Turkey: origin, evolution and role of TIKA, a fundamental instrument of Ankara’s foreign policy

TIKA Twitter account banner (Credits: CC BY 4.0, TIKA Twitter)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 15 Issue 7
Author: Armando Donninelli

The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) plays a key role in promoting Ankara’s influence and presence in strategic regions through socio-cultural, economic and humanitarian projects.

The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) is a Turkish government department directly dependent on the Prime Minister.[1] In January 1992, the Turkish Ministry of the Foreign Affairs established an international technical agency under its direct control until 1999 when TIKA passed under the direct dependence of the Head of the Government due to its growing role.

TIKA was founded with the specific purpose of operating in the former Soviet space, with various types of initiatives, in order to try to bring together the Turkic-speaking populations of this geographical context. Particularly relevant was the coordination of aid from institutions and organisations based in Turkey.

At the beginning of the 21st century, TIKA had considerably expanded the geographical context in which it operated. In 2001 TIKA operated in over one hundred countries worldwide, with various types of projects but with particular attention to the construction of infrastructures and the development of human resources based on Turkish know-how.

Between 1992 when the Turkish agency began operating, and 2002, when the pro-Islamic Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP party) took power in Turkey, TIKA carried out 2241 projects in the geographical context mentioned above. Since Erdogan’s party rise to power in the Turkish Government, TIKA’s role has considerably grown. Indeed, the Turkish Government’s total budget devoted to TIKA’s activities in the period 2003-2013 was five times higher than the budget allocated in 1992-2002.

TIKA’s promotion of Turkey in Africa

At the beginning of his mandate as Prime Minister of Turkey (2003-2014), Recep Tayyip Erdogan took control of TIKA and paid particular attention to development cooperation with some African countries, particularly in the sub-Sahara such as Ethiopia and Senegal. Parallel to the growing role of this government agency in the development of some regions of Africa, the Turkish political role was also growing in that continent. In 2005 Turkey became an observer in the African Union, while in 2008, the African countries recognised Ankara as a ‘strategic partner’.[2]

Turkey special status among the African countries opened prospects of absolute privilege in relations with African countries. For instance, in August 2008 was organised the first ‘Turkey – Africa Summit’, a five-year summit in which the heads of state and Government take decisive decisions on what has already been outlined in the periodic meetings between foreign ministers and senior officials concerning political and economic relations between Ankara and African countries.[3]

The United Nations appreciated and supported Turkey’s efforts and positive results in promoting the progress of underdeveloped countries. Consequently, in May 2011, the United Nations organised the Fourth UN Conference on Developing Countries in Istanbul.[4]

TIKA and the Balkan Peninsula

Under the AKP management, TIKA tried to strengthen historical and cultural ties between Turkey and the Balkan Peninsula. Due to the past historical link between Turkey and the Balkan Peninsula and the strategic role that this region plays in Ankara’s foreign policy TIKA opened operational offices in all the capitals of the Balkan countries. TIKA’s main tasks in the Balkans are identifying and developing assistance and cooperation economic, social-cultural, and educational programs. In this regard, TIKA concentrated its attention on restoring old Ottoman buildings to regain possession of a cultural heritage inevitably subject to decay.[5]

In this commendable effort, the Turkish authorities have given considerable importance to restoring old Ottoman mosques and establishing new mosques. This strategy allowed Ankara to increase its influence in Islamic worship places in the Balkan Peninsula, particularly in the Quranic interpretation and theological questions.

In some countries of the Balkan peninsula, TIKA is very active in promoting the ‘Turkology Project’ founded in 1999 to encourage the study of the Turkish language and related languages ​​and dialects. Consequently, TIKA supported local universities to launch courses in Turkish language and literature in Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, TIKA has made the most significant commitment within the region. If Ankara was highly active in post-war reconstruction in the past, currently, TIKA focuses its activities in cultural and religious fields.[6] Despite the fact that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a small country in terms of population, the country is the TIKA’s third-largest beneficiary in the world. In this regard, the former head of TIKA Bosnia-Herzegovina, Zulkuf Oruc, underlined that “the mission is to create a future through the reconstruction of history and the past”.[7] By contrast, TIKA intense cultural activities in the Balkan country generated suspicious about a growing threat of neo-Ottoman domination in Bosnia-Herzegovina, considering the constant presence of high-ranking Turkish officials at the inaugurations of cultural and religious structures financed by the TIKA.[8]

TIKA is also hugely active in Serbia. Although the financial funds that the Turkish agency invested in the country were lower than those in Bosnia-Herzegovina, TIKA’s efforts in Serbia covers an extensive scope that includes health, social services, economic development, infrastructures, and the efficiency of the security forces. The extraordinary aspect of TIKA’s activities in Serbia is that the Turkish agency has promoted projects aimed at helping populations in areas with a predominantly Orthodox Christian majority and not just the Muslim-dominated south-western part.

These interventions based on cooperation and managed by the Turkish Government through the TIKA have significantly increased Ankara’s political weight in the Balkan peninsula. In some cases, such as in the context of relations between Turkey and Serbia, these interventions have created a real alliance between these two countries, thus overshadowing what could be reasons for profound disagreement, even rooted in time.

