Thursday, November 3, 2016

Albania Weighs Turkey’s Claim to be Gulenist Hub

After Turkey's Foreign Minister named Albania as the centre of 'Gulenists' in the Balkans, local experts say the country should investigate the claims with due caution.

Fatjona Mejdini

Albanian PM, Edi Rama and the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting in Ankara in 2015. Photo:

As Turkey maintains pressure on Balkan countries to clamp down on so-called Gulenists - followers of the US-based cleirc Fethullah Gulen accused of masterminding the failed Turkish coup attempt on July 15,  experts in Albania say the country must put its own interests ahead of those of Ankara.

Pirro Misha, a prominent Albanian author and researcher on nationalism and culture, told BIRN that Albania should be careful when it comes to responding to pressure from Ankara, despite its traditional friendship with Turkey.

"Albania should put its country interests over ... requests coming from another state, despite the strong friendship," he advised.

However, Misha added that Albania might find it in its own best interest to investigate Turkish claims.

"If there is proof that we have a foreign secret organization in Albania with ambitions to interfere politically, socially and religiously, then the issue become dangerous," he said.

"But the government must have strong proof of this, otherwise the process might turn into a witch hunt," Misha said.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish Foreign Minister, spoke about the alleged influence of Gulenists in the Balkans in an interview for Haberturk daily newspaper in Qatar, marking Albania as the key country in the region.

“Albania seems to be the centre of Gulenists in the region; Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo were also seized by Gulenists,” Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.

Ermir Gjinishi, a theologian and former secretary general of Albanian Muslim community, told BIRN that an investigation into Gulenist activity in Albania was necessary, however.

"Albania is a country with a big presence of Gulenists and they have influence in every state structure. This organization doesn't represent the interests of Albanians, in some cases, it has even manipulated them. Their aim is to capture the state and this is a security issue," he claimed.

Cavusoglu's statement came days after his Albanian counterpart, Ditmir Bushati, paid an official visit to Turkey, where he also met Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

While the official statements released by the ministry following the visit stated the aim of meetings was improving trade and economic relationships, local media reported that Turkish officials again called on Tirana to take action against Gulen followers.

Similar calls were made by Erdogan himself, even before the failed coup d'etat took place in Turkey.

In May 2015, during a visit to Tirana, Erdogan urged the mainly Muslim country to expel the movement as a terrorist organization.

He stated that he considered Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and President Bujar Nishani brothers and expressed hope that they would do the "right thing”.

Albanian officials responded that they had to follow Albania law when it comes to claims about terrorist organizations acting in the country.

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