The ‘new’ Turkey and Greece

It is a fact of life that whatever happens in Turkey has a direct impact in Greece. So tight is the two countries’ entanglement that Ankara’s relations with other capitals influence Athens’s relations with third countries and organizations, as we have seen repeatedly in the case of the United States, NATO and the EU. Sometimes, Turkey’s direct impact on Greece is minimal, usually because our neighbor is preoccupied with some of the other major issues that concern it. But the dynamics of conflict within Turkey sooner or later translate into spectacular foreign policy. This is sometimes a consequence of Turkey’s sense of insecurity; sometimes it stems from a sense of its being the dominant power in the region; often it is an extension of the power game being played in Turkey’s domestic politics. Today Turkey is in the middle of a great transformation. For us in Greece, it is difficult to understand that our neighbor has been at war for the last 20 years. The Kurdish separatist war may have been on the backburner for the past few years but in recent months it has flared up dramatically, driving Turkey to declare itself ready to invade northern Iraq where it claims the rebels have bases. This threat may be dictated by the balance that has to be struck between Turkey’s government and its restive military leaders but is most likely no bluff. Turkey is prepared to throw its conscripts – and its reputation as a military power – into a war with a tough and greatly experienced adversary, such as the Kurdish fighters have proved to be, in unpredictable, mountainous terrain. Not only do the Turks have to worry about their adversaries, but they also have to push ahead over the very strong objections of their principal ally, the United States. Washington fears that Turkey’s invasion of northern Iraq could jeopardize security in the only part of Iraq that is relatively stable. On another major front, Turkey has warned the US against Congress declaring that it recognizes the eradication of the Armenians in Turkey as genocide. Ankara has made it quite clear that if the resolution goes through, the US may lose at least some of the assistance that it gets by way of material and warplanes transiting Turkey on the way to Iraq and Afghanistan. When Turkey does not shrink from a direct confrontation with the US on issues that constitute the superpower’s greatest military and foreign policy challenges of a generation, can anyone doubt that Ankara will hesitate in carrying out whichever policy it chooses with regard to Greece and Cyprus? And what mediation could we then expect from the US? Turkey will always wield its two greatest weapons: its strategic importance and the size of its armed forces. It shows them off and hides them at will. Proclaiming at once that it is under threat and that it is invincible, it provides services to others and launches threats. The result is the tolerance of allies and the withdrawal of rivals. Greece has often paid the cost of forgetting this. Domestically, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has shown repeatedly that it is a player to be reckoned with in its clash with the Turkish establishment. Within this context, Turks yesterday voted in a referendum on Erdogan’s proposal that the country’s president be elected by popular vote (and no longer by parliament). This is yet another step toward politicians’ emancipation from a state that is still controlled by a tight network of military officials, judges and other state functionaries who serve the ideology of a secular state at the expense of popular will and freedom of expression. This clash of the titans has become entangled in Turkey’s efforts to make the political, economic and social changes that will allow it to accede to the European Union. With Turkey in the middle of great changes whose results are still unpredictable, Greece seems to be stuck in a one-dimensional policy that goes no further than supporting Turkey’s accession to the EU as long as Ankara meets all the criteria, as if this were the automatic solution to all problems in Greek-Turkish relations. But what will happen if Turkey – either by its own choice or other factors – does not join the European Union? Do we have any estimate as to what this country will look like? Do we know what kind of relationship we might have with it? Do we have any idea regarding how we will deal with Turkey without the good offices of any mediators? Whatever happens, Greece and Turkey will remain neighbors. A relatively painless coexistence will demand great skill, seriousness and planning – all factors which cannot be left to chance or intermediaries.