In 2001, on the island of Samos, two men planted an olive tree, wanting to give strong roots to their vision of peace. George Papandreou, at the time Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece and Ismail Cem, Foreign Minister of Turkey, dared to go against the tide, opening an era of new relations between Turkey and Greece.
Few months later, they traveled to Israel and Palestine, mediating for ending the siege of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, becoming an example of how politicians divided by history, could work together for the common good, putting aside animosity and prejudice.
When Ismail Cem passed away in 2007, George Papandreou after attending his funeral stated: «Today, when I came here to the cemetery to leave an olive branch from my garden, I wanted to pay my last respects to my friend and remind all, that years ago we were on the island of Samos, where together we planted an olive tree to symbolize peace,»
«I wanted to say to Ismail that this olive tree is strong, and I will work very hard to make it stronger for peace between our countries and our peoples.» He added, «We had many moments together, many difficult, but also many happy moments in making our vision come true. » In one of those happy moments, the two colleagues shared the idea of encouraging peace builders by creating an award. A project, that remained unaccomplished...
Years passed and despite remaining bilateral problems, Greece and Turkey increased their level of cooperation in many fields. The olive tree of Samos developed strong roots and resisted the tough winds of heavy winters. Its perseverance to remind one of an unfulfilled dream- inspired George Papandreou and Ismail Cem's daughter Ipek Cem Taha, to go forward in implementing the Cem-Papandreou Peace Award. An Award to be given to individuals and groups that contributed in promoting peace in the broader region in an original and inspiring way. They decided to give the first award in 2015, in the framework of the yearly international Symi Symposium in Greece and a special event in Turkey.
The inaugural Cem-Papandreou Peace Award cannot but honor those who planted the seeds of the Greek - Turkish rapprochement in very difficult circumstances.
Theodoros Papalexopoulos and Sarik Tara are two businessmen who sensed early enough, the economic and political potential resulting from a normalization of relations between Greece and Turkey. They became pioneers in supporting this goal, creating links between the two business communities, advocating the benefits of rapprochement to decision makers and encouraging civil society organizations to multiply initiatives.
The Greek- Turkish Forum is a one and a half track diplomacy network, composed by former diplomats, academics, politicians and journalists, trying to generate creative ideas for resolving differences between the two countries. The GTF achievements prove the significance of long term peace building projects and the added value of including committed personalities.
George Papandreou and Ismail Cem's family hope that by bringing to light role models that can inspire the young generation and cultivate a spirit of peace, the olive tree vision will remain strong, giving hope to all victims of prejudice, ethnic division, religious discrimination and violent conflicts.