Turkish Greek Synergy
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Greek - Turkish Forum

Costas CARRAS: Greek and Turkey do share the same understanding
about the region and the world around us...


Greek-Turkish Forum is a unique non-governmental organization because it's the only one dealing with political issues concerning Turkey and Greece. It had its first meeting in the United States in Boston on March 29-30 at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Thanos Veremis, Karamanlis Professor of History at Fletcher and a member of the forum, organized the meeting. The event was supported by the A. Leventis Foundation, Professor Leila Fawaz, Director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies, Professor Andrew Hess, Director of Southwest Asia and Turkish Studies, the Fletcher School of Law
and Diplomacy, Tufts University and the Kokkalis Foundation.

"I think it has been an extraordinarily good meeting for variety of reasons. First of all, we were able to speak publicly and it's much better that we did this in the United States than we should do it in Turkey or in Greece. Because in either Turkey or in Greece, the questions would have come from a Turkish angle or a Greek angle. Whereas here they came from an outsider's angle."

That's the importance of meeting in the United States, Costas Carras explained. A writer and a businessman, Carras was involved in the Greek-Turkish Forum from the start.

Costas Carras, Businessman and Writer

YPD: How did you first get involved in the Greek-Turkish Forum?

CARAS: There was a conference at Wilton Park. Some Greeks and Turks were invited. We had a very good conference. That was in 1997 in October. And after that some people said "we must do something more permanent." It was the idea of an Englishman. And we had some conversations. A group was formed. I was in the initial group though I was not originally the Greek coordinator. And when the first Greek coordinator was not able to continue because he became one of the justices of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, I became the coordinator of the Greek team.

YPD: Were you the one to select people to get into the group?

CARAS: I did not select them but I made a number of suggestions.

YPD: What were your considerations?

CARAS: The ability to put up with disagreement. We knew that there would be disagreements amongst us but one has to be able to initiate dialogue, to accept there would be disagreements and yet respect the other person as a human being, to respect his views, to respect what he or she stands for, and then to try and work with him or her in order to see at what points there are common perceptions and common interests which could be used as a lever to change or to effect those areas where there are disagreements. That's what we are trying to do.

YPD: In one of the panels, Soli Ozel said that the composition of the group was a little different at the beginning. Later, it has become the way it is now. How did this happen?

CARAS: That's inevitable. Some people are very busy, they can't take part. We had a reduction in the number of journalists taking part on the Greek side but not on the Turkish side. We have more diplomats on the Turkish side, ex-diplomats. We have more professors on the Greek side. These differences have their significance but they are less significant than the fact that the group works together very well as a whole.

YPD: What are the most important successes of the group so far?

CARAS: The successes of the group are first that we were able to go to the European Union in early 2000 to say here is a joint Greek-Turkish group which can perceive certain common interests in relation to the European Union. And then, second success was that we were able to, in the summer of 2000, produce a common statement on the way to approach a settlement of the Aegean issue. And the third success has been that we are able to bring together a group, a substantial group of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to a common meeting in Beirut, this meeting has been moved to Rome because of escalating tensions in the Middle East. I think also the members of the group, both the Turks and the Greeks, have an important positive influence in their countries on the way that each country sees the other. We are not the only forces in our countries. There are other much stronger forces but we have a positive influence.

YPD: There are so many groups. Formed earlier or they are in the process of being formed. Turkish-Greek, Greek-Turkish, whatever they are called. What makes your group different than the others?

CARAS: Very, very different. It is the only group, which is chiefly political. That is to say its object is to discuss political issues. It is track two but it is track two political. It is not concerned with history books, like the other work that I do for the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in South East Europe. It is not concerned with bringing similar groups together, women's groups or students' groups. These are all valuable things to do but it's not what we are doing. We are discussing the major political issues outstanding between Greece and Turkey or affecting Greek and Turkish relations, because in the case of Cyprus, it is not directly a Greek-Turkish issue but it certainly effects Greek-Turkish relations.

YPD: How does your position, your position of access to your government in Greece, how does it help you to bring in contributions to the group and to the communities?

CARAS: I think it's the other way around. Access helps respective governments to understand better public opinion in the other country. And twice Mr. Papandreou has seen the Turkish members of the Greek-Turkish Forum, and once Mr. Cem has seen the Greek members of the Greek-Turkish Forum. That is in itself a sure sign that they value the existence of this group.

YPD: Do you think that they also value the works of this group?

CARAS: Sure they do. Because the letters of Mr. Cem and Mr. Papandreou in respect to the Aegean declaration were both positive. But, of course, they are officials; they are diplomats. They have to be very careful when they express themselves. But I have no doubt from words they've spoken, written and oral, and from their actions that they want this method of contact, which is not a contact between officials; which does not bind anybody but which at the same gives valuable indications of what can be done, what might be achieved, what are the ways forward to a new future between the two peoples.

YPD: What is next in the agenda after Beirut meeting?

CARAS: There is nothing on the agenda after Beirut but I am confident that there will be more work on the Cyprus problem. Quite clearly, we have a major job to do in terms of reaching a settlement on the Cyprus problem either in this year or if it is not this year, then during next year. We will concentrate on the Cyprus issue in the next few months. I may be wrong. It's not just I, who makes the decisions. All the members of the group have an equal voice. The coordinator simply coordinates but that is my impression, it is not a decision.

YPD: What has happened during the discussions in Boston?

CARAS: I think it has been an extraordinarily good meeting for variety of reasons. First of all, we were able to speak publicly and it's much better that we did this in the United States than we should do it in Turkey or in Greece. Because in either Turkey or in Greece, the questions would have come from a Turkish angle or a Greek angle. Whereas here they came from an outsiders angle. I think that was something very valuable. The second thing is that going into the discussion, we were able to identify the need to move on the Cyprus issue in such a way that we give ourselves if necessary -- we hope it is not necessary but if it is necessary --more time. So these are the two things which I think are very important. Then thirdly, we saw a great deal of agreement in the analysis of the relationship with the European Union. And that is very important. It is very important that apart from the specific issues between the two countries, we have, to some degree, a common view of the world in the region around us. And that I think was very evident. We still have our disagreements about specific problems. But we do share a great of the same understanding about the region and the world around us, just in the same way as we share a musical tradition, which is what we ended with this evening.

YPD: And there are no bad feelings?

CARAS: You must ask the others but I have only good feelings.

Boston, March 29, 2002

Also read our interview with Carras' counterpart Ilter Turkmen in this issue in this issue
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(*) Yonca Poyraz Dogan has been working as an international broadcaster at the Voice of America since 1998. She recently covered Greek-Turkish Forum's first meeting in the United States. For Turkish sound files and reports from the meeting visit: www.voanews.com/Turkish and click on "Türk-Yunan Forumu" logo.

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