Fordham International Law Journal
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This article discusses the relationship between Turkey and Greece after the collapse of the
Soviet Union. The discussion also focuses on Greek Orthodoxy as a point of contention.
Even though Turkey and Greece are both members of
North Atlantic Treaty Organization ("NATO") and are associate
and full members of the European Union ("EU"), respectively, it
is universally acknowledged that an undertone of bickering and
tension has long characterized Turkey-Greece relations. This
presents a rather odd dichotomy. The two nations should in fact
espouse similar values and principles and share a common vision
for building stability, security, and economic prosperity
throughout the region in which they reside as neighbors. This, however,
is certainly not the case and a spirit of cooperation seems
increasingly displaced by the meanness of confrontation. While
Greece no doubt will interpret this state of affairs in its own way,
we in Turkey have our own perceptions of Greek foreign policy
in general and vis-a-vis our country in particular. In our view,
two factors influence current Greek policy: rising Greek
nationalism focused upon unity through the Eastern Orthodox Church
and antagonism based more on settling old scores with the
Ottoman Empire than on working with the present Republic of
It is already clich6 to review foreign affairs by addressing the
impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ironically enough, it
appears that the ramifications of the Soviet Union's demise may
outlast the empire's seventy-year existence. No nation knows
this better than Turkey, which stood with the West against Soviet
hegemony throughout the Cold War and which has assumed a
position as a frontline state in the post-Cold War era.
The fall of the Soviet Union has eliminated confrontation
between nations based on ideology, at least as far as Europe and
the Middle East are concerned. What remains has been
characterized by some scholars as the "clash of civilizations."1 From
Turkey's perspective, contemporary foreign affairs, especially
Turkish-Greek relations, are manifested by attitudes and
positions that are profoundly backward-looking, mired in
centuries* Turkey's Ambassador to the United States.
1. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations?,FOREIGN AFs., Summer 1993,
old biases, and based on fanning ancient hatreds. To be sure,
the flash points between nations increasingly appear to be
culture-based. More to the point, religion is considered a threat to
ignite any conflict. In our view, however, it is fundamentalist
Christianity, in the form of Greek Orthodoxy, that has become
the fulcrum on which Greek relations with Turkey turn.
Recent history in the Balkans clearly illustrates this
situation. From the beginning of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Serbian aggression was not only condoned, but even hailed within
certain Greek circles sympathetic to their Orthodox Serbian
brethren. Serbian victory would have opened the way for
Orthodox supremacy in the Balkans, effectively cutting off Turkey
from Europe. Indeed, Turkey's attempts to contribute to
multilateral efforts to stop the bloodshed and maintain the
multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious character of that country
were defamed as resurgent Ottoman aspirations to establish an
Islamic state, under Turkish control, in Europe. Turkey
nevertheless persevered in laying the groundwork for establishing the
Croat-Bosnian Federation while maintaining a dialogue with the
Serbs. Countries that initially objected to Turkey's contributions
later offered their thanks for the Turkish military's even-handed
and objective role under United Nations' command by inviting
Turkey to participate in IFOR.2
In the meantime, Greece was actively pursuing a so-called
defense doctrine that would have an impact from Macedonia to
Albania, the Aegean and Cyprus, reaching into the Eastern
Mediterranean. This new defense doctrine was used to cover a
multitude of aggressive nationalistic actions. For example, it was in
the name of national defense that Greece attempted to
intimidate Macedonia. This policy was relinquished only after gentle
nudging by the United States. Additionally, the mass expulsions
of Albanians out of Greece3 were justified on the premise of
human rights violations in Albania, at a time when Greece itself
was blatantly violating the Turkish minority's rights in Western
Thrace. Not only did Greece seem to be immune from
condem2. Philip Shenon, GI. 's on Alert After Report of Threat by BosniaSerb Chief,N.Y. TIMES,
Feb. 23, 1996, at A6. IFOR is the abbreviation for the implementation force sent by
NATO to maintain peace in Bosnia. Id. The IFOR numbers 60,000 troops. Craig R.
