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Documentary: Turkey Uses Islam to Increase its Soft Power in Bosnia

A documentary film produced by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University analyzes how Turkey under President Erdogan’s political Islamist rule uses Islam to increase its soft power in Bosnia and how it is perceived by Bosnian Muslims.
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A short documentary film produced by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University explores Turkey’s influence on Bosnian Islam, focusing on how Islam has been instrumentalized by Turkey to project its soft power.

Entitled “Turkey’s Influence on Bosnian Islam: Neo-Ottomanism Meets Post-Communism”, the film was produced by political analyst and journalist Harun Karcic. It analyzes relations between Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina since the breakup of Yugoslavia, focusing on their evolution in the post-civil war period and the AKP’s rise.

“Over the past two decades, Turkish state and non-state organizations have spent millions of dollars restoring the monuments of the Ottoman Empire including the mosques, bridges, and hammams that have been neglected under communism, destroyed in the 90s wars, or perhaps simply fallen into ruin due to lack of funds,” Karcic says in the film.

He also explained that in addition to restoration projects, Turkey establishes its soft power through schools, scholarships, media institutions, trainings, and others similar means.

The documentary showcased the thoughts of Bosnian and Turkish experts including Managing Editor of FeniksPolitik and journalist at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) Hamdi Firat Buyuk, who specializes in the Balkans, Turkey, and Turkish foreign policy towards Balkan Muslims.

He notes, “political Islam is not a new ideology that came with President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. It links the Ottoman Empire and the Balkans and was a very important part of the Ottoman Empire. Actually, many leading historians call the Ottoman Empire a Balkan Empire, not an Anatolian or Middle Eastern one.”

“If you compare Balkan cities with Anatolian cities you find more Ottoman monuments. Sarajevo is a very good example of this. You can see bridges, mosques, madrasas, and all other sorts of buildings from the Ottoman era. Consequently, Turkey under President Erdogan saw the Balkans as a natural hinterland,” Buyuk explained.

Buyuk also added that Turkey found a great asset from the Ottoman era through which to increase its soft power.

“Ottoman monuments were suffering and were renovated and restored by Turkish aid agencies, TIKA, the Diyanet, and other institutions. It was a great opportunity to show Turkey’s influence,” Buyuk said.

Buyuk also commented that Turkey’s religious influence has been seen as a counter to foreign and extremist religious interpretations.

“When we talk about Turkey’s religious influence and Turkish Islam we are not talking about an alien religious interpretation [to Balkan and Bosnian Muslims]. The majority of Balkan Muslims converted to Islam under Ottoman rule. Balkan Islam and Turkish Islam are very similar if not the same, and differ from Saudi, Salafi, and Iranian Shia versions of Islam,” Buyuk said, concluding:

“When Turkey came [to Bosnia and the Balkans] it did not need to change anything. Turkey only needed to support local Muslims and Islamic institutions via projects, renovations, trainings, and scholarships. Many local Muslim leaders and institutions saw Turkey as a cure to counter alien and foreign religious influence when there was an increase in extremist ideologies across the Balkans following the communist era.”