11th President of the Republic of Türkiye Abdullah Gül’s Address to the Economist’s 28th Annual Government Roundtable entitled Spiraling Through the Conflicts in Search of Opportunities held on 2th of July 2024 in Athens

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First of all, I would like to express my happiness to be in Greece after many years.

I have been here several times before in my former capacities. And each time I felt like a well-treated guest in the house of a very close friend.

I would also like to thank the organizers for the invitation.

First of all, I wish I could be able to picture the current geopolitical order worldwide and in our region as a source for peace and prosperity.

However, this is not the case, and we are passing through difficult times without lessons learned.

The world and particularly European history is full of examples proving that peace is the “sine quo non” to attain prosperity. EU is the most concrete example.

Despite the past experience and accumulated knowledge, we still lack the patience and determination to solve problems with maturity. We treat compromise as a negative act and fail to use it as a method to find solutions.

The more we avoid making sacrifices for timely dialogue and reconciliation, the higher the cost we pay in the aftermath.

Such an approach causes pains, suffering and destructions that could have been prevented.

There is no doubt that making peace is harder than making war. Actually Europe has confronted this reality many times.

Today’s OSCE was established and the Helsinki Final Act was signed in 1975 with this reconciliatory spirit even during the Cold War.

After the end of the Cold War, we have made considerable progress for the European security and stability.

The establishment of NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council in 1997 as a mechanism for taking joint decision and action was an important step in this direction.  This platform fully functioned until the Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.

Even if there were serious casualties, the conflicts in the Balkans could be resolved with the common sense reached within the international community.

When we thought war would never come to Europe again, we are now facing the Russia-Ukraine war that shakes the European and transatlantic security.

This is not a war only between two neighboring countries. It is more than that. It brings again the West and the East neck to neck and results in further polarization around the world. It has obviously turned into a war of proxies in a dangerous game.

Could the war have been avoided? I would say yes. The Minsk Agreements that were signed by Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE special representative in 2014 and 2015 were instrumental to this end. Unfortunately, the parties failed to implement these agreements and they negotiated war, not peace.

After so many pains and regrets, now it is high time to sit together again around the same table and engage in a serious negotiation in order to avoid further damage.

This is very critical not only for the European security but also the security configuration around the world.

On the other hand, the situation in the war-torn Middle East, especially in Gaza is worrisome.

As UN Secretary General rightly pointed out, the October 7 attacks on Israel “did not happen in a vacuum”.

I unequivocally condemn the loss of civilian lives on both sides.

However, we should not forget that the Israel-Palestine conflict has a five decades long history full of tragedy for Palestinians.

The main reason of the war we are witnessing together with great sadness in the Palestinian territories today is, in a word, “occupation”.

1)Israel's oppressive control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967,                2)the colonization of the occupied Palestinian territories with its illegal settlement policy,

3) its repressive policies incompatible with human dignity,

4) its disregarding of binding UN Security Council Resolutions prepared the unfortunate ground for today’s heartbreaking picture.

Moreover, the acceptance of these policies by the world public opinion as a “new normal” was just a pure ignorance.

Israel’s total destruction of Gaza in front of the eyes of the world where more than 40.000 defenseless people, women and children are killed does not coincide with any western values.

If we ignore the core of the problem and do not deal with its root causes, we cannot talk about a sustainable peace. The vicious circle will continue. This will be a strategic mistake.

A two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine is the only option to attain a brighter future for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Reaching this solution will certainly guaranty the security of Israel forever.

Time has come to make a real breakthrough for this chronic issue.

Let me also draw your attention to another threat, turning our eyes back to Europe. The rise of the far right in Europe, as we have just witnessed in the recent European Parliament elections, is also a risky issue.

Far-rightest policies did not bring good results for Europe in its history.  European leaders should reflect deeply on how and why this is happening.

Despite this gloomy picture in our region the sun is shining when it comes to the course of Turkish-Greek relations.

Our countries share borders on land and sea, and our cultures are linked. This connectedness makes Turkish-Greek relations much more special at the state and people-to-people levels.

Our shared geography is our destiny. Therefore, we should be wise enough to act in line with this reality.

An approach laid on goodwill, openness, trust and empathy always makes a difference in the development of our relations.

When I applied this policy in my previous capacities with my Greek counterparts, we obtained satisfactory results. In a similar vein, now, we should stick to the positive agenda with a strategic vision without tactical moves.

The 2023 Athens Declaration opened a new and dynamic chapter in our relations, and there is an evident political will on the part of the leaders of both sides to continue their constructive dialogue.

The Aegean Sea is our common treasure. It should present a source of cooperation and dialogue, not conflict.

To solve all outstanding issues in the Aegean, constructive dialogue, diplomacy and international law must prevail over the logic of confrontation.

Such endeavors would pave the way to a just, lasting, comprehensive and equitable settlement to the Aegean issues that would be acceptable by both sides.

We need to respect each other’s legitimate rights and vital interests there.

Cultivating empathy and putting yourself in the other’s shoes are of utmost importance in that sense.

We need to focus on what we can all gain avoiding a maximalist approach.

Economy is the easiest instrument for the strengthening of our relations at various levels.

If we can increase mutual direct investment, our economies will become more interdependent. This will give us leverage to defend each other's interests in the region and beyond.

Tourism is another sector that generates new avenues for cooperation. The recent developments in this area are praiseworthy. We should also embark on new projects to promote our cultural heritage together.

With all these positive developments, we must remain vigilant against disruptive elements that may try to undermine the positive climate.

We should not fall into the trap of marginal groups who might be provocative.

Maintaining and empowering the recent positive atmosphere in our relations will benefit our countries and the region as a whole.

Such a positive climate will also contribute to reach a just, lasting, sustainable and mutually acceptable settlement to the Cyprus issue based on the realities on the island.

The outcome of the Cyprus settlement will be much more rewarding than we expected. This will contribute to the resolution of several problematic matters, from energy supply, regional security to NATO-EU cooperation.

Above all, this will bring prosperity and wealth to the entire Mediterranean region. We should not lose sight of this strategic prospective.

Overall, with a positive and honest approach to each other and by joining our hands, as Turks and Greeks, we can become the generators of cooperation in our region.

While doing so, we will explore and seize the “sea of opportunities” ahead of us together.

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