Turkey and Greece engaging in talks is great because as long as the two countries are engaged in either “exploratory” or “result-oriented” talks, it does not matter much as the hope of resolution of the problems lies in dialogue rather than war. Yet can we expect a resolution to any of the outstanding or new problems between the two countries anytime soon? Possibly yes, if and when the two countries realize or made to understand that they have a far bigger interest to offset the pain of compromise on any heading.
The problems between Turkey and Greece, including the Cyprus issue and the latecomer eastern Mediterranean matters, of course, have deep-rooted contextual, historical as well as psychological raison d’etre or reason for existence. The two nationalities are very much the same, indeed. Apart from political differences bordering acute animosity, on an individual basis, particularly in third countries, a Turk can get along with a Greek pretty easily. Speaking of the people belonging to any other Balkan country, from eating habits to social bonds like family values, there are so many similarities between the two peoples. Yet, as my best bud George once spilled out, “You are my best friend, but unfortunately, you are a Turk…” I was all in red when I heard him saying that after just a few glasses of Anglias, Cyprus brandy. For him, apparently, it was just a joke. I bounced back, reminding him that among Turkish Cypriots, there is a saying that goes, “You cannot have fur from a pig and a friend from a Greek.” I was so taken aback by the incident that I didn’t even want to remember that evening for a long time until one day George came and said, “Sorry buddy, I am a bonehead…” We hugged and left that evening behind.
It was not peculiar for George and me. We Turks and Greeks love to believe that we are always the most righteous, correct, or the selected one with the divine power to be right all the time. After all, the point a Turk or a Greek stands is the center of the world, isn’t it?
Exploratory talks, if it could be held in confidentiality and with a clear mandate, and of course, with the strong political will to embrace bitter compromises, might create miracles. But, like the exercise regarding the Aegean islands, where the two countries come together at various levels, discuss issues liberally and with no intention of compromising at all, to what purpose such an exercise might serve other than wining and dining? At several junctions, either because of the political climate that was not suitable in Athens or Ankara, the two countries kept on declaring the headway they achieved in the exploratory talks while emerging new rosebuds or eroding effects of time that nullified them.
Of course, Istanbul is as good a place as Athens for such talks to be carried out. The venue is not that big deal. What is important is that will the two countries manage to stop leaking the contents? Diplomacy has to be conducted away from public scrutiny, of course, there is an expectation where something should come out of that exercise.
Germany, not just as the term president of the European Union Council, but also as one of the great European powers with who, unlike France for example, both countries have confidence, has played a significant role in pulling the latest tension from the verge of war into a dialogue atmosphere. The German mediation, so far, proved rather promising. Yet no one should forget that one key component of the problem is the Greek Cypriot unilateral EU accession, which became possible in 2004 despite Greek Cypriot refusal to accept a U.N. plan because Greece had held hostage the eastern expansion obsession of Germany.
Now, the same Germany is twisting the arm of Greece and forcing it to return to the status the Aegean islands placed under its sovereignty. The conditions under which Italy handed the islands to Greece as well as the terms of the Lausanne Treaty clearly underline the restricted sovereignty of Greece over the islands. It cannot deploy military or weapons systems on the islands. The start of the demilitarization of the islands, including Kastellorizo, naturally ought to be the prime precondition for talks.
Turkey and Greece might establish an understanding and take the Aegean to the International Court of Justice (like United Kingdom and France solving the Channel Islands issue). Regarding the eastern Mediterranean, of course, forging an axis of evil together with some riparian countries but excluding Turkey and Turkish Cypriots cannot serve any purpose. Probably, as suggested by the Turkish president, a regional international conference where both two states on Cyprus should be represented on the basis of equality (either as two communities or two states) might help a resolution. But in any way no one should expect Turkey agree to become a landlocked country because a tiny island Kastellorizo, just 1.8 miles from Turkey proper, can be used as a barrier for Turkey’s territorial shelf or exclusive economic zone rights in the Mediterranean.