Turkey, Europe

Experts laud Turkey's willingness for exploratory talks

In Istanbul on Monday, Turkey and Greece held exploratory talks on contentious issues after nearly 5-year hiatus

Gulsum Incekaya   | 26.01.2021
Experts laud Turkey's willingness for exploratory talks


Unlike Greece's controversial moves such as arming islands in the Aegean and treating maritime jurisdiction and continental shelf matters as its own sovereign right, experts on Monday said Turkey joining exploratory talks shows the global public that it favors peace and dialogue. 

The first exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey in nearly five years ended Monday in Istanbul.

The talks between Turkey and Greece, meant to find fair and equitable settlements to issues in the Aegean, began in 2002, but Greece suspended them in 2016.

Bilateral talks continued in the form of political consultations, but did not return to the exploratory framework.​​​​​​

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Gurkan Kumbaroglu, a professor at Bogazici University in Istanbul, said Greece wants to limit the negotiations to maritime jurisdictions.

Kumbaroglu said the Greek side is not willing to discuss many controversial issues such as demilitarized islands, disputed islands, and the size of national airspace.

"Mentioning the 12 [nautical] mile matter [during the talks], which is an issue Turkey considers a reason for war, does not prepare grounds for a solution but rather eliminates it," he said.

Last week, Greece’s parliament passed a bill envisioning an increase to country's territorial waters in the Ionian Sea from 6 nautical miles to 12.

Last June Greece signed an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) deal with Italy and with Egypt that August.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Tuesday that discussions on extending territorial waters off the eastern part of Crete Island are being held.

In the mid-1990s, Greece attempted to extend its territorial waters in the Aegean Sea to 12 miles but scuttled the plan after Turkey declared that such a move would be a casus belli, or cause for war.

‘Changing the balances’

"Despite these, Turkey being present at the talks gives a message to the global public that Ankara is in favor of peace and dialogue. This message is important for Turkey to find international support for its just cause and to attract allies," Kumbaroglu said.

He added: "Israel's energy minister saying he would be happy to attend Turkey's East Mediterranean Gas Forum is, in my opinion, the first message that could change geopolitical balances in the Eastern Mediterranean."

Meanwhile, Mustafa Kaymakci, head of the Rhodes, Kos, and Dodecanese Turks Culture and Solidarity Association, told Anadolu Agency that "Greece must first abandon its imperialist policies in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean seas if a result is to be achieved from the exploratory talks."

Stressing that Athens' attempts to extend its territorial waters in the Aegean Sea to 12 miles is unacceptable, Kaymakci said another important matter that must be addressed during the talks is the cultural identity of Turks living in Rhodes, Kos, and Western Thrace.

"The Greek side does not accept them as Turks, but they are also not Greek Muslims. Thus, with the re-granting of Turkish education and training rights to Turks on Rhodes and Kos, the Greek side must be reminded that foundations established to protect the cultural heritage of the Ottoman Turks should not be corrupted by Greek governments," he added. 

‘Trying to curb Turkey’s determination’

Ahmet Zeki Bulunc, a former ambassador now at the capital Ankara’s Baskent University, said the exploratory talks with Greece lack grounds that would yield results.

Noting that Greece is willing to discuss the continental shelf issue only on the condition of referring to international courts, Bulunc said: "It is therefore trying to gain ground in a way to maintain all its basic policies."

"Greece is only trying to establish a transition period that would curb or suspend the determination that Turkey has recently displayed," he added.

Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected the maritime boundary claims by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.

Ankara last year sent several drill ships to explore for energy in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting its rights in the region, as well as those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue, and negotiations.

*Writing by Merve Aydogan in Ankara

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