Greek-Turkish Rapprochement: The Role of Decision Makers




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Greek-Turkish Rapprochement:

The Role of Decision Makers

Katerina Christodoulaki, University of Thessaloniki

Maria Ikonomaki, University of Athens

and Genco Orkun, Bilkent University

Our essay is about the impact of individual decision-makers concerning Greek-Turkish relations on the process of rapprochement but not on the outcome at this point. More specifically, Cem and Papandreou had very good relations, they shared the same visions, but unfortunately they failed in the two level games by convincing their constituencies back home.

In short, we -maria and katerina, will start talking about the historical background and present the main facts that characterize Greek-Turkish relations until 2002, emphasising mainly on the efforts of the Greek side. Orkun will continue presenting the Turkish side referring mainly to the term of Cem as a Foreign minister.


Greek-Turkish conflicts and rapprochement
After the outbreak of the Cyprus conflict (1955), Greek and Turkish governments tended to behave vis-à-vis each other as the superpowers did. Geopolitical issues appeared in the 1970s. The main topics of the Greek-Turkish dispute in the Aegean are:

- The boundaries of the continental shelf, of the airspace, of the Athens and Istanbul Flight Information Regions, and territorial waters;

- The re-militarization of certain Greek islands disputed by the Turkish Government according to international treaties (Lausanne, 1923; Montreux, 1936; Paris, 1947);

- The Turkish challenge to Greek sovereignty over more than one hundred islands and islets, including one south of Crete, far from the Turkish territorial waters.

Despite Greek governments' proposals since 1974, Turkish governments have constantly refused to make a request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On the other hand, Greek governments have constantly refused Turkish proposals to negotiate all these issues. The Greek policy is that Turkey must comply with international law. Turkish policy is that Greece must accept to compromise. Both states have accused the other to be expansionist.

A turning point in Greek-Turkish relations and Greek diplomacy especially was the rapprochement which took place during the time of the first Turkish application to the EC, called the Davos Process. Premier Turgut Özal initiated this rapprochement by a meeting with his colleague Andreas Papandreou at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 1988. The major achievement of the process was the Vouliagmeni Memorandum (Athens, 27 May 1988), which contains Confidence-Building measures, Tension Reduction measures and Good Neighbourliness measures. It was the only significant agreement to take place at that time. Neither the core of the Aegean dispute nor the Cyprus problem were solved. The process collapsed because of Andreas Papandreou's lack of willingness, the political scandals which led to his electoral defeat (April 1989), Turgut Özal's isolation at home, his election to the Presidency of the Republic (November 1989) and the negative avis of the European Commission the next month.

Most importantly, the Davos process was a major opportunity for “civil society” and non governmental organizations (NGOs) to express their views on the dispute. The rapprochement between the NGOs was for many Turkish NGOs a way to exit from their face-to-face with the state and an access to EU fora and support.

Since 1974, Greece and Turkish were twice in crisis considered by many observers as the brink of the war. Both crises (1987, 1996) happened about the status of the Aegean. The first, so-called the Aegean crisis, resulted of an official decision of the state (off-shore exploration in controversial waters by a Turkish vessel), but not the second, the Imia/Kardak crisis. 1 Imia/Kardak and Öcalan crises fuelled the pro-rapprochement mobilization: twice nationalist groups as well as sensationalism and nationalism by medias led to bilateral crises.

However, it is also possible to argue that the Imia-Kardak crisis created the first motives toward a rapprochement in Greek-Turkish relations. In other words, the crisis can be considered as a "chance of rapprochement" since it generated strong pressure from the United States and the European Union, especially on Athens, to reach an understanding with Ankara, and compelled Simitis' government to abandon Greece's long-held policy of 'no talks with Turkey.'2

Ironically, then, this crisis, with its influence on the initiation of a dialogue between two countries, marks not only the culmination of a conflict but also the first steps towards overcoming the obstacles in the way of cooperation and positive identification. It is also important to note that the Imia-Kardak crisis resulted in an increase in the "civic diplomacy" or "second-track diplomacy" which is usually associated with the earthquakes.3

The Imia-Kardak crisis of 1996 was not the only crisis that left a deep impact on the Greek-Turkish relations. An other significant crisis was regarding the Turkish capture of the Kurdish insurgent leader Abdullah Ocalan, which broke out after the February 1999. It became clear that Ocalan had received material assistance and a safe haven from some official circles in Greece. Turkey accused Greece of giving support to terrorism, and Greece's government also faced severe domestic criticism. Many expected Greek-Turkish relations to sour following the Ocalan affair but, similar to the previous crises, this problem also led to the emergence of new possibilities in Greek-Turkish relations.

