Turkey’s Return to the Heartland and Balkan Turks

Turkey’s soft power is transforming into the achilles’ heel of Europe and the Balkans. The wave of racist and facist incidents are spreading across Balkans. The pressure on the Turks, the largest ethnic minority group in the country, has increased before the general elections to be held in Bulgaria on March 26th. Movements for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), the strongest representative of the Turks in Bulgaria, achieved a significant success with a 14.8 percent vote in the 2014 elections and became the third largest party. The DOST Party, which was founded in 2016 and claimed to be the sole representative of the Turks, entered the elections on March 26 under the name of “Dost Alliance” by forming an alliance with Liberty and Honour People’s Party. Mehmet Müezzinoğlu, the head of Ministry of Labour and Social Security in Turkey, said on 3 March that  ‘The Dost Alliance’ organization was established in order that Bulgarian dynamics could progress in accordance with the dynamics of Turkey. We will build our strong future together.[i] Then, Bulgarian government took decision to withdraw the Ankara Ambassador, considering that these words were direct intervention in his internal affairs.[ii]

Some political party officials in Bulgaria blocked the roads to impede the double citizens living in Turkey not to arrive Bulgaria and vote in election.[iii] So, the Turkey’s reaction was full of historical references. Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan first made public that “We know the Netherlands and the Dutch people from the Srebrenica massacre.”[iv] and then made a statement at the Rumeli-Balkan Meeting held under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security at the Beştepe Millet Culture and Convention Center that “We have common fate and history altogether with 80 million citizens and each of our brothers in Rumelia, the Balkans, and other regions of our geography. 2023 vision is in favour of peace, security, prosperity and future of all our brothers and sisters. We build 2053 and 2071 visions on common dreams with our brothers in every corner of our geography.”[v]

Turkey puts a Turkish card against Europe in the Balkans. The successor of  the Ottoman Empire and having the inheritance of the latter, Turkey is returning to its old heartland that has been neglected for many years. Turkey’s efforts to gain profits over the Balkan Turks in the context of soft power are remarkable and significant. However, it’s seem that Turkey could not make a hit with Balkans in the short term. The Balkans, of the opinion that they can not adapt to EU’s ‘multi-speed’ model, are looking for new alliance and cooperation. That’s why, Turkey has already a chance to evaluate this opportunity. The Balkans may be able to join the alliance, which will be developed under the leadership of new Turkey and the coalition which foresees broad integration in the economic, political and security spheres in the long run. Turkey should use public diplomacy more effectively in order to make a hit with Balkans in the direction of its strategic visions of 2023, 2053 and 2071 and hereby add new values to its foreign policy. Accordingly;

  • Turkey should identify elements that it can effectively use in the context of soft power in the Balkans and attach these elements to its foreign policy.
  • With the population exceeding one million, Balkan Turks constitute the most effective element that Turkey can use in this direction. Turkey should establish effective communication channels for Balkan Turks and lead the establishment of various associations and civil society organizations.
  • In order to preserve, introduce and dispatch Turkish culture into different geopgraphical areas, it is necessary to organize especially Turkish courses and exchange programs for student and guest researchers.
  • Turkey should ensure that Turks, especially living in Bulgaria and Greece to a large degree, go to the polls under a single roof as much as possible and should make efforts in this direction.
  • Turkey must stay sharp in case Bektashis in the Balkans engage with Iran in the sectarian context. Turkey should develop preventive and efficient approaches towards them in order to prevent them to develop close ties with Iran.
  • Turkey should lean the soft power policy on Turkish identity in the Balkans, which Iran has done via Bektashis for many years. Turkey should also prevent Bektashis from being articulated with Iran.
  • If Turkey is decisive about becoming the leading actor in the Balkans, Turkey should interact with all other ethnic groups besides the Turks.

Turkey’s support for the Balkan Turks should not rely on an understanding that assume Turks as a superior from the other ethnic groups and should not place them in eminent position in society. Conversely, Turks should be seen and supported as an important means of dialogue in order to communicate effectively with other Balkan societies. The return of Turkey to the heartland and achieving success in the Balkans can only be possible if the understanding of Ottoman Empire characterized by tolerance and justice is embraced and incorporated into foreign policy principles. But the terms such as “tolerance, justice, modesty and good faith” are not convenient and belong to new world order which is full of conflict and blood. For this reason, foreign policy arguments depend on soft power and consist of constructive interaction is not adequate for absolute gain in short-term and also represent an unfavorable array of values in contemporary world dominated by racist and radical antagonism[vi]. Turkey’s foreign policy based on tolerance and justice is great essential for ensuring social consensus in the Balkans in the long run.