It should be noted that the two geographical contexts mentioned above, namely sub-Saharan Africa and the Balkan Peninsula, are characterised by a notable difference in historical ties with Turkey, scarce in the first case and very strong in the second one. However, in both contexts, thanks to TIKA’s activities, Turkey has reached solid partnerships and relationships with countries in different strategic regions whose countries are looking at Ankara as an international reference.[9]

Tika’s overseas offices (Credits: CC BY 4.0, TIKA)

TIKA’s role in Erdogan and AKP’s foreign policy

Almost 30 years after its foundation, TIKA is a significant reality with over 30 thousand development aid projects in about 170 countries worldwide, even in those with a small Muslim population, such as in Latin America.[10] It is not a coincidence that 90% of TIKA’s activities and projects have been carried out after 2002 since the AKP has gained control of the Turkish Government.

The growing role of the TIKA in the world under AKP management has led to an increasing association of the actions of the humanitarian agency with the policies of the current Turkish President and AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In July 2018, the Israeli National Security Council advised the Government to limit TIKA’s activities in Israel after Erdogan criticised a new law approved by the Israeli Parliament. Israeli security authorities justified this request underlying that TIKA is nothing more than Erdogan’s longa manus.[11]

Israeli accusation against the Turkish agency has found evidence considering the increasing interconnection between TIKA and Erdogan. Undoubtedly, Erdogan has participated more at TIKA’s inaugurations than in the past in the last years. Furthermore, the Turkish President has constantly announced that TIKA will carry out the Turkish Government’s projects and commitments worldwide. Erdogan’s involvement in TIKA’s activities and inaugurations reflects the Turkish President’s attempt to strengthen diplomatic relations with those countries where the Turkish agency operates and, in the case of the Turkic-speaking population or Muslim population, to increase ties with these communities, especially with long-term projects.

In conclusion, it is possible to note that TIKA has amply proved to be a very efficient agency in terms of development cooperation even though its primary goal is to promote Ankara’s direct and indirect influence among the countries where the Turkish agency operates. In this regard, those countries where TIKA has operated or has tried to promote its activities and projects should consider that TIKA promotes strategies focused on favouring socio-economic development and supports Ankara’s foreign policies abroad.

Sources

[1] Origina name in Turkish: Türk İşbirliği ve Koordinasyon Ajansı Başkanlığı – TİKA. Official webpage: https://www.tika.gov.tr/.

[2] Ali Kaya (2021) How Turkey built ties with the African continent over 23 years, TRT World. Retrieved from: https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/how-turkey-built-ties-with-the-african-continent-over-23-years-44625.

[3] Framework of Cooperation adopted on 19 August 2008 at the Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit in İstanbul (2008) Second Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit. Retrieved from: http://afrika.mfa.gov.tr/framework-of-cooperation-adopted-on-19-august-2008-at-the-turkey-africa-cooperation-summit-in-istanbul.en.mfa; Nosmot Gbadamosi (2021) Turkey Deepens Its Footprint in Africa, Foreign Policy. Retrieved from: https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/12/22/turkey-africa-erdogan-partnership-summit/.

[4] Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) 9-13 May 2011, Istanbul (2011) United Nations. Retrieved from: https://www.un.org/en/conferences/least-developed-countries/istanbul2011.

[5] Nuroğlu, Elif. (2013) “TIKA and its Political and Socio-economic Role in the Balkans” in Muhidin Mulalic, Hasan Korkut, Elif Nuroğlu (2013) Turkish-Balkans Relations: The Future Prospects of Cultural, Political and Economic Transformations and Relations,TASAM, pp.281-300.

[6] TIKA carries out 900 projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 24 years (2020), Daily Sabah. Retrieved from: https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/2020/01/09/tika-helps-bosnia-herzegovina-with-900-projects-in-24-years;

[7] Alida Vračić (2014) A political romance: the relation between Bosnia and Turkey, Turkish Policy Quarterly Vol.13(1), pp. 185.

[8] TIKA investirà 200.000 euro per il restauro della Moschea dell’Imperatore a Sarajevo (2019) Osservatorio Italiano. Retrieved from: http://osservatorioitaliano.org/read/164580/bosnia-tika-investira-200000-euro-per-il-restauro-della-moschea-dellimperatore-a-sarajevo; Pınar Aykaç (2021) Multiple neo-Ottomanisms in the construction of Turkey’s (trans)national heritage: TIKA and a dialectic between foreign and domestic policy, Turkish Studies, DOI: 10.1080/14683849.2021.1970543

[9] Kočan, Faris & Arbeiter, Jana. (2019). Is TIKA Turkey’s platform for development cooperation or something more?: Evidence from the Eestern Balkans. International Journal of Euro-Mediterranean Studies, Vol.12, pp. 167-193.

[10] Muhammet Tarhan (2022) ‘Turkiye’s goal in its relations with Latin America is to deepen cooperation’, Anadolu Agency. Retrieved from: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/-turkiye-s-goal-in-its-relations-with-latin-america-is-to-deepen-cooperation-/2480067.

[11] Israel said planning measures to restrict Erdogan’s influence in Jerusalem (2018) Times of Israel. Retrieved from: https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-planning-measures-to-restrict-erdogans-influence-in-jerusalem-report/.


Analysis in media partnership with Notizie Geopolitiche. It is possible to read the original article in Italian at the following link: Turchia. Origine, evoluzione e ruolo della TIKA strumento fondamentale della political esteraDisclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpecialEurasia.