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Greece’s Syriza starts afresh with Turkey February 17, 2015

Posted by Yilan in Turkey, Yunanistan.
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Greece’s Syriza starts afresh with Turkey

Alexis Tsipras, SYRIZA party leader and winner of the Greek parliamentary elections, signs papers appointing him the first leftist prime minister. (Photo: Reuters)

Following the left-wing Syriza party’s election victory on Sunday under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras, the new coalition government is not expected to make any radical policy changes in Greek-Turkish relations and is likely to follow the same policies on Cyprus and the Aegean, while continuing to support Turkey’s European Union membership.

Only short two parliamentarians to form a majority government, 40-year-old Tsipras swiftly struck a deal on Monday with the Independent Greeks party — a small right-wing party that is also anti-austerity — to form a government.

The success of a left-wing party like Syriza means a positive change for the Turkish minority in Western Thrace as well. Tsipras’ party is known for its moderate approach towards the Turkish minority and three members of the Turkish minority community in Western Thrace have been elected to the Greek parliament under Syriza.

Two of the parliamentarians of Turkish origin, Mustafa Mustafa and Ayan Karayusuf, have won in Komotini; meanwhile, Hüseyin Zeybek won in the Xanthi province.

Another positive expectation is that of no change in Greece’s support for Turkey’s EU membership.

In the first comments on the strong win for the leftist Syriza party in the elections, Turkey said on Monday that it respects the choice of the Greek people and that it was ready to work with any party that comes to power, especially on the Cyprus problem and tensions in the Aegean. “Everybody should show respect. We certainly respect the decision of the Greek people. We are ready to work with any government elected to power,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters at a joint news conference with his Hungarian counterpart after talks in Ankara.

The foreign minister said Turkey wants to restart reunification talks in Cyprus and hydrocarbon exploration in the eastern Mediterranean in a manner that protects the rights of Turkish Cypriots. “Greece has an important role to play in these matters. We are willing to work with Greece in both restarting the Cyprus talks and easing existing tensions,” he said, adding: “Of course, we want to maintain contact with Greece. We would like to continue exploratory talks on reducing tensions in the Aegean and resolving existing problems.”

Turkey and Greece are at odds over the fate of Cyprus and territorial rights in the Aegean. UN-backed reunification talks between Turkish and Greek communities of Cyprus came to a halt in October when the Greek Cypriot side announced that it had suspended the talks in protest of Turkey’s plan to search for oil and gas in waters where the Greek Cypriot administration had already licensed drilling.

The two neighbors have also been holding talks on how to resolve their disputes regarding their territorial rights in the Aegean.

Despite the Cyprus and Aegean disputes, however, Ankara and Athens maintain good relations, and Greece is a supporter of Turkey’s bid to join the EU. Çavuşoğlu said Greek governments have traditionally been supportive of, or at least not opposed to, Turkey’s accession into the EU and that Turkey expected the new Greek government to support or at least not obstruct the Turkish bid.

Çavuşoğlu further stated that the Turkish delegation had a “very productive” meeting with Tsipras during a visit by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to Greece in December, in which the two sides discussed bilateral relations, the situation in Europe and the Cyprus issue.

No radical policy changes in short term


Thanos Dokos, the director-general of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), said that he does not expect any significant changes in Greece-Turkey relations under Syriza.

“They will follow roughly the same policy on Cyprus and the Aegean. Also, the emphasis will be on their domestic agenda, as well as relations with Greece’s European partners, not foreign policy issues,” Dokos told Today’s Zaman on Monday.

“Therefore, it is unlikely that they will make any radical policy changes during the next few months — with the possible exception of the continued application of European sanctions against Russia,” he added.

Dokos also stated that there is a tendency inside Syriza to implement some positive changes regarding the Muslim minority in Western Thrace, such as enabling the collective self-determination of minority groups.

“However, such tendencies may be offset by the strong conservative/nationalistic positions of their coalition partners, the Independent Greeks,” said Dokos.

Many political circles in Greece stress the importance of the person to be picked for the position of foreign minister in the new Greek government. One of the names who being considered for this position is Foreign Ministry adviser Nikos Kotzias, who is known to be critical of Turkey.

Mustafa Mustafa, a parliamentarian of Turkish origin who was elected under Syriza on Sunday, told Today’s Zaman that Syriza’s victory means the policies followed by the New Democrats and Pasot parties in past years have collapsed.

“There are many issues in the country waiting to be resolved, and the former ruling parties have exploited issues such as the minority issue in their election campaign and not honored their promises after coming to office. On top of that we have experienced an economic crisis, and in the end our community supported Syriza because Syriza is a party which openly supports human rights, democracy, equality and social justice,” Mustafa told Today’s Zaman in a phone interview on Monday.

