Turkey has a plan and it’s acting it out
The Greek-French defence deal is good and necessary, and every government in Athens since the restoration of democracy has yearned for a similar agreement.
The discussion that has evolved since the deal was signed in late September tends to stress its deterrent power thanks to the mutual assistance clause. At the same time, however, the likelihood of an armed incident in the Aegean grows more likely as Ankara ups the tension with increasingly aggressive rhetoric and actions, before Greece takes delivery of the warships and fighter jets it agreed to buy from France. Its anger at the deal and at other matters of domestic and foreign interest, is palpable.
The letter Ankara sent to the United Nations renewing calls for the demilitarisation of the Greek islands is a clear threat against Greece, not just to its sovereign rights, but also its actual sovereign territory. This is exactly what Turkey intends in arguing that by defending its eastern Aegean islands, Greece forfeits its claims to them because this is – according to Turkey – a violation of the treaties of Lausanne of 1923 and Paris of 1947. These are islands that passed to Greece in the 1912 Balkan Wars and that fact alone demonstrates the neo-Ottoman policies being pursued by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his persistent bid to abolish the aforementioned treaties in the context of the “Blue Homeland” doctrine.
Most agree that Turkey has upped the challenges against Greece in reaction to the agreement with France. It would be more accurate to say that the deal simply made Ankara blunter about its intentions. Maybe this is because it has decided to accelerate the gradual escalation of challenges with the aim of triggering a confrontation.
Turkey’s letter to the U.N. was dated Sept. 30, just a few days after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and announced the deal. There is no way that Ankara came up with the plan of openly challenging Greek sovereignty over the larger islands in the Aegean in such a short time, as it is a massive quantitative and qualitative leap in Ankara’s revision of the status quo. It is telling that for some time now, Ankara’s propaganda and threats have been focused on the “militarisation” of the islands, so the letter to the U.N. seems part of a greater plan that is in progress. The Greek-French agreement, therefore, simply changed the date on which the letter was sent.
In a normal country with a rudimentary sense of logic and collective responsibility and under normal circumstances, an agreement like the one signed in Paris would be ratified without too much brouhaha and with the support of every party in Parliament. The excessive noise generated over the deal may also be partially blamed on the government – perhaps Paris wanted to make a big deal about it – but the big question is how and why opposition SYRIZA adopted such a negative attitude to the agreement (as did the Greek Communist Party and MeRA25, though their influence is much smaller). Are the party’s leader and top officials so unaware of the threat the country faces? Or are they so insensitive and indifferent that they are prepared to dismiss the national interest for the sake of petty political gains? The answer is yes to both. They are both ignorant and indifferent; and this at a time when Turkey is making its intentions very public.
(A version of this article was originally published by the Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)