Editor’s Note: this article has been slightly edited
It’s my honor to be the guest of the Ambassador of Albania in Ankara, Mr. Genci Muçaj, at the Albanian Embassy.
We have been meeting with him on November 28 each year at The Anatolian Hall of the Swiss Hotel. Many Albanian students from all over Turkey, many members of Parliament, business people doing business with Albania, members of diplomatic corps in Ankara and guests from different walks of life participating the celebration organized by your Embassy, with just about 1000 guests.
The target is to be properly informed, rather than being opinionated only, the main purpose of such diplomatic interviews is to introduce the social, cultural life of foreign countries in Turkey as well as highlighting the intersection of mutual cultural, economic, political points between Turkey and Foreign countries.
I kindly ask Diplomats to inform readers and audiences regarding the cultural, industrial, political significance, traditions of their respective country. Besides getting recommendations for the travelers who intent to visit those countries.
Today, this is the time for second bird’s eye view tour to South-Eastern Europe. The flag of a privileged location on the Adriatic, the flag in the Balkan Peninsula namely Albania is waving on Turkish skies.
An excursion into strategic aspects of the Albania-Turkey partnership coupled within words that compose a treasury basket of sentences during our interview. We shall talk about how Albania and Turkey shall achieve brighter horizons within Turkey and globally.
Hundreds of distinguished fundamental questions coming to mind from the recipe of Trilece to dynamics and analyzes of Albanian Prime Minister Visit to Serbia. From the reasons of recent rattles between police in Kosovo and protesters calling for the removal of a Serb minister alleged of insulting Albanian war victims to the identity of İllyran people as native Balkan tribes. How the recent visit of the Pope Francis in Tirana strengthened Albania’s comparative advantage in relation to other countries in the region with the messages conveyed from him.
Questions to be asked are many within a limited time, so the interview must be narrowed.
Genci Mucaj is Chairman of Board of Trustees of People to People International, Co-Founder and Member, Board of Directors, Center for Albanian and American Studies, member of Rotary Club Tirana, Albania.
He joined the Albanian Foreign Service as an Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, served as Chief of Staff to the Minister, and later, again as an Adviser. Later Director General for Economic Corporation and Foreign Investment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, represented Albania as National Coordinator of the Regional Corporation Council (RCC), a Consortium of 12 Nations of the Eastern European Region; Vice-President and member of Kristal University Senate, Tirana, Albania. He is the Founder and Executive Director of Language Schools in Albania, founder and CEO of Global Business Partners ltd, a consulting company with world-wide connections, based in Tirana, Albania. Ambassador Muçaj, serves on the board of numerous volunteer organizations.
He was born on 1969, graduated from the University of Tirana, with specialization in English and American History, Literature and Linguistic studies. Married, with two children, ages 12(Fiona) and 17 (Arber). Albanian Ambassador in Ankara also feels like ambassador of Turkey all over the world too.
1. Two days ago on Tuesday I was on the reception of 36th anniversary of the Islamic Republic of Iran took place on Anatolian Hall of Swiss Hotel where I have been joining Albanian National Day reception since 2013. I do remember a year ago you as Albanian non-resident ambassador to Tehran met with President Hassan Rouhani and submitted your credentials to the President. So, I suppose you as “Plenipotentiary Ambassador” your domain is not only limited with Turkey. How long have you been in Ankara as Ambassador of the Republic of Albania in Turkey and Plenipotentiary to other countries in your domain?
I resumed duty on March 1st 2013, but in December 2012 I was decreed by the President of Albania as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Turkey (Resident), and to the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Georgia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Republic of Kirghistan (the latter as Non-Resident).
2. I was impressed with the Educational and Humanitarian Missions /activities you are involved in, would you please kindly mention those a bit?
I have been and lead several Educational and Humanitarian Missions of understanding with People to People International, to the Kingdom of Nepal, Peoples Republic of China, Republic of Korea, and the Arab Republic of Egypt. Currently as a family we are supporting children’s education in different parts of world.
3. Having reviewed your bio, you as “A world traveler”, the first thing my eyes caught due to selective perception as I have also been in 101 different countries. How many countries have you visited during your diplomatic, educational, business and professional life?
Probably not more than 101 but quite a lot, I have even lost count on them. There are countries which I have visited numerous times. Lots of interesting things I have seen, meanwhile never forget observing people in South Korea respecting elders like we do. Ancestors are important for Albanians. Deceased family members have a sustained and persistent existence on our presence.
I take great interest in the affairs of the world and possess the ability to influence the present and future of the living in the society. We do believe, family loyalty, and permanency of the family lineage are important cultivating and nurturing affiliation values are quite important to keep the moral values of the society and nation as well.
