A delegation of 18 senior Congressional staffers sponsored by the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) has completed its visit to the Republic of Macedonia and is currently visiting Turkey. The delegation visit to Macedonia was organized with the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) with a view to educate senior advisors about the current state of political, economic and social affairs of Macedonia and the country’s relationship with the United States and Turkey.
“We set out with the goal of providing participants with a deeper perspective on the region and the crucial importance of this relationship to the US,” said G. Lincoln McCurdy, President of TCA. “Thanks to the very informative sessions with the highest representatives of the Macedonian government and other institutions, we are leaving the country with a wealth of understanding about the challenges faced by this young country, the key role that the United States and Turkey play for Macedonia and the region, as well as the culture and history of the region and the deep bond between the peoples of Turkey and Macedonia. Our delegation saw that Macedonia’s greatest aspiration is to join NATO and the European Union and that the country has become a responsible, reliable and principled partner in advancing the interests of the NATO alliance, already serving side by side with NATO forces, while striving internally to advance the democratic values and principles that these transatlantic institutions embody.”
During their visit to Macedonia, the delegation met with President Gjorge Ivanov, Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki and Defense Minister Zoran Konjanovski. The delegation received a briefing from the US Ambassador to Macedonia, Ambassador Philip T. Reeker and senior U.S. Embassy officials, USAID and Pentagon representatives on the current status of Macedonia and the US-Macedonian relationship and by the Charge d’Affairs of the Turkish Embassy on Turkey-Macedonia relations and the shared historical legacy between the two peoples. The delegation also had a chance to meet with members of the Macedonian Parliament and representatives of prominent non-governmental organizations.
All high-level Macedonian officials emphasized the utmost importance attached by Macedonia to NATO and EU membership and thanked the United States and Turkey for supporting Macedonia on these strategic goals. Both the United States and Turkey have been the most important friend and strategic partner to Macedonia.
They expressed the deep disappointment felt in Macedonian society, across the ethnic and political spectrum, with respect to Greece’s veto of Macedonia’s NATO membership at the 2008 Bucharest Summit, based on Greece’s objections to Macedonia’s name and underscored the real security, democracy and economic deficit this decision has created in Macedonia, in Southeast Europe, and the wider region.
The delegation was received by President Ivanov in the historical lake-side town of Ohrid, where the 2007 NATO Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council Security Forum took place. In his remarks, the Macedonian President underscored the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural history of Southeast Europe and emphasized the importance of the Macedonian model to succeed throughout the Balkans, which he epitomized as “integration without assimilation.” He stressed that the success of this model in Southeast Europe, as well as the inclusion of Macedonia and other Southeast European countries currently aspiring NATO and EU membership, would create the kind of “open space” needed in the region today, which will open societies, open markets and open minds, and solidify a new peaceful environment. As it was noted during the visit, Macedonia is the only nation in Southeast Europe that has demarcated its borders with all its neighbors, and is no longer an importer of security, but an exporter, currently engaged in missions in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Darfur, and Lebanon.
The delegation saw the historical, religious and cultural sites in Skopje, Bitola and Ohrid.A particular highlight was a visit to the museum dedicated to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Bitola (Manastir) at the historical Ottoman Military Academy, where he went to school. The trip to Macedonia was well-publicized in the media having every media outlet in the country reporting about the delegation visit.
”The United Macedonian Diaspora cannot express enough its gratitude to our partner TCA, and to the Congressional staffers for taking time out of their busy schedule to participate on this delegation,” said Metodija A. Koloski, President of UMD. “This is the largest Congressional staff delegation to visit Macedonia in its nation’s history; other Congressional delegations have been to Macedonia, however, we have seen a decline in the last four years. UMD is pleased that these staffers were given the opportunity to experience Macedonia, to learn about the challenges it faces not just domestically, but also internationally, and how important it is that Macedonia remain a peaceful socio-economically stable state with its borders intact. I was honored to lead this delegation alongside Lincoln and our TCA colleagues; I cannot be happier with the group of staffers selected for this trip, they were truly remarkable ambassadors of the United States Congress and people.
This is the fifth TCA-sponsored delegation in 2010. The previous delegation visited Bosnia Herzegovina and Turkey. Turkish scholars from various universities who study Southeast Europe or US-Turkey relations were invited by TCA to join both delegations.