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Zero Problems with Greece: Grounds for Optimism

Zero Problems with Greece: Grounds for Optimism

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This policy brief examines the resumption of the quiet negotiation process between Greece and Turkey regarding Cyprus.
This policy brief examines the resumption of the quiet negotiation process between Greece and Turkey regarding Cyprus.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Dec 14, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The almost 30-yearperiod of friendly relations, basedon the idea of an Aegean andEastern Mediterranean balancebetween Turkey and Greece, wasestablished on the basis of aset of treaties and conventionssigned with the allies of WWI after the Turco-Greek War of 1919-1922. Greek Cypriot demandsfor independence from Britishcolonial rule in Cyprus were seenby the Turks as undermining thisbalance, and gradually brought the harmonious relationship to an end. In early 1999, Geor-gios Papandreou, who favoreda rapprochement with Turkeybecame the Foreign Minister of Greece. Papandreou’s desire forimproved relations was recip-rocated by the late Ismail Cem,Turkey’s foreign minister at the time. During a series of visits, the two worked together to trans-form the mood of Turkish-Greekrelations into one of friendliness.While Cem’s departure from
ofce after the 2002 elections did
not prove critical, Papandreou’sdeparture after the 2004 elec- tions ended the low-key diplomaticprocess for a time. Papandreou’sreturn to power in 2009, this timeas prime minister, has led to theresumption of the quiet negotia- tion process.
Zero problems with Greece: Grounds for optimism
by Ilter Turan
December 6, 2010
, DC
Historically, urkish-Greek relationshave vacillated between good and prob-lematic. Te Greek invasion o westernAnatolia aer the First World War and thesubsequent deeat o the Greek armies,ollowed by the establishment o theurkish Republic, constituted a dicultbeginning. Yet, within a decade, urkey’sPresident Kemal Atatürk and Greece’sPrime Minister Eleherios Venizeloshad managed to bury the hatchet andorge a riendship that characterizedrelations between the two countries untilthe mid-1950s. It was during this periodthat Greece and urkey worked togethersuccessully to become members o NAOin 1952.Te almost 30-year period o riendly rela-tions, based on the idea o an Aegean andeastern Mediterranean balance betweenthe two countries, was established on thebasis o a set o treaties and conventionssigned with the allies o WWI aer theurco-Greek War o 1919-1922. Greek Cypriot demands or independence romBritish colonial rule in Cyprus were seenby the urks as undermining this balance,and gradually brought the harmoniousrelationship to an end. Greeks thought itnatural that the island should become apart o Greece because the majority o itspopulation was Greek. urkey believedthat the presence o a sizable urkishminority in Cyprus had to be accommo-dated, and that the island did not consti-tute a legitimate zone o Greek expansionbecause it had been seized rom urkey in 1878. Uniying Cyprus with Greece,urkey judged, would expose urkey tosignicant security risks and upset thepost-1923 balance.Greece was already a party to the struggleor Cyprus’ independence when bloody intra-communal ghting broke outbetween the Greek and urkish communi-ties there. Te bloodshed gradually drewurkey into the conict. Te London andZurich agreements, which made Cyprusindependent, provided only a temporary reprieve. Greek Cypriot eforts to changethe status quo envisioned in the agree-ments revitalized the communal ghting.When Greece initiated a coup and placeda man in power whose avowed purposewas to bring about a union with Greece,urkey staged a military intervention. Teisland has been divided into Greek andurkish zones ever since.Te Cyprus conict led to the emergenceo additional conicts between Greeceand urkey in our ways. First, situationsthat were not perceived as problems in thepast were reconstituted as problems: orinstance, the arming o Greek islands closeto the urkish shore. Te Lausanne reaty and the Convention on the urkish Straitsocially banned Greece rom militarizingthese islands, yet Greece had initially proceeded to arm them without reactionrom urkey. Under the changed circum-stances, however, urkey argued that this
