TURKISH – GREEK RELATIONS REVISITED
(SEYFi TAŞHAN-REŞAT ARIM-OKTAY AKSOY)
Seyfi Taşhan – In recent weeks there has been certain developments in Turkish –Greek relations. This development began with the election of Young Papandreou as the Prime Minister of Greece. He was known to be in favor of good relations with Turkey. He had made friendship with the late Foreign Minister Ismail Cem. In fact what he did was coming to Istanbul after elections where he paid a visit to his tomb. These gestures of friendship on the part of Greece did not fail to create a positive reaction in Turkey. The positive reaction was that the Prime Minister of Turkey wrote a letter to Mr. Papandreou and made a number of suggestions, the contents of which have not yet been disclosed. But it seems that these suggestions were concrete and to the point and that the initial Greek reaction was a positive one. Apparently it offered a new method of dialog between Greece and Turkey, to solve the problems joint efforts were needed and it suggested that Turkey would provide every support for a solution. This was followed by a visit to Athens by the Turkish State Minister in charge EU affairs and Chief Negotiator Mr.Egemen Bağış. He also made very friendly statements while in Athens and everyone hoped that these relations will show a change. But when and how and what changes are to be made remain as a question.
Reşat Arım – Turkey is trying to have good relations with the all its neighbors. Therefore, it is normal that this opportunity was not lost on Turkey, that is to say, election of a new Prime Minister Mr. Papandreou. Of course, we remember that in 1999 when Turkey’s candidate status was accepted at the Helsinki summit of the European Union, Mr. Papandreou, who was the Foreign Minister at the time, came to Ankara and made good speeches saying that he would be willing to support Turkey’s membership in EU. Now, this time, of course we have the Aegean problems and of course the Cyprus issue. These two problems will have to be taken up when the climate will be alright for the two parties.
Oktay Aksoy – It is true that we have declared our intention to have zero problem with all our neighbors, as you have mentioned. It is no surprise that we had also a positive approach to the new Greek government. The earlier Mr. Mitsotakis government was a bit hesitant to further relations with Turkey and they were satisfied with positive developments only in the economic field. But, the issues related with the Aegean and Cyprus remained and we are now approaching the EU summit, where Turkey-Cyprus relations will be considered. Papandreou’s coming to power has given us an opportunity to try to improve relations as he is known in Turkey as someone who would be helping Turkey’s EU bid. But of course, when Turkey’s candidate status was approved in Helsinki in 1999 the governments in power in the EU countries were more social democrat than at present. We have Great Britain and Greece now who can collaborate. And although not a social democrat, the government in Sweden is also supporting Turkey’s accession process and as the term President may be helpful. But we will see how things will develop.
Seyfi Taşhan – Of course, the EU aspect is an important part of the Turkish- Greek relations because if we recall the history, Greece entered into EU to the detriment of Turkey’s relations with EU. And it has blocked Turkey’s relations with EU from 1981 to 1992, really, when EU decided to establish custom’s union with Turkey. However, if we look at the content of the problem, the Aegean, it is simple to say that the Aegean is the problem, as EU did, it is simple to resolve the territorial disputes. It is easy to say that the Cyprus problem can be resolved. For an outsider these are simple issues but for the insiders each of these issues has many dimensions. I believe to isolate Cyprus issue from Turkish- Greek relations is not possible. Because the birth of the Cyprus issue finds itself in Greek nationalism and Turkish reaction to it. So the basic problem to my mind is to prepare the psychological terrain and the mutual confidence. But before the Cyprus question is resolved, do you think it is possible to create this psychological atmosphere for furthering these relations. We remember well that Papandreou and İsmail Cem tried to revive the peace process or understanding or agreement between Greece and Turkey but they failed miserably because of the public opinion resistance to any sacrifice on the part of the Aegean. Actually Aegean requires mutual sacrifice for a solution. Now if we look at the specific problems in the Aegean, they are not easy to resolve. Also the Cyprus question is being negotiated for a long time and still there is no solution. Now how can we create this psychological atmosphere?