4. How do you think that your assignment to Turkey was beneficial to your career as diplomat?
Turkey is very dynamic country. There is a noteworthy ground for triggering economic, cultural and commercial cooperation. Therefore I believe it has become very beneficial for my career.
5. What was your first impression about Turkey in the beginning and what changed within time?
I do feel like home here. I feel like I am not only the Albanian Ambassador in Turkey, but also of Turkey while visiting other countries anywhere in the world. I speak highly about Turkey and Turkish people too.
6. What are the three main areas of priority of the Embassy of the Republic of Albania in Turkey?
First, bilateral relationship; secondly, Economic Diplomacy; third, Cultural Diplomacy. Both Albania and Turkey are full members of NATO. Turkey and Albania have common road maps in many international issues. Cooperation in the arena of defense constitutes a robust dimension of Turkish-Albanian bilateral relations. Teams allocated by the Turkish Land, Naval and Air Forces have been training Albanian Armed Forces and supporting them in logistics and modernization aspects, while Albanian soldiers assigned to Afghanistan within NATO agenda are serving their mandate within the Turkish troops deployed in this geography. Turkey and Albania enjoyed progressively magnificent relations for many years and entering in higher level of partnership, with Document of Strategic Partnership. Such agreements intensify political, economic and cultural relations. Currently there are 170 effective agreements between Turkey and Albania
7. What are some of the advantages for doing business in Albania?
With the implementation of a new fiscal package at the start of 2014, the Government has announced a number of new amicable business initiatives such as NO VAT(Value Added Tax) on machinery value over 360,000 € that is used to increase efficiency, NO TAXES on small businesses with an annual turnover of 2 million ALL or less (€0 – €14,000) • LOW TAXES of 7.5% for businesses with an annual turnover between 2 and 8 million ALL (€14,000 – €56,000) • NO EXCISE on the fuel used by oil-producing companies. On April 11, 2014, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services revised its outlook on the Republic of Albania to stable from negative. In the Heritage Foundation’s 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, Albania’s score enhanced to 66.9 out of 100, creating its economy the 54th freest economy in the world. Its overall score increased as a result of clear improvements in its investment and trade freedom. The improvements mean that Albania is now ranked above 18 European countries with an overall score that is exceeding the world average.
8. In this connotation how are the Albanian-Turkish Business ties to be strengthened?
Globally, Albania has a good performance and is ranked 14th out of 189 economies related to investor’s protection. Though Turkey is not major economic partners (4th major country) the ties are quite strong. Free Trade Agreement between Turkey and Albania is important as well for enhancing the trade between 2 countries. Surely Albania is more open to investor after experiencing transition period from centrally planned economy to an open market economy.
With the EU ambition in concentration Government of Albania has committed itself to create a more competitive investment climate by undertaking qualitative changes in procedures and legislation together with the structural reforms
9. Currently, my attention is focused the Global Energy Projects also acting as one of Turkish Civil Society representative of EBRD, in this connotation knowing the fact that Albania is the supreme dynamic renewable energy country in Europe via strong political commitment and an ambitious national strategy, the Government has placed renewable energy at the top of the country’s development agenda?
Albania has a significant volume of oil reserves, producing more than 1.2 million tons in 2013. The government has an encouraging policy to charm foreign investment in its natural resource sector. The Albanian oil, gas and byproducts market is a free and open, liberalized market, predominately functioned and run by private companies, and where the Government of Albania plays only a regulatory role.
10. What are the other sources of energy in Albania?
Water resources are among the most imperative natural resources in Albania. Eight large rivers, fed by hundreds of smaller rivers and streams, run through the country from the mountainous East to the Adriatic and Ionian Seas in the West. The average height of the hydro graphic territory of Albania is about 700 m above sea level. As Albania is part of the Mediterranean climatic zone, with a hot, dry summer followed by a relatively short and mild winter. Thus, the country has very favorable conditions for the improvement of solar energy. Albania has untouched wind power potential, especially along the Adriatic Coast where it has a number of areas with very high wind energy potential. Key facts to note include: • Average annual wind speed of 6-8 m/s. Average energy density of 250¬600 W/m2 • Potential for at least 20 oleic electricity centrals Several domestic and foreign investors are licensed to explore wind power production in Albania with the construction of a 150 MW wind farm in the pipeline. By 2020, the Government would like to generate 5% of total electricity from wind sources
11. Again while reviewing EBRD periodicals met with several road projects in Albania. The north-south route of Albania is one of the leading arteries of the country’s road network. Beginning on the border of Montenegro and ending on the Greek border, it covers more than 80% of the populated area and 90% of industrial, agricultural and coastal activities. So what is the main objective of this “Blue-Highway Concept “project?
