What brave steps can Turkey, Greece take?
The election of a new government in Greece and the first messages conveyed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on ties with Turkey have refueled hopes for peace, stability and prosperity in the Aegean and beyond.
Mitsotakis, in one of his first addresses to the Greek Parliament, has called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for a mutual approach in which both sides will take “brave steps.” He repeated that he wanted to proceed in line with international law and refrain from aggressive rhetoric and underlined that unnecessary tensions and an arms race will be to the disadvantage of both countries.
In fact, President Erdoğan had expressed similar hopes immediately after the results showed that Mitsotakis would be able to form a single-party government in Greece early this month. Statements issued by Turkish officials at different levels have revealed Ankara’s intention to open a new chapter in ties with Greece under Mitsotakis’ rule.
Ties between these two neighbors have a really complicated façade. They are both NATO members but are in deep contention in the Aegean Sea and in Cyprus but at the same time, are exerting efforts to reduce the tension so that they can boost trade and tourism.
A brief look into the cooperation in the fields of economy, tourism and transportation as well as energy depicts a rather successful exchange between the two countries. The idea of promoting economic ties regardless of political problems is still vivid and yields results.
Reciprocal visits by President Erdoğan to Greece and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Turkey were quite important and symbolic in terms of keeping the bilateral track on the right course and paving the way for future cooperation in various fields.
The last period under Tsipras’ rule also witnessed an important joint effort by the two sides’ defense ministries to reduce the tension in the Aegean Sea, one of the top bilateral contentious issues. Turkish and Greek working groups had held several meetings in the past months and accomplished a set of measures to avoid fresh conflicts in the Aegean.
“Turkish and Greek defense officials have agreed on 20 confidence-building measures (CBM) as a result of these talks,” a Turkish defense ministry official told the media at a briefing last week in Turkish capital Ankara, without giving details.
The official stressed that these talks have created a constructive climate with expectations that a stable and safe environment would be created in the Aegean as a result of future talks in the same line.
Newly appointed Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos, however, seemed to be more reserved and unimpressed about the development as he described the CBMs as “open communication that should stay open in case the tension escalates.” And, according to the Greek media, he added that “depending on Turkey’s behavior, we will see, from now on, how active this channel of communications will be.”
Despite all these, Turkey and Greece will, one way or another, find a way to deal with their own problems, including those stemming from the Aegean Sea. And they should strategically do so because the real area of contention is Cyprus and in the context of hydrocarbon activities of the Greek Cyprus government.
Otherwise, Mitsotakis, who has issued calls to Erdoğan for what he calls “brave steps” would not dispatch his foreign minister Nikos Dendias to Washington even before the inauguration of his government. It is not very usual for a brand new foreign minister to rush to Washington and to criticize the actions of a neighboring country in the very first days in office, no matter what the case is.
It’s, therefore, up to Mitsotakis to explain what he means by “brave steps.” It goes without question that the required bravery for peace and stability in this region should address the Cyprus problem and should be exposed by the communal leaders. The real bravery is to accept to co-exist with the co-owner and to share the island’s richness with them, just like the Turkish Cypriots did in 2004.