Dialogue is a valuable communication process that fosters mutual understanding among warring parties, paving the way for conflict resolution. Dialogue can take the format of track-1.5 and track-2 diplomacy to sustain channels of communication either when discussions between officials have ceased or when there is need to engage civil society, and groups of experts. As known, Track-1.5 dialogue involves non-government experts along with government officials who participate in an unofficial capacity, while Track-2 engages only unofficial members. While both tracks constitute the so-called “back-channel” diplomacy, none holds the official importance of traditional diplomacy.
Since members of these meetings participate unofficially, they have unprecedented freedom to exchange views informally with counterparts who they might otherwise see only as competitors or adversaries. These meetings allow time for one-on-one “walks in the woods” that can generate new ideas and fresh approaches to solving problems, without the must-achieve pressure of diplomatic summits.
It is upon this logic, that the Geneva Center for Security Policy (GCSP), an international foundation with 54 member states and the Canton of Geneva that facilitates discussions between civil servants, military officers, diplomats, experts, and civil society, provides substantive support and acts as secretariat of the Eastern Mediterranean Initiative (EMI). EMI is an inclusive dialogue platform for collective reflection and action that brings together experts from around the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Since 2020, GCSP has facilitated a series of Track-2 meetings between EMI experts from Greece and Turkey to discuss maritime differences in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean Seas. Swiss sponsored Track-II meetings have turned into an interactive conflict resolution process that developed concepts of sustained dialogue among Greek and Turkish experts during a period that tensions climaxed between Greece and Turkey.
In fact, nine Track-2 meetings were held along with respective meetings in Greece and Turkey where experts on both sides discussed differences over maritime zones in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean Seas, and not issues of “national sovereignty”. Greek and Turkish experts, participating in their private capacities, have created dialogues that would otherwise be impossible because of frequent communication gaps among their countries. For example, exploratory talks resumed in January 2021 after a five-year hiatus.
As a result, these Track-2 meetings hosted by GCSP, free from the constraints of formal government-to-government discussions, have operated in a painstakingly fostered climate of openness. The meetings have created a sense of comfort and trust, encouraging otherwise wary and aloof experts from both countries to engage, share ideas, and develop a common statement. This statement comes at a time that Greece and Turkey prioritize dialogue to settle their maritime differences. The meeting of the Greek Premier with the Turkish President on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius after the devastating earthquake in Turkey, where Greek rescue teams were sent in affected areas, led to the reignition of the engines of an action-oriented formal (Track-1) dialogue between the two countries. Political dialogue, Confidence Building Measures, and the Positive Agenda are the three pillars of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement.
Let us Continue Dialogue
The statement by Greek and Turkish members of EMI, among them Prof. Yücel Acer, Lt Gen (retd) Ioannis Anastasakis, Ms Antonia Dimou, Prof. Talha Köse, Prof. Petros Liacouras and Prof. Zuhal Mert Uzuner, goes as follows:
One hundred years ago, Turks and Greeks put an end to decades of confrontations through the Treaty of Lausanne. Within only a few years, this led to an almost miraculous friendship between the two countries. Since then, however, new conflicts arose over issues that were not on the table in Lausanne, among them the delimitation of maritime zones in the Aegean and beyond, as the Law of the Sea evolved at the global level.
Nonetheless, the issues to be resolved are much less complex and painful than the ones that were settled one hundred years ago. And the reward for overcoming the differences would be a huge win-win situation for both nations. The way to a settlement is not going to be easy and will require a will to accommodate each other’s crucial and legitimate concerns. The fact that the supreme principle in both customary international law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is that of “equitableness”, could greatly assist overcoming differences.
The Greek and Turkish people have lived side by side for hundreds of years, sharing the same geography and developing commonalities in culture and customs. It is a fact, proven through countless personal encounters and by recent opinion surveys in both countries, that at a personal level, Greeks and Turks get along well and do not see each other as enemies. All of us, as individuals and members of our respective societies, can contribute in this spirit to overcome remaining prejudices and distorted concepts of the other side and create a degree of understanding of its legitimate concerns. This is required if common ground is to be found.
Thus, we can encourage and support our leaders in going down the road of completing the basis of peaceful and fruitful neighborly co-existence, that was established one hundred years ago. They have recently decided to engage in an enhanced process of dialogue and deserve our full support in this endeavor. Success in their search for common ground will have positive repercussions outside our borders in the whole Eastern Mediterranean and beyond. At a time when to the north of our region, political differences have led to unbearable bloodshed and destruction, this could inspire others.
Once again, the region of the Eastern Mediterranean, which is the cradle of various civilizations, could become a beacon of light onto humanity. Let us not squander this opportunity.