The Ocalan-affair led to a crisis in the Greek government and hence to the resignation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pangalos, who is known for his uncompromising stance against Turkey. His successor, Yorgos Papandreou decided to move forward to a rapprochement and to keep Greek foreign policy aligned with the EU and NATO partners. Turkish government needs to improve its relations with all EU states members, including Greece - considered for a long time as the main opponent. As a result, Georgios A. Papandreou became head of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with him came a noticeable change in the Greek foreign policy towards Turkey.

The elimination of the hardliners gave a strong hand to the moderates within the ruling PASOK party who favored rethinking Greek-Turkish relations and avoiding other crises in order to ensure Greece's further integration with EU. Not only was he able to build on his already good relationship with his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem, but also he became inspired by the experience of fruitful co-operation between Greece and Turkey established during the Kosovo-crisis in the Spring 1999. As recently as the summer of 1999 both Ministers agreed to establish bilateral committees on a high-ranking administrative level to work on so-called low politics issues of mutual interest in order to build mutual confidence. The so-called “high politics issues”, such as Cyprus and the Aegean, remained intentionally excluded from the agenda of this incremental dialogue. Instead, the talks concentrated on improving co-operation in economics, tourism, environmental protection, cultural exchanges, and, last but not least, in the control of organised crime (smuggling and terrorism).

The diplomatic denouement was made possible following an atmospheric change among the Greek and the Turkish people when both countries became victims of two devastating earthquakes in August and September of 1999. These natural catastrophes created a wave of compassion and spontaneous assistance across the borders, and doubtlessly strengthened the spirit of neighbourly good will in both countries.

Despite these positive steps, it could not be ignored, that it was to be at the EU summit in Helsinki, where this new quality of the Greek-Turkish relationship was put to the test. It was there, that the European Union was to decide whether Turkey would be offered the status of a candidate for membership. Greece and the Discussion of Turkey EU candidacy for membership Papandreous widely acknowledged speech at the 54th UNO General Assembly on September 22, 1999, reflects the atmospheric change in the Greek-Turkish relationship. Without ignoring the existing divergent positions on Cyprus and the Aegean, he used encouraging words when referring to the current state of the Greek- Turkish relationship: “If the road to peace is indeed made up of a collection of moments then I also dare hope for our relations with Turkey. My Turkish counterpart, Ismael Cem, and I have been engaged in careful diplomacy for many months. We recently inaugurated discussion committees to address a number of bilateral concerns, including trade, tourism and the environment, where we feel our two countries have much to gain from mutual cooperation. Peoples' aspirations for the principles of democracy, security and prosperity can overcome historical strife. Greece is beginning to take on a new, far more rational and quite possibly less emotional role.

With his new policy Papandreou can now ensure that Greece is no longer being used as a convenient scapegoat to justify EU's hesitant policy towards Turkey. On the contrary, this policy now appears to have a beneficial influence on other EU members. However, this was not a new idea, but it was Papandreou who first converted it into successful policy. He explained that Turkey will have to carry out democratic reforms, change its foreign policy perspectives, and rid itself of fears. Once these changes are made, Turkey will be equipped to seek solutions to disputes and problems, including bilateral relations with Greece.

Despite last developments in Cyprus and the hope that partition would end soon, the bilateral rapprochement itself has not been yet very successful. The tandem Ismail Cem-Yorgos Papandreou was quite successful, particularly to make symbolic gestures. But Ismail Cem resigned in July 2002 from a government in which he was clearly a dove: premier Bülent Ecevit was not very enthusiastic about the rapprochement; He appointed a hawk, Şükrü Sina Gürel, as State Minister responsible for Cyprus (so Ecevit did not trust Cem on Cyprus and finally appointed Gürel minister of Foreign Affairs after Cem's resignation); So the future of the rapprochement depends now mainly on the willingness of the new Justice and Development Party government of Premier Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan. The lack of progress would weaken both Yorgos Papandreou's policy and position in Greece and the Turkish candidacy to the EU.


Initiatives from Ankara and Athens
Two prime ministers, Constantine Simitis in Athens and Mesut Yilmaz, who has been in and out of power in Ankara several times over the last few years, represent a more cosmopolitan and moderate leadership relative to the not-so-distant past. In Greece, the populist Andreas Papandreou is gone, and the Simitis government has charted an unambiguous pro-European course. Greece's maverick image is being reshaped; its economy is approaching EU guidelines, with an austerity program bringing down inflation and public spending; and constructive relations are the new rule with respect to Balkan neighbors.

