Q&A: Türkiye-Albania relations face a bright future, says Ambassador Atay

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 15, 2023 14:05

Q&A: Türkiye-Albania relations face a bright future, says Ambassador Atay

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  • Albania is a natural and strong partner for Türkiye in the region, Ambassador Atay tells Tirana Times in an interview.

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Marking 100 years of diplomatic relations between Albania and Türkiye, Tirana Times interviewed Ambassador of the Republic of Türkiye Tayyar Kağan Atay.

Türkiye and Albania enjoy excellent relations and they have a bright future ahead, Ambassador Atay says, citing the strategic partnership the two countries enjoy as well as their shared status as NATO members and EU candidate countries.

Albania is a natural and strong partner for Türkiye in the region, he adds. 

“Having deep cultural and social bonds, Albania is a friendly country for Türkiye and the Albanians have a very special and unique place in the hearts and minds of the Turkish people. Apart from these, Türkiye and Albania are two NATO members and EU candidate countries. More importantly, we share a common understanding about what our future should look like. Both nations’ foreign policy objectives overlap and both countries are net contributors to preserving peace and stability in the Balkans and beyond. We see Albania as a natural and strong partner in our region,” Ambassador Atay says in the interview. 

Ambassador Atay assumed his duty as Ambassador to Tirana on June 23, 2022.  He came to the role after joining the Turkish Foreign Ministry in 1997, holding positions of Head of Department and Deputy Director General. He served at Turkish Embassies in Chisinau and The Hague, NATO HQ International Staff and Turkish Permanent Delegation to NATO. He was the Turkish Consul General in Vienna between 2013-2017. He graduated from Ankara University, Faculty of Political Sciences, Department of International Relations in 1997.

Ambassador Atay’s full Q&A with Tirana Times follows:

TT: This year is a very important one in the relations between Albania and Türkiye since it marks the 100 years anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations. What are your reflections on this anniversary? How has this relation developed through the years?

I have the privilege and great honour to be the Ambassador of Türkiye to Albania during this significant period which coincides with the centenary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations. 2023 also marks the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of Türkiye. Since its foundation, Türkiye has attached utmost importance to its relations with Albania. As a testament of this, Albania was among the first countries that the young Turkish Republic signed friendship agreements with. “Eternal Friendship and Cooperation Agreement” between the two nations was signed on 15 December 1923. Our Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Mehmet Kemal Bozay, together with his Albanian counterpart, Madame Megi Fino, attended the 100th anniversary inaugural event organised in Tirana last April. We believe that celebratory events to be held jointly throughout the year will further strengthen our friendship and Strategic Partnership. Actually, speaking of history, relations between the two nations obviously date further back; we have a shared history of more than 600 years. Turkish and Albanian nations walked together for centuries. This unique togetherness is the most significant factor and strength that has shaped our relations today. 

TT: Albania has designated Türkiye as one of its official strategic partners. The importance of Türkiye for Albania cannot be overstated. But what is the importance of Albania for Türkiye?

Türkiye and Albania enjoy excellent relations. In 2013, Prime Minister Edi Rama, unilaterally declared Türkiye as one of the five strategic partners of Albania. Later, during Prime Minister Edi Rama’s official visit to Türkiye in January 2021, relations were officially elevated to the level of “Strategic Partnership” through the “Joint Political Declaration” signed by President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Rama. Since then, bilateral relations have gained significant momentum and the current state of our relations has diversified and enriched with new areas of cooperation. Having deep cultural and social bonds, Albania is a friendly country for Türkiye and the Albanians have a very special and unique place in the hearts and minds of the Turkish people. Apart from these, Türkiye and Albania are two NATO members and EU candidate countries. More importantly, we share a common understanding about what our future should look like. Both nations’ foreign policy objectives overlap and both countries are net contributors to preserving peace and stability in the Balkans and beyond. We see Albania as a natural and strong partner in our region.

TT: How do you see the future of these relations?

We believe that relations between two countries have a very bright future. Considering the potential of Türkiye and Albania in almost every field, there is ample room for further progressing our relations. We would like to further deepen and diversify our relations in the fields of trade and economy, military, defence industry as well as culture and education. As two friendly countries sharing common values, we will continue to further advance our cooperation in culture, arts and tourism, increase people-to-people contacts as well as joint projects between universities. Current geopolitical challenges have rendered the cooperation between Türkiye and Albania even more crucial. In this context, we wish to continue our close dialogue on regional and global issues as well as cooperation at international organizations. 

TT: These bilateral relations are very rich, they have multiple political, economic, cultural and social ties. How do you see your own personal challenge and that of the Embassy to coordinate all these complex dimensions?

As it is rightly pointed out, relations between Türkiye and Albania are multidimensional and very intense. In the political, economic, cultural and social realm there is still a lot to accomplish. We are, in terms of numbers, a modest team at the Embassy, trying to manage and coordinate all these dimensions in the most effective way. I cannot continue without saying that, we are also grateful for all the cooperation and support provided to us by Albanian authorities. In addition to this, the positive vibes we have seen in the Albanian community, is a source of motivation for us in these difficult but proud tasks. 

TT: What is the most recent situation in terms of Turkish companies and investments in Albania? Are you satisfied with the level? What can be done to have more Turkish presence in the Albanian economy?

