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Davutoglu optimistic about future of bilateral relations with Greece 12 mars 2013

Posted by Acturca in Energy / Energie, Istanbul, Religion, South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey / Turquie.
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Ekathimerini.com (Greece) Tuesday March 12, 2013

By Tom Ellis

Although accepting international law as the ‘backbone’ of any bid to tackle outstanding issues between Greece and Turkey, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stops short of endorsing the International Law of the Sea as a basis for a solution, opting instead for bilateral talks.

Turkey is keen to strengthen ties with Greece, and the prospects of settling bilateral disputes have been bolstered by the willingness expressed by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Kathimerini in an interview.

At his official residence in Ankara, Davutoglu hailed the “very good” chemistry between the leaders of the two states and appeared optimistic regarding the future of bilateral issues.

While he accepted international law as the “backbone” of any bid to tackle outstanding issues between Greece and Turkey, he stoppped short of endorsing the International Law of the Sea as a basis for a solution, opting instead for bilateral talks. Turkey, Davutoglu told Kathimerini, cannot be expected to be cut off from the sea.

Do you dispute Greece’s right to exploit energy resources beneath its seabed?

First of all, we need to share a common view on Turkish-Greek relations. The Turkish government’s position is to see our combined potential as a great asset for the future of the two nations, not as an area of competition, but as an area of cooperation. For many decades Turkey and Greece saw each other as rivals and tended to obstruct each other. The main change in method and mentality today is that we are not trying to obstruct each other but rather to open a new frontier, new horizons in our relations. In that sense, the Aegean Sea is for us a sea of friendship and dialogue. There are some strong assets and potentials in the Aegean and we can work together to make this potential a source of wealth for both nations – of course respecting each other’s rights. Here we have a certain difference of opinion and approach. How to define the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and other sensitive issues. We know our differences of opinion. The important thing is that we do not make this difference of opinion a barrier between us – something like a Berlin Wall that is not sustainable, reasonable or ethical.

We can share our different opinions and try to find a win-win situation. Up to now we have had 54 exploratory talks. The last time was in January. In fact we had made quite a bit of progress in these talks, but because of certain political issues – which we fully understand – we did not move ahead. We can continue these, but first I want to underline again that we want to see a strong, stable, prosperous neighbor next to us. Some extremists in Turkey or Greece may think that Turks and Greeks are locked in a zero-sum game, where one side is strong and the other will be poor. But, I assure you, the exact opposite is true. Even Greek public opinion appreciates how in the last two years, during the economic crisis in Greece, Turkey has tried to be helpful rather than trying to exploit the situation. If Greece or any other of our neighbors is weak or has certain problems, it is also a problem for us. These differences of opinion, I am sure, will be settled with this new mentality.

You mentioned a difference of opinion. Greece believes that when two parties disagree, even if they enjoy friendly relations, they can solve their differences based on the International Law of the Sea. Shouldn’t this be the basis when seeking a solution?

Of course, international law and national sovereignty are the backbone of all these talks, but it depends on how you interpret international law. The best way to solve this type of dispute is through dialogue between both parties because the Aegean is a very unique sea with thousands of islands, but at the same time it is part of the greater Mediterranean region. This all needs to be taken into consideration. Of course, we fully respect sovereignty issues. The important thing is to solve it within this context. Meanwhile, Turkey has the longest coast of all the Mediterranean countries, if you don’t count islands. Of course nobody could expect Turkey to be landlocked by certain measures. There will be some sort of solution where these islands, and also Turkish interests, will be taken care of. So, this is not mutually exclusive. We could come together and this could be a joint asset. As minister and even before, I had to deal with several international issues. I said this to my friend – I would say my brother – Dimitris [Avramopoulos], when we met: Sixty, seventy percent of this crisis is basically psychological. If there were no psychological barrier, there could always be a rationalistic, realistic solution for any crisis. But when there is a psychological barrier which prevents people from thinking rationally and realistically and makes both sides emotional and reactionary, then even the easiest crisis becomes a reason for war. But when there is no psychological barrier and people think closely, even the most difficult issues can be resolved in a much easier way. This is basically how we think now.

If we don’t resort to international law and we follow the path of dialogue, and given the fact that Turkey is the largest country – I believe you respect the fact that Greece has traditionally been wary of Turkey – shouldn’t the latter take the larger steps to make it easier for a solution to be found?