The domestic picture is not so clear in Turkey, where the military still exercises definitive political influence. Progress on human rights -- an issue of key importance to Americans and Europeans -- is slow. But Turkey's movement toward more democratic government remains substantially on track, surviving the experiment with its first Islamist prime minister, and efforts continue to improve political institutions for the next elections. The country's economic development, moreover, is very impressive: real growth remains near 8 percent per year, notwithstanding excessive inflation, and Washington counts Turkey as one of the world's ten "big emerging markets."17

The two prime ministers made openings that could have presaged a warming of relations. In March 1996 Prime Minister Yilmaz put a more flexible approach on the table with his Aegean "peace initiative," which for the first time incorporated Turkish willingness to consider third-party mediation for Aegean disputes.18 Under what conditions or at what price, however, remains to be determined. Turkey is said to have backed out at the last minute when American diplomats on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September 1997 thought they had brokered a trade-off involving Greek release of EU funds for Turkey and Turkish acceptance of third-party mediation on Imia/Kardak.

On the Greek side, Prime Minister Simitis spoke in favor of better relations with Turkey and articulated a "step-by-step" formulation less confrontational than his predecessor's. In mid-1997, Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos's forthright expression of Greek support for Turkey's future EU membership seemed to confirm a sea change in Athens, but harsh rhetoric soon spoiled improvements in the atmosphere. In Turkish eyes, any substantive shift in Greek policy was belied at the December 1997 Luxembourg EU summit, when Greece openly supported a hard line against Turkey.

Two recent concrete bilateral initiatives, promoted by Western diplomats, briefly flowered in 1997 only to wilt in the heat of Aegean cross fire. The Dutch EU presidency in the first half of 1997 persuaded the two countries to establish a "wise men's group," hoping to promote at least a minimal dialogue. Athens and Ankara each appointed two representatives, but reports submitted to the EU by the two sides in 1997 produced no basis for progress. The Greek side insisted on a severely circumscribed agenda with exchanges in writing only, and, after the Luxembourg summit, the Turkish side in any case refused to work through the EU on political issues.
At the NATO summit in Madrid in July 1997, Greek Prime Minister Simitis and Turkish President Demirel issued a communiqué confirming six points agreed on by their foreign ministers to advance peaceful relations.19 The points included such language as respect "for each other's legitimate vital interests and concerns in the Aegean," "commitment to refrain from unilateral acts. .. to avoid conflicts," and "commitment to settle disputes by peaceful means. .. without use of force or threat of force." The development was hailed at the time as a potentially significant substantive advance and a logical first step in a confidence-building process. There was no visible follow-up, however, and, by October, both Greece and Turkey were again trading rhetorical blows while accusing each other of reneging on promises made in Madrid.

To sum up, the two prime ministers can justifiably claim to have made an effort with new initiatives. Neither succeeded in any significant way. Why? At the risk of being unfair, the answer seems to be primarily the stultifying effect of domestic pressures. The prime ministers have not been strong enough to flout nationalists, within or outside their own parties. Public proposals therefore have necessarily been mini-steps, shaped to look statesmanlike at home by garnering support from Western governments while giving away nothing. They may not be a dialogue of the deaf, but they do approach a zero-sum debating game, with neither side able to risk allowing the other to score a point.


Greek-Turkish Relations: Beyond "Earthquake Diplomacy"
On August 17, 1999, Turkey's Marmara region was hit by a devastating earthquake that killed thousands of people. There was a rush of humanitarian aid from all over the world. Greece was among the first countries to send condolences and rescue teams. On September 7, 1999, Greece was also hit by an earthquake, and this time Turkey was among the first countries to send condolences and rescue teams to Greece. The two countries deemed to be "historical enemies" and who came to the brink of war in the Imia-Kardak crisis of 1996, began an unexpected process of improving relations.

One of the central arguments about the Greek-Turkish rapprochement has been that it was a product of what is usually called "civic diplomacy," "people's diplomacy," or "seismic diplomacy" initiated after the earthquakes by the peoples of both countries. According to this argument, the peoples of two countries showed their preference for friendship and peace, and the political leaders just followed after the "public's wish" in their diplomatic initiatives that gained pace in the post-quake period.

