At the negotiating table, without blackmail
There can be no dialogue with Turkey at this particular phase, and that is for the following reasons: In recent months Ankara has used its Oruc Reis survey vessel in a bid to impose a series of faits accomplis. It was an unprecedented as well as blatant strategy of coercion. Ankara never really suspended the ship’s operations, barring some brief intervals that were aimed at soothing reactions from European governments.
It’s the first time since 1974 that Turkey has chosen to pursue this strategy, and it has done so in an open and unrestricted manner. Should Greece join Turkey at the negotiating table in the wake of all this, it would essentially legitimize Ankara’s strategy.
Turkey is making persistent claims about the existence of “grey zones” in the Aegean. These are expressed verbally, but also through overflights by Turkish fighter jets as well as actions of the Turkish Navy and Coast Guard. There is no other example (in Europe, at least) of a country so openly seeking to challenge the established national sovereignty of another. Having a disagreement about the breadth of Greece’s continental shelf or exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is one thing; but questioning the country’s sovereignty over certain Aegean islands (inhabited or not) is quite another.
Ankara is also crude in the way it has tried to bring the issue of the demilitarization of Aegean islands back to the table. The Turkish government obviously wants to include the issue in the agenda of exploratory talks and subsequent negotiations.
Given the way that Ankara has presented the two issues, they cannot be subject to negotiation.
This is the essence. However, there is a problem which immediately requires the effective mobilization of the Greek government – and not just the government. The Americans and the Europeans often fail to understand what is at stake here. They see two countries fighting with each other and simply urge them to sit down and work out their differences. But it’s hard to imagine that any of them would be willing to negotiate not their countries’ EEZ and continental shelf, but rather an actual chunk of their country’s national sovereignty, or whether they should be obliged to remove troops from an island that is evidently under threat from foreign aggression.
As a result, we have a national obligation to do our best to explain that we are only prepared to negotiate about what we have for the past 45 years acknowledged as being our disputes and take them to court so that we can reach a settlement, if possible. But we will not sit at the table of negotiations after a period of bullying, effectively signing up to an outrageous agenda. If we do, every time a disagreement comes up in talks with Turkey, Ankara will know exactly what to do to force a Greek concession.
The article was first published in the Kathimerini and reprinted with permission.