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Greece/Turkey Disaster Diplomacy

in association with
Radix:  Radical Interpretations of and Solutions for Disasters

The Acropolis at night in Athens, Greece (2013).

The Acropolis at night in Athens, Greece.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2013.)

Greece/Turkey Disaster Diplomacy

Timeline with Commentaries:

September 2000. As the article defining Greece/Turkey disaster diplomacy, James Ker-Lindsay publishes "Greek-Turkish Rapprochement: The Impact of 'Disaster Diplomacy'?". This paper discusses the 1999 earthquakes in Greece and Turkey, providing a timeline of the disasters, a timeline of the diplomacy, and analysis of the interactions between the disaster and the diplomacy. Full text (867 kb in PDF)

5 February 2001. The Hindu publishes an article by K.K. Katyal entitled "'Earthquake diplomacy' has a precedent" which discusses the Greece/Turkey situation in comparison to India/Pakistan following the Gujarat earthquake. The India/Pakistan case study has the article's text along with further information about India/Pakistan disaster diplomacy.

22 March 2001. The diplomatic efforts between Greece and Turkey are continuing, as noted in an article from the Macedonian Press Agency which reports that, in an interview with CNN, "Greece's Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos has invited Ankara to cooperate with Athens so that both countries, as the region's largest NATO allies, can jointly guarantee security in the Balkan region...Referring to the earthquakes that devastated both countries, Mr. Tsochatzopoulos said that they served as a catalyst for bringing the two neighboring peoples closer, since they had to fight the same battle, and poignantly likened the Balkan crisis to another form of 'earthquake'." This commentary indicates that the minister believes that the earthquakes were a catalyst, not a creator, of diplomacy, supporting James Ker-Lindsay's article as well as the overall view of disaster diplomacy presented by the other authors. Furthermore, he alludes to anthropogenic, political disaster--the Balkans--as having the potential to bring Greece and Turkey closer together, another aspect mentioned by James Ker-Lindsay. Such parallels between natural disaster and anthropogenic events are vividly illustrated by Ailsa Holloway when she discusses "the complex relationship between political and natural processes" in linking southern Africa's agricultural vulnerability with the region's political vulnerability.

24 March 2001. Commentary by James Ker-Lindsay:
         The comments from Tzohadzopoulos were certainly important insofar as he is considered to be a hawk. In addition to stating the value of the earthquakes in improving relations, he also noted that Greece was going to reduce its defence expenditure in light of new realities. For this reason, I was slightly disappointed by the Turkish reaction that said they expect deeds and not just words and did not offer to reconsider their own defence policies--a step that would be highly advantageous for Ankara given the fact that Greece is becoming increasingly reliant on expensive hi-tech defence systems and that the current financial difficulties Turkey is facing will make it increasingly difficult for the Turkish Government to compete in any meaningful sense.
         Sadly, the whole idea that earthquake diplomacy could open up a new era is at an end. The feeling is growing that whatever Athens does, Turkey simply does not respond by taking some form of action but instead demands more.
         Luckily, while this would certainly have brought the rapprochement to an end in previous times, at present there seems to be a change taking place in Greek foreign policy that means that relations with Turkey are now becoming less important and relations with the Balkan countries are increasing in significance.
         This is perhaps the greatest benefit deriving from the earthquakes for Papandreou's wider concept of foreign policy. It cemented his view in Greek popular opinion that multilateralism must rule and that efforts should be made wherever necessary and with whichever country to find those areas where cooperation, and not confrontation, can be strengthened. For this reason, Tzohadzopoulos' views are most welcome.

28 March 2001. Commentary by Paul Tsoundarou:
         Greece's role in promoting Turkish EU candidacy and the general spirit of positive Greek policy in this regard is what Defence Minister Tsohatzopoulos is referring to in the CNN interview. Greece no longer views Turkey as the huge menace that it has in the past and, rather, is solidifying its leadership role in the wider geopolitical region of the Balkans. The 'Joint Defence Doctrine' between Greece and Cyprus is not as heavily emphasised and neither is the Turkish threat in general. Foreign Minister Papandreou and Prime Minister Simitis are leading the emerging policy shift away from antagonistic relations with Ankara and promoting a democratic, secular, and international law abiding Turkey into the European family.
         The invitation by Athens to Ankara through the hawkish Defence Minister Tsohatzopoulos for joint leadership in guaranteeing security of the Balkans as NATO's largest representatives in the region demonstrated the new political climate in Greece toward Turkey. Unfortunately Ankara has not reciprocated with any tangible policy shifts, maintaining hardline policies particularly relating to Cyprus. Nevertheless, Turkey's ambition to join the EU may yet reveal policy shifts in relation to Cyprus and its disputes with Greece, and Turkish EU candidacy was a direct result of the Greek policy shift after the earthquakes in 1999. Turkey's current financial crisis has brought more pressure to bear on Turkey in this regard also.

