The first diplomatic contact between neighboring countries Turkey and Greece took place in Istanbul earlier this year since tensions rose high in the Eastern Mediterranean after Ankara signed a maritime boundary agreement with Tripoli at the end of December 2019.
It was what Turkey actually wanted and called for; however, Greece, getting bolder with France’s support and the warmongering headlines in Greek media, resisted against the dialogue calls and hoped that the rest of the European Union would throw its unquestioning support behind Athens, until Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which held the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU until December 2020, personally put in an effort and insisted on de-escalation with direct talks between the two NATO allies.
As a result, the 61st round of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey was held in Istanbul on Jan. 25, 2021, after a five-year hiatus and was followed by the 62nd round in Athens on March 17.
Before discussing the course of the diplomatic contact in question and its direct connection to the upcoming informal 5+1 meeting for Cyprus, which is planned to be held in Geneva on April 27-29 under the auspices of the U.N., I think a quick recap is necessary.
Following the Turkish military support of the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) fighting against putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar in Libya, in line with a military deal between Ankara and Tripoli, the tides turned in the conflict and the balance of power on the ground changed, which, of course, disappointed Haftar’s backers.
Thanks to Turkey’s efforts to shift dynamics in the war-torn country, finally, the GNA transferred power to a transitional government in Libya, officially starting a long-awaited process designed to set a road map for general elections and to end 10 years of chaos.
Earlier this month, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis paid an official visit to the North African country to reopen Greece’s Embassy in Libya and met with Libya's current head of the Presidential Council, Mohammad Younes Menfi, who had served as Libya’s ambassador in Greece but was expelled as a reaction to the Turkey-Libya 2019 maritime deal.
Meanwhile, Turkey, last year, showed that it was all the more determined to protect its maritime borders, and the rights of the people of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in the Eastern Mediterranean as well.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s compelling diplomacy has revealed that Ankara was ready to prevent any fait accompli attempts by regional states, led by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration. While the latter had already started its one-sided activities by declaring its own exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and making bilateral agreements since the beginning of the 2000s, both have been trying to squeeze Turkey, the country which has the longest coastlines in the Eastern Mediterranean, in the gulf of the southern province Antalya and working to block the future course of the offshore oil and gas exploration activities of Turkey and the TRNC for a long time.
Here, it has to be underlined that Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration-led anti-Turkey coalition have often misconceived Turkey's actions and have misinterpreted them. Turkey will protect its legitimate rights in line with its “Blue Homeland” doctrine decisively, even if the Eastern Mediterranean is without a single hydrocarbon molecule.
On the other hand, the EastMed Gas Forum, formed by Greece, the Greek Cypriot administration, Israel and Egypt, was an attempt to exclude and isolate Turkey in the sea, as is admitted by many experts.
However, in mid-March, Ankara and Cairo confirmed that they had their first diplomatic contact since they broke off relations in 2013 after the Egyptian coup d’etat, but their rivalry had predominantly become a geopolitical dispute with time.
On Aug. 6, 2020, Egypt signed an EEZ agreement with Greece delimiting their maritime boundaries, which Ankara had declared null and void. But with this agreement, Cairo surrendered an area of around 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 square miles) with the Greece deal, in addition to its loss of an area of 11,500 square kilometers with the so-called agreement it signed with the Greek Cypriot administration in 2003.
It looks like Egypt is now calculating its options to reclaim its stolen maritime jurisdiction in the Mediterranean Sea but this news, was, of course, a blow to Greece.
While the Greek media immediately started to ring alarm bells, the Greek prime minister rushed to contact Egypt's president, and the Greek foreign minister dashed to Cairo to meet with his Egyptian counterpart.
Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that "Egypt invited a delegation from Turkey. The delegation will go in early May,” in a televised interview. If there isn't any plot to sabotage the direct contact between Ankara and Cairo, we can expect at least some sort of agreement between the two states, even if full normalization isn't achieved.
Getting back to the subject, Çavuşoğlu announced that his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, would visit Turkey in mid-April following the last round of the exploratory talks in March.
The head-spinning diplomatic contact between Turkey, Egypt, Libya and Greece was welcomed by all the parties, which are eager to solve the problems. It looked like Greece and Turkey had adopted a more conciliatory tone and Athens was sincere to continue dialogue to find a common ground.
Due to obvious reasons dating back to the late 1950s, almost none of the meetings between Turkish and Greek policymakers have been easy. And yet, the joint press conference of foreign ministers, Çavuşoğlu and Dendias, after the official meetings, was extraordinarily tense and volatile, as they have mostly been since the 1990s.
It was clear that Ankara lent special importance to Dendias’ visit, as he was received by Erdoğan, who rarely meets the visiting foreign ministers and usually gets briefings from his top diplomat.
Even though Dendias’ meetings with Erdoğan and Çavuşoğlu were positive, according to the sources in Ankara, the Greek foreign minister was unexpectedly aggressive during the press conference, breaking the deal reached by the Greek delegation and their Turkish counterparts before the visit.
The diplomatic sources in Ankara revealed that the Greek delegation had notified the Turkish diplomats that Dendias would not use expressions that would cause controversy and that they expected a similar approach from the Turkish side, while Ankara said they had no intention to do so either.
So the press conference opened with warm remarks from Çavuşoğlu, in which he praised “the very positive dialogue” they just held in the Turkish capital. But Dendias used his opening remarks to accuse Turkey of many issues, starting with the Eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea and then minorities and migration.
Çavuşoğlu obviously had to respond to the accusations, but you can see that his diplomatic courtesy as a host stopped him from giving the answer Dendias actually deserved, although the latter had broken his promise and adopted an undiplomatic and disrespectful approach.
