must be understood.
Therefore, such games must no longer be played here in Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Serbia”.
The statement comes three days before Albanians Parliamentary elections, elections which have been fraught with protests as opposition figures call for the ruling Prime Minister Edi Rama to step down before the elections amid allegations of extreme corruption.
The real reason that Erdogan has condemned Albanian imperialism is likely due to the fact that loyalists to the Turkish cleric and political leader Fethullah Gülen have started setting up base in Albania.
Fethullah Gülen is currently exiled in the United States, though Turkey continues to request his extradition. In Turkey Gülen is wanted on terrorism charges while his organisation is banned by Ankara.
Erdogan warned Albanians against supporting Gülen’s organisation saying that Albanians should not send their children to schools run by Gülenist organisations. Erdogan is well aware that this admonition may fall on deaf ears, a prospect which will rightly infuriate Erdogan.
Erdogan continues to blame the failed Turkish coup of 2016 on Gülen and said that Gülenists could stage a coup in the small and impoverished Albanian state far more easily than in Turkey. In this sense he is correct.
Furthermore, ISIS have now moved into Albania, making it one of its strongest bases in Europe, in addition to the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija where Albanian organised criminals control a NATO backed occupational regime.
This comes at a time when Erdogan’s wider international position is increasingly precarious. In Syria Erdogan is both backed against the wall as well as in possession of an ace in the pack when it comes to moving the eventual peace settlement in the Syrian conflict.
Erdogan’s plan to help overthrow the government in Syria has failed. He knows it and the wider world knows it. What Erdogan will also be all too aware of is that in contributing to the chaos in Syria, Erdogan’s actions have emboldened Kurds in Syria to such a degree that many are expecting the United States to favour the creation of a Kurdish state carved from both Iraqi and possibly also Syrian territory.
The extent to which the US has backed Syrian Kurds is horrifying to Erdogan as it would be to any Turkish President.
Indeed, Erdogan once faced internal opposition from all sides for being too soft on the Kurdish issue.
Erdogan’s wild Ottoman adventurism may be coming to an end. His failures in the Arab world and his condemnation of Gülenist in the narco-state of Albania mean that Erdogan’s attention may well be turning away from the Arab world and Balkans and back towards internal security matters.
This of course means opposing Kurdish separatism as all parties of all ideologies in Turkey continue to do.
This development actually draws Turkey closer to Russia. Russia is one of the few countries with good relations with Syria, the Kurds and Turkey. If Erdogan were to strike a deal with Russia to prevent full-Kurdish statehood on Turkey’s borders, Erdogan could repay the favour by committing further to a Russian led Astana peace process without working against the Syrian government. This would also help bring Turkey closer to Iran which also is set against Kurdish separatism.
Russia would also like to see Erdogan do less to flame up Sunni extremism in the Balkans. His statements in Albania mean that perhaps he is indeed moving in this direction.
America and Turkey are now more suspicious of each other than at any time since the founding of the Turkish Republic. Vladimir Putin’s ability to speak openly with Erdogan has led the two to develop a relationship based on respect, in spite of many lingering differences, both historic and present.
Turkey could do much to gain further Russian support on the Kurdish issue if Turkey makes a firm commitment to end all meddling in Arab and Balkan affairs. Taking a softer tone against Cyprus which Turkey continues to illegally occupy would also sweeten the proverbial pot.
Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman adventurism has discredited much of his foreign policy, but if he shifts back to the traditional domestic agenda of virtually all major Turkish leaders since the time of Ataturk, he may be able to retain not only power against some odds, but also play a useful role in preventing both the break-up of Syria and Iraq while also playing some part in calming Albanian imperialism in the Balkans.