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Foreign Minister Kotzias’ interview with the Turkish Public Television (TRT) correspondent in Athens, Derya Koseoglu (11 May 2015)
JOURNALIST: Syriza is a party that brought new prospects in a number of sectors. In foreign policy and Greek-Turkish relations, what changes does the new Syriza government see?
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, I would like to greet you and the friendly Turkish people, and express the hope that this friendship become more consolidated each day. I think that what we are bringing that is new is our willingness to resolve problems – real willingness, not just words – and to cement this friendship that exists between two peoples who are very similar in many things.
JOURNALIST: What’s on the agenda for this visit to Turkey? What will be announced?
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, let me say that I am carrying out an official visit to Turkey after 16 years. The last time I went to Turkey was in 1999, accompanying the then-foreign minister, George Papandreou. Papandreou was the first foreign minister in 50 years to carry out a visit to Turkey. And we met with our friend Cem at that time.
My visit to Turkey this time is bigger. I’m not just going to Ankara. I will participate in a NATO Meeting that the Turkish government is hosting in Antalya, and my Turkish counterpart and I decided that it would be good for us to meet and talk in Ankara. And before that I will be in Istanbul to see the Patriarch, as well as Prime Minister Davutoglu. I will have the pleasure of meeting with him, because he is a wonderful politician and a wonderful professor.
We want to look at how we can promote the issue of confidence-building measures (CBMs), so that we can begin the exploratory talks on issues that have long been of concern to us, like the continental shelf in the Aegean.
But we also want to talk about how we can develop our economic cooperation, which, as you know, has made great progress in recent years. I think that over one million Turkish tourists will be visiting Greece this year, and we welcome them with great pleasure. The volume of trade transactions between the two countries has quadrupled. We have had a number of investments by Turkish investors in recent years, particularly in marinas and on Greek islands.
So we will talk about the fundamental strategic issues between the two countries. We will talk about economic issues, and I think we need to open the way to cooperation in the sectors of culture and education. I think it is very much in the interest of Greece and Turkey to ensure stability and security in the region, particularly in the southeastern Mediterranean. I think we will be talking about these issues as well.
As you know, my theory is that, in our region, we are living within a triangle of instability, with Ukraine at the top, Libya on the left side of the base, and, on the right, the Middle East – particularly Syria and Iraq. Consequently, Turkey and Greece are two countries with an interest in maintaining and strengthening stability and security in the region, and in this context I think we will also talk about issues that have to do with the reopening of the negotiations in Cyprus.
JOURNALIST: One of the important issues in Greek-Turkish relations is the Cyprus issue. You have stated that there shouldn’t be guarantor countries, and that there cannot be a solution until the last Turkish soldier has left the island.
N. KOTZIAS: I also said the Greek army should leave, but they forget that. I am saying this: If we say that the guarantor powers have to be maintained, this means that the solution is not a real solution, that’s what I’m saying. If it is a real solution and we feel that it guarantees the interests of the Turkish Cypriot community and of the Greek Cypriot community and, I add, because most people forget this, of the three smaller minorities in Cyprus, the Armenians, the Maronites and the Latin Catholics, then why should there be guarantor powers?
Cyprus must become a normal member state of the EU and develop good and productive relations with Turkey and Greece. If there is not a comprehensive solution in Cyprus, and if we give guarantees, the Turkish occupation troops – of course, Turkey doesn’t see them as such – and if Greece has troops based on the London and Zurich agreements, then we have the same old thing, and I simply said that we shouldn’t kid ourselves. If there is a viable solution, then I think the Turkish side and the Greek side will support the creative development of the Republic of Cyprus.
If there isn’t a real solution, we will start thinking about what guarantees we will give. This is my thinking, and it isn’t directed against anyone, but it shows our willingness to find a real solution. And to put it differently: I say, “What is it that most worries Turkey?” The rights of the Turkish Cypriots. You say we should give 100, I say we should give 300, give the maximum rights and security to them. No other guarantees are necessary, and, moreover, because it is an EU member state, everyone will be looking at Cyprus. I think the same holds true for the UN. This is my thinking. That is, I want a real solution that makes the Cypriots feel sovereign again in their home; the Turkish Cypriots, the Greek Cypriots and the other three, small minorities.
JOURNALIST: Are you optimistic about a solution? What is your assessment of Akinci’s election?
N. KOTZIAS: I think that we have to try, with optimism, to find a solution. I can’t know whether the result will be optimistic. This is what I hope, and I will work for this. Mr. Akinci is a person who I think respects both Turkey and Greece. He is a person who has shown responsibility to date regarding the resolution of the problems of the Turkish Cypriot community, and I am of the opinion that he is also someone who understands the Greek Cypriots. Let’s not forget that he also knows Greek very well, and I think this is a major advantage.
JOURNALIST: When we refer to energy for Cyprus, we see that of late Greece has been approaching Russia, Israel and Egypt. Without a doubt, energy has a large share in this. In this process, what kind of cooperation is foreseen with Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots?
N. KOTZIAS: Sometimes I say, teasing my students, that Allah decided to roll dice, with Turkey on one die and Greece on the other. We will be together, we will live together, and we need to find new rules and manners of friendship to live together. This also holds true for energy. Greece’s emerging role in the energy sector is linked to Turkey’s role in the energy sector. Because when we talk about pipelines coming from Azerbaijan or from Russia, we are talking about pipelines that pass through Turkey. I believe that it is a good thing for pipelines to be constructed in our region, and I mean not just in Greece and Turkey, but also in FYROM, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina. I agreed on this with the European Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir, in Budapest, where we met – that we should build a strong energy, road and rail network. And these will be points that bolster stability and good cooperation between the countries. I think that major projects help cooperation between Greece and Turkey.