28 August - 1 September 2001. Nicholas P. Petropoulos, at the European Sociological Association held in Helsinki, Finland, presents the paper "The Impact of the August-September 1999 Earthquakes on Greco-Turkish Relations: An Exploratory Study", full text (280 kb in PDF).

26 November 2001. An article from the Macedonian Press Agency describes a resolution brought before the UN General Assembly by Greece and Turkey. The key point is "the progress achieved by the Greek and Turkish governments, in cooperation with the Coordination Office of Humanitarian Affairs of the UN Secretariat [sic], on the creation of a joint Greek-Turkish standby unit for dealing with natural disasters, which will begin functioning in the near future, without financially burdening the UN project budget."

29 November 2001. Commentary by Paul Tsoundarou:
         The joint resolution brought before the UN General Assembly is the first by Greece and Turkey. It is a strong sign that although over two years have passed since the 1999 earthquakes, the positive boost that Greek-Turkish relations received during the disaster diplomacy period is continuing. Although their political problems, i.e. Cyprus and the Aegean issues, have not been resolved and cause friction from time to time, the spirit of disaster diplomacy is still very much alive. The joint natural disaster unit, as well as the joint resolution, are a good indication of the improved climate where such a project was unthinkable only three years ago.
         The trust and goodwill which has been building between both governments and people over the past two years, of which the above is a component, is a real sign that the process facilitated by the disaster diplomacy is continuing.

3 February 2002. An earthquake hits western Turkey killing at least 42 people. Greece immediately offers to send rescue workers. BBC Coverage.

5 February 2002. Commentary by Paul Tsoundarou:
         An article from the Turkish Press Review (4 February 2002) stated "Greece was reportedly the first country to offer aid to the Turkish government in the wake of the disaster. Greek Ambassador to Turkey Yannis Corantis immediately conveyed his country's condolences and offer of aid to the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Turkish officials welcomed the offer, but added that urgent international aid was not presently needed. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou also issued a statement expressing his sorrow and condolences to the quake victims."
         What the latest humanitarian tragedy in Turkey has demonstrated is the will of both countries to continue on the path that grew rapidly from the 1999 earthquakes. Once again, Greece was the first country to offer its assistance and condolences to the Turkish government and people. Many observers did not expect the rapprochement to last long after disaster diplomacy took effect in 1999. We are now seeing progress, at least tentatively, on the Cyprus problem, as well as the goodwill between Greece and Turkey continuing through the additional offer of assistance during this terrible disaster. Friendship, so it seems, has become a matter of course between the two countries, even if their political differences remain. This latest disaster, and Greece's prompt offer of assistance and support, is the signal needed to demonstrate that the friendship and spirit of goodwill has survived since September 1999.
         An article from Cumhurriyet (4 February 2002) stated "In an interview with the Greek daily To Vima over the weekend, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou remarked that an atmosphere promising better developments had been recently created through the joint efforts of Turkish and Greek officials. Papandreou stated that bilateral political contacts and meetings were taking place in a better atmosphere than ever before. He added that Turkey and Greece should not pass up this opportunity to find solutions to their problems. 'Greece is ready to do its utmost to reach a permanent solution on Cyprus,' said Papandreou. 'We are ready to do whatever is necessary to increase the opportunities towards a permanent solution.'"
         George Papandreou, son of the late Prime Minister of Greece, Andreas Papandreou, has taken a vastly different approach to Greek-Turkish relations than both his father and his predecessor in the foreign affairs portfolio. Much of the credit to the success of disaster diplomacy and the enhancement of Greek-Turkish relations has been due to his commitment and openness to discuss issues which were once taboo to Greek people, such as the improvement of the conditions for Greece's Muslim minority, most of whom are Turkish. He has won much praise from the often hawkish media in Turkey, and his warm relationship with Ismail Cem, the Turkish foreign minister, is equally important. His statements above are testimony to his dedication to forge ahead with the process that disaster diplomacy facilitated.