Whitney, NATO Urged to Keep Forcein BosniaAfter PulloutDate,N.Y. TIMES, Mar. 21. 1996,
3. Nicholas Gage, Another Balkan FlashPoint, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 6, 1994, at A2
nation for these actions against the Macedonians and Albanians,
but its abuse of the human rights of the Turkish minority in
Western Thrace continues unabated.
The defense doctrine also meant confrontation with Turkey
on several levels. Greece soon began entering into military
agreements with nations such as Syria,4 long castigated by the
United States as a nation that harbors terrorism. In this
instance, Syria, the enemy of Greece's enemy Turkey, became
Greece's friend. Moreover, Greece had the temerity to criticize
Turkey on human rights grounds while Turkish soldiers and
civilians were dying at the hands of Kurdistan Workers Party
("PKK") 5 terrorists who were supported by Greece's new ally.
Furthermore, Greece's most recent application of the
defense doctrine erupted into the Kardak Rocks6 crisis in which
open hostilities between Turkey and Greece were avoided at the
last minute. Attempts to turn the Aegean Sea into a Greek lake
have been well documented and the dispute over this tiny,
uninhabited rock a few miles from Turkey offers another illustration.
Turkey's resolute response to Greece's blatant land grab forced
the Greeks to turn to the allies for support.
Greece asked the European Union to condemn Turkey for
defending its rights on Kardak as well as in the Aegean, by
imploring the European Union to take Greece's side in fulfilling its
claims under the guise of "EU solidarity." Left unsaid in the
Greek allegations was Greece's ongoing militarization of the
Eastern Aegean islands in violation of international law.
Moreover, no mention was made of the need to resolve outrageous
Greek claims regarding the territorial waters or air space. Again,
since Greece viewed these matters as issues of national defense,
4. Lee Stokes, Close Ties With the Arabs World Have Not Kept Greece Safe From Terrorist
Attacks, L.A. TIMES, Nov. 16, 1986, at 27 (reporting that Western Diplomats say that
Greece has tacit agreements with PLO, Libya, and Syria prohibiting acts of Arab
terrorism on Greek soil); Refet Kaplan, Turkey Seeks to Calm FearsOverDeal,WASH. TIMES, Apr.
12, 1996, at A15 (reporting that Turkey believes that military agreements between
Greece and Syria should influence Turkey to reconsider its strategic position and enter
into agreements with Israel).
5. Kaplan, supra note 4, at A15. PKK stands for Kurdistan Workers Party, a
guerrilla group that has waged a 12-year battle against Turkish forces. Id.
6. Stephen Engelberg, US. Brokers Peace Accord in the Aegean, N.Y. TIMES, Jan. 31,
1996, at A6 (discussing dispute between Turkey and Greece over Kardak Rock in
Aegean Sea and role of United States in avoiding conflict).
it felt no need to engage Turkey in dialogue or other settlement
The United States was also beseeched for help. After all, in
1974, the United States essentially took the Greek side when the
Turkish military intervened on Cyprus to stop the slaughter of
the Turkish Cypriot community. Despite the fact that Greece
engineered a coup in Cyprus to annex the island illegally, the
powerful Greek lobby in the United States was able to see that
Turkey was ultimately punished for fulfilling its obligation as a
Guarantor Power per the 1960 London Agreement. 7
This time, however, in the Kardak case, the international
community insisted upon a resolution grounded in universally
accepted principles that did not rely on religion, race or
historical vengeance. The United States and the European Union
asked Turkey and Greece to settle their dispute peacefully and
within the prescribed legal framework. In Turkey's view, this
even-handed reaction from our allies was encouraging and
further set an example for others to follow.
This is a significant turn of events in that it confirms our
view that in the "New World (Dis)order," nothing is more
important to settling international disputes than the rule of law and
dialogue. There is no other option for the established
democracies but to act as a role model in this regard and to begin by
applying international rules amongst ourselves first. What other
hope is there for the emerging nations if we fail?
