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Turkish Airlines (THY) resumes flights to Occupied Thessaloniki after 10 years May 30, 2011

Posted by Yilan in Turkey, Yunanistan.
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Turkey’s rapidly growing national flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) on Friday resumed flights to the occupied city of Thessaloniki in its northwestern neighbor, Greece, after an interval of 10 years.

THY’s Thessaloniki flights were cancelled in 2001 due to economic difficulties the company was facing at the time. While seeing passengers off with flowers at İstanbul Atatürk Airport on the first THY flight to the Macedonian city in 10 years, THY CEO Temel Kotil commented that there is tremendous demand for the route, particularly from transit passengers. After Athens, Thessaloniki is now THY’s second destination in Greece. “We will make İstanbul the most easily accessible city worldwide before 2023,” said Kotil, referring to the centennial of the Republic of Turkey.

Explaining the significance of the flight number given to the İstanbul-Thessaloniki route — TK 1881 — Kotil said Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was born in Thessaloniki in 1881 and it was he who also founded THY almost 80 years ago. “This is something we owe to him. Atatürk founded THY in 1933 and gave it to people as a gift. Now we are making him a star in the sky,” he said.

THY flights to Thessaloniki will take place four times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Flights will depart at 10:00 (GMT +2) from İstanbul and at 12:25 (GMT +2) from Thessaloniki. Until March 31 of next year, THY will offer its passengers a reduced price of 164 euros with all taxes included for a round-trip flight.

Contribution to Turkey-Greece trade

Following the landing of the first THY plane at the Thessaloniki airport, THY Chairman Hamdi Topçu held a press conference together with Greek Regional Development and Competitiveness Alternate Minister Socratis Xenidis, Periphery of Central Macedonia Vice Governor Apostolos Tzitzikostas and Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris, as well as Turkey’s Ambassador to Greece Hasan Göğüş. “These flights will bring the two sides of the Aegean Sea closer,” said Topçu at the conference. He noted that THY had decided to resume flights to Thessaloniki after a decade to further to contribute what he described as growing political, economic and cultural relations between Turkey and Greece. THY’s goal is to carry 10,000 passengers on this route.

Also speaking at the same meeting with Turkish and Greek journalists, Xenidis emphasized that THY’s flights between İstanbul and Thessaloniki will contribute to both trade and tourism between the two neighbors. “That this route has been reopened is vitally important for the economies of the two countries and the improvement of relations between their peoples,” Xenidis said.

Cyprus conflict defies ready solution May 30, 2011

Posted by Yilan in Cyprus, Kibris, Turkey.
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DEMETRIS Christofias, the president of Cyprus, is in every sense an original, if not an exotic, among international statesmen. He is the only national leader in the European Union who is a communist. He is a close friend and supporter of Israel, as indeed he is of Russia.

He is worried about the burden of asylum-seekers on his native land, and thinks it’s unsustainable. He is hugely critical of American foreign policy, but his chief antagonist is Turkey.

He is also a very good friend of former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer, the UN Secretary-General’s special adviser on Cyprus, and full of praise for Australia generally. With about 100,000 Cypriot-Australians, we are host to the largest population, after Britain, of the vast Cypriot diaspora.

What seems to be this bewildering list of contradictions in the Christofias political personality is really just a reflection of the contradictory pressures and exigencies of Cyprus’s own national situation.

A former British colony, Cyprus’s population is divided between ethnic Greeks and ethnic Turks. Since 1974, about 37 per cent of its territory has been controlled by a separatist state calling itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey, which has some 40,000 troops stationed there.

This may seem an obscure ethnic conflict, but it has king-size strategic consequences. Turkey wants to join the European Union. That requires unanimous agreement from all the EU members. It is inconceivable that Greece or Cyprus, both EU members, would ever agree to Turkey’s membership while it is in effect an occupying power in northern Cyprus.

