500+ participants / 80+ speakers / 20+ panels


Turkey in the Balkans: Security Provider or Instability Exporter? 

October 12, 2023 by BSC


The roundtable discussion on the Turkish influence in the Balkans and all the factors that influence the creation of its foreign policy was moderated by BCSP’s Senior Researcher Srđan Hercigonja, while Professor Birgul Demirtas gave an insightful presentation. 

Hercigonja gave a detailed introduction on the specifics of Turkish influence in the Balkans, separating it from the activities of other actors, such as China, Russia, or the UAE. He highlighted that the reason behind initiating the panel is the marginalisation of Turkish foreign policy towards the Balkan region in the current analytical discourse.  



According to Professor Demirtas, the impact of Global politics on Turkish foreign policy is evident in the 2000s. As the world moves from the Cold War and unipolarity to a multipolar and multi-complex environment, regional powers gain more strategic autonomy in their foreign policies. She explained that, during the Cold War, Turkish foreign policy had many restraints, and long wished to be recognised as a global player.  



In academic literature and the speeches of Turkey’s leaders, the term “middle power” is often used, and a tendency towards niche policies such as migration.  Some of the key narratives imply that Turkey is surrounded by internal and external enemies. We can observe an introduction of the term “Turkish century” for the 21st century, a time of great assertiveness and development, an increasing status of Turkey in global politics. Its current foreign policy is coloured by sentiments of the Ottoman past.  

Birgul Demirtas continued to elaborate how the JDP has been a hegemonic party since 2002 and is trying to create a unique, “sui generis” identity of Turkey – a balance of multiple identities, as an Asian, European, Mediterranean, but as Balkan country as well.   



The Exaggeration of Turkey’s potential, and strong links between foreign and domestic policy, are especially evident during elections. She explained that “when we have elections, we have a crisis in foreign policy. As soon as elections are over, the crisis is gone”. 

Where does the Balkan fit here? Turkey perceives itself as part of the Balkans, not an external actor. Professor thinks this distinguishes Turkey from other actors. At least 20% of the Turkish population has some origins from the Balkan countries, and they represent an important political force, as they tend to impact foreign policy through the work of NGOs and political representatives. One example is Diyanet, which sees itself as a global actor and has wide relations. The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TiKA) has over 20% of its investments located in the Balkans. Turkey is also present through cultural, economic, and gastronomic diplomacy. 



The professor concluded by stating that personal relationships among political leaders significantly contribute to an increasing Turkish presence, and she put special emphasis on humanitarian and business relations, as well as municipality and sister-city relations (over 32% of sister-city relationships are with Balkan cities).