Turkey’s international relationships are increasingly fraught with the danger of revenge-type attacks by a variety of opponents in numerous locations around the world. The most recent example—one that is already prompting anti-Turkish violence—is the Turkish decision to join France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain and the United States in recognizing Kosova’s independence from Serbia on February 17 (NTV, February 19).
The history of Turkish involvement in Kosova (Serbian: Kosovo) is a long one. Turkey ruled what is now Kosova as part of the Ottoman Empire from 1455 to 1912. Turkey has been and remains Kosova’s largest trading partner, directly and indirectly, with almost 90% of the consumer goods in Kosova originating in Turkey (Turkish Daily News, February 22). More recently, Turkey has provided nearly a thousand troops to serve in NATO’s Kosova Force (KFOR) since 1999 under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (Anadolu Agency [Ankara], June 25, 1999). A Turkish officer, Brigadier Ugur Tarcin, has held command of KFOR’s Multinational Task Force-South since May 2007 (Turkish Digest, May 31, 2007).
A diplomatic row has already emerged after Turkey decided to use its prominent position in KFOR to obstruct use of NATO facilities by the incoming European Union civilian mission designed to train and advise Kosova’s nascent justice system and police services. At the heart of the problem is the participation of Greek Cyprus and Malta in the EU mission, which Turkey claims is disallowed under existing agreements on EU-NATO cooperation (Turkish Daily News, March 4).
Turkey’s recognition of an independent Kosova is viewed negatively by a number of other nations: Russia, ominously, for one (Hurriyet, February 22, Eurasia Daily Monitor, February 20). Russia still retains within it a number of former independent states that it absorbed under its former guise of the Soviet Union and which have been maneuvering for independence for years. The potential involvement of organized crime elements only adds to the danger because of the for-profit motive.
The growing danger of retaliatory attacks being carried out against Turkey exists both outside Turkey and within. Kosova is still home to thousands of “Kosovar Turks,” who enjoy generally good relations with Kosova’s ethnic Albanians, but are seeking restoration of Turkish as an official language in the region (Hurriyet, March 2).
The entire Former Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) remains home to a number of jihadis left over from the Bosnian conflict of the 1990s, including al-Qaeda members and recruits. These individuals could view Turkey’s relations with Israel as a cause for an attack on Turks in Kosova and neighboring nations. Networks of extremists—funded by Iran as well as by Wahhabi-associated (Saudi) non-governmental organizations—were well entrenched in the area, especially in Bosnia, beginning in the early 1990s. The networks provided indoctrination, training, funding and safe houses for recruits throughout the region. The “reach” and the serious intent of those originating in the Balkans were made evident when Bosnians resident in Austria at the time attempted to carry out an attack on the U.S. embassy in Vienna on October 1, 2007 (see Terrorism Focus, October 10, 2007).
Serbs, who still compose approximately 10 percent of the residents of Kosova, and who continue to view Kosova as Serbia’s “cradle,” may look for opportunities to protest Kosova’s march to independence by attacking Kosova’s declared allies. Such ethnic conflict has, in fact, already occurred in both Kosova and Serbia. Perhaps in anticipation of Kosova’s declaration of independence, hand grenades were thrown at buildings housing the international community in the Kosovar town of Mitrovica on February 17. Only four days after the declaration of Kosova’s independence, Serbian mobs that included reservists from the Serbian armed forces had already attacked Kosova’s public security forces at three points on the Serbian-Kosovar border (AFP, February 21). On the same day, masked attackers who were part of an estimated 150,000 demonstrators in Belgrade broke into and set fire to the U.S. embassy (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, February 26).
While Serbia has publicly and officially declared that it will not use force to regain Kosova, the option of using unofficial agents as part of a sub rosa scenario is not unprecedented for Belgrade in recent decades. Turkey asked Serbia to increase security measures at the Turkish embassy in Belgrade and for Turkish firms and Turkish citizens in Kosova after demonstrators threw rocks at the embassy before an attempt to storm the building was repulsed by Serbian police (New Anatolian, February 28). Turkish diplomats in Kosova and anywhere else there are Serbian expatriates could become prime targets, as they were during a series of Armenian terrorist attacks in the 1970s and 1980s. Turkey’s military contingent, part of NATO’s Kosova Force and easily identified in its Kosovar compounds, is another possible target, especially in the near term (Today’s Zaman, June 6, 2007).
Even within Turkey, minorities—most notably the Kurds—undoubtedly have heard the news and wonder, rhetorically, how and why Turkey can be receptive to full independence for what Serbs refer to as the “breakaway” province of Kosova while refusing to grant a greater degree of limited autonomy for Kurds. In the minds of the Kurds and others, the Kosova example will be added to the obvious contradiction of Turkey favoring the separation of Northern Cyprus while opposing Kurdish autonomy (KurdishGlobe.net, February 27). The PKK presence in northern Iraq may be substantially weakened in coming months; however, the PKK presence in and near Turkey’s larger cities is well entrenched and will retain the organic capability for additional attacks for years to come (Turkish Daily News, February 28; January 5).
In the near term, Turkey’s enlargement of its web of international relationships with the addition of Kosova will require its leadership to continue walking the diplomatic tightrope on which it now finds itself. Carefully calculated public statements may ease the situation, but probably not by much (Journal of the Turkish Weekly, February 19). In the longer term—the length of time needed by antagonists to plan and carry out attacks—Turkey may decide to prepare for another wave of anti-Turkish terrorism.