Turkey’s Ambassador to Kosovo Speaks on Investments, Heritage & Strong Ties

Turkish Ambassador to Kosovo: Mrs. Songul Ozan

 

Ambassador Ozan, it’s a pleasure to speak with you today. Turkey and Kosovo, indeed the Balkans in general, have shared a long history. It’s because of this history that we thought it would be interesting to hear your perspective today. Enlighten our readers on what the past, present and future means between these two nations.

Thank you. Turkey and Kosovo share deep-rooted ties emanating from a common history and culture. Remains of cultural heritage sites, namely bridges, Turkish baths and mosques clearly depict these ties and how Turks co-existed in the region with Albanians, Bosnians, Romans and Serbs for five centuries. In fact, more than 30 grand viziers (modern day Prime Ministers) of the Ottoman Empire were Albanians. Although there are some circles misinterpreting our historical relations we are very confident that modern Turkish and Kosovar relations will remain strong with such a rooted background.

 

Turkey without doubt is a European country. We’ve lived in the Balkans for centuries and were always in contact with the European continent. One cannot look at the history of Turkey and Europe without considering the other. As such, we have been negotiating with the EU for full membership since 2005, joined the customs union in 1996 and also perform as an active member of various Euro-Atlantic organizations. Augmenting these connections further is that the EU represents our largest trade partner and home to millions of Turks living abroad. In short, the Balkans is our gateway to Europe.

 

We define our current political, economic and cultural relations between our nations as excellent. Just a few days ago, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Hashim Thaçi, visited Turkey and met with our top state officials, including President Erdoğan. I myself accompanied H.E. Thaçi during his visit, which once again proved that our relations stand on firm ground with great potential to further relations in all fields.

 

What are some of the key aspects attributed to the Embassy’s mission here in Kosovo? What is your strategy?

Turkey, through our Embassy, supports TİKA (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency), Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centers, and the Turkish contingent in KFOR, with all our experts in international organizations contributing to bilateral relations, each in their own field. TİKA mainly focuses on restoration of the cultural heritage sites mentioned earlier as well as helping in Kosovo’s development through hundreds of projects (400+) in agriculture, health and education. The Yunus Emre Cultural Centers organize some cultural projects with regard to language and Turkish art courses. Turkey has undertaken many training programs for their Kosovar counterparts targeting capacity building; all of which has brought about tremendous gratitude from Kosovar.

 

As for our economic presence in the country I am proud to share with you that Turkey ranks first in FDI with a total of 87 million Euro in 2013 alone and ranks fourth in terms of trade. Overall, investment stands at 345 million USD. However, 2014 FDI inflows decreased by 45 percent due to the 6-month political stalemate. When considering that drop off and the 60% unemployment rate among youth in Kosovo, it is even more important to recognize that there are around 7 thousand Kosovars employed by Turkish companies actively operating in the food, health, infrastructure, banking, and textile sectors. Taking such facts into consideration one can easily understand their appreciation for Turkey’s economic presence.

 

Regarding peacekeeping, the Turkish Army joined NATOs operation in 1999 and contributed 2,000 soldiers to KFOR. For the moment, there are more than 350 soldiers both in Prizren and Prishtina with the Turkish Contingent responsible for liaison and monitoring of 19 municipalities in southern Kosovo.

 

Let’s look into specifics and talk about some of the projects and their scope which are being undertaken by Turkey, as I know there are many.

There are many important projects realized by Turkey. Among them are economic, cultural, training programs for diplomats, civil servants, security and police officers.

 

First of all, Turkish firms have partaken in many infrastructure projects that are of large importance to Kosovo. The KEDS, Kosovo Energy Distribution Services, tender was awarded to the Çalık-Limak Consortium, which promised to invest 300 million Euro in medium and long term follow-on investment in Kosovo. The Merdare-Morina highway connecting Kosovo to Albania was constructed by ENKA together with its American partner Bechtel. The same partnership has just started to construct Prishtina-Hani Elezit highway which will connect Kosovo to Macedonia. Following these projects, Kosovo is now exporting energy to Serbia and Albania, which leads to the potential of becoming the most important hub of transportation in the region.

 

In the framework of the Agreement on Cooperation between the Ministries of Health of both counties, 100 patients each year are sent to Turkey for treatment. Patients are selected when treatment is not possible due to the lack of capacity in the Kosovar medical sector. Moreover, during the Turkey-Kosovo health week, medical staff came from Turkey to provide surgeries and various treatments for Kosovars.