The objective is to establish a sustainable transport route in line with European and international standards, and to contribute to the establishment of a unique economic area on national, regional and pan-European levels. A feasibility study and detailed design for the whole corridor is required for this project.
12. How can the cultural ties be strengthened and what kind of activities are performed to enhance both Albanian and Turkish national assets?
The overall typical characteristic of the bilateral relationships between Turkey and Albania is based on mutual alliance, faith and solidarity. There are 11 sister cities in Turkey and Albania. Turkish National Language Institute is to publish Professor Necip Alpan Turkish-Albanian-Turkish Dictionary. This would be one the greatest works which will enrich both Albanian and Turkish national assets and certainly help strengthen our relation. We are actually quite happy to receive full support from President of Turkish Language Institute Prof. Mustafa S. Kacalin in publishing this life time work of 50 years.
13. I suppose the launch of Albanian Cultural Centers in Ankara, Izmir , Istanbul and Bursa are planned by Embassies of Albania and Kosovo how is the recent activities pertaining to this plan?
Albanian and Turkey have long historical bounds between our countries and these bounds are getting much resilient progressively. Each of those centers aims to strengthen the bounds. All are ongoing and realized projects, while Albanian Culture Center in Ankara (www.qksh.net) was officially opened on 19 February 2015. Foreign Affair Minister of Kosova was also present in the opening ceremony attracting a lot of Media coverage. A delegation from Albanian Parliament already visited Albanian Cultural Center in Ankara and thousands of people have visited the center already. Besides hope to launch a new Center in the region of Izmir, on November 28th , 2015 for the Albanian Flag day.
14. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, so far obtained international recognition as a sovereign state from about 108 countries. However, Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence. We know Turkey and Albania recognized on the same date 18 February 2008 Does Albania have special effort for the recognition of Kosovo worldwide or any support provided to the activities of Kosovo?
We always supported Kosovo from the first day both domestically and globally. Albanians in Kosovo are the predominant majority, so they are our brothers and sisters of the same family, unfortunately they are divided for almost a century. We will continue to support their efforts for independence recognition from other countries.
15. The significant number of Turkish citizens of Albanian origin living in Turkey and of Albanians who chose to stay in Turkey owing to education, employment, health or marriage ties; the growing size of the Turkish community settling in Albania, either as employers or professionals, fortifying the cooperation potential of the two countries. How many Albanians lived in Turkey and what is your personal impression how many of them (percentage) were say “I am proud to be Albanian” if they were asked in questionnaire?
We estimate approximately 5 million but there’s no official accurate numbers. 100% of Albanians are proud of being Albanian. No question on that.
16. How is social media strategy of the Albanian Embassy here in Turkey?
Albania is an open society where all people can live freely without fear of unequal treatment and speaks freely and use social media effectively. We do the same as Albanian Embassy with full respect to the rights of involving correspondents.
17. Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy and Islam are three categories of religion in Albania. Though most are Muslim in Turkey, do members of the three different religions unite in the cultural events organized by the communities in Turkey and how?
People are born with nationality not religion. Nationality brings people together not religion. The religion of Albanians is Albanian. Although freedom of religion is protected by our constitution, religion is not a way of living in Albania but an expression of believe.
18. We are aware of the fact that, one of the Mayors of Albania was detained and arrested along with a municipal official and a construction company manager. The corruption scandals and cases have got national attention in the country determined to improve its corruption record. Now fighting corruption remains a top priority for Albania, and surely how do you avoid bullying as how do you deal with it when it happens. My question is what would be the best measure to fight with the corruption in Albania?
Having resilient policies that are very pure and specific about what to do and not do in various state of affairs is critical. Corruption is everywhere in the World. The best way to deal with corruption is to prevent poverty, grow the economy other than anti-corruption laws and legislation. In the milieu of endorsing better property management, increasing transparency and strengthening the fight against corruption, the Albanian Government has created an inventory of state assets which can be accessed online.
Meanwhile in spite of the diplomatic immunity, we are also under periodical inspection in terms of transparency and our properties well as income are controlled by the Government against any fraud and corruption.
19. Having watched your program on TRT Haber “Ambassador in the Kitchen” promoting Albanian cuisine and culture. What makes trilece so tasty?
Tres leces cake, means , “three milks cake” constitute milk of goat, sheep and cow. Evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream.
20. Albanian cuisine is meat-oriented like Turkey what are the three mutual dishes with different names Turkey-Albanian comes to your mind?
Let’s make it four. Köfte, kebap, baklava, börek and perhaps many more. We also have a lot of words in common, but you need to know that it is hard to define which is whose? We lived for many years under the same empire.
