ISTANBUL – In utmost secrecy a delegate from the Kosovo government got into a car after arriving at Istanbul airport. Destination: the Albayrak flag factory. In his suitcase: a dvd with the definitive design of the flag of the republic that would announce its independence in a few days – now last Sunday. That was Wednesday last week, and on Friday the first three thousand flags were on the way to the new country to be.
The contacts between the Turkish flag manufacturer and the Kosovo government date from around the time of the Kosovo elections at the end of 2007. Albayrak produced a fair amount of Albanian flags, a red field with the two-headed eagle on it. In the lead-up to the declaration of independence Albayrak was asked to keep some capacity available, but the exact design would be kept a top secret till the very last moment. Only the amount was known: 30,000, pieces. The declaration of independence was postponed a few times and so was the firm order, but finally last week the presses started running.
Not long after the flags were distributed throughout Kosovo and were unpacked, ironed and hoisted, another courier was on his way, this time from Istanbul to Pristina, the Kosovo capital. In his suitcase: a letter with the official recognition of Kosovo by Turkey. Turkey claims to be the first country to deliver the official letter of recognicion to Pristina. The ties between the two countries have grown historically: when Kosovo was part of the Ottoman empire, the bulk of the Kosovarians converted to Islam and by doing so earned the special protection of the sultan. Later Turks from Anatolia migrated to Kosovo, and this group is now one of the minorities in the country: the six stars on the new flag represent the ethnic groups in the country, one of which are the Turks.
Because of the historical ties and the shared religion many Turks support Kosovo. There’s hardly any fear that the new country will give impetus to Kurdish independence aspirations: Kosovo is unique, the Turks believe. Although from Northern Cyprus – the state on the divided island that is recognised only by Turkey – voices of hope for a broader recognition of NorthernCyprus are heard. No people, so proclaimed the North Cyprus president Talat, can be forced to live under the rule of another people. A statement that the Turkish prime minister Erdogan is unlikely to make, given the aspirations of the Kurdish population in his country.