The Romans would parade with defeated enemies in chains to advertise their victory to their own people and sow terror in others. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the contrary, sent the chief of his armed forces on a Sunday cruise to the Imia islets. What was this sad parade of the Turkish military leadership to two barren rocks other than confirmation that a once mighty force is reduced to a propaganda tool, its generals and admirals playthings of a man who does not shrink from humiliating them? This does not make Turkey less dangerous. On the contrary.
The danger is underlined by the continual violations of Greek air space and by the rhetoric of tension which Ankara has shown after the Greek Supreme Court decided not to extradite eight alleged coup plotters. When a country’s leadership loses all sense of proportion and pushes so persistently, we cannot expect level heads at critical moments. When Turkey is fighting in both Syria and Iraq, when domestically it is waging war with separatists and proscribing real or potential dissidents, when state institutions are subjected to the will of one man, who will argue against a possible flare-up in the Aegean? Turkey’s Syria adventure is already a symptom of ignoring the military’s previous advice.
That is why Sunday’s jaunt is such a bad omen. It shows that no one can stop the executive. In April we expect a referendum on Erdogan’s effort to transform Turkey’s political system into a presidential one investing him with greater powers. That’s why Turkey’s main opposition party argued that the Imia show was intended to bolster Erdogan in his campaign. The threats against Greece, also, may serve to get citizens’ minds off Syria, where, despite air support from Russia and the United States, Turkey has not made great gains.
The threats against Greece, however, serve more than domestic needs, nor are they simply aimed at forcing Greece to bend to Ankara’s will. They show that Erdogan intends to act as he pleases, even against a country whose border is the European Union’s border. The time favors leaders who are driven by emotions, as seems to be Erdogan’s permanent condition. The recent visit by British PM Theresa May and the arms deal they signed strengthens the Turkish president’s position. Erdogan’s restored ties with Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump’s election also reinforce the idea that from now on strong men will impose their will on the rest.
Greece, as in the case of the eight asylum seekers, has no option but to adhere strictly to international laws, respect institutions, avoid theatrics like those of the Turks, and, above all, be vigilant and decisive. Only keeping a level head can protect Greece; this can also be seen as an antidote for what is happening in Turkey.