Turkey’s inner turmoil

Because every aspect of Greek economic and political life is being governed by total chaos and division, because the country is not located safely in the middle of Europe and because there is serious turmoil rocking Turkey right now, perhaps it is time to point out that there are other issues that should be concerning us beyond the eurozone and the economy.

This column has repeatedly stressed that over the course of the past four decades Greek policy in the Aegean has been shaped by Turkey’s actions. The result, despite the existence of international treaties and laws, is that Greece is not exercising its sovereign rights to the extent that it should be. And even this unacceptable – by any measure – relationship between Athens and Ankara, which is typically defined as a long period of controlled tension, depends on the stability of Turkey itself.

Even though the West’s relationship with the post-Kemalist regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been strained in the past few years, at times to dangerous levels, Greek-Turkish relations remain more or less on an even keel. The provocative breach of Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone by the Turkish seismic research vessel Barbaros created some tension. This event, however, could be connected to the initiative of former Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to hold tripartite talks in Cairo with the leaderships of Egypt and Cyprus on the issue of EEZs.

Also provocative, and in breach of any sense of legality, is the discussion that took place at the Turkish National Assembly, questioning Greece’s sovereignty over 16 Greek islands and islets, just a few weeks before the start of talks between diplomats from Athens and Ankara on possible confidence-building measures between the two countries.

Such demands have been expressed by Ankara in the past as well, leading to what could be described as Greece’s Finlandization. The difference is that today Erdogan is facing unprecedented domestic challenges. The protests at Gezi Park and the assassination of prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz by his terrorist kidnappers are signs that the president is losing control. The decision by Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan for the People’s Democratic Party to stand alone in the June elections creates new complications, especially given the mobilization of the Kurds in neighboring countries.

The presence of a strong leader in Turkey is a problem for Greece in its current predicament. But a weakened Erdogan is likely a much more undesirable development. Ties with Turkey must be stabilized and the scheduled talks do not need to focus on solving the old issues; they could also address areas such as economic cooperation.

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