Kosovo and Erdogan’s Dangerous Islamic Agenda
by Alon Ben-Meir and Arbana Xharra
Whenever Kosovo is mentioned, we are reminded of the 1990s, when Europe and the US provided shelter for hundreds of thousands of Albanians who resisted the tyrannical Milosevic regime. A few years later — in 1999 — the US and EU countries launched NATO air strikes against the Serbs’ artillery position to end the atrocities. With the support of Western countries, Kosovo became the newest state in Europe. This year, it celebrates its 10th anniversary as an independent country.
Kosovo is known as one of the most pro-American countries, where boulevards are named after President Clinton, with his 11-foot-tall statue at the entrance of the capital city, Pristina. Streets are also named after George W. Bush and Beau Biden (the late son of Joe Biden); girls are named after Madeline Albright, and boys are named after other notable American figures. In 1999, the US built its largest military base in the Balkans, Camp Bondsteel, in the eastern part of Kosovo. Kosovo is defined by its constitution as a secular state; Islamic headscarves and religious instructions are banned in primary and secondary schools.
Now Kosovo is being targeted by Turkey’s President Erdogan, who is bent on spreading his Islamic agenda throughout the Balkans. He views Kosovo as easy prey — and a means by which to promote his wicked plans. Erdogan uses Kosovo’s submissive President Hashim Thaci to do his bidding.
Millions of euros are flowing from Turkey to Kosovo through illegal routes, bypassing banks and other legitimate financial institutions. In 2015, Pristina-based Albanian language daily Zeri revealed that Erdogan is increasing his influence in the country through the building of religious institutions, including dozens of new mosques, and the restoration of existing ones built during the Ottoman Empire.
These new and old religious structures are financed through one large donor, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), which is directly managed by the Turkish embassy in Pristina. Even more troublesome is that Kosovo’s main assets — the airport and electricity grids — were sold to companies controlled by Erdogan’s son-in-law, when Kosovo’s current president was the prime minister.
On March 29, Kosovo deported six teachers from Gülen schools to Turkey, becoming the third country after Iraq and Sudan to hand Gülenists over to Erdogan’s brutal treatment. Erdogan regularly pressures the EU and US to deport “his enemies” to Turkey, but — fortunately — none of the Western countries are willing to cave in to Erdogan’s anti-Western Islamic agenda.
After the widespread media coverage and civil outcry over these brazen deportations, none of Kosovo’s leaders assumed responsibility, though Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj dismissed his Interior Minister and intelligence chief over these deportations, stating that they were carried out without his permission.
No one can trust President Thaci’s statement denying any knowledge of the operation — because he is known to be a close ally of Erdogan. Berat Buzhala, the Editor-in-Chief of the largest online media platform in Kosovo, Gazeta Express, said that “the kidnaping of the Gülenists in Kosovo was organized by both presidents, Erdogan and Hashim Thaci.”
Buzhala is convinced that Thaci is lying to the public. “Everything that happened was coordinated between them. How else would the Turkish secret service succeed in kidnaping six Gülenists from Kosovo with a private jet from Pristina Airport, in cooperation with Kosovo Police and the Intelligence Agency, and the President is not aware?” asked Buzhala.
Kosovo civil society and the majority of the media reacted against the abduction of the six Gülenists. Lulzim Peci, a former Ambassador of Kosovo to Sweden and Executive Director of the Kosovo Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED), said that the scandal presents one of the most repugnant acts of human rights violations of foreign residents in Kosovo.
“The affected Turkish citizens had not undergone any of the legal proceedings required by the national law, and above all, the Human Rights Convention of the Council of Europe has been gravely violated, taking into consideration that deported citizens are awaiting unjust judicial proceedings in Turkey,” said Peci.
In a conversation with Ilir Deda, a member of Kosovo’s Parliament representing Alternativa, he too blamed Kosovo’s president for this shameful act. “President Thaci went rouge and gave the order to illegally arrest and deport these citizens. … [F]earing for his personal fate, [he] is creating continuous crisis in order to politically survive. This latest crisis has directly created an internal backlash,” says Deda.
Sociologist Sibel Halimi criticized the current regime in Kosovo for fostering a perfect environment for Turkey to spread its influence. She explained that, “the determination of Turkey to invest in mosques is expanding Erdogan’s influence into other spheres as well. Here I am referring to the priority given to Kosovo’s political class and the readiness of Turkey to buy Kosovo’s state assets such as KEK [Kosovo Energy Corporation] [and] airport.”
Unfortunately, the European Union’s reaction was measured, when it should have been resoundingly critical. “The arrest and subsequent deportation of six Turkish nationals legally residing in Kosovo” said Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for the European Commission in her public statement, “raises questions about the respect of the due process of law.”
Kosovo’s parliament unanimously voted to establish an investigative committee to examine the institutional collapse, and the violation of the constitution and respective laws with the arrest of the Gülenists. The country’s independent ombudsperson has also begun an investigation into this extradition.
The influence of Erdogan’s Islamist agenda in Kosovo and other Balkan countries, however, needs more scrutiny from Western countries. Erdogan has already invested millions in mosques, and thousands in other projects. The US and the EU must come to their senses and warn Erdogan that his insidious ambition to dominate Kosovo by whatever means are at his disposal will not be tolerated — because this is nothing but a recipe for destabilization and violent conflict that will transcend the Balkans.
This article is co-written by Alon Ben-Meir and Arbana Xharra. Arbana Xharra authored a series of investigative reports on religious extremists and Turkey’s Islamic agenda operating in the Balkans. She has won numerous awards for her reporting, and was a 2015 recipient of the International Women of Courage Award from the US State Department.