Speeches in English

Greek-Turkish Relations in the New Regional Perilous Environment

Πέμπτη, 23 Οκτ 2014

The speech and Q&A can be viewed here


Atilim University, Ankara

Dear Rector Özgenoğlu,

Dear Professor Ünal,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends,

I would like to thank you very much for inviting me to address such a distinguished audience. Being here today, addressing the young generation of Turkey, is for me an honour and a privilege.

The Atilim University represents a prime example of institutional excellence, a prime example of internationally recognized academic research.

Please, dear Rector, accept my most sincere congratulations.

On the airplane to Ankara I tried to count my visits to Turkey. This is, perhaps, the 40th time I visit your country in the last twenty years and perhaps the 50th I share my thoughts with our friends and neighbors in this period.

A seasoned politician by now, battle hardened in more ways than I care toremember, I have dedicated much time and energy over the years towards what I believe is a noble and worthy goal: Greek – Turkish friendship.

I strongly believe that what unites us is much more than what divides us and that we have the responsibility to build a special relationship between our two great nations.

We are destined by geography to live together. Greeks and Turks know each other

well. For hundreds of years we have lived side by side in this corner of the world.

The tides of history haven’t been kind to us.

We have lived through hard fights and bloody struggles; we have lived through wars, through trials and ordeals. We have also known good times, however.

We have lived alongside each other in peace. We have prospered together.

Unfortunately, however, so far we have not ben able to overcome the burden of history. All too often, I find that we engage in parallel monologues perceiving our relationship as a zero sum game rather than concentrating on the mutual benefits,

the win-win potential of our relationship.

If there is one lesson learned from our experience it is that friends speak the truth to each other. Whenever we have chosen, on both sides of the Aegean, to speak the politically correct language of diplomatic legalism, or whenever we have opted to address our domestic political audiences rather than each other, we have lost more than we have gained.

Allow me therefore to speak from the heart.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A few months ago we commemorated 100 years since the beginning of the First World War. You may remember the international media dedicating extensive

coverage to the issue and trying to draw connections between then and now.

In many ways the parallels are there for all to see: an era of unprecedented growth and prosperity, of rapid industrialization and even a type of globalization, came abruptly to an end when the leaders sleep-walked their countries into a brutal conflict. The world was torn apart not because of a conscious grand design, a master plan, but, to a great extent, because of mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals.

Interestingly, most of those concerned were the victims of a great delusion. There was a common belief at the time that war – the antithesis of much cherished progress and much admired reason – belonged to the past.

Europe, after all, was too interdependent and its economies too intertwined, to throw everything away.

And yet, 1914 was the beginning of a long and dark winter on the continent.

Now, by no means would I like to suggest that we are on the verge of another world war. There is an important lesson to be learned, however.

Often times, politicians tend to fail to distinguish between tomorrow’s headlines and the events that fill the history books. Often times, we fail to understand that what preoccupies us today will be forgotten tomorrow. Often times we are incapable to detect the silent trends, the great shifts of tectonic plates, which shape our future.

Very little in life is inevitable, ladies and gentlemen; as long as we are able to draw a line between what is important and what is not; as long as we are able to distinguish the forest from the trees. This is particularly true in foreign policy.

Relationships and events are complex and intricate.

It is all too easy to be captivated by an event that monopolizes our interest for 24 hours. It is all too tempting to respond only to the vicious present.

The true challenge however is to think about tomorrow: to prepare – as much as possible – for the future. It is about this future that I would like to speak to you today: our common future; the future that can unite our two countries.

I strongly believe that we are at a crossroads in terms of our foreign policies.

We have a once in a generation opportunity to lay the foundations of our shared future. The question is whether we will do it together or apart.

Let me explain myself.

Since the birth of the new millennia, we have witnessed and experienced many changes. Technology is transforming almost every part of our lives.

Countries are growing more and more interdependent. Our economies have known their ups and downs, but always at significant social and environmental costs. The gap between rich and poor is widening.

Perhaps, most frightening of all, in our time we’ve witnessed atrocious abuses of political power. Human rights are too often denied, violated or quite simply ignored.

Allow me to focus on three fundamental changes that have defined the 21st century so far.

– The shift of power from West to East,

– The revolution

in the global energy sector,

– And the dramatic rise

of non-State actors.

I am sure all three are known to all of you. I would like to ask you however to think of the big picture rather than in bits and pieces.

Very quickly: The 20th century belonged to the West. For good or for ill, we all

concentrated our attention to Europe and the United States as wars were waged and battles were won or lost. Progress was associated with pluralist democracies, open markets and free trade. Remember Fukuyama’s «the end of history»?

It may appear foolhardy in retrospect but at the time it was representative of a wave of optimism that swept us all.

