The destructive earthquakes of 1999 prompted a real rapprochement between Greece and Turkey through the cooperation between then Foreign Minister George Papandreou and his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem. A policy that had persisted for two decades was completely reversed, without there being the slightest reaction from Papandreou’s party, PASOK.
Today, the wave of refugees and immigrants from the war-torn countries of the Middle East to Europe, via Turkey and through Greece, could act as a catalyst for a new period of warmer relations between the two nations. One can draw all sorts of ambitious strategies on paper, but the geographical factor is unyielding and defining. Despite their significant differences on matters of politics, culture and religion, among others, Greece and Turkey are countries of the middle ground, for centuries melting pots of ideas, aesthetics and perceptions.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has just returned from a visit to Ankara. It is encouraging that his talks with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, were conducted in an amiable climate. The important thing, however, is that cooperation continues in a systematic manner beyond the refugee crisis.
There was no absence of reaction to the Greek premier’s visit. The opposition of some Western governments to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reason enough for some for Tsipras not to make the trip (he was the first prime minister to do so after the elections in that country). Reason, however, argues that the opposite is true. The more harmonious relations between Turkey and the West are, the more pressure there is on Greece to satisfy the demands of the more powerful partner with the biggest strategic advantage.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested a tripartite meeting. She has her own agenda and is dealing with her own problems. But Greece and Turkey are countries that have a good awareness of their interests and an intimate understanding of the magnitude of the refugee crisis. What they need is material support. As regards the joint Greek-Turkish sea patrols that some of our European partners have championed, all they need to do is induct Turkey into the European border protection agency, Frontex.
There are, of course, always issues that cause friction and even extreme tension between Athens and Ankara because of the revisionist policies pursued by Turkey, but such problems cannot be solved in a hurried manner. They can only be addressed through real cooperation in areas where this can be mutually beneficial.
The Tsipras government has failed on many – if not all – fronts so far, so we can only hope that the same does not happen with Greek-Turkish relations.