I caught up with the charming Christofias for his only extended interview during a visit to Australia. After elected president in 2008, Christofias made reunification his highest priority; he re-engaged the UN and began meeting with the leaders of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. He remains ambitious that a reunification settlement can be reached before the end of 2012.

“The state of Cyprus will be a bizonal, bicameral, federal state with political equality of the two communities,” he says.

“That does not mean numerical equality, but effective participation of the two communities in the nation’s institutions. It will have a single, indivisible sovereignty, a single citizenship and a single international personality.”

In 2008, the two sides met under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General and Downer. Observers say that the broad outlines of an agreement are there, but the main sticking points are where to put the border, what happens to the properties of Greek Cypriots in northern Cyprus which were seized after 1974, and to what Christofias describes as “Turkish settlers”, that is, mainland Turks who have settled in the north since 1974.

Christofias remains ambitious for a solution, but is soberly realistic: “It’s sad to say we’ve come to a conclusion that Turkey is not ready yet to change her attitude to Cyprus.”

He hopes the Turkish attitude might change after its elections next month, but like a lot of acute observers of international politics he is troubled by trends in Turkey: “There are several contradictions in Turkey in recent years. On the one hand they want to become Europeans. That means reforms, a less decisive role for the military, more democracy. I’m not sure (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erodgan has overcome the decisive role of the Turkish military in the Cyprus problem. The military follows an expansionist attitude towards Cyprus.

“At the same time Turkey is following a policy of intense economic development and her influence in the region is upgraded as a result. It has a theory that Turkey can become a model for other Muslim countries.

“But this creates a certain arrogance on the part of Turkish leaders. On the one hand they want to become part of the EU, but they also look to the Middle East and North Africa and want to become the leading country of that region. One contradicts the other. Sometimes they say we don’t need the EU — Turkey is a superpower.

“Another contradiction is that they stick to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. As you know, Hamas follows an extreme policy towards Israel.”

I ask Christofias whether he is concerned with a creeping Islamisation of Turkish politics and society. He says he is not sure. “People could suspect that behind their hands they have such a big idea. Everyone is anxious about which direction Turkey will go.”

In Cyprus, Downer has sometimes been a subject of controversy. Neither side finds his approach wholly congenial, which is almost certainly an indication that he is doing his job, as both sides must make painful compromises to reach a solution.

Christofias would not answer directly whether he thought Downer was doing a good job, instead saying: “I have to be very delicate. Downer is a facilitator, not a mediator. I have often very friendly discussions with him. There are forces which criticise Downer and I don’t agree with those forces. Downer’s job is to help us and our job is to help him help us.”

Clear on that, then?

On Australia, Christofias has no such ambivalence: “We are very grateful to Australia. In all our difficult times, Australia always followed the principle of supporting our independence. For many years it has contributed to peacekeeping in Cyprus,”

Christofias is certainly the most agreeable communist I have ever met. He explains his communism by saying that the ex-communist states of Eastern Europe didn’t do a very good job. He approaches issues of economic justice by concentrating on the welfare of the lower and middle classes.

Above all, he says, his is a pragmatic approach, concentrating on reunification of Cyprus and the immediate practical problems his society faces, leaving larger theoretical questions of dogma for another day. If only all the world’s communists were like him.

Turkey may become an oil, gas medidator, says former Armenian PM May 30, 2011

Posted by Yilan in Armenia, Turkey.
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Sarkisian suggested Turkey and India partner with each other on the vast Arctic resources.
Sarkisian suggested Turkey and India partner with each other on the vast Arctic resources.

Turkey could play a significant role in mediating between energy dependent Europe and oil- and gas-rich Russia and Iran, said Aram Sarkisian, a former Armenian prime minister and energy professional today.

“Without Russia and Iran, Caspian oil and gas could not be transferred to Europe,” Sarkisian told the Hürriyet Daily News over the weekend.

