By Katya Mavrelli,
In what was described by many as a “heated exchange” or even a bickering between the two neighbors, Greece’s Foreign Minister, Nikos Dendias, and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, met in Ankara to reduce tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is a big step for both sides, given that the physical meeting took place for the first time since warships from both nations were involved in a confrontation in the region regarding drilling for hydrocarbons in contested waters.
The meeting, that was originally set for 15 minutes, turned into an intense exchange of statements, which highlights the challenges in laying better foundations for the Greco-Turkish relations. The primary focus of the statements revolved around the issue in the Eastern Mediterranean and the wider Aegean region, the refugee crisis, the presence of the Muslim minority in Thrace and the case of Cyprus. With the contested Mediterranean waters dispute dominating the majority of the conversation, the two sides made it clear that their stances are far from parallel. The divergence became evident as soon as Mr. Cavusoglu brought up the issue of the maritime border determination, to which Mr. Dendias responded with courtesy but firmness.
In the televised joint statement, Mr. Dendias highlighted Athens’ support towards Turkey’s entrance into the European Union, asserting that it was in Greece’s interest to have its neighbor as an ally within the bloc. This, however, is the second step, before which Turkey needs to “de-escalate and avoid statements that could dynamite our relations”. This triggered Mr. Cavusoglu’s response, who accused Mr. Dendias of deviating from delivering the ‘positive’ message they had agreed upon behind closed-door talks and making ‘unacceptable accusations’.
Turkey has made it clear that it wants to ‘turn a new page’ in the book of foreign relations, but recent actions have shown otherwise. Just last week, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was not even offered a chair next to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, occupying the only available seat. Despite the claims that Turkey’s intentions have changed, and the current government is paving the way for a newly defined foreign policy, their actions indicate that old ways cannot change that easily.
“Greece and Turkey are destined to live together in a region with many complex problems”. Mr. Dendias’ statement highlighted the general sentiment of ‘unruly coexistence’, which has defined the Greco-Turkish relations for decades. Both sides ought to be praised for their effort to get to the negotiation table once more, and attempt to remove some of the uncertainty in their bilateral relations.
But what happens when the background, and the principles that both sides take for granted, differ significantly?
While general principles are considered the same for both sides, such as a nation’s responsibility to claim what is theirs, differences complicate the resolution of the heated conflict between the two. Regarding the resolution of the Eastern Mediterranean dispute, the two sides agree on different principles, such as the validity of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea and the Treaty of Lausanne, and bring up different conventions, when it comes to backing their statements. While the Greek side embraces the norms of international and European law, the Turkish side contests the existence and soundness of fundamental principles of law. When it comes to the refugee crisis, the differences become even more evident, with both sides turning to the European Union, but for different reasons. Greece is turning to the EU as a member willing to cooperate and resolve, while Turkey resorts to challenges and threatens. With the adoption of more assertive policies, and by embracing principles which disregard previously accepted standards, such as the Blue Homeland doctrine, and the glorification of the Neo-Ottomanism sentiment, Turkey is adopting policies that are far from homogenous with EU standards.
In a world where international relations are blurrier than ever, it is indeed positive to observe the efforts of these neighbours in the re-evaluation of their relations and the redefinition of their foreign policies with regards to one another. Their coexistence depends on dialogue and negotiations, something which has been lacking for some time, and has led to the escalation of crises in the Aegean region.
In order, however, for the world to turn a new page in the book of Greco-Turkish relations, the rule of law has to be respected, principles of international justice have to be acknowledged and genuine intentions for the resolution of crises have to dominate. This might prove more challenging than expected, but may be the only step in redefining the situation in the wider Mediterranean.
- ‘Talks aimed at Turkish-Greek detente trigger bickering instead’, Financial Times, Available here.
- ‘Turkey and Greece Trade Barbs on Visit Meant to Build Ties’, Bloomberg, Available here.