Our perception of the factors influencing Greek policy
towards Turkey leads us to conclude that dialogue is the first and
most crucial step in resolving the various differences between us.
We believe that the criticism often directed at many military
strategists applies to Greece as well, in that they are fighting the
last war, or, in this case, the last enemy.
Ultimately, we have to pave the way for friendship. We are
neighbors and we must live together. Our perceptions of Greek
policy certainly have their own corollaries in Athens, based on its
notion of a "threat from the East." It may well be that the only
thing we agree on now is that there exists much that divides us.
7. 1960 Cyprus Treaty of Guarantee, Aug. 16, 1960, 382 U.N.T.S. 3; See PhillipJ.
Sands, Reporter, Cyprus: InternationalLaw and the Prospectsfor Settlement, 78 AM. Soc'y
INT'L L. PROC. 107, 107 (1984) (discussing 1960 Zurich-London Agreement that
established independence of Cyprus).
But even that is a start, for as long as we understand that fanning
ancient Greek hatred against Turkey, coupled with modern day
nationalism will not allow the peaceful resolution of any
problem. For Turkey to fulfill the obligations of a frontline state,
which includes serving as a model for developing nations in the
Balkans, Middle East, and Caucasus, we need full integration
with Europe, and that requires Greek friendship. There is no
question that Greece stands to gain as much from such a
relationship as Turkey.
Turkey is optimistic about improving relations with Greece.
The latest manifestation of this was Turkish Prime Minister
Mesut Ylmaz's recent announcement of a bold new peace
initiative that is grounded in four dimensions:
1. Mechanismsfor the peaceful settlement of disputes. In addition
to dialogue and direct negotiation, Turkey also supports a
range of third-party options, including mediation,
arbitration, and court proceedings.
2. A politicalframework. Turkey supports the development of
a common document that would serve as the basis for a
friendly working relationship.
3. A new security framework. This calls for clearer definitions
of military and defense aspects of the relationship between
Turkey and Greece. Its principle feature would be a program
of confidence-building measures for military activities.
4. A code of conduct. This would establish ground rules for
the day-to-day activities of both sides, forcing both from
making statements or taking actions likely to generate hostile
This is the most forward-looking plan to improve relations
with Greece offered by Turkey in some thirty years. It was
received very positively in the United States and Europe, but not in
Greece, which reacted by continuing to block financial aid from
the European Union that was promised to Turkey upon joining
the Customs Union. Further, Greek Defense Minister Arsenis
announced that Greece would still seek alliances with enemies of
Turkey such as Syria and would maintain its provocative posture
in the Aegean.
Still, Turkey continues to believe in the adage, where there
8. Turkey's Aegean PeaceProcess Initiative,Turkish Embassy, Washington, D.C. Press
Release, Mar. 26, 1996, at 1 (on file with the FordhamInternationalLawJournal).
is a will, there is a way. This was perhaps best expressed by Prime
Minister Yilmaz in announcing his groundbreaking peace
Today, we are going through a tense period in our relations
with Greece. The latest crisis has demonstrated once again
that the present state of Turkish-Greek relations is fraught
with dangers. The fundamental interests of both countries
lies in the peace and cooperation, not confrontation. We
both stand to benefit from good-neighborly relations. Turkey
and Greece have to overcome the cycle of conflict into which
that have been locked. The failure to settle the existing
problems creates an environment conducive to the eruption
of new crises. This vicious circle must be broken at some
point. The leaders of both countries are faced with a historic
responsibility to establish a climate of mutual confidence, to
give a new structure to their bilateral relations which would
be free of problems, and thus open a brand new chapter in
Turkish-Greek relations. Turkey is ready and determined to
do her utmost in that regard. I believe that the Greek leaders
also have the necessary political will to live up to this historic
9. Turkey Proposes Comprehensive Peace in the Aegean , Turkish Embassy, Washington, D.C. Press Release, Mar. 24 , 1996 , at 1 (on file with the Fordham InternationalLaw Journa) .