Recourse to the International Court of Justice in The Hague may not be the ideal solution for either party, but it may be the only viable path to a better future in the relationship. Greek-Turkish Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) in Ankara, told Kathimerini ahead of his scheduled appearance at the Delphi Economic Forum on May 10 and 14.
Unluhisarcikli points out that the good times in the history of Greek-Turkish relations have been outnumbered by times of tension, while adding that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to find common ground with the United States, but not at any cost.
Turkey was once an important pillar of stability on NATO’s southeast flank and an important ally for the Western security system. What happened?
A number of things have changed. The US withdrawal from the Middle East created a power vacuum that actors such as Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Gulf countries were quick to fill. While Turkey used to have a standstill position in the Middle East over the past decades, it has taken a transformative stance, especially with the onset of the Arab uprisings. Turkish policymakers miscalculated and increased their support for various Muslim Brotherhood denominations and other Islamist groups, which increased tensions with countries such as Israel, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. While President Trump was in favor of an Israeli-Saudi axis to contain Iran, Turkey saw it as an anti-Turkey axis in addition to being an anti-Iran axis, which hardened Turkey’s policy in Iran. regard to this country. Coincidentally, Turkey’s relations with the United States and the EU also deteriorated during this period. All of these factors contributed to Turkey’s diplomatic isolation in its region and beyond, which meant that Turkey could no longer rely on diplomacy to protect what it perceives to be its interests and rights. This has led Turkey to prefer coercive diplomacy, raising concerns in the West and its region.
Do you think what could be described as Turkey’s path to Islamization is irreversible?
While Turkey’s hardline secularists have failed in creating a non-religious society, there are already hints that the AK Party may be failing in its project for a conservative-Muslim society. Turkey has a diverse, vibrant and young society, which is not easy to shape into some form. Despite severe emotional polarization, there is a tendency for hybrid individuals to incorporate conservative and secular aspects into their lifestyle, especially among younger generations. Young women wearing headscarves are increasingly visible during anti-government protests. The cooperation of opposition parties from various ideological backgrounds can also contribute to this process.
While the Turkish government is taking a very particular path, it is evident that there is still a strong civil society in Turkey. But does it resonate in the daily agenda?
Certain segments of Turkish civil society are having a strong impact despite the political climate and restrictions on civil liberties. The feminist movement is one of them. While the government has the idea of withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, it has succeeded in creating a strong awareness on the subject, making this step difficult for the government. On the other hand, Turkey is also a traumatized society, not least due to the three decades of PKK terrorist campaigns and the more recent coup attempt which allowed the government to justify the pressures on civil society and the media, which makes it difficult to be effective on human rights issues.
Do you think Erdogan is really interested in finding common ground with the United States, or has Turkey taken an entirely different course?
Erdogan definitely wants to find common ground with the United States, but not at any cost. While there are fundamental issues between the two allies, the S-400 crisis appears to be a watershed case. Turkey has given signals of flexibility on this issue since Biden’s election, but the United States and Turkey will need a lot of goodwill and creativity to find a solution to this problem.
The March EU Council meeting will address Turkey. Is there room for a Turkish return to cooperation and at some point or integration with Europe, or is this dream definitely over?
Turkey and the EU are already irreversibly integrated. While Turkey is an important part of the industrial value chains of several EU member states, the EU is Turkey’s most important export market and the most important source of FDI. Cooperation in migration management is crucial for both sides and millions of Turkish families in several EU member states make Turkey a domestic political issue for them. Turkey’s full membership of the EU is becoming less and less likely day by day, requiring a new framework for the relationship that does not exclude the prospect of long-term full membership. but makes it easier to manage current problems.
Turkish-Greek relations have taken a very bad turn. Do you think they could get worse or is there room for improvement?
With the exception of brief periods of constructive and cooperative relations, such as the honeymoon period led by Atatürk and Venizelos in the 1920s and 1930s, and the tea diplomacy between Ismail Cem and Georgios Papandreou, Turkey-Greece relations were most often in crisis. Particularly since the Cyprus War, the management of the Aegean coast has continued uninterrupted with ups and downs that have sometimes brought the two countries to the brink of war, as during the Imia-Kardak crisis in 1996. But all these crises were de-escalated thanks to the intervention of third parties and mediation (United States and Europe). I think this model will continue in the near future. Very strong political will on both sides is needed for a real improvement in the differences between Turkey and Greece, which is not likely for electoral reasons on both sides. Therefore, although suboptimal for both parties, the International Court of Justice may be the only way forward if there is at least agreement on all disputes between the two countries.