On the economic front, we have achieved our goal of increasing bilateral trade volume over 1 billion Dollars. In 2022, trade volume was recorded as 1.065 billion dollars. We are proud that Türkiye is among the biggest foreign investors in Albania. Total volume of our investment has exceeded 3.5 billion dollars. However, considering the potential, there is a lot to do. In the coming period, our efforts to further increase trade volume and mutual investments will continue. We see renewable energy, infrastructure, defence industry, agricultural industry and health as prominent areas for investment. On the other hand, we believe that commencement of EU accession negotiations with Albania will also positively contribute to our economic relations. Ongoing negotiation process with the EU and excellent relations between our countries make Albania more attractive for Turkish investors. Incentive packages are always helpful to attract foreign direct investments. This can be my main message on this question. 

 TT: What is Türkiye's vision for the region of the Western Balkans in terms of stability and prosperity?

First of all, let me begin by stating that we do not agree with the artificially created geographic term “Western Balkans”. The term is used to unfairly distance Türkiye from its region. The division in the EU’s enlargement policy as Türkiye and the “Western Balkans” continuously disregards our country’s candidate status and constitutes a discrimination. Türkiye is a Balkan country. We are part of the Balkan “neighbourhood”. The Balkans is a priority for us not only from the political, economic and geographical perspectives, but also due to our historical, cultural and human ties with the region. Any crisis in the Balkans affects Türkiye. In this regard, preservation of peace and stability in the region is our top priority.

We believe that the future of the Balkans rests in the EU as members. Bitter history can only be left behind through EU integration. As a EU candidate state, we have supported the EU perspective of the Balkan region.

We have been witnessing unprecedented developments and major challenges in the Balkans: First the pandemic, then the war in Ukraine and most recently the developments in the north of Kosovo. It made us all worried about historical fragilities in the region and brought back some old memories from the 1990s. Diplomacy and dialogue should be the only tools in resolving regional issues. In this regard, we pursue constructive, inclusive and objective policies towards the Balkans. Our efforts in promoting peace and stability in the region projected through three mediums. First of all, we attach importance to further strengthen our close relations with the regional countries through high-level visits, increased economic and trade relations as well as cultural cooperation. Secondly, we also support and empower regional cooperation efforts such as the South East European Cooperation Process and its operational arm Regional Cooperation Council. Furthermore, Türkiye has been actively participating in NATO and EU missions in the region such as KFOR and EUFOR ALTHEA. Just recently upon the request of NATO, we have deployed an additional battalion to KFOR to assist the preservation of stability in Kosovo. Lastly, dating back in 2009 we established trilateral consultative mechanisms such as Türkiye-Bosnia and Herzegovina-Serbia and Türkiye-Bosnia and Herzegovina-Croatia to encourage constructive dialogue in the region. 

TT: Türkiye has excellent expertise and accumulated experience with tourism and it’s an international brand now when it comes to the sector. What advice can your country offer to Albania which is still in the first steps of building an international destination reputation?

Türkiye is among the top ten countries in the world in the field of tourism. Last year, we hosted 52 million tourists in our country and the income from the tourism sector was recorded as 46 billion dollars. We are working to implement new and different methods; and sustainable and environmentally friendly rural tourism comes to the fore in this context. When it comes to Albania, what you have done for the tourism sector is quite impressive. Albania has started to play an active role in the field of tourism in recent years. Albania has a potential in agro-tourism as the future for development of the rural economy across the country.  We positively observe that with national policy incentives, agro-tourism is increasingly becoming a brand of Albanian countryside and producing agricultural products is becoming a trend. This could also reverse the emigration as many families and individuals return home from the countries they have been living and work to cultivate the land and transform their private family homes into guesthouses. Minister of Tourism and Environment Mrs. Mirela Kumbaro stated that in Albania there are currently 260 agro-tourism offers. Culinary and nature are two of Albania’s assets and should be promoted through financial support schemes. Also, Albania has a huge potential of natural beauties that could be utilized in the tourism sector. Declaration of the Vjosa River as a National Park by the Albanian Government was a significant step to protect biodiversity and natural assets, and also to regenerate villages in the Vjosa region through ecotourism to attract tourists. So in general terms, there is a wise decision to focus on alternatives to mass tourism which require huge infrastructure and massive human capital.

TT: The educational cooperation and the educational investments of Türkiye to Albania are increasing. Recently high school scholarships have been offered to Albanian pupils. Is this a step to ensure sustainable relations and expand them in the future?

One of the most important dynamics of cooperation between Türkiye and Albania is in the field of education. It is a long-term and priceless investment for future generations that will strengthen human to human contacts and further empower friendship and brotherhood between our countries. On the occasion of the official visit of Prime Minister Rama on 6-7 January 2021, an Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Education was signed and entered into force in both countries as of April 2022. Currently, 198 Albanian students continue their bachelor and graduate level degrees in Turkish universities with Türkiye Scholarships. Every year, an average of 100 students from Albania benefit from education in Türkiye through Türkiye Scholarships. However, considering the capacity of higher education in Türkiye this number should be increased. There are a total of 58,092 different programs at 208 universities in Türkiye. In such a variety, an Albanian student would definitely find a university and program that suits himself/herself. In addition to this, more recently, the Ministry of National Education has announced that it will admit students from the Balkan countries with scholarships to Vocational and Technical Anatolian High Schools. We hope that this initiative would contribute to alleviate the problem of qualified personnel shortage in several sectors in Albania. 


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 15, 2023 14:05