The 21st century however is a different story. As the United States and Europe are struggling with economic difficulties and financial crises, the world around them is moving forward rapidly. In the East, particularly, China is leading the charge,

continuing with its economic expansion. Significantly, an alternative model of controlled capitalism is attracting attention, challenging the age-old proposition that identified democratic pluralism with free markets.

It is not a coincidence that the Pacific is now as important to policy makers in Washington DC as the Atlantic.

At the same time, the energy map of the world is redrawn. The Paris-based

International Energy Agency predicted that in November, next month that is, the U.S. would overtake Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the biggest producer in the world by 2015.

We can already observe the relative distancing of the United States from regional energy concerns as a result of their own huge shale gas and oil discoveries.

The way we all think about oil is reshaped.

The political implications are tremendous, especially for the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Without wanting to be crude let me relate the observation of a Palestinian observer: «We are asking for the world policeman to intervene without paying a salary.»

Last but not least, non-state actors: much has been made of this deviation from globalization in the last fifteen years. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, states have struggled to retain their monopolies of violence across the globe.

ISIS is only the latest example, a dramatic piece of a chain that I fear will entangle us in the years and decades to come.

Think about it from the Turkish perspective.

Suddenly, out of the blue, a single issue has a threefold capacity: it affects Turkish relations with Syria and Iraq; it affects the relationship of Turkey with its own Kurdish population; and it affects its relationship with its allies.

And when we are talking about the constraints and opportunities set on sovereign governments by non-state forces, markets we cannot ignore, amongst others, more seemingly benevolent forces like the markets.

It is not just Argentina, forced on the brink of bankruptcy by a single investor, or Greece, whose fiscal policy is oftentimes dictated by violent market reactions.

The whole of the European Union finds itself hostage to market volatility.

In other words, dear friends, in the brave new world of the 21st century policy makers, will have to throw away the old manuals and textbooks.

Once upon a time, during the Cold War, we all knew were we stood since we defined our place in the world relative to position in the dispute and distance from the iron wall. Our expectations and aspirations were shaped against this backdrop.

Greece and Turkey, for example, joined NATO together in the early 1950s.

We may have had a rich, diverse and explosive repertoire of crises, but we always moved in an international environment framed by our respective Alliances or

partnerships and of course the global balance of power.

Today, uncertainty is the name of the game since security arrangements are crumbling and international institutions are challenged on a daily basis.

Moreover, national interests are radically redefined as threat matrixes evolve and priorities shift. We now live in a world in which an energy self-sufficient

United States turns its attention to Asia; a world in which Europe is considerably weakened, fragmented, turns inward, and cannot speak with a single voice;

a world in which terrorists form «states» and markets dictate taxation policy.

Today, new opportunities, new challenges and new threats abound.

In this new world, we as Greeks and Turks face common enemies; adversaries that we must combat together in a globalized world. Issues we must face standing

shoulder to shoulder and arm in arm.

Menaces like poverty, hunger, climate change, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, illegal migration, organized crime and of course state failure and terrorism.

Turkey and Greece, in the new environment of the Balkans and the Near and Middle East, for example, have had successes and drawbacks.

Greece cannot be blamed if some Balkan problems persist and, likewise, Turkey cannot be blamed for what is happening in the Middle East.

But this great country can now help combat Islamic extremism in her immediate vicinity and, even more importantly, help bring together the main Muslim powers

in the Middle East while, at the same time, profiting from a revitalized relationship

with her traditional friends and allies in the West.

Here in Turkey the bond between Muslims and Christians have historically been strong. It was after all the Prophet himself who placed the Monastery of Sina under his protection. There is no better answer to the rhetoric of hate preached by the jihadists.

Indeed, whether in combating ISIS or on other issues, never has so much of our own success depended so much on the other.

With all of these challenges, we need openness, candor and a commitment to each other.

Our path is clear. It is the path founded on the bonds of shared interests;

interests that lead to win-win situations and win-win scenarios that yield mutual


Dear friends,

A crowning achievement since 1999 has been the improvement of our own relationship. The double earthquakes that hit our countries enabled our shared humanity to overcome past prejudices. Never will I forget, some of you may be too young to remember, the face of the Greek emergency worker in Istanbul who with tears in his eyes held in his arms a little child he had just saved from the rumble. Indeed, despite the unresolved political problems, to use Joseph Nye’s terminology, we both happily applied soft power methods in advancing our relationship. It is now thriving: Turkey has replaced Germany as the number one importer of Greek products; tourism is constantly rising; likewise our cultural and educational interactions. Just imagine the dynamics our strategic relationship could acquire if the Cyprus problem were solved, our other issues addressed and if the road to Turkish entry into the EU, greatly influenced by these issues, were to be finally widely open.

In this context, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus should manage to be seen as what they actually CAN be seen: a haven of stability at the heart of regions of great instability.

