Turkey dives into Balkan diplomacy amid violence
Serkan Demirtaş ANKARAA silent and meticulous diplomacy between Turkey and Serbia is nearing an end to produce a blueprint for unifying divided Muslims living mainly in the Sandzak region of Serbia.
The diplomacy aimed at preventing Muslims from potential separation from the mainland, with provisions that they will have special connections with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey.
“The purpose of our talks with the Serbian side is to establish an Islamic Union in this country, to gather Muslims living under one roof,” a senior Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News on Thursday.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will meet with his Serbian counterpart Vuk Jeremic on Saturday in Belgrade for their third meeting in the last three weeks.
Under the shadow of the ongoing Kosovo quagmire, potential problems erupting from Sandzak, which affect both internal stability of Serbia and already fragile ties with neighboring Bosnia, has not received much international attention.
However, Sandzak’s being composed more than 60 percent by Muslim Bosniaks with some minor fundamentalist groups under the influence of Wahhabism is seen as a potential headache for the Serbia as these groups are more loudly voicing their demands of special autonomy or even of subordination to Bosnia. There are nearly 300,000 Muslims living in Serbia.
“That was Serbia who demanded Turkey’s contribution to the solution of this issue,” the diplomat said, adding that the entire process has been run by the two foreign ministers in frequent head-to-head meetings. “Turkey sees the Sandzak region as a bridge of friendship with Serbia. That’s why we have not hesitated in engaging in this process, which could bring stability and prosperity to this region and to Serbia.”
Davutoğlu plays an important role due to his close relationship with both Yeremic and Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric of Bosnia, a very influential figure who could change the course of talks in the Sandzak region, especially with his statements that Muslims in Serbia and Bosnia will never be separated. He backed Muamer Zukorlic, Bosniak mufti of the Sandzak region.
The following are elements of a possible deal between Serbia and its Muslim communities, according to information obtained by the Daily News: The division among the Muslim groups will be ended by the establishment of the Islamic Communities Union of Serbia, which will introduce a sustainable organization. The state will not interfere in the Muslims’ practices of their religion.
In this respect, Serbia will meet Muslim communities’ need of worship through building mosques and will take steps to increase the living standards of this region, which is reported to be the least developed part of the country. Serbia will take steps to meet Muslim communities’ regional, societal and political needs.
Apart from these aspects, the deal will also envisage a special connection between Serbian Muslims with Bosnia and Turkey due to their historical, religious and sociological ties.
Time is right for advance
Given Serbia’s thorough negotiations with the European Union to move forward in its bid to join the club in return for launching political dialogue with Kosovo, Turkish diplomats believed it was the right moment for advancing a solution on Sandzak. Serbia will run for parliamentary elections in upcoming months, and there is an important rise in the estimated votes of nationalists, which risks killing off both the Kosovo and the Sandzak processes in the case of their victory.
“The EU process is very important for Serbia to keep on the track. A positive sign from the EU can change many things,” the diplomats said.