Ways that neighbors can mend fences

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis yesterday met, for the first time, her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, who was appointed last month. The meeting represented a significant step in relations between the two countries, which seem to have stalled this year. In an interview, the Turkish Ambassador to Greece, Oguz Celikkol, explains how the two countries can bolster their ties. At the beginning of this year, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis described relations with Turkey as «static.» Would you say that this is still the case or has there been some improvement? Is there any scope for significant movement this year? First of all, I would like to underline that Turkey is committed to good neighborly relations with Greece. The Turkish government has the will and determination to reconcile all the differences with Greece through dialogue. At the same time, we are aware that the resolution of complex and interlinked issues that concern the interests of both countries requires patience and perseverance. To this end, our objective is to maintain the existing atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation and to enhance Turkish-Greek relations from a partnership perspective. In fact, the promotion of the Turkish-Greek friendship is a part of our desire to have good relations with all our neighbors. High-level visits and contacts between our countries continue. We are looking forward to hosting the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs for an official visit to Turkey. We hope that these high-level visits will bring a new momentum to Turkish-Greek relations. We have established and institutionalized contact mechanisms which enable us to enjoy uninterrupted dialogue in all aspects of our relations. Since 2000, the Turkish-Greek Steering Committee has completed the legal framework for the political, economic and cultural aspects of our relations to a great extent. Exploratory contacts between the two foreign ministries, to which both sides attach importance, are ongoing. Confidence-building Measures (CBM), 24 in total, are being implemented. Within the framework of the CBMs that have been adopted, high-level military contacts are being maintained. As well as the regular, mutually reciprocated visits of the Chiefs of Staff, the Army, Navy and Air Force also hold contacts on a regularly scheduled basis. Most recently, in April, the visit of the Commander of the Turkish Navy Fleet to Greece was followed by the visit of the Commander of the Greek Coast Guard to Turkey. Now we are hosting the Greek Navy Commander in Turkey and the Commander of the Turkish Land Forces is planning a visit to Greece in the near future. These visits illustrate the positive outcomes of the CBMs adopted. We believe enhancing Turkish-Greek cooperation is in line with the interests of our two peoples and it serves peace and stability in our region. Our efforts to this end should continue with patience, caution and careful attention. In what other ways do you think that confidence between the two countries can be built? A more constructive understanding has begun to define the terms of bilateral relations since 1999. The conclusion of 33 bilateral agreements in various fields such as trade, tourism, environment, culture, energy, transportation and security-related matters has contributed toward the diversification of cooperation on issues of common interest. The mutual desire to bridge differences through dialogue and promote cooperation in the better interest of both countries has also reflected positively on other dimensions of bilateral relations, such as trade, energy and tourism. The bilateral trade volume between the two countries has constantly increased, reaching 3.5 billion US dollars in 2008. While Turkey has become one of Greece’s principal trading partners, total investments by some 300 Greek firms operating in Turkey, with the banking sector taking the lead, has soared to 6 billion US dollars in recent years. Turkish investments in Greece have started to pick up as well. Energy has also proven to be a promising area of cooperation between the two countries. The inauguration of the natural gas interconnector held on 18 November 2007 in Ipsala on the Turkish-Greek border with the participation of the prime ministers of Turkey and Greece constitutes a milestone in the energy cooperation between the two countries and demonstrates the potential for the two countries to contribute to the diversification of EU’s energy routes. All these developments are indicative of the positive trend in Turkish-Greek bilateral relations and evidence the fact that economic relations have become one of the main pillars for cooperation between Turkey and Greece. Both countries have been benefiting from this close cooperation and deepening it will further promote the friendly relations between Turkey and Greece. Tourism, which provides a unique as well as effective means for increasing person-to-person contacts between the Turkish and Greek peoples, significantly contributes to our efforts to bridge the differences through dialogue and cooperation, which is in the best interest of both countries. In 2008, Turkey was the destination of choice for 550,000 Greek tourists. The number of Turkish tourists visiting Greece has also steadily increased since 1998 reaching 300,000 in 2008. Apart from its economic benefits, tourism provides one of the most effective tools to deepen friendly relations between peoples. Therefore, we should continue to promote tourism for the benefit of our peoples. Cultural contacts between our peoples have also played an important role in promoting friendly relations between the two countries. I believe that this is an important area to further develop in the years ahead. We should expand our fruitful cooperation to promote cultural relations through joint projects, broader mutual participation in cultural and artistic events as well as exchange programs among educational institutions. Opening cultural centers in Athens and Istanbul will significantly promote our joint efforts to this end.