Turkish Ambassador to Greece Burak Ozugergin confirmed on Sunday in an interview with Sputnik Greece that Ankara wanted to maintain good neighbourly relations with Athens, had repeatedly invited Greece to discuss controversial issues, including the maritime boundaries, and remained committed to dialogue.
Sputnik: Over the past few months, tensions in Greek-Turkish relations have risen. The latest example was the applications published in the Turkish government’s gazette of Turkish Petroleum’s (TPAO) for an exploration permit in areas of the Greek continental shelf. Greece is protesting over a violations of its rights, while Turkey wants to proceed with drilling under an agreement that has been condemned. Will Turkey continue anyway?
Burak Ozugergin: Our positions on the subjects of the Eastern Mediterranean, including delimitation matters, the problem of Cyprus, hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation, Libya, and the region as a whole are well known and transparent. We have on several occasions and on several levels made it known that we are planning research and drilling activities on our continental shelf, the boundaries of which are defined in line with the principles of international law and current relevant jurisprudence. The coordinates of our continental shelf have already been conveyed to the United Nations.
Having said that, Turkey stands ready today, as in the past, to arrive at just, equitable and peaceful resolutions to all pending issues, including the equitable delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas with all relevant coastal States that it recognizes and with which it enjoys diplomatic relations.
As a matter of fact, it was communicated to the Greek side at the highest level that we are ready to launch a dialogue on the delimitation of maritime boundaries in accordance with international law. However, our proposals remained unanswered to this day. I remind you that the duty to cooperate in international law is not a one-way requirement.
Sputnik: Greece has announced that it will have a strong reaction if drilling continues. In fact, the advisor of national security issues to the Greek prime minister said on Greek TV that "if necessary, we will respond to Turkey with military". Are you worried about a hot incident in the Aegean?
Burak Ozugergin: It is never too late for neighbours to not only talk but also to listen to each other. The key is being able to talk “to” each other and not “about” each other. We genuinely want to have good-neighbourly relations with Greece. There is no problem so big that the two nations cannot overcome. Actually, prior to the signing of the MoU with Libya, Turkey had repeatedly invited all relevant parties to negotiations for a consensus-based on equity and still remains ready for negotiations. You cannot remain mute to calls for cooperation and then complain when countries inevitably take steps to protect their national interest. Like I just said, that is exactly what happened here.
Sputnik: Another front that opened recently open is Evros. In fact, especially in recent days there has been movement which is reminiscent of what happened last February-March on the Greek-Turkish border. There is even information about thousands of immigrants gathering in Edirne. How do you regard this information?
Burak Ozugergin: It is a pity that some in the EU are conveniently ignoring the plight of unfortunate and miserable people who were forced to flee their home countries because of war or other calamities. Migration is a common challenge that requires a collective effort. Turkey has been doing more than its fair share over the last decade. We should not be asked to keep forcing our capacity while others have not done much more than offer lip service to the problem.
Ideally, the international community should work collectively to address the adverse conditions in the source countries. If this is unattainable in the short term, we should at least treat the refugees with human dignity, when they show up at our doorstep. This is what Turkey has been doing. We believe we have a right to expect the same from the EU.
Sputnik: How is your cooperation with the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias? You were recently summoned to the Greek Foreign Ministry in Athens where you were handed a demarche. Are the communication channels open between you and the Greek government?
Burak Ozugergin: Our Embassy’s dialogue with the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as all other Greek institutions is close and regular. The Greek Foreign service and our colleagues there are an asset to their country with their professionalism. I hope that they see my Embassy as equally trustworthy interlocutors.
We have been able to coordinate with Greek authorities on various technical issues, including numerous consular cases during the lockdown period related to the COVID-19, in a very constructive manner. On the other hand, it is true that we have longstanding disputes between Turkey and Greece in various fields. But we also have well-established channels to discuss these issues, within the parameters of international law. I really believe we will cover much more distance if we start treating each other as neighbours, and not as competitors or even adversaries. On the issue of the land borders, I have previously stated that this is not a political but a technical issue and requires the input of experts. We hope that we can get our teams of experts to do their job without all the fuss.
Sputnik: The Muslim prayer that was recited in Hagia Sophia recently raised angry reactions both from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Greek opposition. How do you respond to this? Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, even spoke of an "unnecessary challenge". Wasn't it really unnecessary?
Burak Ozugergin: Hagia Sophia is a significant treasure of Turkey and humanity as a whole. Do not miss the point that it is precisely thanks to Turkey’s due care, diligence and attention that the historical sites of Istanbul or anywhere else on our territory continue to survive today as part of our cultural heritage. It goes without saying that we will continue protecting them. However, we expect nothing less from Greece.