Mustafa said that there have been some positive developments in Turkey-Greece relations after the troubled period in the late ’90s and that, with Syriza coming to power, this positive trend will continue.

“We are a party that seeks to have a positive and consistent relationship with its neighbors based on international law, mutual respect … . And as a Turkish minority community in Greece, our expectation is that the relationship between Turkey and Greece will improve with this new government,” said Mustafa.

Mustafa said he expects his party will succeed on this difficult road ahead. “I send my great respect, love and friendship to Turkish people,” he added.

In a press statement on Monday, the head of the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF), Halit Habipoğlu, said: “We start afresh in our country Greece. People said no to the politicians representing the former order. Greece voted for change in Sunday’s election. This is not a change in social and economic areas. Greece will be rebuilt. We hope to enjoy an environment in the country in which we all enjoy freedom of expression.”

He also stressed that the Turkish minority wants more rights and fair treatment from the new government based on the principles of equal rights and democracy.

Cenk Sidar — the founder of Sidar Global Advisors (SGA), a Washington-based consulting firm — stressed that Turkish opposition parties, including leftist parties, should observe the example of Greece after the victory of the left-wing Syriza party.

In his column on the Turkish web portal Diken, Sidar said a young and dynamic team with a clear message would have a chance to win against a strong ruling party in Turkey, as happened in Greece.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Adana deputy Faruk Loğoğlu said the election victory for Syriza is a positive development for Greece and that it will subsequently have a positive effect on Turkey as well.

Speaking to Today’s Zaman, Loğoğlu said: “But in the short run, the new steps and reforms the new Greek government will follow are not likely to be reflected in bilateral relations.”

Loğoğlu said he doesn’t expect a significant change regarding the Aegean continental shelf issue or the ethnically divided island of Cyprus. He stressed that all the parties in Greece see Cyprus as part of the Hellenic world.

Veteran diplomat Loğoğlu also said that the Turkish minority in Western Thrace will be affected positively by this change, as left-wing parties like Syriza have a positive approach to minorities.

He said there may be some positive changes such as expanded acceptance of the use of the Turkish language, the appointment of muftis and the election of members of the Turkish minority to office.

With regards to the potential problems between Greece and the EU on austerity issues, Loğoğlu said the EU and Greece have the capacity to overcome them.

“The EU will find a way out of its problems with Greece. There were other crises in the EU before, including eurozone issues, and the EU was able to overcome these problems,” Loğoğlu said.

Are Greeks returning to Turkey? May 23, 2014

Posted by Yilan in Turkey, Yunanistan.
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                                                                                                       The Turkish island of Bozcaada is known for its vineyards, pictured here Sept. 4, 2013.

The Turkish media reported earlier this month that four Greek families had decided to leave Greece and (re)settle on the island of Gokceada, in Turkey’s northern Aegean region, encouraged by the reopening of a Greek primary school there. What was reported as a “small” story is actually of great significance given Turkey’s deep-rooted hostile policies toward its minorities.

Summary Ankara’s softening minority policies have encouraged several Greek families to return to their native lands in Turkey, but a genuine reconciliation requires farther-reaching steps.
Author Orhan Kemal Cengiz Posted May 20, 2014

The two islands mentioned in the reports — Gokceada and Bozcaada, or Imbros and Tenedos in Greek — had overwhelmingly Greek populations throughout their history until the 1960s, when Turkey’s policies drastically changed their demography. The number of ethnic Greeks has since dwindled to several hundred, while the number of Turks shot up to the tens of thousands.

Over the decades, Turkey’s ethnic Greeks became scapegoats whenever the Turkish minorities in Cyprus or Greece suffered oppression or Turkey’s relations with Greece were strained. Populated heavily with Greeks, Gokceada and Bozcaada bore the brunt of Turkey’s antagonistic attitudes vis-à-vis its ethnic Greek citizens. In 2008, European Parliament rapporteur Andreas Gross penned a comprehensive report on the two islands’ historical and cultural fabric and detailed the plight of their former Greek inhabitants. One of the most striking sections documents how the Greeks were forced to leave.

Gross wrote that the Greek islanders’ fate took a turn for the worse following the 1960 military coup in Turkey. The Greek schools on the islands were closed in 1964 amid Greek-Turkish ethnic strife in Cyprus, and the Greeks’ farmland was largely expropriated. The establishment of an “open prison” (agricultural prison) on Gokceada and the criminal acts the inmates committed against the Greek islanders drove many to emigrate. Gross said authorities failed to effectively intervene, but documents that emerged in later years indicate that criminal acts were in fact part of deliberate state policy.

