Global Diyanet and Multiple Networks: Turkey’s New Presence in the Balkans

In: Journal of Muslims in Europe
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  • 1 St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

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Turkey’s relations with the Muslim communities of Southeast Europe have changed significantly since the early 2000s, when Turkish actors largely replaced Wahhabi and Salafi missionaries. This paper discusses four domains of the new Turkish presence: The intellectual and political networks in the Balkans around Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu; non-conventional foreign policy actors of the Turkish state such as the Turkish Development Agency (TIKA) and the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet); and finally Islamic grassroots organisations, such as the Gülen movement. United by a common imaginary of neo-Ottomanism’, these actors have contributed to the strengthening of the established Islamic communities and to the visibility of the Ottoman tradition of Hanafi Islam in the Balkans.

  • 4

    Cf. Norris, H.T., Islam in the Balkans. Religion and Society between Europe and the Arab World, (London: Hurst, 1993).

  • 5

    Ellis, Burcu Akan, Shadow Genealogies: Memory and Identity Among Urban Muslims in Macedonia, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003); Neuberger, Mary, The Orient within: Muslim Identities and the Negotiation of Nationhood in Modern Bulgaria, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004).

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  • 15

    Öktem, Kerem, Turkey Since 1989: Angry Nation (Global History of the Present: From the Cold War to the War on Terror), (London: Zed Books, 2011), p. 170.

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  • 23

    Sarajlić, Eldar (2010), The Return of the Consuls: Islamic Networks and Foreign Policy Perspectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Paper presented at the workshop “After the Wahabi Mirage: Islam, Politics and International Networks in the Balkans”, St Antony’s College, Oxford, June, p. 28. Some of Davutoğlu’s students from the Islamic University now indeed hold important positions within the Bosnian Foreign Office, such as the current Ambassador to Iran.

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    Cf. Kaplan, Sam, The pedagogical state: education and the politics of national culture in post-1980 Turkey, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006). The Turkish-Islamic synthesis was an eclectic mix of authoritarian, if incoherent, ideologies, ranging from Turkish ethno-racial nationalism, Islamist supremacism and Ottomanism to Kemalist authoritarianism. The ‘synthesis’ had been circulating in conservative circles well before the Putsch of September 1980. Its influence went beyond the remit of the now mandatory religious education in schools and the many hundreds of religious preacher schools (Imam Hatip Liseleri) that were set up to provide a strongly religious curriculum (cf. also Öktem, Angry Nation.).

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  • 52

    Since 2007, the Balkan Islam Council has met in Bulgaria, Montenegro, Romania, and in May 2010, in the Kosovar town of Prizren. The Prizren Council was co-hosted by the Chair of the Presidency, Dr. Ali Bardakoğlu and the Mufti of the Kosovar Islamic Union, Naim Tërnava Hoxha (Balık, Lütfü (Mufti of Prizren and chair of the Islamic Union), interviewed by K. Öktem, Prizren, 15 May 2010). The meeting, which was very well advertised in the city and accompanied by a series of religious concerts and events, opened the way for the Diyanet to act as the official organiser of the hajj for all Muslims in the Balkans. Given the centrality of the hajj in the practice of Islam, this role is a highly symbolic one.

  • 67

    Cf. Agai, Bekim, Zwischen Netzwerk und Diskurs: das Bildungsnetzwerk um Fethullah Gülen (geb. 1941): Die flexible Umsetzung modernen islamischen Gedankenguts (Schenefeld: EB-Verlag, 2004). The movement has been organising regular international conferences to represent and contextualise themselves. Even though there is little critical work presented at these conferences, and the general approach is one of sympathetic embrace, there is now a body of literature by the movement on the movement, much of which is available at the website:

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  • 68

    Öktem, Angry Nation, pp. 127-30.

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