The Centre for International Strategic Analysis-KEDISA successfully organized a webinar on the topic: “Greek-Turkish Crisis and Prospects for Resolving the Cyprus Dispute” on October 19 and 20, 2020.
On the first day of the webinar, the discussion was moderated by Dr. Panagiotis Sfaelos (Director of Research KEDISA and Secretary General of the Greek Section of the Association of European Journalists). The speakers were: Dr. Tassos Hadjivassiliou (Member of Parliament for Serres constituency and Secretary of the Standing Committee on National Defense and Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Parliament-ND Party) and Mr. Costas Zachariadis (Member of Parliament for the 2nd constituency of Athens- SYRIZA Party). During the second day of the webinar, moderator was Mrs. Maria Lysandrou (Journalist) The speakers were: Mr. Ioannis Baltzois (Lieutenant General and President of ELISME), Mr. Lambros Tzoumis (Lieutenant General- former National Representative of Greece in NATO) and Dr. Dionysios Tsirigotis (Associate Professor of International & European Studies at the University of Piraeus).
The Founder & President of KEDISA, Dr. Andreas G. Banoutsos, in his introductory speech, said that the topic of the two-day webinar is very timely, as the Greek-Turkish crisis continues to escalate and the Turkish President Mr.Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already taken the provocative action of opening the blocked bay of Famagusta (Varosia) in Northern Cyprus, which violates the resolutions of the UN Security Council. At the same time, he stressed that the recent “so-called” presidential elections in the occupied territories of Cyprus and the election of Erdogan’s favourite, Mr.Ersin Tatar, complicate the prospects for resolving the Cyprus issue. He also stated that the “red lines” for Greece in the Cyprus must be: a) the withdrawal of the Turkish occupation troops and the rest of the foreign forces from Cyprus and the only force remaining should be the UN Peacekeeping Force (UNFICYP), b) the abolition of the obsolete regime of guarantees, and c) the fair solution of the Cyprus problem on the basis of the resolutions of the UN Security Council.
The MP of ND and Secretary of the Standing Committee on National Defense & Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Parliament, Dr Chadjivasiliou, in his talk, referred to Ankara’s extremist policy and its revisionism. Erdogan’s involvement in various conflicts is also related to the economic situation in Turkey. As he mentioned, Turkey’s long-term plan is to challenge the sovereign rights of Greece, in order to create negative outcomes for our country. He referred to the illegal Turkish-Libyan Memorandum, the provocation in Evros and the illegal presence of Oruc Reis in the Eastern Mediterranean. He also noted that the Greek government intends to respond to any illegal action by Turkey in a lawful diplomatic manner. For example, in relation to the Turkish-Libyan Memorandum, Greece responded by delimiting the Exclusive Economic Zone with Italy and Egypt. He also noted that Turkey is trying to disengage from the dialogue efforts by constantly presenting new absurd demands, such as the demilitarization of the Greek islands and inventing non-existent minorities in the Eastern Aegean islands.
He pointed out that Greece is in favor of dialogue only on the issues of the continental shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone and if the dialogue fails, then it will appeal to Hague International Court. He further stressed that Greece keeps the issue of sanctions towards Turkey open in the EU, while keeping the diplomatic right of the potential extension of the territorial waters to 12 nautical miles intact, so that it can use it in the future, when deemed nationally appropriate.
Regarding the Cyprus issue, he said that the Greek government is firmly in favor of the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, which is a stable position of the Greek governments since 1977, while the newly elected so called “President” of occupied Northern Cyprus Mr. Ersin Tatar disputes this solution even referring to two separate states in Cyprus. He stressed that, although there should be political equality between the two communities for the settlement of the Cyprus problem, the Turkish Cypriots see equality as a veto right to any decision of the government in a future federal Cyprus, thus paralyzing the new state. However, by the term “equality”, the Greek Cypriots mean the proportional participation of the Turkish Cypriots in the governance of the new state. He even proposed the idea of community referendums for any constitutional reform in the new state. On the issue of the delimitation of the Greek Exclusive Economic Zone with Cyprus, Dr. Hadjivassiliou said that it is practically possible, but in such a case Greece would not be able to delimit the Exclusive Economic Zone with Egypt, a diplomatic move necessary to address the Turkish-Libyan Memorandum. Finally, he stressed that Greece’s “red lines” for the settlement of the Cyprus problem are: a) the settlement within the framework of the initiatives of the UN Secretary General, b) the withdrawal of the Turkish occupation troops from Cyprus, c) the abolition of the obsolete regime of guarantees, which is not compatible with EU Law, d) the avoidance of de jure division of Cyprus.
