Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambitions in the Balkans may run up against tough opposition in the form of Albanian nationalism, Stavros Tzimas wrote for Greek daily Kathimerini on Monday.
Erdoğan has been pursuing Turkish citizens in the Balkans with links to Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist preacher blamed for the July 2016 coup attempt and counted as the bête noire of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The chase has already yielded results, with six alleged Gülenists abducted from Kosovo in March, and, according to Tzimas, “Erdoğan has launched a propaganda campaign designed to intimidate ordinary Albanians alleging that Gulenists are ostensibly orchestrating a series of coups.”
However, the attempt to gain influence Albanians based on their shared Islamic faith may have backfired on Erdoğan, as the majority place a priority on their national, rather than religious, identity, said the writer.
“Albanians may welcome Turkish investments or money for the construction of mosques, but very few people want to live under a democracy along the lines of the one Erdogan has established at home,” wrote Tzimas. “The overwhelming majority have their eye fixed on the West where they see a future for themselves and, most importantly, their children.”
Furthermore, Turkish influence is seen as an echo of Ottoman domination, the struggle against which every Albanian child learns about in school history books. Thus a group of Albanians effaced a Turkish flag that had been etched into a hydropower plant constructed with Turkish funding near the Albanian city of Shkroda.
“Erdogan may see himself as the leader of Muslims living in the Balkan peninsula, but when he recently visited the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), the leader of the largest ethnic Albanian political party, Ali Ahmeti, refused to escort him on a tour of ethnic Albanian villages and forbade his ministers from joining him,” wrote Tzimas.