Greece & Turkey’s Journey January 17, 2011Posted by Yilan in Turkey, Yunanistan.
Tags: Greece, Turkey
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou certainly ruffled a few feathers during his recent trip to Turkey. Still, it is a far cry from bygone days when the two neighbors almost went to war during the Aegean “Imia crisis.” Indeed, I remember some years ago attending panel debates on Turkish-Greek relations that usually amounted to little more than a trading of insults, with each side bragging about who had the strongest military. For participants it was rather exciting, making something of a change from the usual mundane speeches, but for Turkey and Greece such public slanging matches represented a serious state of relations.
Fortunately, nowadays relations have significantly improved and trading insults seems to be a thing of the past. Rather it has been replaced by a more pragmatic approach with constructive rather than destructive criticism. Both countries have demonstrated a strong desire to replace their troubled past with friendship and cooperation, bringing peace to the Aegean and, hopefully, eventually to the whole Eastern Mediterranean region. Changes in the thinking of both countries have resulted in this new approach. While personal friendships between prime ministers and foreign ministers have also aided in making Turkey and Greece much more than friendly foes.
However, this is a journey and the final destination has not yet been reached, with difficulties remaining. But the potential is there because Turks and Greeks are so similar. They are like two sides of the same coin. Still, Papandreou’s visit demonstrated that there are still some gaps to be bridged. His speech made quite an impact, as did the reaction of Turkey’s leadership. Ankara was somewhat taken aback that the Greek prime minister could come as an invited guest and make a number of barbed remarks about Turkey’s EU talks, the Cyprus problem and continuing troubles in the Aegean. Perhaps Ankara believed that because Turkey’s Youth and Sports General Directorate (GSGM) had generously offered to finance the participation of cash-strapped Greece at the 2011 Winter Universiade, Papandreou should make a flowery statement of friendship and gratitude. But as Papandreou said, a true friend is one who does not beat around the bush. They tell you straight what they think in order to help you. Is it not better to have all the problems put on the table, rather than pretending they do not exist? However, the fact that Turkey’s leadership took the remarks on the chin, and did not overreact — as they would almost certainly have done in the past — is strong evidence of the change of attitude that is taking place in the country.
Just because Turkey and Greece are now on better terms does not change the fact that Greece has long-known positions on some crucial issues. No matter how friendly the two prime ministers are, Greece is never going to view Turkey’s presence in Cyprus as anything other than an occupation. Greece, of course, is hardly innocent in the whole Cyprus problem; it had a massive role in the division of the island and, like Turkey and the UK, remains a guarantor state in Cyprus. However, unlike Turkey, Greece is prepared to give up this guarantor status. Also, Greece does not meddle in the domestic politics of the Greek Cypriots. The same cannot be said for Ankara. And why the surprise about Turkey’s membership of the EU not being possible as long as the Cyprus problem persists? This is a well-known fact. Compared to some others in the EU, Greece is a strong supporter of Turkish membership of the EU. Indeed Greece — and Cyprus — can only gain from it. The idea of Turkey remaining outside is a far more terrifying prospect because this could means years more instability in the region with Turkey becoming something of a loose cannon. Anchoring Turkey in the EU is far safer.
Greece also has every right to complain about the continued flights of Turkish fighter planes over the Aegean. Furthermore, while Greece keeps the status of an “external threat to Turkey” and the casus belli (a cause for war) remains over the 12-mile dispute, Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) will not make any changes to its National Security Policy Document, referred to as the “Red Book,” in which the main internal and external threats to Turkey’s security are outlined. It is high time this Aegean situation between two NATO allies come to an end.
Both countries need to go the extra mile to resolve their ongoing difficulties. Greece and Turkey are en route for a blossoming romance but is will take a strong commitment from both sides. However, as the saying goes, truth and tears clear the way to a deep and lasting friendship.