TURKISH-GREEK RELATIONS AND EU
MR. YAŞAR YAKIŞ, FORMER MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF TURKEY
Q-1. As a Minister of Foreign Affairs you were the protagonist in the first essential efforts for Turkey’s accession to the EU family. Since then, do you feel closer or further away from your way to Brussels?
A-1. Before I answer your specific questions, I would like to use this opportunity to thank your newspaper for giving me this opportunity to share my views with the Greek public.
I am a strong supporter of Turkish-Greek friendship. The very first statement that I made to the Greek media when I was Minister of Foreign Affairs was that I would continue the policy dialogue initiated by my predecessor. Now, I am trying to do it in my capacity as a Member of Parliament and member of several private initiatives aiming at promoting Turkish-Greek friendship.
I have the feeling that the governments of the two countries are lagging behind the genuine and cordial mutual feelings that exist to a very large extent between the peoples of the two countries. You may have noticed a statement made by Her Excellency Mrs Bakoyanis during her recent visit to Turkey. She said that she was surprised to read the results of a survey carried out in Turkey by a Greek newspaper. According to this survey, 73 % of Turks interviewed pointed out that they like the Greeks very much and that they do not have any negative feelings against the Greek people. Many Greeks may also be surprised to read these results, but Turks are less surprised, because this is how the majority of Turks feel. Therefore, the governments on both sides have to do more in order to remove the barriers that prevent these two peoples from coming closer to each other and from getting to know better each other.
Having said this, I now turn to your question. I feel definitely closer to the EU family since Turkey achieved several reforms in all areas and there is a growing awareness in the EU countries regarding possible contributions that Turkey will be able to make when it joins the EU.
Q-2. What is the impact to the Greek-Turkish relations and the Turkey’s accession to the EU of the crisis confronted during the last period by the government of Erdogan combined with what appears to be an unwillingness of the leadership of the armed forces to find a common language with the administration? Who is in the end taking the final decisions in your country?
A-2. Your question indicates that there is a serious lack of knowledge in Greece on how Turkey is governed.
First of all I am not aware of any crisis faced recently by the Erdogan government. Secondly, I did not notice recently an attitude neither on the side of the Turkish civilian authorities nor on the military side that could be interpreted as an unwillingness to find a common language. The top decision maker in the military hierarchy, the Chief of the General staff is on the record to point out on several occasions that the military establishment in Turkey receives its instructions from the civilian authorities. No other officer in the military hierarchy has the authority to contradict what the top military official says. Turkish and Greek Foreign Ministers agreed recently on 8 measures to improve the bilateral relations between the two countries. Five of these eight measures pertain to military fields and these measures were not adopted by the military authorities but by the civilian authorities; at least, on the Turkish side, it was a civilian Foreign Minister who adopted the military measures and not a military authority.
Therefore, I do not see how such a non-existing crisis or lack of dialogue between military and civilian authorities in Turkey could have any impact whatsoever on the relations between Turkey and Greece and Turkey and the EU.
Q-3. Once you attributed the aggravation of Greek-Turkish relations to “excessive zeal” while you characterized the violations of the airspace and the territorial waters as “routine” moves. Who profits by such an excessive zeal and takes actions of “routine violations”?
A-3. Turkey and Greece have yet to determine what types of military action could be characterized as a violation. The Greek press finally demonstrated a courageous attitude by carrying to its pages a statement made by some retired Greek generals who disagreed with the attitude adopted by the Greek authorities since decades. These generals pointed out that the Greek authorities confuse the international airspace where certain countries have air traffic control duties and the national airspace where national authorities have the right to exercise sovereign rights.
The 4 miles wide international airspace belt that stretches between the six miles territorial water and 10 miles air traffic control responsibility area is not Greek airspace. Greek authorities are not entitled to exercise sovereign rights within this belt. It is part of the international airspace where Greece has responsibilities stemming from air traffic control regulations. In other words, Turkish aircraft that enter the 4 miles wide belt beyond the Greek territorial waters around the Aegean islands do not violate the Greek airspace.