Putting aside the scandalous attempt of Dendias, let's discuss the Greek foreign minister's intention behind his attempt to start a verbal clash with his counterpart. Was he following the instructions of Mitsotakis? Was he talking to Greek society in a populist way? Or did he try to provoke Çavuşoğlu in front of the cameras?
Was he trying to get the attention of the U.S. and the EU, which had actually refrained from introducing harsh sanctions against Turkey that both Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration had pushed for with the assistance of France?
Or did he show the Greeks’ unwillingness to discuss the bilateral problems between Ankara and Athens without the participation of “third parties”?
A quick look at Greek websites is enough to show that all of the predictions are true. While Mitsotakis expressed his satisfaction with Dendias’ method, the ministers and the parliamentarians enthusiastically applauded his remarks.
While the Greek media claims Dendias “humbled Çavuşoğlu by publicly setting out all the illegal actions and practices of Turkey against Greece,” even academics made unsettling comments on the Greek top diplomat’s vulgar attitude.
For instance, Konstantinos Filis, the director of the Institute of International Relations of Panteion University, argued, “The Turks would very much like to respond on the field to what happened yesterday because they cannot easily digest it.”
But, on the contrary, a Greek frigate, Elli, escorted a French seismic research ship, L’Atalante, that sought to operate in Turkish waters in the Eastern Mediterranean right after Dendias’ visit.
Çavuşoğlu said on April 22 that Turkey would have given permission to the French research if Greece did not desperately try to flex its muscles on the field.
Moreover, Dendias, on April 19, briefed the EU foreign desk over his recent trips to Libya, Turkey and Egypt via teleconference. The Greek media said that “the briefing was intended to show the EU that Ankara was not seeking a coordinated dialogue with Athens” while further stating that it “was also to highlight Turkey seeks to separate Greek-Turkish dialogue from the grid of Euro-Turkish relations.”
Well, anyone who watched the joint press conference and followed the reactions of both sides afterward can say what happened was the exact opposite.
Now, it is up to the EU leaders to decide who has been trying to seek the constructive dialogue and who has attempted to sabotage the resumed talks.
However, it has to be noted that Dendias’ attempt to derail Greece-Turkey direct talks came just 10 days before the U.N. led 5+1 meetings regarding Cyprus planned for Geneva.
Çavuşoğlu went to the TRNC right after Dendias left Turkey in order to hold talks ahead of the informal 5+1 meeting on Cyprus. Çavuşoğlu wrote on Twitter, “In TRNC to defend together our national cause with a new vision,” after his arrival.
In his meeting with TRNC Foreign Minister Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu before he was received by TRNC President Ersin Tatar, Çavuşoğlu said: "The Greek Cypriot administration, which does not want to share anything with the Turkish community, as well as its backer Greece, have rejected all solution proposals either on the table or through referendums.” He also added that a solution for Cyprus has been negotiated for 53 years while the Greek Cypriot side was awarded by the West and the Turkish Cypriot side was punished.
Ertuğruloğlu for his part said that the only agenda of the Geneva meeting was to see whether the parties have a common ground for negotiation or not, stressing, “Otherwise we will move on toward a new, healthy process that will prevent spending another 50-100 years in vain.”
Cyprus has been divided since the violence of the Greek Cypriots against Turks on the island reached a climax on the night of Dec. 21, 1963, also known as "Bloody Christmas," which led to hundreds of Turkish Cypriots’ death.
In 1974, a Greek Cypriot coup aiming at Greece’s annexation led to Turkey’s military intervention as a guarantor power to protect Turkish Cypriots from persecution and further violence.
The TRNC was founded in 1983; however, it was only recognized by Turkey. Meanwhile, the Greek Cypriot administration entered the EU in 2004, the same year that Greek Cypriots rejected a U.N. bid reunification plan – the Annan Plan – to end the decadeslong dispute in a referendum.
While 65% of Turkish Cypriots said “yes,” 75% of the Greek Cypriots said “no,” which meant the Greek Cypriots are still dreaming of ENOSIS, i.e., merging the entire island with Greece.
The EU recently demanded to participate as an observing party to the U.N.-led Cyprus talks, but Ertuğruloğlu said last month that the EU should stay out of talks on the Cyprus problem as long as it recognizes only the Greek Cypriot administration, not the TRNC.
Getting tired of all of its just and fair peace efforts rebuffed by the Greek Cypriot administration and Greece, the TRNC has now decided to find a two-state solution, formalizing a policy shift, which was strengthened after Tatar was elected in October 2020 and backed by Turkey.
The Turkish side is against the EU involvement in the Cyprus issue due to the fact that the bloc has proven itself to be biased, as it has always seen the entire island – apart from its British military bases – as territory of the Greek Cypriot administration.
That is why the EU has no place at the table in the U.N.-led informal talks as well, according to Turkish leaders, and only the TRNC, the Greek Cypriot administration and guarantor countries Turkey, Greece and the U.K. will be hosted by the U.N.
All in all, Dendias’ attempt to create a new crisis during the press conference in Ankara was clearly aiming to send a message to the EU to push the bloc to participate in the April 27-29 Cyprus talks, which was also expected by the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades.
In fact, neither Greece nor the Greek Cypriots have ever wanted to make peace with Turks on the island. It is also well known that both have always exploited the EU to impose their maximalist claims upon Turkey.
Since the TRNC favors a two-state solution now, Dendias’ premeditated theatrical play in Ankara was actually in accordance with the agenda of Athens and Nicosia.
Dendias did actually prove that their strategy is to keep tensions high until the EU and the U.S. decide to directly intervene in the dispute favoring their and the Greek Cypriots’ side.
Please click to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the cookies used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan çerezlerle ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen tıklayınız.