Imagine the following scene when Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras meets today with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, at his Dolmabahçe office in İstanbul. While 90 Greek businessmen and 10 ministers from Samaras’ cabinet are busy elsewhere in talks, Samaras leads the tête-à-tête:
“Esteemed prime minister, these are interesting times. We are both very busy, and deeply concerned with the pressing issues. I have to overcome our profound economic crisis and growing social unrest, which has given rise to neo-Nazi aspirations. You have, on your side, shouldered the enormous task of resolving the Kurdish issue. You stand face to face with the human tragedy in Syria and Iraq. I know that against all odds your government is determined in pursuing your EU membership goal. At the same time, the volume and intensity of many issues strain and add to our already strained relations.”
“We ought to find that in almost each and every one of them, we have deep mutual interest in finding a resolution. The stable and globalized Turkish economy is an asset for us. We are ready to put aside concerns and must cooperate much more; we have to do more to consolidate and institutionalize our economic relations. I, on the other hand, am fully aware of the benevolent leverage we have pertaining to Turkey’s EU membership process, and feel utterly relieved by the statements of Nikos Anastasiadis, the new president of Cyprus. This is the mood change we have been expecting and must take advantage of. In the midst of all sorts of turmoil, surrounding the Eastern Mediterranean plus Aegean, we seem to have the conditions ripening for building a better future. The issues we have to deal with together are far bigger than who will finance the building of the mosque in Athens or what sort of bureaucratic solution must be found for the opening the Halki Seminary in İstanbul. Future generations of our peoples will remember us with shame if we do not change the paradigm toward solution-oriented policies.”
“Given the geopolitics, economy, energy, security, we need to open the gates to a strategic partnership, and surprise the world. There is no enmity between our people, they only blame bad, populist politics for the problems between the people. The ground will mature, if we start with economic cooperation. Both Greek right and left will eventually understand the value of a holistic approach in our elaborate strategic thinking. Let us, instead of nit-picking, take all the issues which keep us apart, and work on package solutions, because much of what we face is interrelated, including the unification process on Cyprus. Let us start to make the Eastern Mediterranean a more stable, safe, predictable and prosperous region. To do that, we can set on with the issues that concern Greek-Turkish relations, without prejudice, and address all legitimate concerns. I do not see any obstacles for a new non-aggression pact, which can be extended once Cyprus talks advance to a point of no return, as to include a unified island. Why not? In the future, much of what will be needed in terms of trustworthy relations will be asked from Greece and Turkey. We owe it to our people. So, it is time, I believe, for a win-win game for us and also for all the Cypriots, the EU and the Middle East.”
Sound utopic, naive? Probably. What prompted me to fictionalize such an offer is the fact that crisis, any crisis, leads people to one of two directions: to resort to denial and defensiveness (think Bashar al-Assad), or to leap to a new level (think Nelson Mandela). Change and leaps forward demand leadership, far-sightedness and courage. Current Turkish-Greek relations are far from fine; they have been left adrift, open and vulnerable to all sorts of tactics, which can be interpreted as a strategy in itself.
Should we expect any surprises from today’s meeting, which actually is a great opportunity for candor? Not much. Some insufficient economic steps perhaps, but on major policy issues the parties will agree to agree, or simply disagree. At best, it will add a simple mediocrity to the quality of relations. It is a pity that two neighbors, geographically obliged to tolerate one another, are wasting so much time.