President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who made 14 official visits last year despite the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to start his first foreign trip of 2022 on Sunday as he pays an official visit to Albania, where he is to meet Albanian Prime Minister Ed Rama.
The president will deliver a speech in the Albanian Parliament and is also expected to inaugurate the Ethem Bey Mosque, which was restored by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).
Erdoğan will also inaugurate the Turkish-built apartment complexes in the Lake province, which has seen major devastation following the 6.3 magnitude earthquake in late 2019 that killed 51, injured more than 900 and displaced nearly 17,000 people.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held in December 2020 for the construction of 522 residences by the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKI) in the Albanian town of Lac. Residences will be allocated to people who lost their homes during two earthquakes in September and November 2019.
“They will be a new symbol of Turkish-Albanian friendship,” Erdoğan said via video link at the ceremony in Albania, which was attended in person by Minister of Environment and Urban Development Murat Kurum and Prime Minister Albanian Rama.
The project, which cost around 42 million euros ($47 million), also includes 37 commercial units and parking for 375 vehicles.
Praising the housing project, Mechan Marra, a 67-year-old Albanian citizen, said that even people who cannot afford to buy a house here are happy with it.
“Even Tirana doesn’t have a neighborhood like this… It couldn’t have been better,” Marra said, adding that Rama and Erdoğan kept their promise.
Nikoll Chupi, a 57-year-old resident, also said he was pleased with the Turkish government’s contributions.
“We are extremely happy with the Turkish government and Erdoğan’s contributions…As a family, we are beyond grateful,” Chupi said.
Calling the new neighborhood “fantastic”, resident Mark Thanaj also said he was happy and thanked Erdoğan for his support.
The magnitude 6.3 earthquake of November 2019 was preceded by a lesser magnitude earthquake in September. The town of Lac was among the hardest hit areas, where most houses were heavily damaged.
International aid has poured in for the country, which last experienced such a large earthquake in 1979. Turkey hosted a donor conference for assistance in December 2019. It also sent a plane carrying search and rescue teams as well as emergency humanitarian aid such as food, hygiene kits, tents and blankets in the aftermath of the disaster. Further aid was then sent by the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay), Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and TIKA.
Erdoğan said at the ceremony that Turkey was mobilized to help Albania, “a close friend and partner of Turkey in the Balkans”.
“We see the joy of the Albanian people as our joy and their sorrow as our sorrow,” he said.
“We hope to complete the construction and hand over the new residences to our brothers and sisters who lost their homes in the earthquake. I believe that under the leadership of my friend Edi Rama, we will soon completely erase the traces of this disaster,” Erdoğan said.
Panel held in Tirana
The Communications Directorate of the Turkish Presidency organized a panel last Friday in Tirana on “Peace, Stability and Development in the Balkans: Relations between Turkey and Albania”.
The panel aimed to take the relations between the two countries, which have gained momentum recently, to a higher level and assess opportunities for cooperation.
Topics included potential areas of cooperation between the two countries, such as the fight against terrorism, developments in the Balkans, Turkey’s policy in the Balkans, economic cooperation and the contribution of the two countries to stability in the Balkans.
Daily Sabah Editorial Coordinator and TRT Board Member Meryem Ilayda Atlas Çetin moderated the panel in which Lindita Latifi Xhanari, Director of the Center for Balkan Studies at New York University Tirana, Professor Istanbul Ticaret University Associate Hasan Basri Yalçın, Haliç Aylin University Associate Professor Ünver Noi and Albanian Ambassador Genti Gazheli participated as speakers.
Last year, Turkey and Albania signed an agreement to upgrade bilateral relations to the level of a strategic partnership.
Speaking later at a joint press conference with Albanian Prime Minister Rama following meetings in the capital Ankara, President Erdoğan underlined the historical ties between the two countries.
“We plan to increase investment in infrastructure and tourism in Albania. We want to take our economic cooperation to a new dimension,” Erdoğan said.
The Turkey-Albania Fier Regional Hospital, built by Turkey, was inaugurated last April. Construction of the hospital began a year ago in January, right after Rama’s visit to Turkey, following Erdoğan’s promise.
According to the agreement signed by Turkish and Albanian officials on February 2, 2021, Turkey promised to build a 150-bed hospital, donate medical equipment, materials and furniture, and provide counseling through the intermediary of the Turkish Ministry of Health.