21. How do you asses Albania strategic position and how they shoulder responsibilities to progress towards peace on Human Rights and Global Conflicts in Region such as Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Middle East and its fight against recurrent and inflammatory chronic disease ISIS?
Surely the conflict hot spots which have preoccupied the world, such as Syria, Iraq, Libya, Middle East and its fight against ISIS, are indisputable evidence of the major importance of human rights nowadays.
Albania, as a NATO member and EU candidate country, intensely supports the respect for human rights and their universality. Based on these successful accomplishments and after an intense diplomatic campaign on October 21, 2014, for the first time, Albania was elected member of the Human Rights Council, during the elections held at the UN General Assembly. Albania’s membership to the Human Rights Council is first and foremost a responsibility to the 193 UN member states, for the trust put in us to serve in this imperative body, as well as an impetus for the further democratization of our society.
In the UN system, human rights, accompanied by the guarantee of peace, security and sustainable development, constitute three significant pillars that are interconnected and reinforcing to each other. The principal effort of the international community with regard to the protection, respect and promotion of human rights was materialized with the establishment of the Commission on Human Rights in 1946. Albania, which for half-century witnessed one of the utmost cruel regimes in terms of violations of human rights and a tormenting transition towards a democratic state-building, aware and appreciates the prominence of respecting human rights. Our bitter experience motivates us today to unconditionally support every initiative and every country which contributes to and works for the advancement and improvement of human rights.
22. How is the critical role of Albania for peace settlement, preservation of human rights in this connotation?
My country has already a principally rich experience in terms of encouraging regional peace and security, human rights and economic development, in the internal and external dimension. Thanks to its geographical position, rich cultural heritage and tolerant spirit, Albania has become a model and promoter of dialogue, respect and religious cohabitation.
I am fully confident that membership in the Human Rights Council is another opportunity for Albania to reveal its capacities and improve the rate of implementation of national and international legislation regarding the protection, respect and promotion of human rights.
This membership is also an expression of our accomplishments in the pitch of freedom and democracy that almost a quarter-century ago, seemed impossible. This inspires us to firmly continue our Euro-Atlantic path towards building a democratic society, as the only alternative for Albania and the region.
23. Albania with such green wonders of wonders, hit by some of the worst floods it has ever seen, compounded by tree clearances and soil erosion in Albania and Europe. Reminds me a question regarding “How is the agricultural investment policy of Country?
Primarily, Turkish Disaster and Emergency Presidency AFAD donated US$ 175.000 in aid for the flooded families in the south of Albania and this again shows the solidarity between Turkey and Albania. I take this opportunity to thank Turkish AFAD for their ongoing support.
There are many reasons to invest in the agriculture sector in Albania: We have fertile soil, a suitable climate and an abundant supply of water, resulting in massive production potential , We produce a range of produce including fruits and vegetables, cooking oils, nuts, herbs and spices, fish and dairy products, The recent development – and future potential – of organic agriculture, The rapid growth of national markets and the accessibility of regional markets • Preferential trade agreements with the EU on the increase in exports • 20,000 ha of agricultural land owned by the government Low labor wages, and a crossroad to EU transportation roots.
İzmir Commodity Exchange (ITB) signed a cooperation protocol agreement with Albanian Agribusiness Council (KASH) to cultivate agricultural projects collectively. Madam Işınsu Kestelli, the chairwoman of the board of ITB stated that Albania and Turkey shall work cooperatively on every field related to agriculture. And “EU projects, information exchange, joint attendance to the exposures and various platforms shall be the major points of this partnership.
The Electronic Platform funded by ITB is due to be signed soon with Albanian Minister of Agriculture, which will increase trading opportunities of Albanian Agriculture products in Turkey.
According KASH, there are 23 agricultural organizations, nearly 2000 agricultural entrepreneurs and more than 10.000 farmers within KASH. They have brought people from different parts of Albania so that they can tell what’s done here when they are back to Albania. So the main point is to introduce Albanian products and proliferate the trade volume between our countries. Turkey is the main market for Albania because that we can get the chance of selling our products to European countries.
I wish to express my sincere appreciation for the kind cooperation of Ambassador Genci Mucaj, during our interview.
H. Cigdem Yorgancioglu
English version edited by: Peter M. Tase
Note: The Republic of Albania supports the independence of Kosovo and calls upon all governments who have not recognized Kosovo’s Independence to do so and acknowledge its independence, such a reality cannot be reversed. The Project of Larger Albania is not Albanian government’s project. The only project of Albanian’s is their aspiration to join the European Union family together with other Balkan nations, including the Republic of Kosovo.
– Ambassador Genci Muçaj, Ambassador of Albania in the Republic of Turkey.