The recent visit by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Hakan Cavusoglu to the northern Greek region of Thrace and the controversial comments he made during talks with members of the Muslim minority there have complicated President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s planned trip to Athens.
After intense negotiations the necessary requirements have been agreed upon and Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos is expected to extend an official invitation to his Turkish counterpart.
Over-the-top statements are not uncommon, but they should be interpreted more as a sign of weakness, and not self-confidence. Such a claim may raise eyebrows in Greece. It shouldn’t. This is not a call for a policy of appeasement toward Ankara, which could only end in disaster. Dialogue and efforts to diffuse tensions through diplomatic means is imperative, particularly between neighboring states – even in Turkey’s case.
Some observers tend to attribute a near-metaphysical dimension to foreign policy when in fact this is nothing more but an extension of a state’s domestic cohesion and its economic, military and cultural power into the wider region. Military force alone is insufficient. When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, Greece enjoyed air and naval superiority, but it was too disorganized to fight a war.
Greece has been fortunate to emerge as a pillar of stability (despite its dismal economic woes over the past seven years) in a region dogged by military conflict and instability. But handling that role requires prudence and a deft hand.
Some naively believe that given the current circumstances, Greece could serve as a launch pad for an attack against Turkey. This kind of notion is outdated and Greece has paid a heavy price for such follies in the past. Athens’s role should be to operate as an intermediary. Because you have to be naive to believe that the US and the Europeans have simply crossed out our neighbor.
For his part, Erdogan knows the importance of making an official visit to Greece and this is why he wanted one, at a time when Ankara is very much isolated. On the other hand, no one would want a definite rupture with Ankara, for financial reasons too.
Of course nothing spectacular is going to come out of Erdogan’s visit. But this is not the question. What is at issue, rather, is de-escalating provocations and putting a stop to the provocative behavior of certain circles in Ankara who are destabilizing Greece as well as Turkey.