By Aleksandar Pavlevski
Macedonia and Turkey are deepening their military ties through investment and co-operation, nurturing a relationship that allows Turkey to maintain influence in the Balkans while bolstering Macedonia’s ties with a NATO member.
The most recent donation — seven Land Rover lightweight vehicles and a Cobra light armoured vehicle, collectively valued at about $700,000 (530,000 euros) brings Turkey’s investment in the Macedonian military to $18 million (13.6 million euros).
“The equipment will be deployed in units of the Army of Republic of Macedonia, as a significant contribution in strengthening the combat power and mobility,” Fatmir Besimi, Macedonia defense minister, told SETimes.
Turkey has helped train dozens of Macedonia army members since 1998. “Our friendship is an example of how to co-operate in the region,” Besimi said.
Gurol Sokmensuer, Macedonia’s ambassador to Turkey, said the co-operation would continue, with an eye on working toward Macedonia’s membership into NATO.
“The army of the Republic of Macedonia, which successfully participated in some of the activities under the umbrella of the UN peacekeeping force, will further strengthen and for a short time will achieve significant results on the road to full membership in NATO that was long time ago deserved,” Sokmensuer said. Turkey continues to be a major supporter of Macedonia’s admission to NATO.
Macedonia has long aspired toward NATO membership, but its path has been blocked by its dispute with neighbouring Greece over the country’s name. Greece claims that the moniker indicates a claim on its own province of the same name.
“Macedonia is a serious candidate for membership of NATO, where Turkey is a member of a long period,” Shenol Memesh, president of the NGO Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in Bitola, told SETimes.
“An equipped and trained army is the first requirement for membership, and if there was no political interference, by now we would have been under the joint defense umbrella. Thanks to Turkey and a few other states, [the army] stands on its own feet as a small, but well-trained army,” Memesh said.
Turkey supports Macedonia because the country is a geopolitical artery in the region, separating Greece and Serbia. Roughly 100,000 Turks live in Macedonia, and even more Macedonians have relocated to Turkey.
“The fact that Turkey as a NATO member in the Partnership for Peace, in which also the Republic of Macedonia is a member, refers under our name Macedonia, indicates the attitude of Turkey towards our country,” Frosina Remenski, a professor at the Faculty of Security in Skopje, told SETimes.
“Co-operation in the field of defense and security between Turkey and Macedonia dates back a long time, and is based on the economic relationship and connection between people, the Macedonians in Turkey see strong supporter and lobbyist for our membership in NATO,” Remenski said.
“Donations, joint projects in the field of defense and security, training and education of military and technical personnel of our army in Turkey contribute to strengthening cooperation and reforms that should be conducted in the area of defense. Turkey in the decade that follows will be a key factor for security in the Black Sea region,” Remenski said.
Some Turks now living in Macedonia say the co-operation is a comfort.
“Friendship and the relatives ties are the first and main reason for cooperation, and of those links originate further and cultural, educational and above all business ties,” said Kujtim Hamza, who moved to Skopje from Turkey six months ago to open a business selling dried fruits and spices.