Erdogan’s memory, the ‘eight’ and Greek-Turkish relations


“We will never forget those who assumed an unprincipled stance and embraced the putschists who fled our country,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned while addressing a crowd of thousands who had gathered near the Bosphorus Bridge on Sunday to mark the second anniversary of the thwarted July 2016 coup. The atmosphere was emotionally charged. I witnessed it first-hand, from near the stage, and I could see Erdogan’s expressions as well as the reactions of the public. It was emotional for reasons that were entirely human, because of the victims, but also because the Turkish president turned the event into a day of celebration for the “new Turkish republic.”

“The coup showed us our friends in difficult times. We have a good memory. We might not talk about what we went through very often but we never forget it. It showed us the hypocrisy,” he said.

“We know who prayed that night for us and who prayed for the success of the Gulen movement,” he said, referring to Fethullah Gulen, the exiled cleric Ankara accused of orchestrating the coup. “Ultimately we will remember the silence of those we regarded as friends. Those who left our country will never be erased from our memory.”

Certain countries – large and small – do not want Erdogan in power and really did want to see him toppled that night. We know that and, more importantly, he knows that. Whether they are right to not want him in power is their own affair, a subjective issue; they have their reasons, their arguments. But that does not apply in the case of Greece.

Why should Greece not want Erdogan in power, to the extent that it would support a coup against him? Are we to think that Erdogan’s Kemalist rivals or Turkey’s Good Party leader Meral Aksener, the so-called “she-wolf,” are friendlier toward our country? Weren’t they the ones that accused Erdogan of ceding Aegean islands to Greece and who called on him to get them back using military means?

No, Greece did not support the coup and did not “embrace” the Turkish servicemen who fled. In fact, both the government and the opposition were either upset or outraged about the arrival of the so-called “eight.”

“I say it clearly, we know who took what stance and when they did so. And we have realized who is cooperating with whom,” the Turkish strongman declared on Sunday.

If he really knows that, then he also knows what Greece’s stance was. And if Alexis Tsipras assured him in the first few days after the attempted coup that the putschists would be returned, that was a mistake, because no prime minister of Greece, nor any democratic European Union country, could violate European principles and international law and change judicial decisions, even if he wanted to – let alone in this case, which has drawn the attention of the entire international community.

It is true that Erdogan has many very real problems, ranging from the economy, which faces collapse, to the Kurdish problem and the scourge of terrorism.

However, he is making a big mistake by adding fuel to the fire and increasing tensions with Greece, a neighbor, a NATO ally and the only EU member-state that genuinely supports the strongest possible ties between Ankara and Brussels. He must realize that the normalization of Greek-Turkish relations serves Turkey’s strategic interests and behave accordingly.