Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed annoyance at “third parties” becoming involved in Greek-Turkish affairs. This time around, the Turkish president’s reaction was triggered by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ mostly indirect and definitely not exaggerated references to Turkish violations and threats during his meeting with US President Joe Biden and his address to a Joint Session of Congress.
Erdogan does not want others involved in bilateral relations with Greece because his country is seen as being the strongest of the two. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense for Greece to use all the means at its disposal. These are not just its own forces, but also the alliances, friendships and relationships developed with other countries and institutions.
That it is an equal member of the European Union is a fact and an irrefutable part of the equation of Greek-Turkish relations. After all, Erdogan has repeatedly expressed the desire for Turkey to join the European family, confirming the value of that participation. As for America, its close ties with Greece – to a significant extent the result of the Greek diaspora’s influence – is also part of that equation. Erdogan would like to boast political personalities of Turkish origin like the Greek Americans Dukakis, Sarbanes, Snowe or Brademas, and he is irked by the presence today in the House of Representatives of six Greek Americans.
But the Turkish explosion is not exclusively about Erdogan, who is known for his incendiary personality; it is the overall approach of the Turkish political elite, and not just a handful of extreme nationalists like the leader of the Gray Wolves, Devlet Bahceli.
Turkey’s former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu struck a similar tone, slamming Mitsotakis’ comments in the US as “completely unacceptable,” and saying they represent a stance that “will destroy peace on Cyprus and destabilize the Aegean and the Mediterranean.”
But it is Turkey that invaded Cyprus and Turkey that is rocking the boat in the Aegean. If it were not making threats and challenging borders and international agreements with its words and actions – from the casus belli vote in the Turkish National Assembly to the overflights above Greek islands – the Greek prime minister would have had no reason to bring it up tacitly or implicitly, not with Biden or Congress nor with the European Council.
In contrast, he would defend the closest possible ties between the West and Turkey, champion its connection to the EU and promote obvious synergies in tourism and other areas that would benefit both countries. This is what Greece would do if Turkey acted differently. Until that happens, however, Athens will continue to inform the international community of Ankara’s transgressions, which, among others, also adversely affect the smooth operation of NATO’s southeastern flank.