A sane voice from Athens
With the 62nd round of exploratory and consultation talks between Greece and Turkey set for March 16-17, the issue of whether we should expect any real steps for de-escalation of bilateral tension is back for public debate. Both countries have to deal with a heavy domestic political agenda that is unfolding against the background of a serious pandemic and an exhausted society that is scared both about their health and money in their pocket.
On both sides, there have been calls by representatives of various schools of thought who ask their political readers “not to give in” and to stand firm in their position. Both sides are claiming that they have been “wronged” by the other. Hence, the condition for any dialogue has been that the “other” has to step back. History weighs more than the present. An increase in military power and more arms procurement was shown as a necessity.
In the year 2020, people of both countries witnessed how dangerously close their countries came to a real confrontation. The presence of Turkish research and drilling ships accompanied by war vessels off Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean and the presence of the Greek navy in full force opposite each other sent waves of fear to everyone.
Eventually, major players such as NATO and the European Union, plus behind-the-scene talks, managed to bring both sides to a more conciliatory state of mind. A major factor was the EU summit’s decision last December to condemn Turkey’s activities in the eastern Mediterranean and impose sanctions on individuals involved in Turkey’s drilling activities in the disputed areas. However, the decision did not seem to persuade Ankara to alter its stance on its maritime rights. In the meantime, the EU has been talking to Turkey for a “positive agenda” in its relations with the EU on which Ankara seems to have been spending a lot of its energy lately, wanting to show that they really want to “be a part of Europe.” The EU leaders are expected to review Turkey’s whole situation in their next Summit, which will occur at the end of March. So, the next round of Turkey-Greece talks will take place only days before the EU summit.
To speak the truth, neither side in the Turkey-Greece duo looks ready to change course. The whole issue seems to be in a deadlock. Before anything else, there is an obvious lack of trust between the parties, and no one wants to take the risk to appear as the party who would compromise.
So, what is the answer?
An answer was given by Dimitris Avramopoulos, who was the former mayor of Athens, former foreign minister and defense minister of Greece, former commissioner for refugees in the EU, and who has also been a long-time friend of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since the time when Erdoğan was Istanbul’s mayor.
A Greek TV channel interviewed Avramopoulos on the upcoming talks in Athens. As an experienced diplomat, he believes a lot in personal relations in achieving political goals. But to build a relation, personal or diplomatic, “you have to be honest and straightforward,” he says. Like it happens in personal relations, in politics too, you have to “have an honest dialogue, and each one knows what his/her interlocutor thinks,” he said, reminding us that “an agreement is the result of an honest dialogue.”
Referring to the upcoming talks in Athens, he was somewhat optimistic. He thinks that the two delegations could arrive at certain conclusions through an open and honest dialogue. “These conclusions,” he says, “could be put forward to the respected governments and could form a basis for a dialogue. But this has to be done with trust, which is truth and straightforwardness.” However, he was cautious: “The question is, do both sides want to get over the crisis and launch a new era?”
Avramopoulos suggested that both sides should not get stuck in the past. The past is history, but the future should guide us, he said.
People want security, stability, peace, he concluded, while claiming that the presence of two powerful leaders in Greece and Turkey was good because they can find a solution between them.
Stressing the importance of personal relations, he resorted to history. “Since the Ataturk-Venizelos era, the political leaders of both countries have established personal communication corridors. The leaders of the countries should create a suitable climate. So, the atmosphere is essential. The meeting of Mitsotakis with Erdoğan in New York was excellent. There was even good chemistry between them,” Avramopoulos said while blaming “wrong statements” and poisonous media on both sides for provoking nationalism and populism.
“We can always find a way through because the alternative is confrontation,” he said, warning all of us.