With or without Erdogan

With or without Erdogan

Have we entered the post-Erdogan era? This is certainly a key question regarding Turkey and this column attempted to provide an answer last week. A second question is whether a political changeover in Ankara would really make any difference in Greek-Turkish relations. The answer, probably, is not at all.

Greece had an opportunity to reach a reasonable and honorable settlement in its disputes with Turkey while Erdogan was still in his early days in power. The Turkish leader was at that time seeking to pull the teeth out of the deep state that were the armed forces and the Foreign Ministry which constantly fueled tensions with Greece. At the same time, he was selling the idea of European Union membership to the Turkish public and the idea of Turkey’s Europeanization to the Europeans. He had an interest in pursuing a spectacular improvement in bilateral ties with Greece.

Future historians will be asked why Erdogan failed to exploit that window of opportunity. People in the know say that former Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis at some point made an informal albeit substantial overture to Erdogan which was however snubbed by the Turkish leader. It has also been said that the two countries came close to reaching an honorable settlement at some point during exploratory talks. True to form, the political classes in the two countries were never in tune, which meant there was no way for a meaningful outcome.

Back in the day however there was one key difference. Turkish officials would call for the demilitarization of Greece’s eastern Aegean islands and make claims about so-called gray zones, but they would not set the two issues as absolute conditions for a solution. On their part, Greek diplomats deemed that Ankara used these two issues as bargaining chips that would not remain on the table until the end.

Now this has changed. Turkey has elevated both issues into constituent elements of its foreign policy and of negotiations with Greece. No week passes without a senior Turkish official making an announcement or remark on either of these issues or both. In other words, they are now definitely on the table of negotiations.

Even if Erdogan steps down, that will not change. The deep state is back in the game as the Turkish leader has relied on it for some time in order to cement his power at a time of heightened insecurity. His representatives impose their own terms. Some of them, like Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, in a blunter manner than others.

However, no Greek government would manage to survive politically if it were to agree on the demilitarization of certain islands or on giving up Greek sovereignty over certain inhabited or uninhabited islands and rocky formations. So if Ankara insists on these demands, regardless of what government is in power, only to have them turned down by Athens, there will obviously be no room for negotiation – either with Erdogan in power or not.

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