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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.4 (2000) 98-116

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A Framework for Improving Greek-Turkish Relations

Nikolaos Zahariadis

Greek-Turkish relations, though never cordial, have deteriorated sharply in recent years, the recent rapprochement notwithstanding. Alarmed by the real possibility of open warfare in the Aegean, American, European, and some Greek and Turkish politicians and activists have tried to improve relations and build trust between the two nominal North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. But little has been accomplished. Even in recent months after the positive climate created by the so-called earthquake diplomacy, the positive steps that have been taken are small, hesitant, and easily reversible. The problem is the lack of a coherent framework that would facilitate a careful diagnosis of problems and a realistic intervention for improvement. The framework I present in this essay is intended to bolster the foundations on which the current talks can flourish and continue well after the political winds have shifted.

This essay constructs a framework for improving Greek-Turkish relations. I first discuss the benefits and drawbacks of seeking warmer Greek-Turkish relations. They are not all obvious, and given significant opposition to warmer ties in both Greece and Turkey, it is not at all clear that the majority of political groups in either country want them. It is important, therefore, to conduct a cost-benefit analysis in order to put the framework in the proper context. The framework observes that relations between the two countries have deteriorated to dangerous levels. Under such conditions, an attempt at reconciliation contains three phases: diagnosis, stabilization, and improvement. [End Page 98] There are three sets of actors: Greece, Turkey, and outsiders such as the European Union and the United States. Each has a specific role to play. I discuss each phase, its rationale, and the protagonists and their roles. I then show how each phase leads to the next and conclude with specific policy recommendations in light of recent political developments. The main points are: (1) strengthening democracy in both countries is the key to resolving Greek-Turkish issues, and (2) organizations of civil society can play a crucial role in facilitating the process. In this light, the highly personalized basis of current talks will yield few and easily reversible results. Moreover, warmer ties will continue to be sought by both sides, but the pace of d├ętente will slow considerably because of recent electoral results.

Are Warmer Greek-Turkish Relations Good for Both Countries?

There are three benefits and one possible drawback in Greece to seeking better relations with Turkey. First, better relations mean a better business environment for tourism. There can be no question that a better climate in the Aegean can only mean more tourists for both Greece and Turkey. Greece relies on tourism more than any other country in the EU. Roughly 40 percent of all its annual foreign currency receipts come from tourism, and a good climate can only help increase those receipts. The lesson is very simple. The Imia incident in 1996 increased the level of tension in the Aegean, prompting the cancellation of many arrivals because of the fear of instability and turmoil. The number of tourist arrivals went up in subsequent years as fears diminished, even though relations between the two countries remained frosty.

In spring 1999 came the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, which considerably dampened tourist prospects. The French and Italian governments advised their citizens not to come to southeastern Europe because of the war in Kosovo. Of course, these allies were concerned about the safety of their own citizens, but the point was not lost that domestic tourism in those countries also went up: that is, these governments advised their people not to travel to Greece but to spend their money at home. It turns out that despite these advisories, the number of actual tourist arrivals did not go down as [End Page 99] much as was feared, but they definitely had a negative impact on Macedonia and the rest of northern Greece.

More interesting is, of course, where these tourists come from. The number of arrivals is one indication of...


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pp. 98-116
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Archived 2019
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