The statements of the foreign ministers themselves reflect the arguments of "people's diplomacy." For example, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou wrote: "Through their moving expressions of solidarity, the citizens of Greece and Turkey effectively coined a new political term: 'seismic diplomacy'.... They taught us that mutual interests can and must outweigh tired animosities." "Some want to say that what we are living through today in our Greek-Turkish relationship is simply a 'fairy tale.' And yet it is not. Because our people demand it! I therefore say this: it is time to dare the impossible." 4 A similar statement is made by Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem in his speech at a ceremony honouring him and Papandreou for their contributions to improving Greek-Turkish relations: "As representatives of Turkey and Greece, George and I are standing before you today for one simple reason: We have faithfully translated the feelings of the Turkish and Greek peoples into policies and acts."5

Clearly, the earthquakes did play a role in allowing positive developments in Greek-Turkish relations and especially in letting leaders on both sides claim a popular mandate for changing policies historically supported by a large majority on both sides. Yet the move toward rapprochement is well-rooted in a process of revaluation or redefinition of political and strategic interests--a process initiated before the natural disasters made it more palatable to the Greek and Turkish publics.

Indeed, Cem argues that actual cooperation started two months before the earthquake: "Back in June 1999, we had already initiated, as two Ministers, a process of consultation and joint work on our bilateral issues, which was later expedited by the immense solidarity between our two peoples during the tragic earthquakes of last summer."6 Papandreou traces the cooperation back to the Kosovo operation in which both countries were involved as NATO allies: "For the first time, Turkish military planes flew over Greece carrying humanitarian aid to Kosovo." He states that after the war Greek and Turkish foreign ministers decided to cooperate in many areas such as tourism, environment, culture and education. He adds that the earthquakes and the Helsinki Summit improved this cooperative process.7

Just before the earthquakes, in May-June 1999, Cem and Papandreou exchanged a series of letters that included proposals for improving bilateral relations by cooperating in various fields. These letters showed that a key element in the change was a revision in the Greek perception of Turkey. Papandreou wrote, "Both Greece and Turkey have rich cultural traditions. Building a multicultural Europe means that we need to enhance our cultural identities and understand each other's specificity."8This type of statement is in sharp contrast with the view of his predecessor, Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos, in 1997: "We have nothing to do with Turkey. A man can't discuss things with murderers, rapists and thieves."9

Other actions before the earthquakes also indicated the changing atmosphere in Greek-Turkish relations: the 1997 Madrid Declaration to establish mutual respect for sovereignty rights, the decision to create a South-eastern European Brigade (SEEBRIG) for peacekeeping operations in the Balkans in 1998, and military cooperation during NATO's Kosovo operation in 1999.
POLITICAL WILL: TRUANT IN ATHENS, ANKARA, AND NICOSIA
Unrelated events or circumstances often dissuade the governments from making bold moves or even modest new departures. The leadership is regularly constrained by weaknesses or divisions in ruling parties, the strained atmosphere following incidents and misunderstandings, or campaign realities for upcoming elections. But even when the air has cleared of such factors in one or another capital, there has been little or no political drive to change.
There is, it seems, never a right moment when both governments are favorably positioned to make the necessary compromises. To the contrary, underlying political factors enumerated below seem ever-present and continue to provide disincentives against reconciliation:

The status quo -- despite the nationalistic need to decry it -- is generally acceptable in all three countries. There are almost no mixed Greek-Turkish communities left, and hence there are few tinderboxes of day-to-day confrontation and discrimination. Greeks are reasonably secure from a Turkish military threat and vice versa; people only rarely get killed in isolated incidents. The existing standard of living is more than adequate for the majority of Greeks and Turks.

Each side believes its current approach to be viable. Greeks are encouraged by the international support they get, especially from the EU, when they emphasize such priorities as recourse to the ICJ on Aegean issues and demilitarization in Cyprus. Turks find their proposals for bilateral dialogue eminently reasonable, and their firmness justified -- both in Cyprus, to protect the Turkish minority, and in the Aegean, to forestall any Greek fait accompli (such as declaration of a 12-mile sea limit) that could, once effected, be impossible to undo in the face of U.S./European pressures to "work out" a solution.

In the bilateral arena, neither Ankara nor Athens has confidence that the approach proposed by the other would result in fair and equitable results. Turkey is leery of the ICJ as a European institution likely to favor Greece and argues for dialogue to set parameters before recourse to the ICJ or other party is considered. Greece fears that the mere fact of entry into a broad dialogue, as proposed by Turkey, would be seen to concede essential points of principle.