“The pipeline projects to bring the vast resources of the Caspian region to Europe through Turkey are still in question,” said Sarkisian, who is currently the president of Euroasia House, a London-based institution involved in research and policy development on Russian oil and gas. “Conditions have changed rapidly in the Caspian region including Turkey after the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude oil pipeline was stretched from Azerbaijan to Turkey,” he said, noting that delays in the implementation of alternative pipelines to Europe might end up with irrecoverable losses.

He was speaking on the sidelines of “Global Energy Outlook” conference organized by the Istanbul International Energy and Climate Center at Sabancı University.

Urge for Nabucco

“Turkey is the only country that could bring Iran and Russia together again to open negotiations for energy security in the region,” he said. “Russia has always been seen as a mistrusted neighbor, due to historical constraints. Armenia’s confidence in Russia may be established by Turkey as it became one of the Russia’s strongest energy partners.”

According to him, as the energy demand rises in Europe, the long-term discussions over the details of the route of the Nabucco plan, the gas bridge project from Asia to Europe, should come to an end.

The pipeline to connect the world’s richest gas regions – the Caspian region, Middle East and Egypt – to the European consumer markets, might “change its route to China due to rising demand in Chinese market,” he said. “I think the European Union has no energy policy,” he said. “The vast sources of Caspian oil and gas might go to the Chinese market eventually if Europe keeps on waiting, delaying the projects.”

Emphasizing Turkey’s close ties with Russia, the former Armenian prime minister said the trust harmed by the disagreement resulted in supply disruptions in many European nations, with complete cutoffs of their gas supplies transported through Ukraine from Russia in 2009 “could be restored by Turkey.” In order to have sustainable energy security in the region, “we all have to trust in each other in the region,” Sarkisian told the Daily News.

Arctic resources

Moreover, Sarkisian suggested Turkey and India partner with each other on the vast Arctic resources. “Turkey and India, as emerging economies, should have a say on the Arctic oil and gas resources,” said Sarkisian.

Total Arctic resources are estimated to be nearly 90 billion barrels of oil, 1.67 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Emphasizing the importance of the vast oil and gas resources in Iran, Sarkisian said, “Being a European country both economically and culturally, Turkey can mediate between Iran and the European Union to make use of the vast resources there.” Without the approval of Iran, Caspian resources could never be fully developed, according to Sarkisian. “Everyone waits for the change in the Iran, but the change will come once the EU starts opening its doors to relations with Iran.”

Wedding in Galičnik, a Macedonian Treasure May 30, 2011

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia.
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One of the most heart-moving celebrations in Macedonia, and also one that should be atop of your list of reasons to visit this beautiful country, is the Galičnik Wedding (Galička Svadba), a touristic event, designed to reenact the traditional customs of the region, and to preserve the original folk songs, horas and the Galičnik peasant costume.

This event alone makes the village of Galičnik an attractive destination this summer. Make sure you plan your vacation around St. Peter’s Day (July 12) – this is when the famous Galičnik Wedding is celebrated. The difficult part is finding accommodation, which in Galičnik is only available in a few village houses. However, the nearby ski center Mavrovo (17km) has a few hotels and apartments. There’s no camping in the region, and very few people speak English.

Galička Svadba Galička Svadba, courtesy Reuters

Some of the customs reenacted by the Galičnik Wedding include the mother-in-law’s hora, the decorating of the flag, escorting of the flag from the broom’s house, shaving of the broom, baking of the bread, invitation of the dead and many others.

Decorating the flagDecorating the flag – a traditional starting tradition of the Galička svadba, courtesy village of Galichnik

The escort of the flag, from the broom's house.The escort of the flag, from the broom’s house, – courtesy village of Galičnik.

Aside well-preserved traditions, Galičnik also has well preserved traditional architecture, and other authentic touristic attractions, such as the Church of St.Peter and Paul, local amphitheater and nature preserve.


