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Peace at home, peace in the world

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Article by H.E. Ahmet Davutoğlu published in Kathimerini Newspaper (Greece) on 10 March 2011

A NEW PARADIGM IN TURKISH-GREEK RELATIONS IN THE CHANGING STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENT

 

It is a distinct pleasure to visit Greece, at the invitation of my Greek colleague Dimitris Droutsas. The year 2010, has been a particularly remarkable one in our bilateral relations with Greece. Both governments exerted great effort to open a new chapter in Turkish-Greek relations and the establishment of the High Level Cooperation Council and the intensification of the high-level contacts have proven helpful to institutionalize our relations.

We are determined to move ahead in an even swifter manner and thus develop a new paradigm on which new policies for a common future can be built, in place of the old assumptions that have guided our relations for decades. In this effort we draw encouragement from the Greek government’s approach and vision.

 

      What are these assumptions that we think we should leave behind?

 

i.        "Greece and Turkey are the frontiers of the West and the East respectively, which leads to the perception that the Greek-Turkish border is tantamount to the border between the West and the East".

 

This perception is a reflection of 19th century Orientalist arguments, and is devoid of historical background. The concept of averseness is in fact a relatively new phenomena in the history of Turkish-Greek relations. The Ottomans have fully embraced and internalized the civilizations of both Troy and Byzantium as major components of our history. In fact, long before, renowned philosophers in their works championed the significance and wisdom of brotherly relations and partnership in our common geography and tried to explain its moral rationale. Amazingly, this respected school of thought continues to shed light upon today’s world. As opposed to Machiavelli and his followers’ point of view, focusing on power struggles which led to the modern realpolitik approach today, philosophers like Kınalızade Ali pioneered in efforts to observe harmony between power and moral values of ancient cultures. One may find frequent references to ancient Greek philosophers in his popular work “Ahlak-ı Alai” for example, when it was hardly the case in Machiavelli`s “The Prince”. This is another indication of intense interaction between the two cultures which makes them intertwined. They held the view that the opposite side should not be seen as a foe and that in fact differences are more often artificial than not. In this noble attempt, they were naturally taking into consideration the frame of thought of the great ancient Greek philosophers.

 

ii.  "Turkish-Greek relations is a reflection of the historical course of Islam and Christianity".

On the contrary, Turks and Greeks co-existed peacefully for centuries, in cities including Thessaloniki and İzmir.  Nobody can deny for example the great influence Phanariots exercised in the Ottoman administration, most notably in Ottoman diplomacy and trade. The Patriarchate’s presence in İstanbul for centuries as one of our historical institutions marks an integral part of our cultural riches.

iii.  The definition of each other as “the other” in nation-state building:

Our past common memories both sweet and bitter should not hinder us from paving the ground for bringing about a peaceful environment in our region which would entail huge benefits for our future generations. In order to define ourselves and in the process of nation-state building we do not any longer need "the other". It is time to find strength through our similarities and from the fact that we have much in common, belonging to the same wider region. The vision of Atatürk and Venizelos, which made peace and reconciliation possible in the immediate aftermath of great suffering and change is a source of inspiration for all of us. 

 iv.  "A strategic competition exists between Turkey and Greece".

The perception of maximization at the expense of “the other” has only served to alienation and to widen the distance farther. On the contrary, Turkey and Greece as the two key countries of the region at the intersection of the Balkans and the Middle-East may well be the pioneers of a new cooperation and welfare zone in the Eastern Mediterranean region as a strong pillar, by jointly outlining a near basin strategy for more stability, peace and welfare.

So I believe the new paradigm should be based on the following:

a)  A common understanding of history for the future: Our common historical background and cultural interaction render it impossible to interpret Turkish-Greek relations within false perspectives and along artificial fault lines such as “the east of the West” or “the west of the East”. Therefore, we should strive to make our common history concept prevail again. Indeed, understanding Ottoman history is not possible without analyzing Byzantine history, as they adopt the multi-ethnic multi-lingual lifestyle. Likewise for a sound comprehension of Greek history, knowing Ottoman history is essential.

b) Exemplary inter-religious dialogue for multi-cultural and multi-religious existence: Turkey and Greece with their rich cultural backgrounds can not be more befitting to become a regional center of attraction to contribute to inter-religious dialogue on a global scale.

c) A new concept of neighborhood for both countries:  This requires the mobilization of our intellectual energy to tackle some deep rooted problems in order to lay a solid foundation. The bitter memories of the population exchange are still alive in both countries. In order to surmount them, we should work harder on encouraging people to people contacts and civil society initiatives. Our incentives and encouragement for maximum human mobility will be an effective tool to attain this ultimate objective. Our aim should be maximum contact and maximum cooperation on top of a zero-problem policy. In this process, second track activities can play a crucial role in further developing and diversifying Turkish-Greek relations.

d) The settlement of outstanding issues in the Aegean: We should  be able to agree on peaceful means to address and finally resolve all outstanding Aegean issues. In fact this is a prerogative if both countries are to further improve their  bilateral relations. This is our historical responsibility for future generations. Since last May, thanks to our Prime Ministers’ strong common vision, we have been holding the exploratory talks with a new and fresh impetus. These talks are now geared towards obtaining concrete results. Turkey   is resolved to exert every effort to attain a comprehensive and lasting settlement to all  Aegean issues, with the conviction that the Aegean Sea should be a sea of friendship and cooperation between our two countries. 

e) Generating common initiatives within the EU, the Union for the Mediterranean  and the BSEC in order to create a synergy in the Eastern Mediterranean region: A comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus question will not only have positive implications upon our bilateral relations, but also assure peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is directly related to the synergy we can create together. We should extend our helping hands to the negotiating sides in order to make use of the existing window of opportunity. The success of this process needs our two countries’ effective support as two motherlands and guarantor powers. This historical responsibility entails the preparation of our public opinions for a comprehensive solution and a common future that will be shared by the two peoples on the island.

 

The synergy that we can create with the progress in Turkish-Greek relations can be  exemplary for the wider region and beyond. It becomes even more important in the wake of the recent developments in the Middle East.

 

Every step to be taken in the direction of surmounting bilateral problems, as well as tackling the regional and global challenges within the spirit of solidarity and cooperation will no doubt be in the interests of Turkey and Greece and of the region as a whole. As representatives of two great cultures we should therefore think of new ideas and explore new venues for joint projects.

 

So let us grasp this opportunity to build our relations on a new paradigm to make the Eastern Mediterranean a region of peace and prosperity, to transform the Aegean into a sea of friendship and, to interconnect the regional hubs such as İzmir, Edirne, Alexandroupolis and Thessaloniki to multiply our joint strengths. Let us make a global impact together by working on issues concerning all humanity such as global warming and the environment. Let us build our future together. Turkey is ready to walk down this path together with Greece.