 

I forgot to mention some other aspects of TIKA. During last year over 45 projects were conducted on construction and renovation of school buildings, technological and other equipment furnishings, financing many economic projects especially in the agricultural sector, providing training programs for medical staff and contributing to capacity building of Kosovar institutions. Besides TİKA’s project in education sector, every year around 100 students are given scholarship to study in Turkey.

 

Additionally, the Turkish Diplomacy Academy provided several protocol and diplomacy training programs to young Kosovar diplomats. The Embassy also organizes cultural activities attracting the attention and appreciation of Kosovars as well as the broader diplomatic community. This coming April, we are excited to offer our fourth edition of Turkish Jazz Week with participation from famous artists. We had organized Turkish film festivals as well. Cultural and person-to-person contacts between Turkey and Kosovo are flourishing every day with our NGOs and municipalities are playing an important role in diversifying our bilateral relations. When you note the 18,000 Turks living in Kosovo, who have been very constructive in Kosovar politics, you can easily see lasting bridge between our countries.

 

As mentioned earlier, Turkey has many large and medium sized investments here in Kosovo. What are some of the best success stories when in comes to Turkish FDI?

There are some successful medium scale Turkish firms in Kosovo; from rubber and steel conveyer belts, (Newco Balkan L.L.C) and textile (Rematex Sh.a) to food processing (Universal Food). They not only employ many Kosovars but are also one of the few production companies in the country, exporting their goods to neighboring countries, thereby, contributing modestly to shrinking Kosovo’s huge trade deficit.

 

Besides these producers there is representation in the health sector through the International Medicine Hospital, the only hospital focused on cardiology, Bahçeci Hospital and the International Health Center.

 

What are your goals in Kosovo for 2015?

 

Turkey will continue to support Kosovo in all fields in 2015. We want Kosovo to be an equal member of the international community. For this, we are lobbying for recognition of Kosovo by more countries and membership to international organizations. In 2015, Kosovo stated its willingness to apply for full membership to the Council of Europe. In this, Turkey will support Kosovar in its bid for membership to the CoE in coordination with other CoE member-states friendly to Kosovo.

 

Our two countries also signed a Free Trade Agreement in September 2013. We aim to ratify this agreement as soon as possible, thereby, boosting our trade volume.

 

Also, the Turkish National Police will provide around 10 training programs in the fields of counter terrorism, information technologies, risk analysis & drug research, analysis methods, prevention of suicidal attacks, and crisis management during terror attacks.

 

This is a two part question. Clearly, whenever operating in a transitional country there are many challenges that must be tackled. What are some of the issues that Kosovo will face during its development and what are some challenges that have been expressed by the Turkish investor and business community?

Kosovo is a very young country. They have just celebrated their 7th anniversary of independence and the state building process is continuing. Therefore, it is normal for such a state to have some difficulties in its bureaucracy. Kosovo needs to consolidate its democracy and rule-of-law to attract more foreign investment.

 

I have been serving in Kosovo for four years. During my stay here, I observed that both previous and current governments showed strong determination to overcome these challenges impeding development. I believe the prospect of signing a Stability and Association Agreement with the EU Commission will help Kosovo to improve its investment environment.

 

Addressing your second part of the question, I am confident that despite some challenges in Kosovo for businessmen, Turkish companies will remain quite successful and, in fact, they remain willing to increase their amount of investment. To this affect, the Turkish state strongly advises Turkish businessmen to increase their level of economic cooperation with Kosovo in order to mirror our already strong political relations. There are no specific challenges faced only by Turkish investors. Concerns are common for all business circles.

 

However, as I have said, there are 18,000 Turks living in Kosovo. Likewise, many people in Kosovo have their relatives in Turkey. Having connections like this with Kosovo is a good reason for Turkish people to make business here. They’re not just pursuing economic benefit through investing in Kosovo, but aiming at contributing to their “second home”.

 

We always like to get a firsthand vision from people extremely familiar with the terrain here in Kosovo. What message would you convey to investors interested in Kosovo?

Kosovo is a young and vibrant country with a population averaging an age of about 27, the youngest in Europe. There is a great potential in the economy to be exploited by businessmen. Furthermore, statements by the new government officials regarding a strong focus on economic development and subsidization of some sectors, such as agriculture, should be considered as an opportunity. I call all businessmen to come to Kosovo and contribute to this young nation to invest and create a win-win situation.

 

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