Türkiye is an integral component of the Balkans, while the Balkans are a crucial area of interest for Türkiye. Türkiye's perception of the Balkans is influenced by their shared history and culture. In particular, throughout the past two decades, Türkiye has endeavoured to foster closer and friendlier relations with the Balkan states. This approach places Albania at its centre. Türkiye considers Albania to be both a natural ally and a friend. Türkiye believes that a rise in Albania's prosperity and stability will contribute to peace and tranquillity in the entire region. In this regard, Türkiye has always supported the development and security of friendly and brotherly Albania with utmost sincerity and is committed to continuing its support.
As a result of this will, Albania has become one of the countries in the Balkans where Türkiye's ties are the most stable and favourable. In line with the Turkish foreign policy principle of "high-level political dialogue," relations with Albania diversify and expand yearly.
The level of social, cultural, and economic cooperation between our countries increases every year. The agreements signed during Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama's visit to Türkiye on January 6, 2021, marked a fresh and momentous starting point. A Joint Declaration on establishing a High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, which had been on the agenda for years, was signed between Türkiye and Albania as a result of this visit, elevating their relations to the level of strategic partnership.
In addition, a protocol on the restoration of the Kurşunlu Mosque, one of the Ottoman-era structures in Shkodra, by the Directorate General of Foundations, and a cooperation agreement between the education ministers of the two countries were signed. This cooperation agreement allows for the selection of Turkish language courses in Albania and Albanian language courses in Türkiye, as well as special education, educational technologies, scholarships, and teacher exchange programmes. We view the current situation as an excellent opportunity to strengthen the political, economic, and cultural ties between the two countries.
In 2021, Türkiye's foreign trade with eleven Balkan countries increased by 37 per cent compared to the previous year, despite the fact that the world economy was facing a challenging period due to the pandemic. In the coming period, we anticipate an exponential expansion of commercial relations.
The current volume of bilateral trade between Türkiye and Albania is approximately $700 million. Our primary objective is to increase it to around $1 billion as quickly as possible.
Türkiye's investments in Albania, which include contracting services, exceed $3.5 billion. The Free Trade Agreement, which has been in effect since 2008, has made a significant contribution to the development of trade relations and the achievement of these figures. Nearly 600 registered Turkish businesses operate in Albania, contributing to production and employing approximately 15,000 individuals. Türkiye is one of the largest foreign investors in Albania based on these numbers.
Beyond trade, the humanitarian aspect of our bilateral relations garners particular attention. As a result of the pandemic, health diplomacy and health investments have given a fresh impetus to the relationship between the two countries. Despite the fact that the COVID-19 virus adversely impacted reciprocal trade and tourism last year, Türkiye provided medical equipment and vaccines to 157 countries. The "Türkiye-Albania Fier Friendship Hospital," with 150 beds, six operating theatres, and six polyclinics, was constructed in Albania in 68 days for a total cost of €70 million and inaugurated on April 21, 2021.
Türkiye was one of the first nations to offer assistance to friendly Albania in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Albania on November 26, 2019 with a magnitude of 6.4, killing more than 50 people, injuring more than 3,000 others, and causing infrastructure damage to 11 municipalities. Search and rescue teams were sent immediately to rescue Albanian citizens from the wreckage. More than 500 houses were built by the Housing Development Administration (TOK) in Laç, Albania, for earthquake-affected families in order to heal the wounds of the earthquake. On January 17, 2022, the newly built houses will be delivered.
To strengthen our cultural and historical ties, various official Turkish institutions continue their operations in Albania.
TIKA has carried out 546 projects and activities in Albania since 1996. Primarily, it supports the restoration of Albania's numerous historical sites. It also provides financial assistance for the improvement of agriculture, animal husbandry, health, education, and municipal services, which will contribute to Türkiye and Albania's cooperation.
Under the brand name "Türkiye Scholarships," the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) offers scholarships to Balkan students studying in Türkiye. In 2021, the Türkiye Scholarships programme received 165,511 applications from 178 countries. Currently, there are 15,000 students from 170 countries studying in Türkiye. Students from Albania benefit greatly from these scholarships and continue their studies in Türkiye.
The Yunus Emre Institute established its first office in Sarajevo and quickly expanded throughout the Balkans. In Albania, the Institute has two offices: Shkoder and Tirana. Our Albanian brothers and sisters who want to learn Turkish and learn more about Turkish culture and art will find a wealth of assistance in these offices.
Türkiye deems it a duty to contribute to the education services in Albania. The Turkish Maarif Foundation, which has 416 educational institutions and over 50 thousand students around the world, operates eight schools in Albania. In the future, we plan to grow the number of schools even further.
In addition to all these commercial and humanitarian elements, Türkiye and Albania also exhibit an important example of cooperation in the field of security. Albania is the first country to purchase an anti-drone system from a Turkish company, and the Albanian Parliament and Ministry of Defence announced that they approved an additional budget of $ 9.7 million (8.2 million euros) for the supply of Turkish UAVs and UCAVs.
Concerning security-related issues such as terrorism, human trafficking, and drug trafficking, the level of contact between the two countries has also increased. In addition, the relevant security forces and interior ministries cooperate as necessary in the fight against cyber and digital crimes.
In bilateral relations, Türkiye consistently raises the issue of the joint fight against the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), which is still active in Albania. Consultations are being held with the relevant Albanian authorities in order to restrict this terrorist organization's activity in Albania and hand over its members to Türkiye. The Turkish people are upset by the fact that a treacherous organisation that attempted a coup in Türkiye is operating in Albania. This terrorist organisation also poses a threat of similar actions in Albania.
Taking into consideration all of this, I can state that the friendly relations between Türkiye and Albania are at their most fruitful period in political, economic and social fields. Given that Türkiye is Albania's most significant strategic partner in the region and wider geography, there are numerous opportunities for the two countries' relations to develop. Türkiye and Albania should cooperate more in a variety of fields, including tourism, education, defence, digitalisation, food, agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, water, and fisheries.
In addition to its bilateral relationship with Albania, Türkiye values Albania's presence in NATO and supports the recently halted EU membership application process. In addition, Türkiye holds the position of one of Albania's closest friends internationally. I hope that Türkiye and Albania will pass on to future generations a stronger friendship and collaboration based on the win-win principle, and that this cooperation will result in brighter days.