For his part, the MP of SYRIZA Mr. Costas Zachariadis, criticized the government’s policy, emphasizing that the government is not as decisive as it should be on the issue of sanctions. On the occasion of the recent EU Summit, he wondered why the issue of sanctions against Turkey was not raised.
As he characteristically stated, if the EU wanted to impose sanctions on Belarus for Russian intervention, it should also impose sanctions on Turkey, which violates the sovereign rights of Greece and Cyprus and, consequently, the sovereign rights of the EU. He noted that the policy of appeasement is a trap and does not work when Turkey is aggressive and unpredictable. He suggested that the EU and Greece pursue a different strategy of active pressure and intervention. He also stressed that there is a need to convene the Council of Political Leaders under the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mrs. Katerina Sakellaropoulou. He also referred to the Prespa Agreement, saying that if that agreement had not been signed, the airspace of Northern Macedonia would not now be overseen by Greece but by Turkey with negative consequences for Greece. He stressed that this is how the previous government of SYRIZA closed a front in the north.
On the Cyprus issue, Mr. Zachariadis agreed with Dr. Hadjivassiliou supporting the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation to avoid division, especially after ErsinTatar’s election as “President” of occupied Northern Cyprus. He stressed that the Annan Plan 2004 has been a missed opportunity for a solution to the Cyprus problem because, by now, the Turkish occupation troops would have left Cyprus. He stressed, however, that the obsolete regime of guarantees must be abolished, the Turkish occupation troops must be withdrawn and there must be a just and viable solution in the near future. He also noted that the two communities should live peacefully in a reunited federal European Cyprus with a fair distribution of the region’s energy wealth. He also referred to the role of Britain in Cyprus, saying that ideally the British military bases should leave Cyprus, but due to Brexit, there is uncertainty in this context.
The first webinar was completed by discussion and questions from the audience. The speakers agreed that there is an urgent need for a new strategy so as not to relinquish our sovereign rights in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean but also to prevent the division of Cyprus.
On the second day of the webinar, the Lieutenant General and President of ELISME, Mr. Ioannis Baltzois referred to the failed strategy followed on the Cyprus issue which is based on the doctrine: “Cyprus decides and Greece supports“. This position is a sign that Greece and Cyprus do not have a united front on this national issue. As he noted, Cyprus is the strategic depth of Hellenism and if Cyprus is lost, Greece will also be lost. He also stressed that Turkey is well aware of the geostrategic importance of Cyprus and that is why Davutoglu puts Turkish interests in Cyprus at the center of his strategy.
He also stressed that the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation is not a viable solution to the Cyprus problem, since such a regime does not exist anywhere in the world. He also stressed that Turkey has specific strategic goals within a specific timetable. In fact, as Mr. Baltzois stated, by 2023 (100 years since the founding of the Turkish Republic), Turkey wants to be the 10th economic power in the world and to abolish the Treaty of Lausanne, by 2053 (600 years since the fall of Constantinople), Turkey wants to be the 5th economic power and by 2071 (1000 years since the Battle of Matzikert), wants to be the 3rd largest economic power in the world. It seeks demilitarization of the islands of the Eastern Aegean with a special international status, equal exploitation of energy wealth and the overthrow of the Republic of Cyprus. In order to realize these plans, Erdogan relies on religion (Islam), history and nationalism. In his strategic planning, Erdogan exploits the Armed Forces and the immigration issue.
