Turkish penetration in the Balkans: “Strategic Depth”, Erdoğan’s plan and Greece

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

The ruling AKP’s plan for the modern Turkish “invasion” of countries with an Ottoman past is systematic, methodical, costly. Where does it aim?

A brief business trip to Sarajevo in 2016 proved revealing – if not shocking – for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s apparently systematic, methodical, costly policy of penetrating the once-secular, multicultural city of the former Yugoslavia.

Within breathing distance, even in the same building block, as in no other part of the world, places of worship for all religions and doctrines is found in Sarajevo.

This is how the turbulent, “thick” history of the city flowed along the Bosna River for centuries, marked by a murder that ultimately led to World War I and the longest siege of a capital in the history of modern warfare.

This is along with everything else that unexpectedly curtailed.

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In 2016, the historic center completely belonged to the Muslim population. One walk on the streets was enough to find out.

It was not just the defeat of the Serbian population.

It was the defeat of multiculturalism, secularism, multinationalism and multiculturalism – concepts synonymous with the city they have called the “Jerusalem of Europe” and the “Jerusalem of the Balkans.”

With direct flights from Turkey and many Arab countries to the once melting pot city, with all different varieties of music, you only hear one “song” – the Islamic muezzin.

Women in headscarves, burqas, hijabs and chadors roamed the picturesque alleys, once run by young punks, artists and musicians…

Mosques were erected outside the historic centre, and when I asked “with whose funds?”, Serbian residents answered “Erdoğan’s”.

The Turkish President, meanwhile, supported the creation of Ottoman Studies at universities in the region.

Turkey’s policy of soft but deep penetration in the Balkans is generally long-standing and traces the Ottoman historical past.

This is vividly described in a recent article in the Turkish daily Sabah on the occasion of Erdoğan’s recent visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Why is he building these new “bridges”? What is the medium-term and long-term plan of the Erdoğan’s AKP government? Does the answer include Greece?

Strategic Depth

“First of all, this is part of a long-term policy that was officially announced and the theoretical framework by [former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu,” said professor of Ottoman and Turkish History at Panteion University, Antonis Hadjikyriacou.

“It is not something that happens,” according to the expert, “only in the Balkans. It is the so-called Strategic Depth that included the consolidation of religious, political and economic ties with countries of the post-Ottoman world.”

“It happens in the Middle East and in the Caucasus and in Georgia and in North Africa and in Syria with the war or in Libya,” he explained.

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Therefore, the Turkish presence in the Balkans “should not come as a surprise”, as in addition, “the emphasis has been placed on countries with a Muslim population.”

The penetration in the Balkans is not exactly part of a Turkish front against Greece, the Turkologist believes.

“While we can say that in the context of the Greek-Turkish tensions, this policy can and is included, however, it does not exist because of it,” Hadjikyriacou explained.

“The enlargement policy for Turkey, as a country with a leading role, operates as an auxiliary, but also autonomously,” he said. “Not only in the post-Ottoman space, but also in the Islamic world in general.”

Islamisation and Turkification in the Occupied Territories of northern Cyprus

Ankara is sponsoring academic residences, think tanks, the construction of mosques, launching direct flights to Pristina, Sarajevo and so on.

“It is indeed one of the most extensive networks of influence in the Balkans, dating back decades to the beginning of Gülen’s supporters,” said Hadjikyriacou.

He added that the emphasis was mainly on education and the establishment of schools, with a strong propagation on the principles of the Gülen movement.

The Turkish penetration, according to the professor, is shocking in Cyprus as well because a society has eliminated its secular character, having eradicated alcohol from everywhere!

“This is a new phenomenon in the context of the Islamisation of the Occupied Territories,” noted Hadjikyriacou.

“Ankara’s coordinated cultural attack is being attempted systematically in recent years and through Turkish soap operas. Exportable product with huge television viewing,” he concluded.

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