(Excerpts from the article originally published by the Sarajevo weekly BH Dani, on October 23, 2009. This speech and its implications received nearly no coverage in the West.
Full transcript of the original available here. Any errors in translation are my own, all emphasis added is mine - Gray Falcon)
"Yesterday, after a long day in Iraq, we came home at three o'clock, and only three hours later I set out for Sarajevo. Many were surprised and asked if I weren't tired. When I came to Sarajevo, to Bascarsija, I felt filled with energy. The spirit of Sarajevo, the spirit of Bascarsija, is the spirit of our common history. Sarajevo is no ordinary city. Without understanding Sarajevo one cannot understand the history of the Balkans, nor the culture of the Balkans," said [prof. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister] on Friday evening, October 16, at the opening of the conference "Ottoman Heritage and Muslim Communities in the Balkans Today."
Came on Horseback
Minister Davutoglu isn't a professional politician or diplomat but a scholar, who taught international relations in Malaysia and Turkey until the victory of Recep Erdogan and the AK in the November 2002 elections. He became the key foreign policy advisor of the Turkish PM, creating Ankara's new foreign policy. He became the FM only recently, on May 1, 2009. To understand the basis on which he formulated Turkey's foreign policy, approved by the AK party and the last two cabinets of PM Erdogan, one must turn to his scholarly work, such as the book Strategic Depth (2001), a new look at Turkey's international position...
He was greeted by an ex-student from Malaysia, Prof. Ahmet Alibašić and more than 200 guests, including the feuding factions of the [Muslim] SDA party. Davutoglu has cultivated an image of a mediator and conciliator; earlier this year he traveled to Novi Pazar [in Serbia], to publicly reconcile former SDA leaders Sulejman Ugljanin and Rasim Ljajić.
His decision to visit Bosnia during a Turkish diplomatic offensive elsewhere has puzzled the dipomats in Sarajevo. Why did the scholar-diplomat drop in, they asked?
"One diplomat asked me today, I cannot reveal where he was from, why did we intensify our efforts in Bosnia when we have all these other issues to deal with? When I met Hillary Clinton in Zurich concerning the Armenian question, I asked her about the Bosnian question, and we spent more time discussing Bosnia than Armenia. And when President Silajdžić visited Ankara, I changed my plans and decided to visit Sarajevo and then proceed to Albania. I told the diplomat that we didn't 'drop in', we came to Bosnia on horseback," answered Davutoglu.
This return to the traditional, historical connections of Turkey with numerous nations and states in three different regions is the "historical depth" that prof. Davutoglu is building the new Turkish foreign policy around. His Sarajevo lecture was basically the summary of this policy's underpinnings. Davutoglu first asked what were the things particular to the Balkans, and what was the role of the Ottoman state in the history of the Balkans and the world:
"There are three identifiable characteristics of the Balkans. One is that this region is a geopolitical buffer zone, a crossing between Europe and Asia, Baltics and the Mediterranean, and Europe to Africa. Why is this important? How did this influence the region's history?" he asked.
"The other characteristic is geo-economic. Balkans is a region of commerce, since the ancient times. Balkans is a region of cultural interaction as well. Several cultures intermingle and influence each other in the Balkans. Many people migrate and encounter others and mingle with them. If you have a region with these three characteristics - geopolitical buffer, economic and cultural interaction - you have two possible destinies in history. One is to be the center of world history, and the other to be a victim of global conflict and controlled by alien powers," Davutoglu explains.
"Because of this, when we speak of the Balkans, we say it's the periphery of Europe. But is the Balkans really a periphery? No. It is the heartland of Africa-Eurasia. Where does this perception of periphery come from? If you asked Mehmet-Pasha Sokolović, he wouldn't have said that Sarajevo or Salonica were the periphery, whether of Europe or the Ottoman state. Look at history. The only exception in history is the Ottoman state. During the Ottoman times, in the 16th century, the Balkans was at the center of world politics. That was the golden age of the Balkans. This is a historical fact."
"Who created world policy in the 16th century? Your ancestors! They weren't all Turks. Some were of Albanian origina, others were Greek converts. Mehmet-pasha Sokolović is a good example. Were it not for the Ottoman Empire, he would have been a poor Serb peasant with a small farm or whatever, because they didn't have developed farming in this part of the world then. Thanks to the Ottoman state, he became a leader in world politics. Ottoman history is Balkans history, in which the Balkans held special importance in the history of the world."
