From the beginning of the year, when Greece blocked Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to blackmail Europe with the mass movement of migrants, Turkey has been trying, with increasing persistence, to “isolate” Greece from its European Union partners.
At first, Turkish officials encouraged and amplified claims of Greek authorities’ alleged mistreatment of migrants. Then, they presented Greece as the party responsible for Turkey’s violations of international law: After sending exploratory vessels, accompanied by warships, into waters near Greek islands and into Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, Ankara claimed that it was defending its rights against Greek and Cypriot intentions. In his clash with Emmanuel Macron, Erdogan threatened the Greeks that they would “pay a high price” for allying themselves with France. So, it was natural that Erdogan should blame Greece for a German frigate’s inspection of a Turkish ship suspected of breaking the United Nations arms embargo on Libya.
The EU’s Operation Irini is under the rotating leadership of a Greek commander. Because it does not suit Erdogan to pick a fight with Germany a couple of weeks before the European Council is to discuss possible sanctions against Turkey, he chooses to focus on the Greek commander, and, thereby, Greece, rather than on the EU mission itself. If sanctions against Turkey are ever adopted, the Turkish public will be sure that this is the fault of Greece and Cyprus, not of Turkey’s policies.
It is a staple of Turkish diplomacy to accuse others of doing what it itself does. However, Greece does not occupy or demand any other country’s territory; it does not jail political opponents, dissidents and journalists; it does not wage war on any of its minorities nor does it export violence; its president does not picnic amid the ruins of a city from which its residents are banned, as Erdogan did in Varosha. That is why Erdogan often makes claims that defy logic and seriousness in his effort to present the Greeks as the region’s troublemakers.
The problem is that although this trick is not as successful as he would like, the continuous attacks on Greece are enough for some in Europe to believe that things may be more complicated than they actually are – one country violates international law and continuously threatens others with violence. Furthermore, the continual attacks against the Greeks stoke the fire of Turkish nationalism, which, in turn, provokes reactions and alarm in Greece.
It is not enough for Greece to defend itself against every attack. It needs to persuade not only international opinion but Turkey’s citizens, too, that the tension is the result of Ankara’s choices. This is not easy but has to be done.