Turkish Greek Synergy
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Greek -Turkish Forum

Ilker TURKMEN: We concentrate on the common
interests for both Greece and Turkey. That's our secret.

by Yonca POYRAZ DOGAN (*)

"Almost all ties were cut between Greece and Turkey when Ocalan was given refuge at the Greek embassy in Kenya. However, we, the forum, continued having meetings, concentrated on the Aegean problems and produced a study."

You haven't read it wrong! When the Greek-Turkish Forum has started its meetings 4 years ago, the outlook was not really good. But they haven't given up. Their secret, they say, is that they concentrate on the common interests for both Greece and Turkey.

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.

Ilter Türkmen, Former Ambassador and Foreign Minister Thanos Veremis, Karamanlis Professor of History, The Fletcher School

The forum members, who were at the two-day meeting were:

Costas Carras, businessman and writer
Theodore Couloumbis, Professor, University of Athens, Director of ELIAMEP
Cem Duna, Former Ambassador to the EU
Üstün Ergüder, Director, Istanbul Policy Center at Sabanci University
Ahmet Evin, Istanbul Policy Center at Sabanci University
Paulina Lampsa, Political Scientist
Soli Özel, Professor of International Relations, Bilgi University, Istanbul
Ilter Türkmen, Former Ambassador and Foreign Minister
Thanos Veremis, Karamanlis Professor of History, The Fletcher School
Constantinos Zepos, Former Ambassador and EU Ombudsman to Mostar

Greek-Turkish Forum members, journalist and writer Mehmet Ali Birand, and Sami Kohen; Turkey Economic and Social Studies Foundation, TESEV Director and former ambassador Özdem Sanberk; and Professor Argiris Fatouros of University of Athens were not able to attend the meeting in Boston.

Ilter Turkmen has been in the Greek-Turkish Forum from the beginning. He talks about how it all started.

YPD: How was the Greek-Turkish Forum started? Whose idea was it?

TURKMEN: The idea was born at a Wilton Park meeting in Britain. It was in 1997 and I wasn't there. Late Admiral Guven Erkaya was there. The idea was born at the meeting and Guven Erkaya had become the coordinator for the Turkish side. Then, Admiral Erkaya became ill and I took over his coordinating position and we have been holding meetings since 1998. The interesting thing is that the kind of work the forum does, which is second track diplomacy, has not happened in Turkey before.

YPD: What has the forum done so far?

TURKMEN: We first concentrated on the confidence building measures but there wasn't much done on that. Meanwhile, both governments adopted several confidence building measures. We started working on problems between the two countries very slowly. And then we decided to concentrate on the common interests of the both countries. We worked on this issue for a while and said "lets do something further." We worked hard and prepared a study on how to solve Aegean problems. In that document we did two things. One is that we made an agenda about what the Aegean problems consist of because not having an agenda has always been a problem. We also had a methodology. We directly dealt with the problems. At that time there was very little contact between the Greek and Turkish governments. The Greek-Turkish Forum has been through difficult times. For example, at the beginning of 1999, we've had the (Abdullah) Ocalan affair. Almost all ties were cut between Greece and Turkey when Ocalan was given refuge at the Greek embassy in Kenya. However, we, the forum, continued having meetings, concentrated on the Aegean problems and produced a study. We presented that study to both Turkish and Greek governments' foreign ministers.

YPD: How was that paper was received by the both governments?

TURKMEN: It was well received but without any comments. And we need to understand that. Now there is a new development. Both governments are starting talks about Aegean problems. We hope they will consider our document too.

YPD: Would you tell about the forum's study on Cyprus?

TURKMEN: Cyprus has been a hard nut to crack. Most of the Aegean problems are because of the Cyprus conflict. For example, disarming the islands. Turkish-Greek problems cannot be established on a strong foundation without solving the Cyprus issue. Now, the situation is even more complicated today. I mean, the accession of Cyprus to the European Union. On the other hand, it’s a good development that Cyprus leaders started talking again. Our forum has been helping in this process. We are bringing together a group of Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Indeed, since 1999, some of the ice between Greece and Turkey melted and more and more non-governmental organizations from both sides started meeting. I remember there was about 300 meetings in a few months some time in the past. There is a page turned in the Greek-Turkish relations for good. I think both sides understand that their common interests are better served if they can agree.

YPD: You said that Cyprus issue is complicated and hard. How? Would you explain?

TURKMEN: If we look at the Aegean problems, that requires only two countries' participation, Greece and Turkey. However, when it comes to Cyprus, there is United Nations and there are the resolutions of the UN Security Council. For example, the UN General Secretary’s representative is also participating the Cyprus talks.

YPD: And Cyprus's EU accession process is nearly complete.

TURKMEN: Yes, at the end of this year Southern Cyprus will complete its negotiations with the EU. And then the EU will have to make a decision. Will EU take Cyprus in without a solution between North and South? We don't know. But if the talks between the two sides do not produce any results and if it seems like the Turkish side is more to blame for that result, Cyprus will be a member of the EU. And then there will be very difficult problems, both for Turkish and Greek Cypriots, plus Turkey and Greece. In Turkey, sometimes there is a talk that "Why would Greek Cypriots like a solution with the North on the island? They will be a member of the EU anyway." But it's not that simple. Both the Greek Cypriots and Greece need a solution. We need a solution and the Turkish Cypriots need a solution. If Cyprus will be a member of the EU in any case, the sooner there is a solution for the conflict on the island, the better. Otherwise, there will so many court cases about property rights and return of some property, and so on. These problems need to be dealt with before Cyprus becomes a member of the EU so those necessary clauses can be included in the EU accession agreement.

YPD: Is this going to be possible?

TURKMEN: I hope so. We don't know how the talks are going between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders now. Their meetings are closed to the public. This is better of course because if you hear something new about the meetings in the press every day, it won't go anywhere. I think there is a lot to talk about between the leaders. It doesn't seem like they have agreed on the parameters yet.

Boston, March 30, 2002

Also read our interview with Turkmen's Greek counterpart Costas Carras 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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