Greek-Turkish relations have been seriously impacted by the case of the eight Turkish servicemen who sought asylum in Greece after the coup attempt in Turkey in the summer of 2016, and also by that of the two Greek soldiers arrested by Turkish authorities in early March who are still being held in custody without charges and with the obvious objective of applying pressure on Greece.
It would be interesting to see the process of lessons learned – one seldom applied in Greece – in relation to these cases.
As far as the eight Turkish officers are concerned, the first observation that jumps out is that the state machine is devoid of reflexes on the national security front and proved incapable of solving the problem when it first arose.
Second, contacts between states, whether by telephone or in person, need to be carried out with greater caution, as every word is recorded by the other side for possible use in the future.
Third, even though applying pressure on the Greek justice system to speed up the process of granting the officers asylum would have been doomed to fail, it appears that no efforts to this end were ever made, and neither was the option of negotiating their transfer to a friendly third country explored.
In terms of the two Greek soldiers currently being detained in Turkey’s northwestern city of Edirne, Ankara’s tactic of arresting foreign citizens in order to exercise pressure should have prompted the Greek authorities to be much more vigilant and cautious.
They did the right thing after the event in pursuing a low-key crisis management approach on a bilateral level, but the issue soon gained international proportions and that against a leader who tends to simply dig his heels in even further when he’s the subject of name-and-shame tactics, unless that come with some genuine, high-cost threats.
It also does not appear that Greece sought ways to increase the cost and apply pressure on Turkey for its attitude – even if only on a symbolic level.
Moreover, Greece’s overall stance toward Turkey appears limited to engagement in public relations battles, knee-jerk reactions and bombastic statements, when what we should be doing is sending messages via well-measured movements and simultaneously activating multiple channels of communication.
The haphazard and improvised handling of the two issues we have looked at here – beyond pointing to accountability – underscores the pressing need for an institutional answer to two significant and lingering shortcomings: the absence of a centralized coordination and planning response to issues of national security and problems in communication between different state and government bodies when such crises arise.
Thanos Dokos is the director-general of the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP).