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24.10.09

Papandreou will be more cautious this time, says Greek expert

CHRIS LOUTRADIS

ATHENS – Hürriyet Daily News

The newly elected Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has a challenge on his hands concerning Greek-Turkish relations, says one prominent academic. He believes the climate in Greece has grown much more adverse to Turkey since Papandreou’s term as foreign minister and that this will cause the Greek prime minister to act more cautiously

A tough job awaits the newly elected Greek prime minister, says a prominent Greek expert on Turkey-Greece relations.

International Relations and Conflict Resolution Professor Alexis Heraclides of the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in Athens said that although reaching a resolution is no easy task, it is still within reach.

“In all probability, Papandreou wants to put the Greek-Turkish détente back on track. However, this time around, I suspect that he will go about his task with great caution, for in the years that have elapsed since he was foreign minister, the Greek-Turkish climate has worsened,” said Heraclides.

During his tenure as foreign minister, Papandreou, along with his Turkish count

rpart İsmail Cem, had significantly improved Turkey-Greece relations.

The climate was so adverse in Greece from 2006 onwards, that even Papandreou, when he was in opposition, felt obliged to make a number of harsh statements vis-à-vis Turkey,” added Heraclides.

The prominent academic, who has become a target for Greek ultra-nationalists, believes Greece should and will support a positive stance toward Turkey during the European Union, or EU, summit in December. However, Heraclides also said that the Greek prime minister will avoid giving the impression that Greece supports Turkey’s EU accession bid, especially if Turkey is to enter the EU without having fulfilled all its obligations.

“There is also the well-known Cyprus stumbling block,” said Heraclides. “On this issue the Papandreou government would not want to be seen as softer in comparison to the previous Karamanlis government.”

Cyprus paradox

In his books, Heraclides refers to the Cyprus issue as a “paradox.” He said: “I call it a paradox in the sense that the Cyprus problem should have been resolved long ago, be it by reunion or a ‘velvet divorce’ [that would entail some Turkish-Cypriot territory returning to Greek Cypriots].”

“There has been no armed violence between the two sides since Aug. 1974. Moreover, the two sides have been conducting official talks and recognize each other as parties to the conflict. In most other unresolved ethnic conflicts, non-recognition and continued armed violence are the death knell of all attempts at settlement,” added Heraclides.

He identifies the Cyprus problem as the “spoiled child” of international mediation, in particular of UN mediation. “No other ethnic conflict has been that fortunate since the creation of the United Nations in 1945, yet the end result is nil. For all these reasons I have called the Cyprus problem a paradox,” he said.

“And it is a paradox for one more reason: both sides abhor the existing de facto partition, yet they find any reunion fraught with insurmountable problems,” Heraclides said.

Dogfights’ over the Aegean

The academic believes the so-called “dogfights” over the Aegean are over-reported in the media and place those that seek reconciliation between the two countries in a difficult position. “The dogfights do take place and are reported, reinforcing the views of Greek hawks and ultra-nationalists. It gives ample ammunition to those in Greece who claim that Turkey ‘misbehaves’ and is ‘militaristic’ and ‘aggressive.’ Note that this puts us ‘doves’ in Greece in a difficult position,” Heraclides said.

Heraclides said the Aegean dispute could be resolved through dialogue quite easily. “The two parties can pick up talks from the point where they had stopped back in Dec. 2003,” he said.

He believes the Aegean dispute can be resolved if two conditions are satisfied. “[First] if Greece makes it abundantly clear that it does not regard the Aegean as a ‘Greek sea,’ nor does it want to render it so by extending its territorial reach to ten or 12 miles,” said Heraclides, adding: “And [if] Turkey makes it abundantly clear that it harbors no aggressive or expansionist agenda whatsoever toward Greece.”

“After all, rendering a vital international waterway as akin to a domestic Greek sea is unthinkable and expansionism is clearly unacceptable, especially for a responsible state that wishes to enter the EU.”

Heraclides believes the only minority issue in Greece is the Muslim minority in Thracian Greece, especially the ethnic Turks, the main Muslim group. “Clearly Greece should accept their right to define themselves as ethnic Turks, as part of the wider Turkish nation,” he said. Heraclides added: “After all, the Greeks refer to the ‘non-Muslim’ Orthodox, Greek speakers of Istanbul as ‘Greeks’ and not simply as ‘Orthodox.

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