It is unwise to allow the problems between our three countries to linger and to

become something like frozen conflicts; this is why I consider of the utmost importance the final settlement – first and foremost – of the Cyprus issue: it is the Cyprus issue that has gradually poisoned the entire Greco-Turkish relationship since the mid-fifties; and it is the Cyprus problem again which, if solved, will become the catalyst for the spectacular improvement of the relations between Greece and Turkey. The division of the island haunts us all – Greeks or Turks.

The time has come to break down Nicosia’s wall of shame. Greece is committed to reaching a just and viable solution for the reunification of Cyprus.

The principles that must guide us are clear: international law, all the relevant Security Council Resolutions, consideration of the work done by the UN and of course the European acquis, which will provide the legal framework for a united Cyprus in the EU.

I am therefore perplexed by recent developments that circumvene International law, like the movements of the ship Barbaros, violating sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus in its Exclusive Economic Zone.

Let me remind you that Cyprus is a member of the United Nations and the European Union, an active member of the international community. Pretending it does not exist, cannot be a solid basis of any negotiation.

The violation of Cyprus’ sovereign rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone constitute a violation of international law and that is unacceptable by all means. And while addressing you, the younger generation of Turkey, let me on a personal note state that this kind of reaction is anachronistic. It belongs to the past!

It certainly does not reflect the vision of the young Turkish generation for its own future.

When I raise the Cyprus issue I often hear my Turkish friends refer to the Annan plan. They say, more or less, «we tried but the Greek Cypriots rejected the proposal.»

Let me say publicly what I respond in private. Playing blame games is easy, especially when one needs to explain the presence of 40.000 troops for forty years

in a European member state. But this is about finding a real solution to a real problem. We need a Cypriot solution to a Cypriot problem. And I believe that it is within our grasp.

After Cyprus, we must deal with our own problems and address them with good will, political imagination and, above all, political courage. In these efforts both our countries have one strong ally: International law, the legal framework that has been recognized by the international community as a whole.

International Law has the capacity to effectively address any issues that arise in modern interstate relations, secure unimpeded international cooperation, and promote mutual understanding. We do not have to invent the wheel, as long as we are willing to push the cart forward.

Dear friends,I have spoken about the common challenges and the need to build our future together. The final verdict will come to pass when the dust will settle and the skies become clear again.But one thing is already clear: these crises have demonstrated that Turkey, just as Greece before her, must never lose sight of her European and her Atlantic vocation.

I know that the path to the EU has been thorny for this country: and that both sides have complicated attitudes vis-à-vis this important relationship. I believe that the new Commission, the President and the High Representative will want to revisit the entire set of relationships and the hurdles of the negotiations.

Some self- criticism will most certainly be in order for us Europeans.

I have no doubt whatsoever that new European leadership would vividly like to see rapid progress in all fields pertaining to these laborious and slow negotiations.

There are things that we can do for Turkey and there are things Turkey can do to help herself.

And I will be clear: If Turkey meets the EU accession criteria no one in Europe has the right to deny to Turkey to become a full EU member. On the other hand, Turkey has to understand that there is no Europe à la carte. The EU is one and all of the candidate states have to accept the acquis in order to become members.

And there can honestly be no greater boost to the whole process, no better way to revitalize the negotiation than a timely solution with Turkey’s and Greece’s help

of the Cyprus problem.It is high time for Cyprus to become what is best for all of us to be: a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation possessing one sovereignty and capable of advancing the well being of all her citizens, particularly nowwhen new sources ofwealth are forthcoming.

Greeks and Turks will live happily side-by-side, an example that Greece and Turkey will, I believe, immediately emanate. The three countries can become THE AXIS OF STABILITY IN A TROUBLED REGION; their cooperation will maximize the benefits for all three States, as well as for the Region at large.

Cyprus, for instance, following the solution of the Cyprus problem, can become a major energy supplier for Turkey, connected with a pipeline, as President Anastasiades proposed, thus relieving Turkey from obligations elsewhere where the political cost can occasionally be very high for her; Turkey can solve the water problem for Cyprus, and so forth.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Peace, with the help of all of us, can return to the Middle East; Turkey and Greece, as well as Cyprus, inhabited by people from both our Nations, will be the Europe in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Eastern Mediterranean in Europe.

We have a long and historic relationship; a long co-existence, which has brought us close in many ways, from food to attitudes; but this past relationship was shaped mostly by conflict; conflict which at some points in history brought each nation close to annihilating the other.

This can be no more: a new millennium has started; in this millennium we share the same concerns and we belong to the same political families.

It is high time to turn this new millennium into a long and lasting era of mutual

benefit: a benefit for the tragic region of the Middle East, about which we have said so much today, for the other areas in crisis, for Europe, and above all for our two glorious peoples.

Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen.

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