Sevil Erkuş - Hürriyet Daily News / Istanbul, May 15 () - Turkey and Greece should resolve their problems peacefully by creating common interests in the region, making use of the “God-given” opportunity of being neighboring countries, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias has said.
“Turkey and Greece; Allah has made the decision, they are together in the same part of the world. God was playing backgammon and he rolled a double-six. He gave six to Turkey and six to us. We have to find ways to use the good results of God’s game of backgammon,” Kotzias said in the southern Turkish province of Antalya, where he was attending at NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting on May 13.
He called on the two sides not to become “prisoners of the history.”
“I told Turkish delegations: ‘Let’s not be prisoners of history.’ We have to use history as a positive element for the future,” Kotzias told Hürriyet Daily News.
A non-partisan professor, who has served in the Greek Foreign Ministry since 1993, Kotzias was an adviser to former Foreign Minister Giorgos Papandreou, one of the key actors in initiating a long period of Turkish-Greek rapprochement. Papandreou was one of the prime movers behind the 1999 Helsinki agreement, which regulated Turkey’s candidacy status for EU membership.
“Over 25 years, I have not been somebody asking to attack Turkey. I am someone who has worked for peaceful solutions between the two countries. We don’t always have the same interests, but there are areas where we have a common interest. We must work based on these,” Kotzias said.
However, lingering disputes over the Aegean remain a stumbling block in relations between Ankara and Athens, with fighter jets of the two countries even involved in a dogfight during Kotzias’ visit to Ankara on May 12.
“I heard about it today. It’s not a good story, but it happens. We think these flights are illegal. The Turkish side thinks they have to do it. A solution can be brought forward from confidence-building measures,” he said.
Agreement on measures about naval safety
“We have made four proposals to the Turkish side. The secretary generals of the two foreign ministries held two meetings in Istanbul. We have agreed on the one about naval safety and security on the sea. There are nine points in this measure. Three are still being negotiated,” Kotzias said.
The Greek foreign minister added that Turkey and Greece had agreed on reassuming exploratory talks, aiming to find a negotiated solution to the existing problems over the Aegean Sea, including defining the continental shelf, territorial waters and airspace.
“This issue was in a standstill Meetings were held in 2011 and in 2013 without any real discussion. Now we’ll have a real discussion. I hope we’ll have positive results,” he said.
Defence of the Kardak visit
Asked about tension after the newly appointed Greek Defense Minister Panagiotis Kammenos dropped a wreath in the sea near the Kardak Island (Imia) from a helicopter, Katzias stressed that he is a minister from the coalition government, not from any party in particular.
“The Turkish side will be happy to have [Kammenos] in Turkey. It will be a very interesting, productive meeting. There is an invitation for him. He will come to Turkey for bilateral meetings before December,” he said, emphasizing that the whole Greek government “has good intentions.”
“It’s very normal that Kammenos was over Imia, giving some flowers to Greek officers. It was not an aggressive act. It was an act for respect. Consider what the Turkish government is doing for Süleyman Shah Tomb, out of respect. Imia belongs to Greece … We lost officers there and we left them some flowers, not tanks or airplanes,” Katzias said.
“I am not so optimistic as to say that we’ll not have difficulties or differences. But I am optimistic about finding ways to overcome these difficulties,” he noted. “Turkey and Greece; Allah has made the decision, they are together in the same part of the world. God was playing backgammon and he rolled a double-six. He gave six to Turkey and six to us. We have to find ways to use the good results of God’s game of backgammon.”
Tsipras to visit Turkey in 2015
Turkey and Greece held High Level Cooperation Council meetings in 2010 and in 2013 and inked many agreements. Kotzias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu decided to set up a commission to check how efficiently these agreements were implemented. The two countries will hold a new meeting of the council at the end of 2015, the Greek minister said.
Kotzias said he also proposed to create a new institutional framework with Turkey, Greece and Italy, for stabilization and security of the whole region in the Mediterranean.
New Prime Minister Greece Alexis Tsipras wants to visit Turkey in 2015 to participate in the high level council meeting, Kotzias said, adding that arrangements would be made after the next month’s elections in Turkey.
“Tsipras met [Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu while leader of the opposition at the airport for one-and-a-half hours. They had a positive chemistry. Tsipras wanted to meet Davutoğlu to learn about each other and to see how they can understand each other, to keep relations better than they were in the past,” he said.
‘Mustafa Akıncı still has an old identity as a Cypriot’
Kotzias also touched on the latest Cyprus talks, describing the newly elected Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı as “a politician who still has an old identity as Cypriot.”
“He feels Cypriot, not just Turkish Cypriot. He speaks Greek. His citizens don’t speak Greek anymore. Old Greek Cypriot politicians [spoke] Turkish, and Turkish Cypriots spoke Greek. But now there’s a good momentum. This generation could make a good solution. Afterwards it will be much more difficult,” he said.
He stressed that the Cyprus dispute is “a problem for Cypriots, not for Greeks or Turks.”
“Turkish Cypriots had difficult years 1963-1964 because of the behavior of part of the other population in Cyprus. What we have to do is to give possibility to Turkish Cypriots getting the maximum rights they are asking for … In every society you have communities, minorities … The most important thing is that Turkish Cypriots feel, believe and live with the thought that Cyprus is their own, home island,” Kotzias said.
The guarantor powers, the Turkish army and the Greek army, should move away from the Island, he added, saying nobody should pressure the leaders on Cyprus to create their own momentum.