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H.E. Hami Aksoy, Ambassador Of The Republic Of Türkiye

Golden Age

With regard to relations between Belgrade and Pristina, our official position is to support the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue in Brussels. We followed events in North Kosovo with concern. These events harm regional security and stability. Nobody benefits from crisis ~ Hami Aksoy

The situation in many spheres today serves to confirm that relations between Türkiye and Serbia have never been better and are at the highest level in recorded memory. This doesn’t only apply to the economy, where mutual exchanges worth 2.5 billion dollars are being recorded, but rather also applies to culture and tourism, says Turkish Ambassador H.E. Hami Aksoy speaking in this interview for CorD Magazine. He also considers our bilateral political relations as being “perfect”, despite the fact that the two countries differ in their views of Kosovo’s unilaterally declared independence. “We wish to see de-escalation,” insists Ambassador Aksoy in response to the latest tensions in the northern part of Kosovo.

Your Excellency, you stated in one interview that Türkiye and Serbia are experiencing “the best ever juncture in their mutual relations”. In which areas is this positive moment most evident?

– Türkiye-Serbia relations are indeed at a pinnacle. President Vučić defined our bilateral relations as “going through their golden age”. The Turkish-Serbian High-Level Cooperation Council was established in 2017 and has since held three meetings at the highest level – the last one being in 2022 – which has boosted our cooperation in various areas. The positive momentum shows itself in the economy, trade, tourism and cultural cooperation. The volume of bilateral trade stands at almost 2.5 billion dollars. We are closing in on the goal of five billion dollars of bilateral trade year after year. We have 21 largescale investments in Serbia. We are building factories, roads, highways, a modern hospital etc. Halkbank recently opened its 41st branch in the country.

Our aim is to open an Honorary Consulate General in Novi Sad this year, thus increasing the number of Turkish missions in Serbia every year

Acıbadem Belmedic will soon build a modern, 400-bed hospital in Belgrade, while the 1,600 Turkish companies established in Serbia currently employ around 7,500 people here. We have also seen record- breaking numbers in tourism: almost 360,000 Serbian citizens visited Türkiye in 2022. This is an all-time high number. And 125,000 Turkish tourists also came to Serbia, representing a 110% increase compared to the numbers for Turkish tourists in 2021. We signed – amongst others – a “Travel with IDs” protocol agreement that will hopefully enter into force soon. The number of direct flights between our countries is increasing. We have flights not only from Belgrade, but also to Istanbul from Kraljevo and Niš. Apart from Istanbul, we now also have direct flights to Ankara, Izmir, Antalya, Bodrum and Alanya. Serbs have an increased interest in the Turkish language, thanks to some Turkish tv shows that are popular in Serbia.

Despite maintaining good relations with Serbia, Türkiye is also among the important promoters of Kosovo independence and advocates for the breakaway Serbian province’s accession to international organisations. How do you view the latest events and do you share the position of the countries of the Quint regarding Pristina’s responsibility for escalating tension?

– We have perfect political relations with Serbia. The friendship of our leaders is exceptional. Regarding relations between Belgrade and Pristina, our official position is to support the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue in Brussels. We followed the events unfolding in North Kosovo with concern. These events harm regional security and stability. We wish to see de-escalation. Nobody benefits from crisis. Stability is a key factor for welfare and development. Our president is in touch with both sides at the highest level. The only way to reduce tension and establish lasting peace and stability in the region is to make progress in the ongoing dialogue process.

Could you comment on the decision of the Turkish Defence Ministry to send members of special units to Kosovo, to be stationed in Prizren?

– Türkiye continues contributing to global and regional peace and stability – not only bilaterally, but also through the peace missions of multilateral organisations like the UN, OSCE, EU and NATO. We are closely monitoring developments in the Balkans. We strive to follow a well-balanced and constructive position in order to be able to solve the issues through dialogue. The units sent to Kosovo are Turkish forces under KFOR command; they are there at the request of Joint Forces Command in Italy (Naples). So, basically, they are KFOR forces. They are there to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement, as authorised under UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

Following Novi Pazar, the city of Niš is also set to receive a Turkish consulate. What are the core tasks of these offices?

