‘Our duty to promote friendship’

Do you believe that relations with Greece can improve during Turkey’s accession talks with the EU? In which areas do you foresee likely improvements? I believe so as we are basically people of the same land. And so we have the ability to understand each other better, which is the basis for tolerance. I believe we could develop a specific region of cooperation within the EU – including Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. And when we have a comprehensive settlement on Cyprus we can all (Greece, Turkey and Cyprus) have a very good cooperation. Do you believe that the prospects are good for achieving a Cyprus solution during the course of Turkey’s accession negotiations? What changes are you hoping for? First of all, a great opportunity was missed last year when United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan was rejected (by the Greek Cypriots). Of course, people have the right to say yes or no in a referendum, but the problem was that (Cypriot President Tassos) Papadopoulos led the «no» campaign. This is why we are not very optimistic. To solve a chronic problem, one has to compromise. The Turkish-Cypriot people compromised. But Papadopoulos does not want to compromise. He wants southern Cyprus, but not northern Cyprus, to be part of the EU so that he can impose his own plan. He wants to bypass the UN. Why does Ankara refuse to lift the ban on Cypriot ships at Turkish ports despite EU calls for a shift in its stance? We made a proposal in May – let’s lift all restrictions on the island, and between the island and other countries, all at once. But Papadopoulos did not agree to this. How would you describe the Turkish government’s relations with the Greek one? We really believe in friendship with Greece, and we feel it is our duty to promote this. I visited Greece in 2004 and Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis visited our party convention shortly before he was elected. And we would be happy to see Karamanlis again in Turkey. Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also visited Greece and has a very good relationship with Karamanlis. However there are circles, in both countries, which feed provocation. They blow issues out of proportion, which doesn’t help. Why does Ankara refuse to repeal the casus belli over territorial waters in the Aegean even after a European Union report expressed concern over this stance? There is nothing new here. The 1997 Madrid declaration (signed by then-Greek PM Costas Simitis and then-Turkish President Suleyman Demirel) – according to which Greece should not extend its waters and Turkey should not resort to the use of force – still applies. Your government has said it would consider reopening the Halki Orthodox Seminary – when can we hope for some progress on this issue? There was no intention to specifically close that school. At that time (in 1974), it was decided that private universities were against the Turkish Constitution and should be closed and the seminary fell within the same category. It wasn’t a targeted closure. But we have no objection to it operating. Current legislation allows it operate and there are proposals currently being discussed by the Higher Education Board and the Istanbul-based patriarchate. What is the stance of Turkey as regards the recognition of Patriarch Vartholomaios as ecumenical? According to Lausanne and existing Turkish legislation, the patriarch is the leader of Turkey’s Greek Orthodox population. This is how we see this issue, according to legislation. Do you think that a different approach in the education sectors of both our countries – aimed at ensuring children grow up with a better insight into the history and culture of their neighbor – could improve our ties? Yes, I agree. How we introduce these changes is the issue. Over the past three years, we have already made changes to schoolbooks here in Turkey. And I believe Greece has been doing the same thing. Promoting understanding and tolerance is good for both our countries.