Lieutenant General Mr. Lambros Tzoumis, in his talk, stated that the Cyprus issue is the key for the normalization of Greek-Turkish relations. As he said, even if there was an agreement on the settlement of the maritime zones, if the Cyprus issue is not resolved, there can be no normalization.
He stressed that the Cyprus issue has been a pending issue for 46 years and every time we try to resolve it, each proposal is worse than the previous one, as in 1964 with the Acheson Plan, we talked about unification of Cyprus with Greece, with the Annan Plan and the discussions in Crans Montana, we talked about the solution of the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in terms of political equality and now it seems that, if negotiations restart, we will probably talk on a solution of two separate state entities in Cyprus, as Turkey wishes.
Mr. Tzoumis proceeded with an analysis of the main players of the Cyprus problem. In relation to the role of Great Britain, he said that we should not forget the British colonialism that began in 1878 after the occupation of Cyprus by the Ottoman Empire and the atrocities committed by the British against the Greek Cypriots during the independence struggle. As he stressed, despite the desire of the Greek Cypriots for unification with Greece, Great Britain put above all its strategic interests, and using her well-known weapon “divide and rule“, she manipulated the Turkish Cypriots who were 18% of the population in order to resolve the Cyprus issue in 1959 with the Zurich-London agreements and, through that solution, Britain secured the maintenance of its military bases on the Island. He also pointed out that during the Turkish invasion in 1974, Great Britain, as a guarantor force, maintained the position of Pontius Pilate. As he explained, if the Cyprus issue was resolved, Great Britain would no longer be a guarantor nor could maintain its military bases in Cyprus. Therefore, one of the reasons for the non-settlement of the Cyprus issue is due to the position of Great Britain. Then, after making a historical review of the Cyprus issue before 1974, he referred to “Cyprus lies far away” by Konstantinos Karamanlis in 1974, as well as the abandonment of the doctrine of a single defense space by the then PM Mr. Costas Simitis in 1996. The Imia crisis in January 1996 led to the signing of the Madrid Declaration in 1997 by the Greek government of Mr. Simitis to reduce the tension. In this climate and with the argument that there should be no confrontation with Turkey, the application of that doctrine began to loosen.
Since then, the doctrine that has prevailed is: “Cyprus decides and Greece supports“, a position that allows the current Greek government to justify its policy of appeasement towards Turkey and to distance itself from its national obligations. In the deep dividing political lines determining the attitude of Cyprus, there is some talking about Greece as “mother country” and others supporting the doctrine that Cyprus is an independent state and Greece’s participation in the events can only cause harm.
Mr. Tzoumis, summing up, pointed out that for a year and a half, there has been an illegal act of Turkey invading the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone while Greece remains apathetic, covered behind the fact that Cyprus is an independent state. Greece is a guarantor power and must not remain indifferent to the blatant violation of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus. Mr. Tzoumis also stressed that the separation of Greece from the Greek Cypriots is a constant pursuit of Ankara.
The Associate Professor of International Relations and European Studies at the University of Piraeus, Dr. Dionysios Tsirigotis analyzed the prospects for resolving the Cyprus issue, which he considers to be minimal at this point, as there is a huge divergence of interpretation of the international environment between Greece and Turkey. As he stressed, from the time of Ioannis Kapodistrias to Eleftherios Venizelos, there was the vision of the “Great Idea”. However, after the Asia Minor catastrophe, the “Great Idea” gradually diminished and was abandoned by the modern Greek state. The Turkish minority in Cyprus was gradually upgraded to a community. As he mentioned, the proposed solutions to the Cyprus problem are based on the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. The Annan Plan introduced a new state entity that would abolish the Republic of Cyprus and would build a two-member state. According to Dr. Tsirigotis, Greece omits a long-term national strategy in relation to Turkey. He also stressed that Greek society does not seem willing to make sacrifices in a possible war, while Turkey does not care about the death toll and this negatively affects our ability to move dynamically.
The presentations were followed by a discussion and questions to the speakers, who agreed that Greece has a phobic syndrome that must overcome and it is very important to have a national vision which in modern times must be the defense of our national sovereignty in Greece and Cyprus.