The Turkish crisis

The clash between Islamists and supporters of the secular regime of Kemal Ataturk that is currently shaking Turkey reflects a dangerous structural rift that has never before manifested itself on such a large scale and which, apart from destabilizing Turkey, is bound to increase Ankara’s political hostility toward Greece and Cyprus. In view of this, the crisis in Turkey should be of primary concern to Costas Karamanlis’s government and the country’s politicians. Calls by secularists for the resignation of a «government of murderers» – which resounded in Ankara during a rally in protest at the murder of a high-ranking judge at the hands of an Islamic fundamentalist – could quite accurately be described as the emotional stance of Turkey’s masses. But when the chief of Turkey’s military Hilmi Ozkok praises these demonstrators and incites them to protract and boost their protests then it is evident that the existing clash will naturally escalate. It is clear that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is faced with a particularly complex state of affairs on the domestic front. However, being a politician not bereft of some skills, he will obviously engage in dialogue with representatives of the country’s established secular regime. And by way of compensation, he will adhere to the strict stance of Turkey’s nationalist core on the crucial issues of Cyprus and the Aegean (that is, if one believes there is a divergence in the stance of Turkey’s PM and generals, as some Greek politicians and commentators say). It became clear quite a while ago that Turkey had started adopting a cooler stance opposite Greece and Cyprus. In his meetings with Karamanlis in Sofia and Vienna, Erdogan expressed his unacceptable views on the Muslim minority of Thrace, the slaughter of the Pontic Greeks by Ataturk’s troops and the research being conducted in the Aegean by a German vessel. One need hardly mention the raft of problems in Greek-Turkish relations that Ankara has provoked over the years through its revisionary policy in the Aegean. But it is imperative for Athens to investigate the extent to which its mild stance toward Ankara is still advisable. Undoubtedly, if Greece adopts a more aggressive stance it will attract international interest on bilateral issues and subsequently increase the pressure for a resolution of these differences. On the other hand, the absence of any intense public hostility should not create the impression of Greek cautiousness or appeasement of Ankara. Essentially, Karamanlis’s government must carry out a balancing act demanding unshakeable decisiveness, avoiding counterproductive challenges which ultimately lead to compromises to the detriment of Greek interests, as we have seen so many times in the past. But Greece should also, finally, start acting like the EU member state that it is and defending the benefits its membership entails, keeping in mind the obligations undertaken by candidate state Turkey. Last Friday, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn made it quite clear – following talks with Turkey’s chief negotiator with Europe, Ali Babacan – that Turkey cannot avoid its obligation as an aspirant EU member state to open its ports and airports to Cypriot aircraft and vessels by the end of this year. Such an unequivocal statement on the matter has not been made by the Greek government. Turkey’s inability to live up to its obligations as a candidate state for the EU, as well as the aversion of a large proportion of EU citizens and some European leaders too against the prospect of Turkey joining the EU family, show how untimely Ankara’s leap toward Europe really was and how badly it is has shaken the Muslim country’s domestic cohesion. The conviction that has been reiterated by successive Greek governments – namely that Turkey’s EU membership would benefit bilateral relations – is being repeatedly refuted in reality. It is time for the government to embark on a serious dialogue with certain European countries and particularly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a view to hammering out a special relationship between Turkey and the EU and thereby ease the pressure on the government and regime of a country which is sliding into a worsening crisis and eliminate the risks of this instability for neighboring Greece.