You know, if you don’t have access to the sea, then the long coast is not something that makes you strong. But if you were in the meetings last Monday, when we signed 25 agreements, the atmosphere was not one of “one side is strong and the other side is weak.” We can share much bigger things, cultural, economic, political, and there are so many similarities and so many common potentials between Turks and Greeks. It is not a matter of competition or size or a power struggle. Take for example Turkish-Russian relations. Russia is much bigger than Turkey, and until our government came to power there had been no visits on the presidential level from Russia to Turkey. But now we have excellent relations. We are not scared of Russia because now we are friends. Yes, during the Cold War we were scared, but now we are friends.
There could be several common security arrangements. We are members of NATO. Turkey and Greece are members of NATO, so we are allies. We are not two conflicting sides; we are allies. On many fronts Turkish and Greek soldiers are together and they have excellent relations. There should not be any worry about Turkish power – quite the opposite in fact. If Turkey is strong as a neighbor, it will have to aid Greece; if Greece is strong as a neighbor, it can help Turkey. We always prefer two strong neighbors rather than one strong one and the other weaker. In the 1960s, 70s, the 80s, and even the 90s, there was such a psychology, but now things have changed. Greece’s young generation watches Turkish TV series, and young Turks go to the Greek islands for their vacations. A few days ago, my wife, who is a gynecologist, called me to tell me that one of my former students had married a Greek girl and that they were going to have a baby. There are so many mixed marriages now. Who will be scared of whom?

Will Turkey go ahead with hydrocarbon exploration around Rhodes and Kastellorizo?

Of course, in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey as a coastal country has a right to conduct explorations, and here also there is a common understanding.

On Cyprus, what kind of prospects do you think there are for a solution following the election of Nicos Anastasiades as president?

I think there is a new window of opportunity. Political change always brings new challenges and new opportunities. Like in 2002, right in the middle of negotiations on Cyprus, there was a new government in Turkey. We came to power and in one year – against everyone’s expectations – we were able to have almost a miracle in the sense of going to a referendum. Nobody was expecting to see a referendum. I think Anastasiades has two advantages. One advantage is that he is not like [Dimitris] Christofias, who inherited the “no” stance [against the Annan plan] from his predecessor [Tassos Papadopoulos], and Anastasiades is somebody who said “yes” in 2004. Therefore, he can openly declare that he is ready to move ahead, because he said “yes,” his party said “yes.”

But only 25 percent of Greek Cypriots voted for the Annan plan.

That is the case, but still there is no problem of inconsistency. For Christofias, it was difficult to change a policy which was established by Papadopoulos, but for Anastasiades it is easy to start to make a new beginning and if there is peace I am sure he will get a much bigger vote. Because in the last nine years there have been other rounds of talks and I am sure everybody has realized in that time that the absence of a solution is not in anyone’s interest. Everybody is losing out for different reasons. And if some extremists on the Greek-Cypriot side think that Turkey is facing difficulties and that they can use the EU membership to pressure Turkey, they need to realize that this doesn’t work. Nine years have passed and now we have enough experience to review our policies, all of us. I don’t mean only the Cypriots.

But there can’t be a return to the Annan plan, which was voted down. There needs to be something new.

Yes, there could, but the important thing is a new round of talks, with a sincere approach and a clear timetable. In the last talks between Christofias and [Turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis] Eroglu and before that, between Christofias and [Mehmet Ali] Talat, they didn’t manage to get very far because there was no time frame, there was no commonly understood methodology. They were saying no to the international conference, no time frame. Now, these new methods, which could lead us to peace, could be established and now there are so many common issues – water, for example. Turkey will be providing water to Cyprus next year. Water is like gold on islands and the Greek people know that better than anyone. Everything depends on water, and there will be a water pipeline from Turkey to Cyprus.

The recently discovered energy deposits could benefit the Turkish Cypriots if they agreed to a solution.

If the Greek Cypriots want to use energy resources as something to punish the Turkish-Cypriot side, they will fail. We will not allow that to happen. It doesn’t mean we are threatening, but it is not logical and it is not legal. Both communities have a right to all natural resources. If in the future resources are found in the north of Cyprus, the Greek Cypriots of course will have a right to them.

Without a solution, it is a little bit difficult. The energy resources are clearly an incentive for a solution.

Therefore we need a solution, if there is a solution; water and gas are important assets, everybody will win, while in the case of no solution everybody will suffer. That is why Turkey is in favor of a quick, early solution. We will see what Anastasiades will say, but what we see now is that Greece is more interested in a solution and to be more active. In the last few years, because of domestic issues, Greece was more reserved. Now Prime Minister Samaras and my friend Dimitris, they are both showing an interest that we need to talk and work together for Cyprus.