11 February 2002. Commentary by James Ker-Lindsay:
         Greece and Turkey have announced that they are going to start high level talks, between the political directors of the two foreign ministries, on the thorny issue of the Aegean. One of the main criticisms of the process of rapprochement thus far has been its failure to deal with the political issues between the two countries. This is rather an unfair criticism insofar as the process has certainly helped avoid several crises, a significant success in itself.
         However, the agreement to start talks certainly marks the beginning of a new phase in the process that started in March-April 1999, and was, as I noted in my paper, strengthened by the earthquakes. (On a personal note, during my time in Athens I was startled by the seeming disinterest in Turkey that currently exists in Greece. It is almost as though the goodwill exhibited towards Turkey at the time of the earthquake has now been replaced by indifference, rather than by a return to old attitudes of suspicion and/or hostility.) While there has been some serious reservations expressed by some in Greece about the opening of a dialogue with Turkey over the Aegean (many have accused Foreign Minister Papandreou of giving away Greece's sovereign rights), on the whole the attitude towards an initiative to solve the issue seems generally positive.
         Interestingly, there would seem to be a link between the start of Aegean talks and the recent resumption of talks on Cyprus. Although such a link has not been made by Athens, it appears as though the initiative by Papandreou to start talks on the Aegean is an extra incentive to keep Turkey engaged in the Cyprus process. In effect, Greece has offered Ankara the chance to solve all its outstanding disputes with Athens and thus clear a major hurdle out of the path of Turkey's eventual EU accession. Thus, after two and a half years, the process of rapprochement seems to be paying dividends and has not, thus far, collapsed as many doomsayers predicted.
         However, it should be stressed that a failure to solve Cyprus in the coming months could well lead to a major crisis if, as expected, the EU announces that it will accept a divided island as a member; a move that Turkey has threatened to respond to by annexing the northern third of the island, and which would effectively signal the end of Turkey's EU aspirations for the foreseeable future. The next few months will be crucial in terms of gauging the real progress made in the improvement of relations between the two countries.

13 February 2002. An article from the Anadolu Agency:
         Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said on Wednesday that quake tragedy in Turkey and his country gave both Turkish and Greek nations a very simple message, that is "we are all human". Speaking at the panel discussion on "Who is 'the Other?' Does it Really Exist?" held within the scope of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)-European Union (EU) Joint Forum, Papandreou noted that both him and Foreign Minister Ismail Cem could perceive the message of their people, interpreted it and developed it.
         Papandreou stressed that they had met at the forum for the dialogue of the countries and civilizations and said that this was an important issue.
         The concept 'the other' existed, Papandreou noted. He said that what was important was how the concept of 'the other' was defined and to what extent they were respectful. Papandreou said that in the end, all were human beings.
         Fear was a very bad fact, Papandreou pointed out and said that how could they change such a situation. Papandreou said that this was their real problem in both the Balkans and the Turkish-Greek relations. If they wanted to change such a situation, then they should look at the experiences and historical events, Papandreou pointed out.
         Papandreou said that the incidents which were happening currently led to lack of confidence in the societies and that adaptation and ability to understand was the most important duties of every politician. Politicians had to know how to deal with the problems and bring forth solutions that could be accepted by the citizens, Papandreou stated.
         Papandreou said that they had to live pragmatically and that they should direct themselves to the solution of problems by choosing the difficult path and by ignoring the first psychological good feelings. They had that determination when Cem and he started to take that difficult first step in Turkish-Greek relations, Papandreou noted. Papandreou said that they were facing a difficult mission and they told each other to progress slowly.
         "We said, let's see what our common problems are, let's see what our common interests are as the citizens of two neighbouring countries rather than looking at Turkish mythology, and let's see if we can find a common ground. Ten agreements were signed that way," Papandreou said.
         Papandreou pointed out that then, a tragic event, earthquake was experienced and said, "this tragedy has given a very simple message to our people, that is 'we are all human.' OK, we are human, we have some weaknesses as humans. So, we are not those evils and devils as we see each other. An extremely deep humanitarian solidarity feeling came out of this tragedy. And, we, Ismail Cem and I, could perceive this message of our people, interpreted it correctly and developed it. When we were doing this, we enabled our societies to work together."
         This was very important, Papandreou noted, "because we call it dialogue, solidarity, civil society and 'the diplomacy of people' to overcome the cliche about 'the other.' Only this way, we could bring our countries and nations closer."
         Papandreou stressed that this did not mean that "there was not any problems" between the two countries. "Of course we have problems. The interests of Turkey and Greece are not all the same. We have different interests. But, the real solution should be reaching a level where we can make an agreement in practice without 'seeming as saviors by using the fears and concerns of people' if we exert utmost efforts and if we approach to the problems with a different point of view. Only this way, we can overcome the cliches which divide us. So, we have to overcome the cliches and ensure our people to join this process. We have to educate our socities. And, we have to ensure that 'tolerance and accepting the other' should become a part of our mentality, daily life and political practices by forming necessary educational systems in the long term," Papandreou said.
         Papandreou noted that they were not only willing to change the world voluntarily and said that they had to evaluate the incidents psychologically. Regional cooperation was a need in their region now, Papandreou said.
         Papandreou added, "to this end, we are not waking up one morning and say 'we will all be good persons any more.' A second thing that Cem has mentioned is very important. We, in the Balkans, in our region, often say that 'the war here is not between the Albanians and the Serbians. It is between those who want tolerance, moderateness, democracy, transparency and sincerity, and those who want violence, conflict and clash, authoritarian administration and exclusion. To this end, we are leaving aside ethnic borders and definitions and open a comprehensive political discussion."