Now that the retired Greek generals agree with Turkey that this distinction has to be made between two different sections of the airspace and now that the Greek press was fair enough to carry to their pages this message of the retired Greek Generals, we may say that we moved one step closer to a common understanding of what is the international airspace and what is the Greek airspace.
Q-4. The Greek administrations, both the one of Costas Simitis as well as that of Costas Karamanlis, have really supported the Turkey’s accession on the EU provided that your country meets the criteria and the conditions set in summits. This was also evident by the visit of Mrs. Dora Bakoyanis in Turkey despite the rumours for postponement of that visit. What is your assessment of the results of the visit?
A-4. The Simitis government made a courageous move by coming forward and saying that Greece does not any longer opposes Turkey’s accession to the EU. By this courageous step he killed two birds with one stone: one bird is the protection the national interests of Greece. Mr. Simitis did not take this step for the sake of pleasing the Turks. He made a right judgement by deciding that if Turkey becomes a member of the EU, bilateral disputes between Turkey and Greece could be solved more easily.
The second bird that he killed with the same stone was to undo the game of those countries that were hiding behind Greece and presenting Greece as the scapegoat that blocked Turkey’s accession to the EU. After this crucial decision of Mr. Smitis we know now that there were other countries who blocked Turkey’s accession to the EU.
I am happy that with the change of government in Greece, the support for Turkey’s accession did not disappear.
The high level visits between Turkey and Greece contribute a lot to better understanding of each other’s position on various issues of bilateral relations. I was extremely happy to see that Her Excellency Mrs. Bakoyanis did not cancel her visit to Turkey because of the recent incidents. Mrs. Bakoyanis demonstrated by this attitude that she can see beyond the horizon that many others do not see.
Q-5. How would you see the mutual recourse to the International Court at the Hague? Do you think that it could resolve problems apart from the shelf?
A-5. I am more inclined to seek negotiated solutions to bilateral disputes between neighbouring countries, because a negotiated solution is, by definition, a mutually agreed solution, while in case you refer your dispute to an international court, at least one of the parties will be the loser. However, when the parties to the dispute fail to reach a mutually agreed solution, they should not refrain from referring the case to an international court of justice. Otherwise the dispute will poison unnecessarily the relations between these two countries for a prolonged period.
Greece says that bilateral problems between Turkey and Greece consist only of the delineation of the continental shelf in the Aegean Sea, whereas Turkey says that there are other problems as well between the two countries. Now, we should ask ourselves the following question: Are there, between Turkey and Greece, other problems than the continental shelf or not? In other words, when one of the parties to the dispute says that there is only one problem and the other party says there are other problems as well, can we consider that there is only one single dispute that has to be referred to the International Court of Justice? I believe that we cannot. Problems do not disappear when one of the parties denies its existence. The problems other than the continental shelf are there. They exist and this is one of the purposes why exploratory talks are conducted between the two countries.
It is high time that Turkey and Greece demonstrate that they are mature enough to tackle all pending problems between them. France and Germany fought 50 years ago the deadliest war of the entire history of humanity. However they cooperate today as two major driving forces behind the European integration. If France and Germany can cooperate, Turkey and Greece should also be able to cooperate. I would like to congratulate Mrs Bakoyanis to allude to this comparison during her recent visit to Turkey.
If Greece is confident of the righteousness of its position on bilateral issues other than the continental shelf, it should be all the more prepared to refer such issues to the International Court of Justice. If Greece is right, the International Court of Justice will decide in favour of Greece. It is not convincing to claim that an International court would favour Turkey rather than Greece in an international dispute. If there is one side that has to have misgivings about the court verdict, this country should be Turkey rather than Greece.
