The maritime border agreement signed between Greece and Italy on Tuesday is proof of the benefits of a constructive spirit of cooperation. It may sound utopian, but this deal could serve as a model in Greece’s dealings with Turkey.
Such an effort would need to start with good intentions. Foreign policy officials in Ankara often say that the disputes between Greece and Turkey should not be allowed to transcend their technical dimensions and be blown out of proportion by emotional and impulsive reactions. They blame this climate on Greek “obsessions” and the media.
It is partly true that much of the baggage in Greek-Turkish relations is emotional, but this is not only the case in Greece. Turkey has often exploited public sentiment over the Aegean and Cyprus to deflect attention away from domestic matters. The present situation, during which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is coming under increased pressure at home – as also evidenced by opinion polls – is one such example.
Many of the disputes brought up by Ankara are based on distortions of international law. One issue that is indeed technical is the delimitation of the continental shelf.
But surely even the most well-intentioned Greek official or respected opinion-maker willing to be as understanding as possible wonders whether Turkey really believes these are technical issues.
If Ankara truly desires to have a technical discussion on such issues, why is it playing the history card and upping the emotional ante? Why does it harp on about the “Blue Homeland” when talking about the exclusive economic zone it seeks, when we all know that the EEZ is about exploitation rights and not sovereignty? Why the violations of Greek airspace over the islands and northern Evros? Why the aggressive statements regarding Hagia Sophia? Why the official statements about “throwing enemies into the sea” and Foreign Ministry announcements about Greece’s “historical complexes”? Are these all figments of the Greek media’s obsessive imagination?
Erdogan appears annoyed by certain Greek actions, but his constant threats don’t help. Such behavior is not limited to the Turkish president, but reflects the intentions of the entire political system in the country, from the far-right nationalists to the Kemalists. Statements concerning the “return” to Turkey of Greek islands are not the product of a few fringe politicians; they come from all sides – and they need to stop.
Some are willing to try a different approach so the two nations are not doomed to a perpetual battle of wills. If both sides sincerely wish for a different relationship, something has to change in terms of communication and perception. Image may not be the essence of the issues, but it does create a climate that shapes how issues evolve and are dealt with.
If we want the tension to ease and the relationship to improve, officials must check their tone and the image they convey. This will help restore some mutual trust so that we can separate the technical from the emotional.
There are people on this side of the Aegean who dare to contribute to this end and to serve the truth, rather than a distorted reality. The question is whether such people also exist on the other side.