Turkey’s EU mission a source of inspiration May 29, 2011

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Turkey.
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As the wave of uprisings sweep over Middle East and Northern Africa, Turkey’s democratisation process coupled with its socio-economic transformation particularly in the last one decade, has been attracting extensive attention. Turkey emerged as a ‘source of inspiration’ to the pro-change groups of the region.

Historical ties with the countries of the region dating back to the Ottoman era contribute to Turkey’s popularity. Yet, the source of inspiration is rather about what Turkey symbolises today — that is, a strong regional actor with major socio-economic transformation backed up with democratic development.

The firm anchoring of Turkey within international structures has definitely strengthened the internal dynamics of the country. The orientation of Turkey in such organisations acted as a strong stimulus of the consolidation of democracy. Particularly in the last decade, Turkey has taken bold steps on freedom of expression, freedom of the press, privacy of individual life, freedom of religion, freedom of association. Death penalty has been abolished. Civilian-military relations have been normalised. Turkey of today has become a ‘beacon of democracy’ for those people who are trying to overthrow authoritarian regimes in their homeland.

On the economic front, the remarkable growth performance starting from 2002, as a result of sound macroeconomic policies and comprehensive structural reforms, made Turkey a centre of attraction for foreign investment.

The sixth largest economy in Europe and the 16th largest in the world, Turkey now has per capita income higher than several EU countries. Turkish economy is Europe’s fastest growing sizeable economy.

The economic success of the recent years facilitated the socio-economic transformation of the country by improving the living standards of Turkish citizens.

In the last 10 years, the number of hospitals, schools and highways has tripled.

The EU accession process has definitely been the driving force of the socio-economic transformation. Observing Turkey’s amazing socio-economic change, people of the region pose the question: “We have historical, cultural, religious similarities with Turks; why cannot we have a similar life-style, why cannot we have similar opportunities?” This mere question reflects the disappointment of the people explaining the protests at the streets of Middle East.

Turkey’s active foreign policy of the recent years made this democratic and economic source of inspiration more visible for the countries of the region.

Turkey is the only country that can hold the chair of the Organisation of Islamic Conference and at the very same time pursue membership negotiations with the European Union. Turkey has been following a proactive foreign policy stretching from the Balkans to the Middle East and the Caucasus. Turkey’s ‘zero-problem, limitless trade’ policy with the countries of the wider region created a haven of stability. It has been a mediator between parties to resolve long-lasting problems of the region.

During the uprisings in the countries of the region, Prime Minister Erdogan was one of the first leaders in the world to urge the regimes to heed the outcry of the streets. Today, Prime Minister Erdogan’s reputation is stronger than ever in the wider region from Morocco to Afghanistan, from Egypt to Palestine.

Against this backdrop, the Arab transition brings to forefront once more the importance of the integration between Turkey and the European Union. The people, media, and governments of the Middle Eastern countries are carefully following Turkey’s EU vocation.

It is no surprise to come across a Moroccan taxi-driver in New-York or an Egyptian waiter in London asking whether Turkey will be a member of the EU someday. Turkey’s accession to the EU will send a positive signal to the Arab people in search of a beacon of democracy and prosperity.

Moreover, millions of people that somehow feel marginalised by Western structures for centuries have an interest in this process.

In the Muslim world, the double standards Turkey has been facing raises questions on whether the EU is really a set of values or simply a narrow interpretation of a ‘Christian Europe’.

It brings about the risk of sending negative messages to the reformist movements of the region and the questioning of the sincerity of the fundamental values of the EU.

Alienating Turkey from the EU track because of political short-sightedness of some member states will not only discourage millions of people who see Turkey as a ‘beacon of democracy’ and ‘source of inspiration’ for their own development and democratisation, but will also damage the credibility of the Union that aspires to be a normative power embracing and promoting universal values of democracy, cultural diversity and pluralism.

It is for the EU to decide whether to become a genuine global power or not.