Q-6. It appears that the pending situation of the Cyprus issue does not help anyone, especially your country. The will of the Turk-Cypriots to join the EU was expressed through a referendum. How much does Ankara’s position contributes toward realization of the Turk-Cypriots’ dream?
A-6. There are two problems regarding Cyprus within the context of Turkey’s accession negotiation to the EU. One of them is the question of the recognition of the Republic of Cyprus; the other is opening of Turkish harbours to Greek Cypriot vessels.
Regarding the recognition of the Republic of Cyprus the situation is as follows when you look at it from Turkey’s angle: Annan Plan was contemplating the accession to the EU of a re-united Cyprus that was going to be composed of the “Turkish Cypriot Constituent State” and the “Greek Cypriot Constituent State”. When the EU requested the mainland Turkey’s political leadership to encourage Turkish Cypriots to vote in favour of the Annan plan, it was this re-united Cyprus that was going to join the EU. When the re-united Cyprus joins the EU Turkey will not hesitate to recognise it.
Regarding the opening of the Turkish harbours to the Greek Cypriot ships, Turkey is aware that this is an obligation for Turkey stemming from the Ankara agreement. However the EU, including the Greek Cypriots, have a similar obligation: the implementation of an EU Council decision adopted on 26 April 2004, that is to say 5 days before Greek Cypriots joined the EU. This decision was providing the alleviation of economic restrictions imposed on the Turkish Cypriots. Since this decision was adopted before the entry of the Greek Cypriots in the EU and since it had already become part of the acquis communautaire before the Greek Cypriots joined the EU, it was a binding decision for all members of the EU including the Greek Cypriots.
Turkey made a proposal to implement these two decisions simultaneously. If the EU believes that these two obligations are of different nature and that for this reason they cannot be linked to each other, there is an easy solution to it: The EU may de-link the two subjects and may implement immediately the decision that is binding for it without waiting for the implementation of the decision that binds Turkey.
1. Ethnic Turks living in the western Thrace are regarded by the present government in Turkey as a bridge of friendship between Turkey and Greece, the same way that it regards the ethnic Greek community in Istanbul as a similar bridge of friendship. This is the reason why Turkey encourages the Greek high officials and politicians visiting Turkey to contact also members or representatives of the Greek community in Istanbul.
2. Turkey welcomes every observation made by EU. It takes them seriously and makes its best efforts to eliminate discrepancies in case it believes that the criticisms are justified.
3. The opening of the Theological School in Chalki, is not a problem that stems from Turkish-Greek relations. It stems from a constitutional provision in Turkey.
According to the Turkish legislation, private higher education institutions are not allowed to provide education in 3 fields, namely, military, police and religion. This is a measure introduced to protect secular regime in Turkey.
The Turkish authorities suggested to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul to join one of the state Universities and operate within their framework. The patriarchate did not accept this suggestion. If Turkish authorities allow the Greek Orthodox community to make an exception to the above mentioned rule, it will not be possible for the Turkish authorities to deny the some rights to innumerable other religious sects, both Muslim and others: Turkey is not prepared to do it, because this may open an irreparable breach in the secular regime in Turkey.
4. If some groups in Turkey or in Greece use their right to non-violent expression of their opinion, I am as tolerant for them as any Greek politician is. If however they go beyond this and resort to violence, I am totally against them and blame such an attitude. I also expect the Greek politicians do the same when similar incidents take place in serious cities in Greece.
5. First of all I do not see why you refer to the Turkish Generals within the context of your questions.
We have to see first whether there is any connection between the assassination of a Supreme Court judge and the uncovered plot against the prime minister.
One does not of course wishes that such incidences occur in any country out. Turkey’s public order is not as fragile as to be threatened by such incidences.
6. Turkey is more ahead of fulfilling the EU standards than certain countries that are already full member of the EU in a number of fields. However there are discrepancies in other fields and Turkey is moving steadily to eliminate there discrepancies.
7. The dispute you are referring to is most probable Greece’s claims that Turkish military aircraft violate Greek airspace.