Friday, June 21, 2013

Neo-Ottoman expansion in Albania , by Ioannis Michaletos

The soft power approach of the so-called "Neo Ottomanism" in Albania from Turkey is increasing in pace and is directed heavily in the educational sector, aiming at a long-range and long-term establishment of structures within the Albanian society that would become followers of the grandiose scheme as directed by Ankara. 

The Sema Turkish educational organization has already established six madrasas, which are Islamic religious schools in the country that operate in parallel and in cooperation with the already well-established Gullen movement. The directions and curriculum are being provided directly from Istanbul, while the Hëna e Plotë -Beder- University College in Tirana, which was inaugurated in 2011 is in complete control of Turkish Islamic circles which influence heavily the local Muslim Community of Albania. This private institution receives students that attended religious classes in the aforementioned madrasas. Moreover the majority of the faculty are Turkish citizens, mostly educated in Islamic law and theology and actively pursuing the recruitment of students to be sent with scholarships for further Islamic studies in Turkey, so as to create a broad base of a new generation of Imams. 

There is certainly as it can be understood a strong encouragement for the proficient learning of the Turkish language and history and not Arabic, thus making it a typical case of Neo-Ottoman soft power approach. Alos Beder University is collaborating with the Epoka University, a larger institution that was established in 2007 and is an offshoot of the Gullen movement. The Turgut Özal Education Company from Turkey is the main link between those two and is funded by the Turkish state, as well as, from Islamist circles related to the AKP party. Epoka exerts a higher role in the local educational life, since it actively pursues the recruitment of Albanian students from neighboring regions such as Kosovo, FYROM and Montenegro and is also inexorably linked with the whole of the Gullen movement in the Balkans and most notably in Bosnia Herzegovina. 

The ALSAR Foundation is another Neo-Ottoman linked religious foundation from Turkey, which is especially active in Albania and has performed mass and public circumcisions of Albanian children. Moreover it directs it actions into providing welfare for orphan children, a noble aim which is coupled with doctrinarian of Pro-Turkish, Pro-Islamic and Pro-Ottoman beliefs. The foundation maintains collaboration in a multilevel form with the Gullen movement, as well as, with the IHH organization, the Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, the Islamic Relief Foundation and other which are all coincidently related with the Pan-European and Turkish Muslim Brotherhood network. It is of interest to not that over the years, the number of Turkish citizens in Albania is increasing, settling as professionals and educators or for business, with estimations for around 5,000 persons. Further the Turgut Ozal schools and colleges, are actively sending Albanian students to Turkish military academies which are then recruited in the Albanian armed forces, even at the expense of the local Albanian officers academy that often are not employed in their own Army.

A sample of the wider expansion followed in Albania comes from a Trans Conflict research of Gergely Nagy which outlines recent Turkish initiatives in Albania, such as : " Telecommunications sector, banking industry, healthcare, education field, Turkish soap operas broadcast, free Turkish language courses, renovation of Ottoman-era monuments, revision of history books in Kosovo and Albania, with attention to the Ottoman period, cultural centers, and last but not least, many Albanians ask Diyanet – the highest Islamic religious authority of Turkey – to arrange their hajj to Mecca".

All indicators, point out that Albania is heavily targeted as Bosnia to become the first "role models" of Neo-Ottomanism in the Balkans. Moreover the actions are heavily concentrated in long-term planning with the creation of structures to enable the "role modeling" of young generations to turn from secular Albanians to typical Sunni-ones. 

Further in geographical terms Turkish institutions target the population of the capital Tirana that has become the absolute center of economic gravity in the country and gradually the depopulated peripheries of the country are being absorbed in this newly expanding metropolis. Secondary Turkish institutions are paying a close attention in the port of Durres which is the economic capital of Northern Albania and the gateway to the sea for Kosovo and in the future it may become a sea exodus point for the Albanian population of FYROM. 

The planning if coupled with the expansion of Turkish interests in Bosnia and the Sanjak region in Serbia, along with the heavy presence in Skopje and Tetovo, it reflects the plan of the Neo-Ottoman circles in Istanbul to control effectively the Western Balkans, presumably assuming that they will not eventually get accepted in the EU, thus the power vacuum will be filled by Turkey by using soft power approaches in all levels. 


Main Turkish institutions handling the Neo-Ottoman expansion in the Balkans and further

1) Türk İşbirliği ve Kalkınma İdaresi Başkanlığı (TİKA)

State owned

2) Türk Kızılayı 

Non-Governmental, government influence and direction

3) Kimse Yok Mu Derneği

Gullen Movement

4) Yunus Emre Enstitüsü

State owned

5) Ιnsan Hak ve Hurriyetleri

Non-Governmental, government influence and direction

6) Müstakil Sanayici ve Iş adamları Derneği (M Ü S I Ȧ D)

Non-Governmental, government influence and direction

7) Union of NGOs of the Islamic World (UNIW) 

Non-Governmental, government influence and direction

8) Turkiye Gonullu Tesekkulleri Vakfı (TGTV)

Non-Governmental, government influence and direction