Reşat Arım – Of course, it is difficult because the main thing is to have a dialog between Turkey and Greece. To obtain the climate of dialog, it seems that Cyprus is the main impediment. Of course, if we look back to the 1950s, Turkey and Greece had very good relations. Then the Cyprus question came to the fore when United Kingdom wanted to relinguish its sovereignty on the Island. Turkey and Greece had demands on Cyprus and because the climate was right for mutual compromise, the Prime Ministers of Turkey and Greece came together to find a formula whereby an independent state was created. However, that was during Cold War conditions, there was the Non-Aligned Movement, etc. Cyprus kind of went afar from the domain of Turkey and Greece, of course the Greek side had the advantage because of the United Nation Security Council resolution, because the Turks were ousted from the Government in Cyprus. But I believe that two governments had a disadvantage in having a decision on Cyprus.
Seyfi Taşhan – I would like just to add one point. You are absolutely right that Cyprus problem is a sine qua non in relations between Turkey and Greece. However up to now it was Greece’s attitude that Cyprus is an independent state and it has no persuasive power or persuasive role on the Greek Cypriot government for any kind of solution with the Turkish part of Cyprus. So, will it be possible to solve the Cyprus question without Turkey, Greece and both sides of Cyprus and probably also the other guarantor power, the United Kingdom? If there is no four party dialogue and understanding towards a solution, the problem remains. At least these four parties can agree on the fundamentals of a solution, leaving the details between two communities. I do not know if Mr. Papandreou, in spite of his desire to resolve the problems with Turkey, is capable of assuming such a responsibility with Cyprus issue. May I ask you to comment of this?
Oktay Aksoy – What degree of influence he may have on Greek Cypriots is not clear but one thing is definite, both the Greek Cypriot leader, the Turkish Cypriot leader and the Greek Prime Minister are left leaning politicians. So they may find a common ground in that respect and may find some support from other EU leaders. But I am not sure if they will use this influence to find a solution. Greece’s interest in having Turkey as a member of the EU rather than drifting away from Europe may also play a role.
Seyfi Taşhan – Well, you brought an interesting subject. Would the foreign relations of a country be affected by the political leaning of the party in power? S, if we say the Greek Cypriots are socialist, Turkish Cypriots are socialists and the Greeks are socialist, we may be hopeful. But against that, the current Turkish government which seeks most for the solution of the problem is a right wing party. That contradicts, I am sorry to say, your argument to a certain degree. The point is that negotiation stage of Cyprus at the moment seems to be not encouraging so it is also dubious if the two sides can reach an agreement on the substantive issues of sovereignty of the two communities, although they say two states must be formed, but what sort of two states would be accepted? What will be the form of the republic? They say that it would be federal republic but what sort of a federation it will be? So, I believe the Cyprus issue is also, even if we assumed that the two leaders of Cyprus have all the desire to reach a solution, the solution is hampered by the double hat of the Greek Cypriots. While on the one hand they are community, on the other, they are the state of Cyprus. So, this is anomaly certainly affects, it has a great bearing on the outcome of the negotiations. So, that is why I said, will Mr. Papandreou have enough influence on Greek Cypriots? Otherwise, Greek Cypriots may not see an advantage on a solution simply because they are the Republic of Cyprus and that in the eyes of the European Union and in the world, when there is a solution they will be sharing Cyprus with the Turkish Cypriots. So, I do not know what encouragement or what incentive they will have for reaching a solution. That is a realist approach. Certainly they also may have a desire to have a peaceful Cyprus in which both sides will be cooperating toward the welfare of Cyprus, of all the island. So far I do not see the demonstration of such a desire on the part of Greek leadership.
Reşat Arım – To get out of this impasse maybe we have to introduce the concept of conjuncture, in the international system as it evolves, we see that countries are more amenable to solving their problems and on the whole it is the soft power that is commending the actions of the states. Between Turkey and Greece we had many good times for example in the 1930s between Atatürk and Venizelos. To come to a compromise solution on Cyprus, the two countries can make an effort. Also, they may encourage the two sides in Cyprus to make all the effort possible. There is serious discussion of all aspects of the problem under the Good affices Mission of the UN Secretary General. Certainly, it would be a pity to let this opportunity press.