A pervasive mistrust has been built up by the cycles of incident and recrimination since the 1950s. Suspicions feed on presumptions of evil intentions, and "political correctness" discourages the discussion of alternatives to current policies. There is only a handful of "doves," almost no significant mainstream opposition voices, and nothing resembling a peace movement. Turkish Cyprus is an exception -- leaders of opposition political parties there regularly take issue with Denktash and clearly favor a more flexible approach.


CONCLUSION

In Greek-Turkish relations, the end of the Cold War provided a new structural context necessitating a redefinition of roles and identities. The most important reward of this rethinking was a secure regional environment, which is vital in a world of constant flux. A culture of cooperation formed on the basis of mutual trust and interests was apparently less threatening for security than a culture of conflict. Furthermore, it became clear that one's own security depended on the security of the other. Both countries witnessed changes in the domestic scene. In Greece, the restructuring of the PASOK party under the leadership of Costas Simitis led to a transformation of foreign policymaking, also influenced by the European Union. In Turkey, though the change was not less dramatic, the Cold War's end led to a weakened consensus in foreign policymaking, making possible the emergence of alternative interpretations of national interest, identity, and threat.

Apart from the role of the changing domestic actors, significant events in the international arena showed it would be harder to survive with the old conceptions of foreign policymaking. The Kosovo crisis was critical in pushing the leaders toward regional cooperation and clearly marked a shift away from traditional patterns of foreign policy, especially in Greece. NATO's Kosovo operation had a tremendous influence on Greek-Turkish relations, providing the two countries with a common goal.

As George Papandreou puts it, "The harrowing war in Kosovo brought home to the Greek people the importance and necessity of good, neighbourly relations. Fear and suspicion have long since given way to a policy of regional cooperation, based on mutual understanding and common interests.... Greece has made an effort to take the lead in promoting stability, cooperation, and democracy in the Balkans. Given this basic, but determined, foreign policy outlook, it would have been incongruous to exclude Turkey."10

PASOK's electoral victory in April 2000 confirmed this new policy's continuity with the re-election of Prime Minister Kostas Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou. However, the election campaigns also showed there was no sharp difference between PASOK and its main rival, the New Democracy (NDP). Just before the elections, Kostas Karamanlis, the NDP leader, stated that he favored good neighborly relations with Turkey, and added that he supports Turkey's integration with EU. Thus, even an NDP victory would not necessarily bring a dramatic change in Greece's new definition of Turkey as a neighbor whose EU integration would benefit Greece. Further, neither PASOK nor NDP used "hate speech" against Turkey as part of their electoral campaigns, in contrast to past practices.

Turkey's "Accession Partnership" with the European Union once more showed that Turkey's membership is significantly interrelated with the resolution of the border disputes in the Aegean and promoting solutions of the Cyprus issue.

Moreover, it is also likely that the National Program will fall short of EU expectations regarding the Aegean and Cyprus problems. To avoid any commitments, Turkey will include these issues under the proposals' section and not as political criteria. This lack of commitment certainly falls short of Greece's expectations for Turkish reciprocation to Athens' removal of its veto at the Helsinki summit. This problem could challenge a thorough, successful transformation of Greek-Turkish relations toward greater rapprochement on the basis of institutionalized norms of cooperation. This lack of institutionalization could counter the factors that have promoted major changes. In this case, instead of entering a new era, Greek-Turkish relations could shift between crisis and rapprochement in the pattern that has long existed.
MOVING TO RECONCILIATION: A 25-YEAR RECORD OF FAILURE?
Few doubt that the governments of Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus would prefer reconciliation. Nationalistic tensions may serve some limited political purposes for politicians in both countries -- the more so when they are under attack for other reasons. But today's circumstances are not such that the presidents or prime ministers need a foreign enemy to stay in power. (Some might consider Mr. Denktash an exception -- if only because he alone stands to lose the trappings of a head of government.)

Yet Greek, Turkish, and Cypriot political leaders often appear to be waiting for reconciliation rather than pursuing it. Peacemaking is a slippery political slope in all three countries, since public opinion as reflected in the media is prone to rapid swings when the media or politicians appeal to nationalist sentiment. There are always opponents who pounce on any suggestion of concession as a sign of weakness or sacrificing of principle. Governments therefore tend to preempt opposition by staking out tough lines and invoking national unity. It is an atmosphere seemingly calculated to discourage détente efforts.


