Türkiye'nin en iyi köşe yazarları en güzel köşe yazıları ile Hürriyet'te! Usta yazarlar ve gündemi değerlendiren köşe yazılarını takip edin.

If he had gone to Athens

Of course we wish the prime minister well. Blood pressure is a tricky state of affairs. It can go up or down and the dangers are the same; especially during hot summers. In a way blood pressure is like political pressure. It can go up or down and can be equally dangerous; especially during hot political summers.

The last minute cancellation of the Turkish prime minister’s visit to Athens to participate in the glamorous inauguration of the new Museum of Acropolis, officially made everybody upset. Unofficially it made many suspicious about the diplomatic character of the illness. Those suspicious ones claim that Erdogan could have ordered his Foreign Minister to replace him in his visit to Athens and not cancel their trip all together.

Should Erdogan had gone to Athens, though, he should have found his Greek counterpart and his Foreign Minister waiting with a plate full of bilateral issues to discuss. Actually, both Costas Karamanlis and Dora Bakoyiannis, had made sufficient statements last week as to leave no doubt to anybody what they wanted to talk with Erdogan and his Foreign Minister during their visit to Athens. First, it was the issue of illegal immigration from Turkey. Athens managed to push the issue as a priority problem of the EU during last week’s EU summit and Karamanlis speaking from Brussels asked Turkey to do more to curb the problem of illegal immigrants through its territory that count for almost half of the over hundred thousand illegal immigrants entering Greece.

Mrs. Bakoyiannis talking last week to Turkish public television was expressing the wish that the visit of the Turkish prime minister was going to be an opportunity "for us to discuss and agree to fight with all our powers the problem and to send the message that we are not going to accept illegal immigration and both parties had to apply the relevant Protocol."

But last week we also witnessed an interesting arm wrestling between the Turkish government and the Greek side on the thorny issue of the Istanbul Patriarchate. During the last month or so, the possibility of the re-opening of the Halki Seminary has surfaced again in Turkey with various scenarios floating around about a possible formula which might overcome the constitutional impediment of Article 24 (which does not allow private religious education to be supplied outside the control of the Turkish state’s educational institutions).

In an unusually outspoken interview, the press representative of the Patriarchate, father Dositheos Ğ spoke of the lack of real progress on the matter and lack of genuine will on behalf of the Turkish side. He also put forward their proposal for a solution: "the Halki Seminary to re-open as a superior technical college under the control of the Turkish Ministry of Education but bearing in mind our own suggestions, too. In other words, as it was before".

In her comprehensive interview to Turkish public television, Dora Bakoyiannis had also pointed out that the issue of the status of Ecumenical Patruiarchate is not a bilateral issue but an issue of freedom of religion. She had pointed out that if the problems of Patriarchate had been resolved it could have been the best ambassador for Turkey abroad. The answer came almost immediately in the form of another interview given by the Speaker of the Turkish Grand Assembly Koksal Toptan who in short explained that there is enough political will on behalf of the Turkish government to re-open the Chalki Seminary but no law to do it. As the Constitution cannot change, the only way out, he said, is for the Halki seminary to be part of a theological school in a Turkish state university. Which is something that Patriarchate does not wish to do. So, the ball was thrown to the Greek court showing the Patriarchate unwilling to compromise.

If Tayyip Erdogan had gone to Athens with his new Foreign Minister, he would only have stayed for a few hours. And already issues like the illegal immigration and Halki would have taken enough of his time as the two sides do not see things in the same way recently. Actually the climate, at least on the Greek side, is said to have cooled a lot towards Turkey.

But any discussion between the two sides, as brief as might be, could not have excluded the most thorny issue, that of Cyprus. Again Bakoyiannis talked about the support of Greek government to the Christofias-Talat negotiations, asked for the implementation of Ankara Protocol and the necessity to open the Turkish ports and airports to the Greek Cypriots as part of the EU acquis. The reply came again from Mr. Toptan who had returned fresh from Northern Cyprus. It can be summed as this: the Turkish side has important sine qua nons, it wants a separate constituent state and separate jurisdiction. Regarding the prospects of the talks, Mr. Toptan speaking personally, confessed "I am not very hopeful".

Personally I do not think that Erdogan’s illness was a diplomatic one. Domestically, he has had every good reason to feel exhausted. Even we, do, by trying to cover what is happening in Turkey recently between a polarized society, media and state institutions.

But if he had been able to visit the Greek capital in its highest show of archaeological wonders and cultural diplomacy, I am sure he would be coming back with a very tiring portfolio of bilateral problems. Better to wait for the Swedish presidency of the EU in a few days.
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