A Turco-Greek pledge for peace in times of war

A Turco-Greek pledge for peace in times of war

When İpek Cem Taha, the daughter of a former Turkish foreign minister (who passed away in 2007) decided to initiate a lasting idea to maintain her father’s personal commitment for peace, the first door she knocked on was that of Yorgo Papandreu.

Cem and Papandreu were the Turkish and Greek foreign ministers in 1999 when relations between the two countries hit a low over the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan. After a months-long international chase from Syria to Greece, from Russia to Italy, Öcalan was arrested while leaving the Greek Embassy in Kenya, in a joint operation conducted by the U.S. and Turkish intelligence services.
Papandreu was appointed as the new Greek foreign minister after Theodoros Pangalos was forced to resign over the scandal.

The frequencies of Cem and Papandreu apparently matched up. Cem wrote a letter to Papandreu in favor of improving relations, to which Papandreu responded positively. The two countries went through two difficult tests that year. Rescue teams from the two rival neighbors were among the first to reach out during two big earthquakes in Istanbul and Athens that year. And it was Greece that supported Turkey’s candidacy to become a member of the European Union by the end of the same year at a summit in Helsinki. 

Over the next two years, the media covered the two politicians together on many occasions, either jointly planting an oil tree on the Greek island of Samos or visiting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat under Israeli siege in Ramallah.

So when İpek Cem knocked on Papandreu’s door, she received a warm welcome. Eventually, the idea was realized to initiate the Cem-Papandreu Peace Award, for people who have contributed to peace in the region shared by Turkey and Greece. The Mediterranean, the Middle East and parts of Europe and North Africa have in recent years been witness to a number of serious political crises, including war, terrorism and migration tragedies.

The first Cem Papandreu Peace Award ceremony was held in Istanbul on April 15. Two businessmen and one institution were rewarded for their contribution to the moderation of the atmosphere between Turkey and Greece. Şarık Tara from Turkey and Theodore Papalexopoulos were awarded for initiating dialogue between the late Turkish President Turgut Özal and Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreu in Davos back in 1988. Meanwhile, the Greek Turkish Forum, initiated in 1998, was also awarded for bringing academics, former diplomats and journalists from both countries together as part of “Track Two diplomacy.”

The Turkish-Greek rapprochement has actually worked very well so far. The two countries are currently working together to counter the illegal human trafficking across the Aegean Sea - a byproduct of regional wars and conflicts –within the framework of a deal signed between Turkey and the EU. Just last month, Alexis Tsipras, hosted by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, became the first Greek prime minister to visit İzmir since 1922, when the invading Greek armies were forced to leave at the end of Turkish War of Independence. The first Cem-Papandreu Peace Awards were given to those who planted the seeds of this rapprochement. 

From the speeches delivered at the ceremony, it seems that the “Cem-Papandreu community” is now focused on seeing real progress in the Cyprus talks. There is optimism around the approaches of the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders, Mustafa Akıncı and Nikos Anastasiades, who believe that success in reunification talks in Cyprus could decrease tension in the wider East Mediterranean.

With so much violence and conflict in the region, and with failing states from Syria to Iraq to Libya, peace is certainly something that the peoples of the region need. In times of war, it is certainly good to hear about pledges for peace.