TURKS BEARING GIFTS

Helsinki Times
http://www.helsinkitimes.fi/htimes/internati onal-news/11122-turks-bearing-gifts-.html
May 20 2010
Finland

First visit to Greece in six years by Turkish prime minister widely
hailed as a historical rapprochement after long period of mutual
bitterness.

The two countries were on the brink of war in 1996 and relations
came under strain again in 2006 when a Greek pilot lost his life in
a collision with a Turkish plane during a mock dogfight.

In contrast, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's Friday 14 May-Saturday 15
May visit, leading a group of 10 ministers and about a 100 businessmen,
produced a slew of co-operation agreements and accords around energy,
environment, diplomatic missions, finance and commerce.

Topping the list was an agreement on irregular migration which provides
for the reactivation of a return protocol. A port on the outskirts of
Izmir will, in the next three months, be designated as a return zone
through which at least 1,000 irregulars will be returned every year.

Erdogan invited Greek investors to get involved in Turkey's economy
and move trade between the two countries beyond the 2.4 billion euros
annually that it is now worth.

But Erdogan's visit also had to do with Turkey's ambitions in the
geopolitical arena. In an interview with the Greek national daily
'TA NEA' Erdogan stated openly that he wished to "see Turkey amongst
the ten biggest economic powers in the next 10 to 15 years". He added
that this should not be misunderstood by neighbours as belligerence.

Ioannis Grigoriadis, professor at the Bilkent University in Turkey
and an associate of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign
Policy Studies (ELIAMEP), circulated an analytical report days before
Erdogan's visit arguing that Turkey's return as a strategic regional
force would have enormous impact on the geopolitical balance.

Grigoriadis is one of many analysts who see Turkey's return as a
regional power rooted in Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu's
strategic doctrine that envisages the country as a core economic
regional power and a transit point between East and West in future. It
is a sophisticated foreign policy strategy that promotes the country's
economic interests while also attempting to heal Turkey's old wounds.

"Davutoglu's doctrine talks about "zero problems with neighbours. It
remains to be seen whether any substance will be put to this in the
following months", Grigoriadis told IPS.

"More attention has been given to Turkish relations with Armenia,
Syria, and Iraq rather than with Greece. Joint Greek-Turkish
initiatives in the Balkans could not be precluded, yet where work is
mostly needed is in the Aegean question, as well as Cyprus," he said.

Offering to mediate between the West and Iran over its nuclear
ambitions, and taking on Israel for its aggression against Lebanon
and Palestine, have also been spectacular foreign policy decisions
that attracted attention internationally.

But Turkey's silent return in the Balkans has been equally effective.

During the last decade it has established itself, politically
and economically, as a key factor in Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania,
successfully playing on cultural proximity.

Turkey's new philosophy has led it to improve relations and acquire
strategic assets beyond traditional boundaries. Two weeks ago Turkish
investors declared interest in purchasing the Serbian national
carrier JAT.

Turkey's growth rate from 2002 to 2007 averaged 7.4 per cent making it
one of the fastest expanding economies in the world. It slowed down
to 4.5 per cent in 2008, and in early 2009 the Turkish economy was
affected by the financial crisis with the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) forecasting an overall downturn of 5.1 per cent for the year.

Nevertheless Turkish economy is still regarded as amongst those with
the best growth potential.

Indeed Turkey's demographic potential and expanding domestic
free market is the best growth cocktail in the region. The driving
force behind Turkey's attempt to grasp this momentum is its growing,
educated middle class that supports Erdogan against the once powerful
militaristic, Kemalist establishment.

At a time when traditionally strong economic competitors like Greece
are spinning into long-term recession Turkey sees an opportunity to
rise as a regional force. And Erdogan's assertiveness in Athens is
the best proof.