Turkey is undergoing a tectonic shift with a major impact on the domestic balance of power. Athens must show alertness and sobriety at this time.
Extensive discussions with senior Turkish officials and media representatives in Ankara and Istanbul last week confirmed the assumption that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s president, is all-powerful. No one has the strength or the courage to question him. His is in full control of the state apparatus. The overwhelming majority of the country’s media are on his side. However strong the Gulen movement was before the failed coup attempt on July 15, it has now been all but neutralized. The people see themselves as having fought a campaign against the coup. July 15 is the new liberation day and, as of next year, it will be a national holiday. Those who plotted against Erdogan are considered traitors. Those who lost their lives on that day are heroes of democracy. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the secular-minded champions of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s legacy, remain the biggest opposition party and the sole counterweight on the dysfunctional scale that is Turkish democracy. However, the party leadership has failed to inspire and their popular appeal remains limited – about a quarter of the electorate. Meanwhile, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), mostly trapped in aggressive and conservative posturing, has little hope of increasing its influence as it seeks to attract supporters from the same reservoir as Erdogan. The Kurds are now the enemy.
Erdogan wants to be seen as the founder of 21st century Turkey, and he is building the post-Kemalist narrative. Any interpretation of his recent comments questioning the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne has to be made in light of this. Erdogan’s remarks were not aimed at Greece. Besides the familiar claims, Erdogan, for reasons of his own, has an eye fixed on the East.
How should Greece deal with this new Turkey led by a domestically all-powerful hegemon who likes to antagonize the West? Should Athens continue with the cross-party policy of good-neighborly relations? Should Athens continue stressing the prominence of international law while issuing warnings that any intention to change borders in the Aegean is a threat to stability and against the interests of all parties?
Greece should continue to back the EU-Turkey deal to stem migration flows (and other issues) while making constructive criticism of its European partners (something that Ankara also acknowledges). Greece should fight for a fair, sustainable and functional peace settlement for Cyprus, a development that should also work out in the geopolitical and economic interest of Turkey. It should deepen regional cooperation with key regional players such as Israel and Egypt. Finally, and always keeping in mind the new landscape emerging in the neighboring country and the multifaceted threats in the region, Athens should overcome past inhibitions and promote the country as a fundamental pillar of the NATO alliance, investing in its role as the West’s first line of defense in one of the most volatile parts of the world.