The de-escalation in Greece-Turkey tensions over the past two weeks has created expectations about prospective talks between the two sides, whether these come in the form of exploratory contacts or confidence building measures and technical talks within the context of NATO. An effort for talks will certainly be made. The real question is if there is any hope of a meaningful outcome.
From the call by Turkey’s National Security Council for the demilitarization of Greece’s Aegean islands, to the cultivation of an intransigent line regarding the rights of the “Turkish” minority in “Western Thrace,” the remarks concerning “the islands that have been taken away from Turkey,” and the talk of “traitors” that gave up chunks of Turkish sovereignty, the leadership of the neighboring country has sought to build an atmosphere of nationalist delirium.
Interestingly, even moderate politicians in Turkey who, for example, once scoffed at the prospect of a maritime boundaries agreement between Turkey and Libya are now reluctant to express their opinion in public; and when they do, they offer timid criticism over the poor economic performance of the Erdogan administration or its management of the coronavirus pandemic.
Amid this atmosphere, and despite Ankara’s accusations of Greek “maximalism,” which is mostly targeted at Western ears, it’s extremely hard to support a moderate view regarding Turkey’s future in the region.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has locked Turkey into a colliding trajectory with its neighbors, he has drained the country’s economy for the sake of military procurements (it is estimated that Turkish defense spending will this year reach 13 percent of annual state expenditure), and he has brought national mythology, with all its negative components, such as racism, intolerance and hostility, to the forefront of the political game.
Erdogan’s revival of the so-called Sèvres Syndrome has installed a common denominator in the mind of the average Turk. So, the question is, even if Erdogan were to withdraw tomorrow, who would take his place? In reality, the answer is insignificant. Because, Erdogan, present or not, has effectively created the conditions for the next crisis.