For instance, the judicial probe into the Sledgehammer coup plot against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that resulted in the conviction of hundreds of soldiers last year turned up audio recordings of military meetings, including information on how the Turkish army targeted the islands. In one 2003 recording, for instance, a colonel is heard making the following comments: “First, we sent a gendarme commando unit to Gokceada to force the Greeks there to emigrate. We established an open prison there. This resulted in a significant wave of emigration. I guess state institutions did certain things step by step [through] the open prison there, certain things involving the cultivation of land and so on. No doubt this created certain issues. All those things would have been impossible today, but the state of Turkish-Greek relations at the time forced them to do it in response to the practices [against Turks in Greece’s region of] western Trace.”

In the recording, the officer speaking, Col. Bulent Tuncay, head of the 1st Army’s Planning and Operations Department, is telling his colleagues that the acts committed against the Greeks were actual “state policy.” Gross asserted that the closure of Greek-language schools in 1964 was the primary factor that drove the Greek islanders to leave. In light of this background, the reopening of a Greek school in Gokceada after five decades, an insignificant development in itself, represents an important sign of change in a fundamental policy.

Another important sign emerged on Dec. 13, 2013, when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with former Greek inhabitants of Gokceada during a visit to Athens. Paris Asanakis, head of the Imbros Association and a meeting participant, said Davutoglu extended an invitation to the 25,000 Gokceada Greeks scattered around the world to apply to regain their Turkish citizenship. Davutoglu’s visit and the drive to reopen Greek schools in Gokceada appears to have warmed Greek emigrants to the idea of returning to their native islands.

In a May 9 article, Taraf‘s Sumeyra Tansel stated, “Following the reopening of Gokceada’s Greek primary school after 49 years last year, the Greek secondary and high schools are also scheduled to reopen. The old school building, currently a property of the Canakkale Special Provincial Administration, and a kindergarten, built in 1964 but never put to use as the schools were shut down the same year, will be renovated and inaugurated as a secondary school and a high school. In addition, the hostel, which used to serve as teachers’ lodgings before being transferred to the Special Provincial Administration, has already been returned to its former owners. It will again house Greek teachers. With the reopening of the schools after five decades, former inhabitants are beginning to return from Greece. The first four families are on their way.”

In an April 17 interview with Zaman, Stelyo Pulados, deputy chairman of the Imbros Association, noted that the reopening of the island’s primary school and the economic crisis in Greece would encourage those who have wished to return. Speculation has been rife that not only the former islanders but the Greeks of Istanbul as well could return to Turkey. In 2012, the Greek journalist Alexandros Massavetas, author of the book “Going Back to Constantinople/Istanbul: A City of Absences,” sparked debate with an appeal to the children of Greek emigrants to return to Istanbul. In remarks to the Turkish press, Massavetas argued, “The Turkish people have come to consider the exodus of Greeks as a loss for Istanbul.”

Not all members of Turkey’s Greek minority, however, agree with Massavetas. Ethnic Greek journalist and Istanbul native Mihail Vasiliadis, for instance, argues that the “hate speech” targeting Greeks in Turkey today must first come to an end before a return could become possible.

As I have noted in previous articles for Al-Monitor, the AKP government’s policy vis-à-vis non-Muslim minorities signals a break from the Kemalist militarist state tradition, but a comprehensive overhaul is yet to take place. It would be premature to say that Turkey has adopted policies that embrace non-Muslims and encourage their mass return. For instance, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan often refers to Turkey’s various ethnic groups to emphasize the country’s heterogeneous fabric, but his list remains limited to such Muslim communities as Arabs, Circassians, Kurds and Turks.

Nevertheless, the AKP government’s softening of Turkey’s historically hostile policies toward minorities and the return of several Greek families to the picturesque Aegean islands is inspiring hope for the future.


Nato backs Turkey in standoff with Syria October 19, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Syria, Turkey.
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Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen: ‘We have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey.’

Nato is ready to defend Turkey, the alliance’s top official said on Tuesday, in a direct warning to Syria after a week of cross-border artillery and mortar exchanges dramatically escalated tensions between the two countries.

Ankara has sent additional fighter jets to reinforce an air base close to the frontier with Syria where shells killed five Turkish civilians last week, sparking fears of a wider regional crisis. Syria has defended its shelling of neighbouring Turkey as an accidental outcome of its civil war.

The comments by Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen were the strongest show of support to Turkey since the firing began on Wednesday – though the solidarity is largely symbolic.

Nato member Turkey has sought backing in case it is attacked, but despite publicly supporting Syria’s rebels Ankara isn’t seeking direct intervention. And the alliance is thought to be reluctant to get involved militarily at a time when its main priority is the war in Afghanistan.