Turkish side:

Throughout the common history, Turkey and Greece faced many problems with each other and adopted various methods in dealing with them. It is sad to say that many of these methods used can be described under the title of real politic in International Relations terms. Both countries shaped their policies under a ‘zero-sum’ game, which damaged the relational dimension between Turkey and Greece. In this part however, we will try to explain a new era in Turkish-Greek relations with Ismail Cem and George Papandreou as the two foreign ministers. The significance of the period is that for the first time parties started to shift from the classical realism paradigm to a more conflict resolution means. The important question that must be asked at this point is the level of influence of individuals, namely the political figures, in healing a relationship between two conflicting countries.

After analyzing the contributions of George Papandreou, in the Turkish side of the Aegean, Ismail Cem has worked so hard for the current rapprochement. In fact Cem, as the foreign minister of his time, did not directly aimed for ameliorating the relations with Greece. His moves in this course were indeed gradual and cautious. He started with looking at the traditional Turkish foreign policy first. After seeing the defects in this system and realizing that progress is much more difficult with the strict borders of this foreign policy, Cem decided to make reforms on the old Turkish Foreign Policy, which even had the legacies from the old Ottoman era. The first point that he touched was the goal-oriented perspective of the traditional foreign policy. Turkey, as many other countries, negotiated over her positions rather than her interests. This situation blocked Turkey from acknowledging the needs of the other side and caused a bad reputation. Cem, for the first time identified that negotiation is a bilateral process rather than a unilateral one and the needs and sensitivities of both parties must be brought to the table for a healthy process.

The other important contribution of Ismail Cem was the new definition of Turkish identity with her foreign relations. “It seems totally wrong to define our identity solely on the basis of one particular culture as ‘Western’, or ‘Islamic’ or whatever. And, not many nations have the advantage of having a ‘multi-civilization’ characteristic. This, again, is what I try to put in use in our foreign policy formulation.”11 This definition of Turkey as putting emphasis on culture and identity in shaping foreign policy marked a sharp turn from relations defined only by military or demographic power. These words signified that now Turkey instead of focusing on the benefits she would get from Europe and European Union, tried to show the world what use she can provide to EU. Turkey this time makes it clear that she has the intention to use that historical role to form good relations with her neighbors both in the east and the west. Cem did not let these speeches to stay in theory but he was also successful in adapting this new doctrine of his. One obvious example for this case was his efforts in dealing with the Kosovo case. Regarding to the violent conflict in Kosovo, Cem criticized the actions taken in the Kosovo and mostly the exclusion of the Balkan countries that had the insight to foresee and prevent some problems due to their cultural similarities. These criticisms of Cem finally worked and both Turkish and Greek foreign ministers were included in the group called the “Friends of Kosovo”. Still, this was not a direct cooperation between Turkey and Greece with Greece refusing to allow Turkish troops transit Greek territory on way to Kosovo. Cem defined this refusal as an irresponsible behavior but nonetheless this joint effort made the parties realize that they were not as different as they were thinking about. Also, it would not be logical for things to work so well in the first step but it was a step indeed. As the relationship between Turkey and Greece started to grow, Cem also softened his position over the Greek refusal situation in the Kosovo case. In an interview he explains that “it was not Turkish troops alone; for a long time Greece did not allow American troops as well, to use her territory to transit. Greece tried to explain this attitude with the sensitive nature of her domestic politics.” 12

Actually, the cooperation in the Kosovo is not the starting point of Cem’s attempts to heal the relationship with Greece. In fact, things were not very easy and reciprocal in the beginning of Cem’s terms when Pangolos was the minister of foreign affairs. Cem also had a personal friendship with Pangolos from the years that they worked together in European Council’s Parlemantary Assembly and in their terms they announced the Madrid Declaration. It was actually the first step to improve the Turkish-Greek relations with the initiative of Ismail Cem. As he describes it, “what was decided in Madrid was to avoid any conditions or preconditions for the initiatives to improve relations. That was a genuine point in the Madrid understanding. I believe that at least the first steps should not be linked to concerns other than those strictly of bilateral nature.”13 However, Pangolos never managed to apply the agreed terms in Greece and rather he took a hawkish stand against Turkey. There were two major problems that blocked the efforts of minister Cem. First one was the Russian S-300 missiles that were planned to be placed in Cyprus. That was a major violation to the basic human needs of the Turks and the Turkish-Cypriots in the island. Security, being one of the most important human need, was threatened by those missiles and Cyprus became a problem once again between Turkey and Greece. With Madrid Declaration, Ismail Cem made it clear that Cyprus should not be dealt as the primary problem between Turkey and Greece since it was not bilateral in nature. Yet the tensions did certainly rise with those missiles in the island and the rigid stand of the Greek government. The next event that almost destroyed all the attempts to improve the relations was the protection of the terrorist leader Ocalan by some political circles in Greece. Those political circles were exaggerated to represent all the Greek government and public opinion by the media and caused Cem to take a step back in considering the relations with the neighbor. Ismail Cem’s speeches were harsh even after the resignation of the Pangolos and the capture of Abdullah Ocalan, the terrorist head. One of his speeches consist such criticisms: “Greece was caught red-handed in the case of the terrorist leader, separatist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) chieftain Ocalan. After we forced the terrorist chieftain out of Syria and had Europe closing her doors to his face, Greece assisted, supported and harbored the fugitive terrorist. She did not act as a responsible state. She is now paying the price for the way she handled the whole matter. Greece has lost her ability to deceive the world. Greece has lost her credibility.” 14