– Consular missions provide a service to citizens in the areas for which they are responsible, while they are also essential for trade and business contacts, supporting investors from both sides. Having a stronger consular presence helps us provide a better service to our citizens. The Turkish Consulate General in Novi Pazar and the Consular Office in Niš are responsible for a wide region that extends from Čačak to Užice, but also encompassing the region around Niš, including Aleksinac. As a matter of fact, Türkiye was the first country to open a Consulate General in Novi Pazar. Our citizens originating from the Sandžak region, as well as Serbian citizens of Bosniak nationality, represent a strong link between our countries.

We are building factories, roads, highways, a modern hospital etc. Halkbank recently opened its 41st branch in the country

We have businessmen whose investments have created jobs in many different parts of Serbia. when it comes to the Niš office, we have many Turkish citizens living in Western European countries who travel to Türkiye via Serbia during the summer. Our Office in Niš is located directly along their route to and from Türkiye. It plays a key in serving them as they traverse Serbia. It additionally also helps facilitate investments in Niš from the Turkish business sector. After the establishing of our Consular Office in Niš, the number of missions we have in Serbia is now three; which indicates that bilateral relations between our countries are strengthening. We actually only opened our Consulate General in Novi Pazar and the Consular Office in Niš during the last two years. Our aim is to open an Honorary Consulate General in Novi Sad this year, thus increasing the number of Turkish missions in Serbia every year.

Could Turkish-funded works on the construction of road infrastructure between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina be sped up, and what determines the speed of progress?

– As countries of the same region, we have a mutual understanding of the need to strengthen peace, stability, connectivity and welfare across the Balkans as a whole. The Belgrade-Sarajevo Highway project is one of the results of that. During my tenure here, I have been happy to witness that it is continuing to develop at full speed in Serbia. I attended last October’s opening of the Novi Pazar-Tutin road with President Vučić. Our countries thankfully have the essential political will to realise such infrastructure projects as efficiently as possible. Meetings between the relevant authorities of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have accelerated of late, particularly following the establishment of the new government in Bosnia- Herzegovina early this year. Serbian Construction, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Goran Vesić stated, following his 12th June meeting with his Bosnian counterpart Edin Forto, that Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina will be connected by two motorways and two expressways in the next few years, and that the 19 km section of the motorway from Kuzmin to the Bosnia-Herzegovina border will be completed by the end of this year. I believe that the continuation of such meetings, as well as the holding of the 4th meeting of the Türkiye-Serbia-Bosnia-Herzegovina Trilateral Committee soon, will lead to concrete results in terms of accelerating this project.

Türkiye is among the most popular summer holiday destinations for tourists from Serbia. Do people still ask you when direct flights between Belgrade and Antalya will be established and what do you tell them?

– Indeed, Antalya is one of the most attractive summer destinations for Serbians. We attach importance to developing people-to-people relations between our countries, which is why tourism represents a key area of cooperation. As I mentioned previously, we already have direct flights from Serbia to tourist destinations in Türkiye, including Antalya. These are mostly charter flights during the summer holiday season. We also want to launch direct flights to Antalya throughout the year. Just like direct regular flights to Izmir, extending direct flights to Antalya to the whole year would be beneficial to both potential tourists and business circles.

TURKISH FORCES

The units sent to Kosovo are Turkish forces under KFOR command; they are there at the request of the Joint Forces Command in Italy (Naples)

TRADE EXCHANGE

We are closing in on the goal of five billion dollars of bilateral trade year after year

MISSIONS

After the establishing of our Consular Office in Niš, the number of missions we have in Serbia is now three; which indicates that bilateral relations are strengthening

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