Coolheaded Greek observers had a hard time finding an upside to the elections in Turkey throughout the runup to last Sunday’s polls. Now, given the extreme nationalist rhetoric and posturing that we saw from the opposition there, Greece has no reason to be upset by incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s victory.
Athens was naturally concerned by the Turkish president’s demands for an “update” of the Lausanne Treaty delineating the borders between the two neighbors, his occasional insulting references to Greece, and the threats made by Erdogan himself, the prime minister, and various ministers and presidential aides against the country. But cries from the Kemalists and the far-right Askener party calling for the “reoccupation” of the Aegean islands gave no cause for optimism over relations between the two countries in the event that the Islamist president lost the elections.
After all, Erdogan’s revisionism is characteristic of Turkish foreign policy and transcends people and parties, meaning that it will continue. It is in the national interest as that is perceived by the Turks themselves.
Erdogan’s victory, which was expected, does not therefore signal any significant changes in the landscape of Greek-Turkish relations, which is defined by two aspects: one positive and one negative.
On the one hand, there is hope that all the grandstanding from Ankara we witnessed in the past few months was aimed at a domestic audience and that Erdogan’s sweeping victory in the presidential and parliamentary elections will result in a de-escalation of aggression, in the voices of extreme nationalism losing some of their force and in Turkish foreign policy toward Greece becoming calmer.
On the other hand, Erdogan’s alliance with Devlet Bahceli’s Nationalist Movement Party – which played a pivotal role in Erdogan’s victory at the presidential and parliamentary polls – means that the government agenda will be that much more influenced by nationalist concerns.
Either way, the issue of the eight Turkish servicemen who are wanted by Ankara to stand trial for their alleged role in the 2016 coup attempt is unlikely to be resolved soon, as Erdogan is clearly furious at the decision of Greek judicial authorities not to extradite them. Greece can only invoke international laws on the issue and, therefore, not meet Turkey’s demands.
So, a cool head and low expectations are what’s required for now.