Albania-Turkey, "Strategic Partners"
By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published October 30, 2017
"After 94 years, Turkey is now a G20 country, one of the fastest growing economies in the world, a regional power, the most generous country for spending 0.75 percent of its gross national income on humanitarian causes," has said the Turkish Ambassador to Albania, Hidayet Bayraktar.
The Ambassador made that assessment in an exclusive interview with Albanian Daily News on the occasion of Turkey's National Day, which will be marked by a reception hosted by the Turkish Embassy in Tirana on Monday.
On 29 October 1923 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk declared that Turkey was a republic.
"It is my pleasure to say that our bilateral relations with Albania are at excellent level in almost all fields. The general characteristic of the bilateral relations between Turkey and Albania is mutual friendship, trust and solidarity. Politically, Albanian government declared Turkey as "strategic partner", said the Ambassador.
But, in the meantime, he expressed the concern on the active and serious extension of what he called the Fetullahist Terror Organization in Albania. "FETO runs 13 educations, including 2 universities and several other entities such as a hospital, NGOs, companies etc. It is of paramount importance to us that activities of FETO extensions and elements in Albania, be neutralized as quickly as possible... We believe that during the Rama-2 government, necessary steps will be taken," said Ambassador Hidayet Bayraktar in the interview which follows:
- It is a great pleasure to have this interview with you on the occasion of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, which takes us back to October 29, 1923. Which is the significance of this milestone event in the history of your country and people?
- On 29 October 1923, when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk declared that Turkey was henceforth a republic. Actually, Turkey had been a de facto republic since 23 April 1920, the date of the establishment of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TGNA-Parliament), on 29 October 1923, the status of the nation as a republic was officially declared and its official name was proclaimed to be Turkiye Cumhuriyeti ("the Republic of Turkey"). After that, a vote was held in the Grand National Assembly, and Ataturk was elected as the first President of the Republic of Turkey. The new Republic was a new hope, a new dream and a motivation. After 94 years, Turkey is now a G20 country, one of the fastest growing economies in the world, a regional power, the most generous country for spending 0.75 percent of its gross national income (GNI) on humanitarian causes.
- Such events, as you described, Mr. Ambassador, are moments of reflection for a people, men and women, old and young, especially for the political class. Given the latest developments in your country, particularly those after the failed attempted coup d'etat on July 5, 2016, what is the feeling prevailing in your country on the foundations laid by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey?
- 15 July 2016 coup attempt was perpetrated by Fetullahist Terror Organization (FETO). On the evening of 15 July 2016, FETO attempted to disrupt democratic constitutional order of our Republic. However, people from all backgrounds and political views thwarted the plot. I have to express that the Turkish media also played a key role. Again, all the political parties and Members of the Parliament stood firmly by democracy, legitimate democratic institutions and the Constitution. They displayed a historic solidarity and reclaimed their democratic rights. Foiling of the coup attempt by the Turkish people from all walks of life has been a milestone in Turkey's democracy history. This coup attempt has increased unity and solidarity among our people unbelievably. Without distinction as to political opinion, race, color, philosophical belief, religion and sect, the Turkish people proved that in case of an existential threat against the country we are all united and we can achieve the unbelievable.
As stated in our Constitution, the Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by rule of law, within the notions of public peace, national solidarity and justice, respecting human rights, loyal to the nationalism of Ataturk. This was what FETO wanted to destroy on 15 July 2016.
- Mr. Ambassador, Turkey has made tremendous progress in its economic, social, cultural and other fields ranking itself among the countries with the highest growth rate in the world. Which are the ongoing trends of progress given that the world economy in general is still gripped by the global crisis? Which are people's expectations for the future economic situation and wellbeing because, after all, it is their life?
- Turkey has become an important economic actor in its region and the world with its young and skilled workforce, large domestic market, disciplined financial sector, highly developed infrastructure and competitive private sector. Turkish economy has displayed a performance of uninterrupted growth over the past 10 years. It achieved a growth rate of 7.1 percent over the 2011-2015 period, and a growth rate of 2.9 percent, beyond expectations, in 2016 despite all the setbacks.
Our government has taken measures that will make the investment environment in our country more attractive to both local and foreign investors. The state of emergency, constantly brought up by certain circles, is limited to only in the fight against terror. The daily life of ordinary citizens, by no means have been affected by the state of emergency. The state of emergency is aimed at securing our entrepreneurs and industrialists' investments, not blocking them.
With the incentives we offer, we provide quite attractive opportunities to entrepreneurs. We pave the way for entrepreneurs in all areas including employment, taxes, infrastructure and exports, and take steps to accelerate our growth and development. All economic indicators, including the growth rate, export volume, production and employment, signal a positive trend. Stimulated by government support, investments and exports, Turkish economy registered 5.1 percent growth in the second quarter of the year to become the third fastest growing economy among G20 countries. Turkey grew by 5.7 percent on average in the last 15 years on the back of its solid economic basis.
- Your Excellency, there are some four years that you are Turkey's envoy to Albania. How would you describe the course of the overall bilateral relations between the two countries, and I mean in political, economic, cultural, people-to- people exchanges?
- Being itself a Balkan country, Turkey attaches great importance to its bilateral relations with the Balkan countries and maintains good relations with all of them. Our bilateral relations with these countries are based on the principles of respect for independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-intervention into internal affairs and further developed on the basis of our historical ties and the principle of good neighborliness.
In this vein, it is my pleasure to say that our bilateral relations with Albania are at excellent level in almost all fields. The general characteristic of the bilateral relations between Turkey and Albania is mutual friendship, trust and solidarity. Politically, Albanian government has declared Turkey as "strategic partner".
Mutual high level and technical visits furthers our relations and opens new dimensions thereto. Our President, H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Albania in May 2015, whereas last year, former President H.E. Bujar Nishani, Prime Minister H.E. Edi Rama and Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E. Ditmir Bushati paid visits to Turkey. All aspects of bilateral relations were discussed at the meetings during these visits, which have provided an opportunity to further deepen the cooperation between the two countries on regional and international issues.
Economically, Turkey is one of the largest investors in Albania. Turkish companies employ around 10,000 Albanians. We are urging Turkish investors to invest in Albania, especially in the field of energy, manufacturing, construction, tourism and agriculture. Our bilateral trade volume is increasing year by year, exceeding 300 million USD. Turkey is one of the largest trade partners of Albania. In comparison to the previous year- 9 months period, Instat data demonstrate that our bilateral trade increased over 10%.
I am pleased to say that friendly relations between Albanians and Turks date back to the 14th century. During the Ottoman period, interaction between two nations had flourished considerably. Albanians were the nation that gave most statesmen to the Empire. They were entrusted with the care of State, military, justice, trade, health and so on.
At present, there are millions of Turkish citizens of Albanian origin, functioning as a peaceful bridge between two countries.
- Seeing things from the regional point of view, do the stances of Albania and Turkey, comply on the situation in the Balkans, and which is the weight of their friendship to promote peace and stability in that region?
- The Balkans is a priority for Turkey not only from the political, economical and geographical perspectives, but also due to its historical, cultural and human ties with the region. The Balkans, being the geographical connection of Turkey with the rest of Europe, bears great importance with the special place it had in the historical process that shaped the Turkish nation and the future potential it carries within the context of regional integration and the EU accession objective which we share with all the countries of the region.
We see Albania as a key player in terms of peace and stability in the Balkans. We observe Albania's efforts for European integration with heartfelt solidarity. Along with being NATO allies, Turkey and Albania share the same strategic perspective via-a-vis the EU membership, brings further depth to our bilateral relations.
Let me also express that, in the same vein with Albania, we will continue to support Kosovo in its international recognition as well as its integration with international organizations and platforms.
- Mr. Ambassador, your government has expressed its concern over the presence and influence of Gulenists in certain 'delicate' fields in Albania, which has been publicly expressed to Tirana's highest officials. How do the matters stand after the exchanges of views between the two sides?
- On the evening of July 15th, a clandestine faction led by Fetullah Gülen Terrorist Organization (FETO) within the Turkish Armed Forces attempted to stage a coup. This was more than a treacherous plot: It was a terrorist campaign to overthrow the democratically elected government, the President and the constitutional order of Turkey. It was the people of Turkey from all backgrounds and political views who thwarted the plot. However, 250 of our citizens were martyred and over 2000 wounded.
Fetullahist Terror Organization has active and serious extension in Albania. FETO runs 13 educations, including 2 universities and several other entities such as a hospital, NGOs, companies etc. It is of paramount importance to us that activities of FETO extensions and elements in Albania, be neutralized as quickly as possible.
It is true that, as strategic partner of Albania, the issue has been brought forward on several occasions to the attention of Albanian authorities. We underline that, given what they obviously did it in Turkey, existence of FETO is also a matter of national security for Albania. FETO extensions and elements should not see Albanian territories as safe haven where they can easily settle down, grow, spread and engage in evil activities. We believe that during the Rama-2 government, necessary steps will be taken.
- A question to Mr. Bayraktar, the Turkish citizen with his family in Albania having seen a lot of it, having met people of all walks of life across this Balkan country during visits to all its parts. Which is your opinion on the Albanian people, their customs, culture, way of life, and particularly their feelings towards Turkey, when, let's say, some might have learned that you were the Ambassador of Turkey?
- Well, as I expressed it before, Albania and Albanians are not foreign to us. I have never felt myself as a foreigner in this beautiful country. We have amazing commonalities in terms of customs, way of life, language (including body language), names etc.
Being a Turkish Ambassador in Albania and being an Albanian Ambassador in Turkey are always great privileges. You are always treated special and in a heartfelt emotions. Let me remind you that today "Arnavutluk" (Albania) or "Arnavut" (Albanian) have no negative connotation in the Turkish society