..."In the 14th century Belgrade was a village, maybe a small town. During the Ottoman era Belgrade became the capital of the Danube, the heart of Europe at the time. Culturally, there were hundreds of mosques and churches. (…) Sarajevo is a miniature of Ottoman heritage. If you don't understand Sarajevo, you cannot understand Ottoman history. Sarajevo is the prototype of Ottoman civilization, the template for Balkans ascendant."
Center of victims: Then he noted an example from the 19th century of an Albanian who established modern Egypt. "Kavalali Mehmet Ali-Pasha was Albanian. He didn't become just a key Ottoman figure at the time, he's also the founder of modern Egypt. Were it not for the Ottoman state, he would have amounted to at most a smart but petty nobleman somewhere in the Balkans. What can we learn from this? The Balkans has a geopolitical, geocultural and geoeconomic destiny, and it will either be the center of the world or a victim of the world," said Davutoglu.
The key issue in his reinterpretation of Balkans history is the division of the region after the 19th century and the history of ethnic conflict since then. "Without cultural interaction, cultures come in conflict. Without economic interaction, commerce, there is economic stagnation. Without political authority, this becomes a buffer zone for conflicts," Davutoglu explains."
"Now is the time for reunification. Then we will rediscover the spirit of the Balkans. We need to create a new feeling of unity in the region. We need to strengthen regional ownership, a common regional conscience. We are not angels, but we are not beasts either. It is up to us to do something. It all depends on which part of history you look to. From the 15th to the 20th century, the history of the Balkans was a history of success. We can have this success again. Through reestablishing ownership in the region, through reestablishing multicultural coexistencde, and through establishing a new economic zone," Davutoglu argued.
A New Balkans
According to him, "multicultural coexistence is very important because the life of civilizations can only be understood through analyzing the structure of cities and cultural life in the cities. All Balkans cities are multicultural. We lived together. And this cultural integration is what produced such strong cultural heritage. Those who organized the massacres in Srebrenice in the 1990s are barbarians who did not want to tolerate diversity. The spirit of Sarajevo is the spirit of coexistence and living together."
"We desire a new Balkans, based on political values, economic interdependence and cultural harmony. That was the Ottoman Balkans. We will restore this Balkans. People call this 'neo-Ottoman'. I don't point to the Ottoman state as a foreign policy issue. I emphasize the Ottoman heritage. The Ottoman era in the Balkans is a success story. Now it needs to come back," says Davutoglu.
"Turkey is partly a Balkans country, partly a Caucasus country, and partly a Middle Eastern country. There are more Bosnians living in Turkey than in Bosnia! There are more Albanians in Turkey than in Albania, more Chechens than in Chechnya, more Abkhaz than in Abkhazia. Why? Because of the Ottoman heritage. For all these different nations in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Turkey is a safe haven, their homeland. You are welcome! Anadolia belongs to you, our brothers and sisters! And we are confident that Sarajevo belongs to us! If you wish to come, come! But we want you to be secure here, as owners of Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. What is happening in Bosnia is our responsibility."
"We have a common history, a common destiny, a common future. Like in the 16th century, when the Ottoman Balkans was ascendant, we will once again make the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East - together with Turkey - the center of world politics in the future. That is the goal of Turkish foreign policy, and we will achieve it. We will reintegrate the Balkans, we will reintegrate the Middle East, and we will reintegrate the Caucasus on these principles of regional and world peace, not just for us, but for all of humanity."
"For diplomats from elsewhere in the world, Bosnia is a technical matter. To us it is a matter of life and death. That's how important it is. For us the integrity of Bosnia is just as important as the integrity of Turkey. For Turkey, the security of Sarajevo is equally important as the security and prosperity of Istanbul. This is not just the mood of the Turkish government, but a feeling of every individual Turk, no matter where in Turkey he resides. There were two great spontaneous gatherings of Turks that I remember. One was in 1993, when news came that the Serbs used chemical weapons against Goražde. This was broadcast around seven or eight in the evening, and within two hours there were hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. Spontaneously. Had someone asked of them to march on Bosnia, they would have marched. We had that feeling. That shows how much we love each other."