Greek-Turkish relations are emerging from a period of deep crisis, perhaps the deepest in recent years. The day after in Greek-Turkish relations is not facilitated by Turkey’s aggressive policy, with the exploitation of the migration issue for political ends, the tension in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, and the radical rhetoric it has recently adopted.
But, as the escalation of tensions over the past year shows, there is no doubt that we can no longer just take containment measures. It is no longer enough to keep the rhetoric in check and wait for the next possible, and even expected, escalation. A strategic plan is needed to try to remedy the chronic problems in Greek-Turkish relations. Differences between countries may exist, but it is essential to build trust and create a reliable channel of communication.
This is the strategic approach that Greece has been successfully promoting. Greek foreign policy over the last two years has increased the trust and respect of both Europe and the international community. As a result, the prism of dealing with Greek-Turkish relations has become European, while our country’s alliances have strengthened, both within and outside the geopolitical framework of the West.
Greece has successfully countered Turkey’s aggression, opportunism and maximalist revisionism relying on the principles of credibility, political stability and international law. The result of this value system adopted by Greek foreign policy is that Greece emerged as a strong regional pole of stability.
This system should therefore provide the platform for a re-engagement of the Greek-Turkish dialogue, a reboot in relations between the two countries and their political leaderships. The resumption of exploratory contacts in January 2021 and the reciprocal visits of the two countries’ foreign ministers do not, of course, cancel out the aggravated tension that already exists. However, they go beyond the simple and sterile protocol that many advocate and prefer.
They constitute a clear message to Turkey, to Europe and to the international community that Greece is defending its positions with confidence, credibility and clear arguments, and it is part of the solution – not part of the problem. This is the nature of Greece’s foreign policy. This is also the spirit of Monday’s meeting between Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the NATO Summit, under the close scrutiny of the allies.
For half a century Greek-Turkish relations have been those of a self-fulfilling prophecy of tensions and rhetoric. This vicious cycle has to finally be broken. This will not happen today, nor tomorrow; it will take time. Because the day after not only depends on Greece and Turkey. Many factors will determine it, most importantly the Cyprus issue, but also EU-Turkish and American-Turkish relations.
However, the only foundations for a future resolution of the Greek-Turkish conflict, on the basis of understanding between the two neighboring countries, can only be those of mutual trust and honesty, within an acceptable framework of communication, which cannot be other than the commonly accepted interpretation of international law.
Greek foreign policy and Prime Minister Mitsotakis are ready to support this kind of future in relations between the two countries. What remains to be seen is whether the Turkish leadership is mature enough to contribute to this goal.
Dora Bakoyannis is a New Democracy MP for the regional unit of Hania on Crete and a former foreign minister.