OPINION

Avoiding a head-on clash with Turkey

urkey’s Islamist-rooted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has opted for a head-on collision with the country’s secular, Kemalist regime, in the belief that he enjoys the support of the majority of Turkish citizens and of the world’s «democratic community.» But most importantly, Erdogan believes that the «elite» no longer wields the influence it once did, following the bloodless collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989 which rendered small and powerful cliques something of an anachronism. But modern Turkey, like the Ottoman Empire before it, is a peculiar place where actual developments do not necessarily follow political trends, making it difficult to draw reliable conclusions. It would be a serious error if the prospect of a defeat for Turkey’s traditional secular regime were to create delusions in Greece and lull us into a false sense of security – after all, the coexistence of the Greek political system and Turkey’s Kemalists was never easy. Relations between the Greek State and the Porte were equally problematic, which is why the initiative of Thessaloniki-born Mustafa Kemal Ataturk one century ago was embraced so heartily by the Greeks of Macedonia. But the new regime that subsequently established itself in Turkey, accompanied by the ousting of the sultan, proved to be no more tolerant or friendly toward Greece. In fact, the exact opposite was the case. But even if Erdogan were to eject secularism from Turkey’s political stage – which is extremely improbable – he is unlikely to become more conciliatory toward Greece. Indeed, he may even appear tougher, if only to demonstrate to Turkish citizens that he is capable of defending the country’s interests. And even if Turkey were to become more amenable to cooperation with Greece with a view to resolving longstanding disputes in the Aegean, it is by no means certain that any initiative taken would work in Greece’s favor. One should not forget that although Erdogan marginalized Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, the outcome was a plan for the reunification of Cyprus that was more favorable to Ankara. Irrespective of the outcome, the current crisis in Turkey attests to the existence of a primitive but creative dynamism, in Turkish society as a whole and in its political arena, a dynamism which has long been absent in Greece. Both Turkey’s traditional secular regime and Islamist-rooted government have specific goals. Sometimes, the gulf between these two different worlds appears impossible to bridge, but if the respective rivals do have something in common it is that they are not influenced by third parties, including the EU. It would be sheer folly if Greece were to try and intervene or openly declare its support for Erdogan. Irrespective of which regime holds the reins of power, Turkey will always be an exceptionally difficult neighbor for any Greek government.urkey’s Islamist-rooted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has opted for a head-on collision with the country’s secular, Kemalist regime, in the belief that he enjoys the support of the majority of Turkish citizens and of the world’s «democratic community.» But most importantly, Erdogan believes that the «elite» no longer wields the influence it once did, following the bloodless collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989 which rendered small and powerful cliques something of an anachronism. But modern Turkey, like the Ottoman Empire before it, is a peculiar place where actual developments do not necessarily follow political trends, making it difficult to draw reliable conclusions. It would be a serious error if the prospect of a defeat for Turkey’s traditional secular regime were to create delusions in Greece and lull us into a false sense of security – after all, the coexistence of the Greek political system and Turkey’s Kemalists was never easy. Relations between the Greek State and the Porte were equally problematic, which is why the initiative of Thessaloniki-born Mustafa Kemal Ataturk one century ago was embraced so heartily by the Greeks of Macedonia. But the new regime that subsequently established itself in Turkey, accompanied by the ousting of the sultan, proved to be no more tolerant or friendly toward Greece. In fact, the exact opposite was the case. But even if Erdogan were to eject secularism from Turkey’s political stage – which is extremely improbable – he is unlikely to become more conciliatory toward Greece. Indeed, he may even appear tougher, if only to demonstrate to Turkish citizens that he is capable of defending the country’s interests. And even if Turkey were to become more amenable to cooperation with Greece with a view to resolving longstanding disputes in the Aegean, it is by no means certain that any initiative taken would work in Greece’s favor. One should not forget that although Erdogan marginalized Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, the outcome was a plan for the reunification of Cyprus that was more favorable to Ankara. Irrespective of the outcome, the current crisis in Turkey attests to the existence of a primitive but creative dynamism, in Turkish society as a whole and in its political arena, a dynamism which has long been absent in Greece. Both Turkey’s traditional secular regime and Islamist-rooted government have specific goals. Sometimes, the gulf between these two different worlds appears impossible to bridge, but if the respective rivals do have something in common it is that they are not influenced by third parties, including the EU. It would be sheer folly if Greece were to try and intervene or openly declare its support for Erdogan. Irrespective of which regime holds the reins of power, Turkey will always be an exceptionally difficult neighbor for any Greek government.