Greek ambivalence

Initiatives by Ankara have often surprised or caused concern among officials in Athens. So it was that after a series of air space violations during the summer, it was time for the surprise. Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Turkey’s religious minority leaders and, accompanied by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, he visited the former orphanage on Buyukada and the Aya Yorgi Church. Vartholomaios hailed the Turkish prime minister’s «historic visit» while some in Athens rushed to interpret the gesture as a recognition of the Istanbul-based Patriarchate’s rights. The visit also fueled hopes that the closed Orthodox seminary will be reopened. However, none of these interpretations hold. All that can be said is Turkey’s EU negotiator Egemen Bagis tried to spruce up the country’s image ahead of the December Council meeting. Ankara rejects allegations that it violates the Patriarchate’s rights. According to Turkey, Vartholomaios officiates at services even in areas where there is no Christian population. The patriarch’s ecumenical status is a separate issue for Turkey. Furthermore, Turkey has linked the reopening of the Halki seminary with reciprocal measures by Greece in Thrace. Athens, of course, considers the operation of the seminary as part of Ankara’s international obligations – placing hopes of a solution with Western security organizations. Surprise was replaced by «concern and disappointment» as Turkey, the US and Israel on Monday launch a joint naval and air force exercise southeast of Kastellorizo, in Greek territorial waters and air space. Paradoxically, the drill has been taking place for years and Athens has turned down past invitations to participate even though it is fully integrated into Western defense structures. Unlike the Halki case, Greece has chosen a policy of distancing itself, but this causes other types of problems. The three states were wrong to enter Greek territory but life, politics and military perceptions cannot abide vacuums and hasten to fill them. Evidently, Greece’s policy of distancing itself also comes at a cost.