After all those events, Turkey lost an important amount of trust for Greece that was achieved with many difficulties. That made the job of George Papandreou much harder due to the cautious and skeptic view of Turkey. Still, Cem started the relations with the new foreign minister by offering cooperation in fighting terrorism together which emerged as a major problem between two states. Before an agreement on this issue, a big surprise came from Greece that changed the pace of events. Greece did not use the veto for the EU candidacy of Turkey even though it was widely anticipated in the Turkish side. After an incident of a mistrust, a confidence building measure of this extent and the intense efforts of the two minister accelerated the process of Turkish-Greek rapprochement. Cem and Papandreou became two figures identified with this peace process. Without a year passing from the harsh criticisms of Cem towards Greece, he started to speak highly of his new counterpart in Greece. “I am now pleased that with Minister Papandreou we use the same language of reconciliation and cooperation. But, I should also make it clear that Papandreou is as keen on Greek interests as Pangolos. The difference is that, contrary to Pangolos, Papandreou sees it in Greece’s interest to be on good terms with Turkey.” 15

That speech actually summarizes many important points. It shows that what Cem and Papandreou achieved was not compromise, since none of the parts lost anything including the face-saving concerns. That was a lesson for many conflicting countries that indeed cooperation is possible between the parties facing problems rather than the classical methods of contending, yielding or even compromising. In a dual concern model, both parties managed to carry the situation to a “win-win” solution, where the needs of both parties were satisfied. With all those efforts, Cem and Papandreou were honored by the East-West Institute’s “The Statesman of the Year” Award together. The decisive and politically bold political behaviour was proven to be effective in resolving many conflicts. With a working cooperation, these two ministers managed to tackle with many other obstacles on the way more fast. Ismail Cem in his book explains the achievements that were made as: “The gain is mutual: Tensions are dropping; there is a growing atmosphere of trust; Turkish and Greek civil-society organizations of all kinds meeting almost every other day; nine agreements which already provide substantial results; cooperation within the EU; coordination in the Balkans; joint economic ventures already on track; official visits by the Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers, the first of their kind since 20 and 30 years respectively; Turkish and Greek flags waved together in concert halls and stadiums in both countries. If someone had described this picture some eight months ago, we would all have agreed that he was daydreaming.” 16 In this interview, Ismail Cem keeps on mentioning that the Turkish-Greek rapprochement does not have its grounds on the personal friendship and the similar worldviews of Cem and Papandreou. The point that was underlined many times is that the process was built-upon facts and problems that were seen so hard to resolve. The parties made no concessions at all but instead they package the issues that were the essential parts of the conflict. For example, in the case of Cyprus Ismail Cem numerously mentioned that the problem was not bilateral in nature so there is no need to prioritize it as an obstacle towards peace. In his public speeches, Cem always explained that he is not working on the question of Cyprus with his counterpart Papandreou and wait to observe how the situation would be in its own dynamic. In the press, sometimes Cem and Papandreou were often accused for their compromising attitudes in dealing with very old disputes. They were usually nationalists, trying to benefit from the image of the “other” in the Aegean. Yet in general both Papandreou and Cem managed to satisfy the public opinion and became the symbols of peace.