With regard to exploring for and finding gas in the Mediterranean, I think that it will benefit all the peoples of the region. And I want to make the reminder that our cooperation with third countries, like Egypt and Israel, is not directed against anyone. And in fact I think that we will put a good proposal to the Turkish leadership regarding our contribution, together with Turkey, to the security of the region.
JOURNALIST: For some time now, Turkey has been waiting to become a member of the EU. What is your assessment of the delay? Do you perhaps see it as a little unfair?
N. KOTZIAS: I think that Europe needs Turkey. I also believe deeply that Greek-Turkish relations would be even better with Turkey in the European Union, implementing all of the democratic and social rules of the European Union. Not that these rules are in force in all of the states of the European Union. Turkey is not the only one with gaps in the implementation of these rules. We, too, have gaps, as do other European countries. I was and am in favor of Turkey’s European course. I remind you that I was the one who drew up the confidence-building measures between Greece and Turkey in the 1990s, and I contributed then to Greece’s lifting a veto that was imposed on Turkey at the Luxembourg meeting in 1997. The veto was lifted in a small city in Finland, Tampere, in the fall of 1999, and was then completed in Helsinki.
And you know, I consider myself to be among the architects of the Helsinki agreement, and I want this process to continue. It benefits everyone, it is a win for Turkey, for Turkey’s people, and for Europe, for Greece and its people, and for me personally, because it vindicates a policy that will integrate Turkey into the European club.
And let me tell you something. Turkey’s difficulties, in my opinion, do not stem from the fact that it is a country with a high percentage of devout Muslims, but I think that the problem is Turkey’s size: that some strong countries in Europe, should Turkey become a member, will not be able to play the role they play today. To be sincere and honest, it is the numbers that rankle, and not religion.
JOURNALIST: You also said that without Greece there is no Eurozone, and there is a negotiation process. Can you say something about that?
N. KOTZIAS: Let me tell you, I say it in jest, but I remind the Europeans, and particularly the racists, that the name “Europe” has an origin. She was a beautiful woman, one of the most beautiful in Libya, according to ancient Greek mythology,. And Zeus, the leader of the gods of Olympus, turned himself into a bull and went and abducted her, because he fell in love with her, and he took her to the mountains of Crete. Two things are happening here. First, Europe begins as a person from Africa, so a European cannot be racist towards Asians and Africans, because the very source of our name is from there. And second, it began with a theft by an ancient Greek god, Zeus, so without Africa and the ancient Greek god, there is no Europe. I say this to tease them. The same story, the same problem, is happening in Greece. And this story is antiracist in intent.
JOURNALIST: What can you say about the course of the negotiations with the EU and the IMF?
N. KOTZIAS: I went to the U.S. for a week, and the American politicians, members of congress, the government – everyone asked me what is going to happen. And I said, from what I know of Europe -- for 30 or 35 years now, during which I have negotiated with Europe, whether as an expert diplomat of the Ministry or, now, as a Minister – it has two characteristics.
One is an institutional system that is based on law and, thus, cannot be violated continuously in the name of power. And second, it is an institutional system that is based on negotiation and on dialogue, and the Union survived through these decades because, thanks to these two characteristics, and negotiation in particular, it always found solutions. I hope what I say is borne out in the end.
JOURNALIST: In the elections, the minority in Thrace supported Syriza to a great extent. There are many issues awaiting solutions, like the mufti issue the education issue. What does Syriza promise to the minority?
N. KOTZIAS: Syriza garnered over 40% of their vote. I think this is the first time three Muslim MPs were elected by a party in power, Syriza, and they feel multiple cultural and religious ties with Turkey.
That is, it is a positive development that Syriza, a party of the left, integrates these processes. I think that Thrace is an area in which all of the positive characteristics of democracy can be developed. Positive steps have been taken in recent years. And I want to remind you that, despite the difficulties in Greece, elements that have Turkish roots have been sustained in Thrace. I’m not saying Turkish elements. I’m saying elements with Turkish roots. While with regard toTurkey we had difficulties sustaining the 250,000 Greeks of Istanbul, of which 2,000 to 3,000 remain. So in Thrace the problems are mostly problems of development, and not problems that have to do with oppression and limiting of rights.
JOURNALIST: As you said, there are a large number of Turkish tourists visiting Greece. But there is the visa problem. Will new facilitations be ensured on this issue?
N. KOTZIAS: We are endeavoring to do this and we need to organize it better, because it doesn’t just concern our friends visiting from Turkey: We have the same problem with far-off China, where I visited two weeks ago. The same problem exists in China. The Chinese feel that they were the great civilization of Asia, and we, Greece, the great civilization of Europe, and there is a certain historical brotherhood between us.
And we have the same problem with Russia. Based on the statistics I saw, this will be the first time we will have more visitors from Turkey than from Russia. Because while the number of Turkish tourists is increasing, the number of Russian tourists is falling due to the crisis and the devaluation of the ruble. So there is a positive framework.
And something else I have to say, as I go to Istanbul, is that I consider Istanbul to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is a wonderful city! At least what I see as a visitor, because, like every city, it has its hidden sides. But from what I see, it is a wonderful city. I am also pleased that Turkey is hosting the NATO Ministerial in Antalya, because I will be able to see another side of Turkey; a side whose history and beauty I know only from photographs. And I know that your Foreign Minister was born in Antalya, so we will be going to his birthplace.
I have always had very good friends in Turkey. I feel very good when I am among Turkish friends and when I meet young people. And the poet says that, in diplomacy, it is not enough for the mouth to speak good things, but you have to consider to what ears you are saying these things. That is, I hope that I express these positive messages of ours in such a way that they sound good to the ears of our partners in Antalya.
There are a lot of problems, there are differing interests. But God cast our dice here. We have to live together. God is testing us.