How do you feel about Prime Minister Samaras? He is known for his tough stance on national issues, but he is seen much more as a realist these days.

In Istanbul it was my third meeting with him after he became prime minister. I had a very good meeting with him when I visited Athens in October, then we met again in Doha last month, together with Prime Minister Erdogan, and this was the third time. Prime Minister Samaras is one of the most experienced politicians. Politics and practice teaches all of us to be more pragmatic, more result-oriented, more open to dialogue. I am very happy that since our first meeting Samaras has always been open and very cooperative. His chemistry with Prime Minister Erdogan is very good and they had excellent bilateral talks, joking a lot during lunch and before, even during the meeting. Relations between me and Dimitris are excellent, as could be observed during our press conference when he was here. To get back to your question, Samaras is a man of experience and good intention. Being tough… you have to define what it means. Some principle-oriented people can make a change for their countries and for this type of process. Therefore the important thing is intention, not being tough or soft, but what is the intention and seriousness of political will.

Could they follow the example of Eleftherios Venizelos and Ataturk?

Yes, that’s what I was going to say. At Ankara Palas when I had lunch with Dimitris, I showed him a picture of Ataturk and Venizelos, who had fought against each other and then made peace. That means there is always ground for peace. And now it is for us to not only make peace, but also to establish a new spirit of cooperation. One day the Turkish and Greek economies will and should be fully integrated. Turkish and Greek security concerns should be fully integrated. If Turkey were in the EU, Turkish-Greek cooperation would make the EU stronger. Turkey, Greece and maybe a united Cyprus, could be a zone like the Baltic states.

Why is Turkey against the new way of selecting the imams that was voted by the Greek Parliament, a move that essentially helps their work?

We have talked about this with Dimitris in detail and in a very friendly manner. [One has to consider] conventions and traditions, because religious issues are basically traditions. For example, the patriarch has his own traditions; we cannot impose anything on the Greek patriarch. I can tell you that after I became minister I instructed our embassies that whenever the Greek patriarch makes a foreign visit, they should receive him the same way they would if he were the chief of religious affairs of the Muslim community.

Of course, the government has to approve the patriarch.

It is the Greek minority’s issue, they decide for themselves. Turkey never interfered in the elections of the Greek patriarch or the Holy Synod. It is religious freedom and autonomy and it has been for the last five centuries at least. Why should we change it? This is their right, we don’t interfere. Similarly, for Muslim Turks in western Thrace or Rhodes and other places, they are a community, they have their own traditions. A Turk or a Muslim cannot impose their will on an Orthodox Greek, they cannot even know what is good for an Orthodox Greek. They know their traditions, we cannot interfere. Similarly, Greek governments cannot know what is good or what is allowed or not allowed according to Muslim tradition. The Muslim mufti should be autonomous, should be their own issue, like the Greek patriarch. This is basically what we want.

But they are Greek citizens after all.

We are modern states and all of our citizens are equal. Their community could be very small – there are 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians in Turkey. Even if it is two people, they are equal to all 75 million Turks. Similarly, Muslim Turks are equal to other Greek citizens. Whenever I went to Western Thrace or Prime Minister Erdogan went there, or any leader went there, we all said: “You are Greek citizens, your culture is Turkish, your religion is Muslim, but you are Greek citizens. You are not an extension of Turkey. You are Greek citizens. You use your own legal rights as Greek citizens.” If the mufti is elected by the minority based on their own traditions, it is a great asset, but if this decision is imposed or decided or appointed by the government, it is not. It is difficult for the minority to accept this.

So do you feel that the Greek position is not democratic?

No, I am optimistic. We are exchanging our views…

Will the Halki seminary reopen?

It could. Why not? We have spoken about all these issues in a very friendly manner. We hope we will make some more progress. I remind you that our government returned all the properties of the Orthodox Church and other religious minorities, while many issues in Greece are still pending regarding Muslim religious institutions. But we didn’t wait for reciprocity. We said our Christian citizens are equal citizens; if there is a violation of their property rights it is out duty to put it right. We gave the orphanage back, we returned many properties which total many millions of dollars. But we didn’t hesitate because this is our duty. If something was done wrong in the past it is our duty to correct it. Of course, the same thing should be valid for Muslim Turks in Greece. They are equal citizens of Greece.


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