Turkish media’s obsession with Greek islands

How Erdogan's revisionist narrative is amplified.

Turkish media’s obsession with Greek islands

Following the lead of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish media have been promoting a grievance narrative against Greece, especially since the successful visit of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the United States last month.

Erdogan was especially riled by the fact that Mitsotakis, without ever mentioning Turkey by name, placed it squarely on the side of authoritarianism fighting democracy and getting such a positive response in his speech at a joint session of the US Congress. The Turkish President was also angered by what he saw as Mitsotakis’ intervention against the US selling upgraded F-16 parts and new planes. It was shortly afterwards that Erdogan said he will not talk to Mitsotakis again.

Turkish daily Hurriyet duly noted that Mitsotakis was applauded 37 times in his 42-minute speech to Congress. Turkish print and electronic media duly amplified officials’ aggressive remarks that focus on the supposed demilitarized status of the Aegean islands. Coverage became even more intense as Mitsotakis visited the islands of Pserimos, Kos and Astypalaia. Officials and media began discussing how these islands were ceded to Greece and Italy over 100 years ago and how Turkey could claim them back, supposedly because the terms of the cession have been violated. A Turkish TV crew tried to get close to Pserimos on the pretext that its sovereignty is disputed, a reminder of sorts of the stunt Turkish media pulled in 1996 by planting a Turkish flag on one of the Imia islets.

Turkish minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gave an interview to Anadolu Agency threatening to contest the sovereignty of the Greek islands if Greek troops did not evacuate them. In more than one TV show, maps have been deployed to supposedly prove how Greece is the “instrument of foreign powers” attempting to “encircle” Turkey. The Treaties of Sevres (1920) and Lausanne (1923) are being dissected in a way that has little to do with their actual content. And it is hardly surprising that the rebuttals of Greek officials, including Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, barely merit a mention.

The “encirclement” theory has been a Turkish obsession for decades, often as a sort of lamentfor the demise of the Ottoman Empire. But there is a renewed insistence on it, as well as on the theory of “grey zones” or areas of contested sovereignty in the Aegean – coincidentally, as Tansu Ciller, Turkey’s first and only female Prime minister, who strongly promoted the “grey zones” theory in the 1990s, attempts a comeback with Erdogan’s blessing.

Political analysts say the media’s preoccupation with Greece and also Syria serves to divert attention and debate away from the dire state of the Turkish economy, with inflation on a 25-year high and the lira constantly losing value, issues that could plague Erdogan’s bid for reelection a year from now.

And while this propaganda is strictly for domestic consumption, experienced analysts point out that similar discourses preceded both the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 – triggered and enabled by a coup organized by the Greek dictatorship of the time – and the occupation of one of the two Imia islets, in 1996.

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