In their term, there were only two problems left on the table for Cem and Papandreou to resolve. The first one is naturally the many disputes over the Aegean. Cem presented his readiness to discuss the problems of the Aegean under the relevant UN Charters but unfortunately his term faced some political rivalry in the Turkish political scene. That was why he resigned from his office as the foreign minister. To make it clear, unlike what was predicted over his resignation; Ismail Cem was not forced by the prime-minister of that time Bulent Ecevit because of his positive attitudes towards Greece. There was no such mistrust of Ecevit towards Cem in the case of Cyprus either that might have forced him to leave office. It was the attempt of Cem to form a new political party, the New Turkey, before the elections due to his view on the physical incapability of the old prime minister. His successor Sukru Sina Gurel also was not appointed because of his hawkish stand against Greece, but only for his loyalty to the prime minister.

The other point that was left on the table with Cem’s resignation was the problem of minorities. Cem often presented his worry for the oppression taking place in Western Thrace against the Turks. Protection of human rights and minority rights was an important issue for the Turkish government. Similarly, Greece also delivered her concern about the Greek minorities in Turkey and the right that was demanded has been an issue for debate even long after their terms.

As a conclusion, I must say that the Turkish-Greek rapprochement is a dream come true. For so long, people in the two different shores of the Aegean lived with the fear of an attack coming from the other side. In time, they forgot how similar they were to each other and created new memories by demonizing the other. Ismail Cem and Yorgos Papandreou, as the two architects of the peace, deserve the appreciation of both Turkish and Greek communities for their incredible efforts. Their success in the two-table negotiations by persuading the constituencies back home made both figures memorable in the history of the Aegean. The rapprochement between Turkey and Greece did not only mean the political agreements signed but the “mutual re-discovery by the peoples of Turkey and Greece of one another and their reconciliation.” Today, Cem and Papandreou in a way enabled me to travel to Athens and discuss with my Greek friends about the contemporary situation of the Turkish-Greek relations. People in the both coasts were making new memories and looking at the future with hope. The motives behind Cem and Papandreou, we can never know for sure. Some say that it was the business groups that pushed the parties to the table and some say that it was the only way for Turkey to enter European Union. Either way, the rapprochement in the Aegean means much more. The superficial borders of Europe were about to extend with “Greece and Turkey no longer facing each other as potentially conflicting parties on the opposite sides of a dividing line.”17 The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ is once again about to be proved as nothing but an illusion. World has so much to learn from those two gentlemen…




1 Valinakis Giannis, “Introduction to the Greek foreign policy 1945-1989”ed. Paratiritis, Thessaloniki 1989,p. 15- p.35.

2 Ekavi Athenassopoulou, "Blessing in Disguise? The Imia-Kardak Crisis and Greek-Turkish Relations," Mediterranean Politics, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Winter 1997), p. 97.

3 Especially the economic interest groups in both countries acted in opposition to the official line followed by their governments. After mentioning that the Greek and Turkish tourist operators signed a "protocol of cooperation" following the Imia-Kardak crisis of 1996, Ioakimidis makes the following conclusion: "Never in the past had Greek economic interests been so openly at odds with the official policy pursued by the country over such a sensitive area (Greek-Turkish relations)." See P.C. Ioakimidis, "The Model of Foreign Policy-Making in Greece: Personalities versus Institutions," in Stelios Stavridis, Theodore Couloumbis, and Thanos Veremis (eds), The Foreign Policies of the Euroepan Union's Mediterranean States and Applicant Countries in the 1990s, p. 157.


4George Papandreou, "Working Together: Why Greece Supports Turkey's European Future."


5 "Speech Delivered by FM Ismail Cem at the East-West Institute On the Occasion of Presentation of 'The Statesman of the Year' Award," May 2, 2000.


6 "Speech Delivered by FM Ismail Cem at the East-West Institute On the Occasion of Presentation of 'The Statesman of the Year' Award," May 2, 2000.

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7 Interview with George Papandreou, "Resolving Old Enmities," Newsweek, Newsweek International, February 21, 2000.


8 "Letter from Mr. George Papandreou, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Greece, to Mr. Ismail Cem, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Turkey," June 25, 1999.

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9 Athens News Agency, Daily News Bulletin, September 27, 1997.

10 George Papandreou, "Revision in Greek Foreign Policy," Western Policy Center, January 2000. .

11 Cem, Ismail.

12 Interview given to I. Cevik and Y. Kanli, “Turkish Daily News” Ankara, June 1999

13 Q&A with Riz Khan, CNN, September 1997

14 Interview given Turkish Daily News, Ankara, January 1997

15 Interview given to I. Cevik, broadcasted by “Kanal 7”

16 Interview given to M. Howard and published by “Odyssey”, Athens, March-April 2000, Excepts

17 Article published by “La Stampa”, Rome, July 2000





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