was a violation o Greece’s treaty obligations. Similarly, Greeceexpanded the airspace o its Aegean islands rom six to ten miles,although its territorial waters only extended six miles. Again,the urkish response was initially to ignore the change, then toreuse to recognize it, and nally to challenge it. Tis is the basis o perennial Greek complaints that urkish military aircra violateits airspace. And this is why Greek and urkish warplanes engagein dangerous dogghts over the Aegean.Second, technical arrangements o a practical nature wereelevated to questions o security. Flight Inormation Region (FIR)or regulating international air trac, or example, evolved into aquestion o sovereignty and thereby security. Each country servedNotices to Airmen (NOAMs), used to alert pilots to aerialhazards, leaving parts o the Aegean closed to civilian ights orlong periods.Tird, developments in the international arena introduced newaspects o conict to the relationship. Te respective economiczones and continental shelves o urkey and Greece, or example,could not be demarcated in the Aegean since the parties ailed toagree on how to do this in a narrow sea containing small islandsand uninhabited rocks. Similarly, while the Greeks argued thatthe new International reaty on the Law o the Sea gave themthe right to extend their territorial waters to twelve miles, urkey argued that the Aegean was an exception, as twelve miles wouldrender the Aegean a Greek sea. urkey added that such an exten-sion would be considered a
casus belli
. Tis mutual distrust led toexaggerated estimates regarding major oil and gas deposits in thecontested areas, thereby exacerbating disagreements.Fourth, Greece began to extend support to domestically-basedethnic terrorists in urkey. Greek support or the KurdistanWorkers’ Party, or PKK, included the provision o unds andmaterials; allowing the group to run training camps in Greece;hosting some o its leaders; and trying to mobilize internationalsupport or the organization in European Union councils andelsewhere.In this way, Cyprus had triggered a host o other disagreementswith Greece, compounding the erosion o trust between the twocountries and generating eelings o insecurity on both sides.Te poor state o urkish-Greek relations was always a cause orconcern in NAO during the Cold War. Open conict betweenthe two allies at best embarrassed and at worst imperiled the alli-ance. Despite mediation eforts disagreements were not solved,only contained, and always risked aring up into major conicts,as in the case o the 1995 Kardak/Imia Rocks crisis. Each country invested considerable unds to ramp up deenses against the other,and they oen worked to undermine each other in internationalcouncils.Tis tension-ridden relationship came to a head in late 1998 andearly 1999, when the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was orced toleave Syria upon urkey’s threat to intervene militarily. Greecehosted him and tried to nd a place or him to go. Aer travelingto several European capitals, Öcalan returned to Greece andwas sent to Kenya where he was hosted in the Greek Embassy.He was seized by urkish agents on his way to the airport andown to urkey. Tis series o events brought urkey and Greeceback to the brink o open hostilities. It also led to the removalo key gures in the Greek government and intelligence service.Especially noteworthy was the replacement o Foreign MinisterTeodoros Pangalos by Georgios Papandreou, who avored arapprochement with urkey.Papandreou’s desire or improved relations was reciprocated by the late Ismail Cem, urkey’s oreign minister at the time. Duringa series o visits, the two worked together to transorm the moodo urkish-Greek relations into one o riendliness. Te act thatGreece had become a member o the EU in 1981 had consider-ably allayed Greek eelings o insecurity in relation to urkey,while the commencement o Cyprus’ EU accession negotiationshad reduced Greek anxieties about the uture status o the island.Hence, conditions allowed Papandreou to pursue a new path. Inthe meantime, urkey, aspiring to become a member o the EUand trying to cope with economic challenges, was also not inter-ested in perpetuating the conict.Many issues plague the urkish-Greek relationship, and theirresolution is an accordingly complex matter. Negotiations area give-and-take process, and each side and its respective publicmust believe that it has obtained a good deal. Governments,opposition parties, and the general public keep close track o suchnegotiations to ensure that national interests are protected. Teattempt to resolve the many disputes between urkey and Greecethus necessarily took place behind closed doors, only to be madepublic once a nal agreement had been reached. eams led by therespective undersecretaries o the urkish and Greek ministrieso oreign afairs began exploratory talks under the leadership o Papandreou and Cem. While Cem’s departure rom oce aerthe 2002 elections did not prove critical, Papandreou’s departureaer the 2004 elections ended this low-key diplomatic process ora time.

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