As of late, it is expected that Turkey will utilise an ‘immigration card’ against Europe. But this manner can also lead the Balkan peoples to offend and angry with Turkey. Turkey should not make a mistake in the Balkans as Iran does in the Middle East. If Turkey uses the immigration card against Europe, it could lead the wave of the racist-fascist to spread to the Balkans, to increase pressures against Turks, and hereby to rise violence acts. Turkey should prevent the rise of anti-Turkism sentiment in the Balkans by taking lessons from the rising Iranian opposition in the Middle East. By contrast with the saying such as ‘Arabs stabbed us in the back’ which refers to a hundred years ago, the ties of affection to Turkey in the former zone of influence of the Ottoman Empire are still felt. For this reason, Turkey should actualise set of values (2023, 2053 and 2071 visions) which developed in the context of soft power and are full of historical motifs in Balkan, Caucasus, Middle East and North Africa. In this context, the Balkan Turks will form an important pillar of the new Turkey’s interaction network extending to Europe.

The Balkans will play an important role in the new integration process, which will be generated by the leadership of Turkey and constituted on the basis of political, economic and security bases. Accordingly;

  • The EU’s transition process into the ‘multi-speed’ model leads to serious concerns and reactions in the Balkans as well as in Eastern European countries.[vii] For this reason, Turkey should establish new international platforms to launch the economic integration process with the Balkans.
  • The US, which undertakes three-quarters of NATO’s costs, wants European countries to allocate two per cent of their annual national income to defense spending, as agreed in NATO.[viii] This obligation brings a great economic burden to the Balkan countries. For this reason, new security concepts for the Balkans should be developed under NATO’s roof and Turkey should lead the process.
  • As a response to the European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI), developed by the Eurasian wing in NATO and aimed at converting the latter into security mechanism of the EU, Turkey should ensure that the Balkan countries would integrate into the security structure developed by Turkey. In this way, Turkey will built a security paradigm that hinder the emergence of possible Bosnian or Kosovo crises.
  • The political integration of Turkey with the Balkan countries can only take place through the possible Balkan Economic Cooperation Organization, which will be established under the leadership of Turkey in the long run. To this end, Turkey should engage in mediation and shuttle diplomacy so as to resolve the problems between the Balkan countries.

Thanks to its geostrategic position, Turkey is located in the junction point of attraction of the multiple global power amid contructing the new century. Turkey is at the center of competition between NATO-Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in the security base and Euro-Eurasia in the political context.  Besides, Turkey has wide historical-sociological depth, a strong strategic vision and political will to create a new power center. The construction of the fortcoming century will bring the birth of new power centers. Within this framework, world countries will witness the emergence of a new, powerful and great Turkey.


[i] Internet: Bulgaristan: Türkiye’nin seçimimizi etkilememesi için önlem alıyoruz. (2017). Web: http://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-dunya-39309529 received March 24, 2017.

[ii] Internet:  “Bulgaristan, Ankara Büyükelçisi’ni geri çağırdı”.(2017). Web: http://www.aljazeera.com.tr/haber/bulgaristan-ankara-buyukelcisini-geri-cagirdi  received March 24, 2017.

[iii] Internet: Bulgarlar, ‘Türkler Gelmesin’ Diye Yolu Kestiler. (2017). Web: http://timebalkan.com/bulgarlar-turkler-gelmesin-diye-yolu-kestiler/ received March 24, 2017.

[iv] İnternet: Erdoğan: “Biz Hollanda’yı ve Hollandalıları Srebrenitsa katliamından tanırız”. (2017). Web: http://timebalkan.com/erdogan-biz-hollandayi-ve-hollandalilari-srebrenitsa-katliamindan-taniriz/ received Mart 24, 2017.

[v] İnternet: Erdoğan Rumeli ve Balkan Dernekleri Evlad-ı Fatihanla Külliye’de buluştu. (2017). Web: http://www.balkantime.net/index.php/component/content/article/34-manset/2018-erdoan-rumeli-ve-balkan-dernekleri-evlad–fatihanla-kuelliyede-bulutu received Mart 24, 2017.

[vi] For much more information: Yeşiltaş. M. (2015). Apokaliptik Jeopolitik, Radikal Antagonizma ve IŞİD. Ortadoğu Analiz. 7(71).

[vii] Internet: “Büyükler”den yeni AB modeli baskısı. (2017). Web: http://www.sabah.com.tr/dunya/2017/03/24/buyuklerden-yeni-ab-modeli-baskisi adresinden received March 24, 2017.

[viii] Internet: NATO’da ‘bütçe çatlağı’. (2017). Web: http://aa.com.tr/tr/dunya/natoda-butce-catlagi/776875 received March 24, 2017.