25 April 2002. The Greek and Turkish foreign ministers travel to Israel to demonstrate to Sharon and Arafat that enemies can cooperate. BBC Coverage.

11-12 July 2002. Cem resigns and sets up his own political party. BBC Coverage of Cem's successor.

3 November 2002. Elections are held in Turkey. Only two parties gain parliamentary seats. Prime Minister Ecevit and former Prime Minister Ciller resign as party leaders after their parties fail to gain seats. BBC Coverage.

4 November 2002. The Macedonian Press Agency reports "A new chapter has started for Turkey and what we are interested in is to continue on a course of cooperation, stability in the region with mutual benefits, commented Alternate Foreign Minister Tassos Giannitsis".

28 April 2003. Commentary by Ilan Kelman:
         Despite the continuing cooperation between Greece and Turkey, even after the Turkish elections, and despite their mutual interest in a solution for Cyprus, an agreement related to reunification could still not be reached in March 2003 (BBC Reports). This lack of agreement means that only the Greek part of Cyprus has the opportunity to enter the EU. If Turkey decides not to recognise Cyprus' membership in the EU, Turkey's own chances of entering the EU could be jeopardised which has the potential for straining Greek-Turkish relations. While disaster diplomacy has impacted this case study, it has not been enough to resolve some major problems or to overcome some major barriers.
         The limitations of disaster diplomacy are evident from the events, but the underlying processes are not yet described. Should the focus be on the personality and views of one political leader, the Turkish Cypriot leader, to explain the overriding influence on the diplomacy here? Or are more subtle processes at work?
         For example, on 3 April 2003, the Greek Cypriot government rejected a Turkish Cypriot suggestion related to reunification (BBC Reports). Additionally, the Turkish Cypriot government eased border restrictions on 23 April 2003 (BBC Reports) amid accusations that they were doing so to deflect attention away from the collapse of the reunification talks. With so much history, emotions, pride, power-gaming, politicking, and economics (e.g. EU membership) involved, do a few earthquakes elsewhere from more than three years ago have an opportunity for opening diplomatic doors?
         Would a major earthquake affecting Cyprus make any difference? The earthquake on 23 February 1995 (and other more recent tremors which caused less damage) did not. Other events in the past, the most recent on 10 September 1953, have caused significant casualties and destroyed cities. Irrespective of potential diplomatic gains, hopefully such events will never be repeated. Diplomacy without disaster is obviously far more preferable.

1 May 2003. An earthquake in southeast Turkey kills at least 100 people and Greece offers help (BBC Reports). Is this now standard practice which can have little influence on diplomatic processes?.

Some Subsequent Publications:
  • Economides, S. 2005. "The Europeanisation of Greek Foreign Policy". West European Politics, vol. 28, no. 2, 471-491.

  • Ganapati, E., I. Kelman, and T. Koukis. 2010. "Analyzing Greek-Turkish Disaster-Related Cooperation: A Disaster Diplomacy Perspective". Cooperation and Conflict, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 162-185, more information.

  • Ker-Lindsay, J. 2007. Crisis and Conciliation: A Year of Rapproachement Between Greece and Turkey. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, New York, U.S.A.

  • Koukis, T., I. Kelman, and N.E. Ganapati. 2016. "Greece-Turkey disaster diplomacy from disaster risk reduction". International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, vol. 17, pp. 24-32, more information.

  • Koukoudakis, G. 2005. "The Foreign Policy of Greece as a Member of a Security Community". Paper presented at the 2nd LSE PhD Symposium on Modern Greece: Current Social Science Research on Greece, 10 June 2005, Hellenic Observatory, European Institute, LSE, London, U.K.

  • Loizides, N.G. 2009. "Elite Framing and Conflict Transformation in Turkey". Parliamentary Affairs, vol. 62, no. 2, pp. 278-297.

  • Mavrogenis, S. and I. Kelman. 2013. "Perceptions of Greece-Turkey Disaster Diplomacy: Europeanization and the Underdog Culture". Balkanistica, vol. 26, pp. 73-104, more information.

  • Sevin, E. and N. Jayasinghe. 2018. "Disaster 'Public' Diplomacy: Understanding the role of disasters in international relations through the case of Turco-Greek Relations". International Journal of Business Perspectives & Social Sciences Information, vol. 4, pp. 27-57.

  • Yalçinkaya, A. 2003. "From Disaster Solidarity to Interest Solidarity: Turkish-Greek Relations after the Marmara and Athens Earthquakes within the Concept of Game Theory". Turkish Review of Balkan Studies, vol. 2003, pp. 149-202.

Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey (2015).

Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2015.)

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