“Obviously Turkey can rely on Nato solidarity,” Rasmussen said in advance of a meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels. “We have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary.”

When pressed on what kind of trouble on the border would trigger those plans, Nato’s chief said he could not discuss contingency plans..

Nato officials said the plans have been around for decades and were not drawn up in response to the Syria crisis.

In an address to lawmakers from the ruling party, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that Ankara will continue retaliating to attacks from Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“Every kind of threat to the Turkish territory and the Turkish people will find us standing against it,” Erdogan said. “Soldiers loyal to Assad fired shells at us, we immediately reacted and responded with double force. We shall never stop responding.”

At least 25 additional F-16 fighter jets were deployed at Turkey’s Diyarbakir air base in the south-east of the country late on Monday, Turkey’s Dogan news agency said, quoting unidentified military sources. The military’s chief of staff inspected troops along the border with Syria on Tuesday.

A Sunni extremist group called Jabhat al-Nusra claimed responsibility for an attack on a Syrian air force intelligence compound in the Damascus suburb of Harasta on Monday evening. A statement on a militant website by the group’s media arm, Al-Manara al-Bayda, said the bombing aimed “to avenge the killing of Muslims and those who suffered injustice”.

The Syrian state-run news agency did not report the explosion and there were conflicting reports on how badly the compound was damaged. There were no official reports on casualties, but the pro-government al-Ikhbariya channel said on Monday the blast was heard across Damascus.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported that Syrian Nation Council leader Abdulbaset Sieda visited rebel-controlled areas in Syria on Tuesday.

It said he entered Syria from the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and “made observations in rural areas” of Idlib province before travelling to Aleppo’s Etarib area, where he met with commanders of the Free Syrian Army. If confirmed, the trip would be Sieda’s first into Syria since he became the council’s leader in June.

Anadolu quoted Sieda as saying: “We are here to see what the opposition in Syria and the opposition outside of Syria can do together to serve the Syrian people.”

Athens, Newspapers Riled over Turkish Prime Minister’s ‘Minority’ Statement October 4, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Human rights abuses, Thrace, Trakya, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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Greek newspapers have accused Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of provocation after Erdoğan referred to the Turks in western Thrace as the “Turkish minority,” daily Milliyet reported today.

Erdoğan sent a congratulatory message to the Fraternity, Equality and Peace Party (DEP) in Greece to mark the 21st anniversary of the party, which was founded by members of the minority community there.

“Our kin in western Thrace has always had a special place in our hearts,” Erdoğan said in his message. “That is why it is very important that our kin exercises their rights, which have been guaranteed by international agreements, to their full extent.”

“We will always stand by the Turkish minority in western Thrace, as we have done up to this day,” Erdoğan said.

The Turkish prime minister also expressed his hope that the minority in western Thrace and the Greek Orthodox minority in Turkey would serve as “a bridge of friendship” between the two countries.

The Greek Foreign Ministry responded to Erdoğan’s message saying there was no such thing as a “Turkish minority” in the international agreements to which Erdoğan referred in his message.

Greek newspaper Demokratia carried the story with the headline “Erdoğan provokes” and said, “Erdoğan has shown his true colors once again. He calls Greek Muslims Turks and tries to appear as their benefactor.”

Etnos newspaper said, “Erdoğan’s government is very interested in creating a minority issue in Thrace, and they are very good at it.”

Official Greek numbers say around 49,000 ethnic Turks live in Thrace, while western Thrace culture and education associations put the number at around 150,000.

Turkish FM reaffirms Ankara support of Skopje in regard to name dispute October 1, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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Ankara supports Skopje in the dispute over Macedonia’s constitutional name, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says in an interview with Albania’s Shenja magazine
Turkey’s stand on the name dispute is rather clear, Davutoglu remarks.
“Turkey is the first country to recognise the Republic of Macedonia’s constitutional name and its national identity. It sees Macedonia as a close friend, partner and credible collaborator in the Balkans. In this respect, Turkey was the first country to open an embassy in Skopje. The right of the Republic of Macedonia to determine its constitutional name should be respected,” Davutoglu says.
He recalls of the International Court of Justice’s ruling of last December, which says that by vetoing Macedonia’s accession to NATO at 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, Greece breached Article 11 of the Interim Accord, signed by the two countries on September 13 of 1995.
“From the aspect of this ruling, we wish for the efforts of Macedonia – a democratic, multiethnic and multicultural state that is rather significant for the Balkan peace and stability – to join the Euro-Atlantic institutions to take unrestrainable course,” Turkey’s FM says.