Turkish leaders rally behind island claims

Turkey’s main opposition, the CHP, led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has sided with the government coalition on the issue of challenging the sovereignty of Greek islands in the Aegean.

Specifically, Kılıçdaroğlu called on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coalition government with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli to proceed with the island issues, creating a common front in Turkey.

Athens has interpreted Kılıçdaroğlu’s hard-line stance as linked to the fierce pre-election campaign in Turkey and also due to the opportunistic and nationalistic alliance of the six parties that form the united opposition against Erdoğan and his ruling AKP.

Athens says Ankara knows very well that Athens also has red lines, but also a way and a will to defend them.

Turkey this week reiterated its demands that Greece must demilitarise its east Aegean islands, saying Ankara will challenge their sovereignty otherwise. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu went as far as presenting a map of 16 islands whose sovereignty could be challenged by Turkey.

Kılıçdaroğlu made his comments in response to a series of public questions posed by Erdoğan, questioning his patriotism. 

One of them concerned Greek-Turkish relations.

“Are you with Turkey or not in its efforts to create permanent economic zones along the border in the Mediterranean and the Aegean?” Erdoğan asked.

Kılıçdaroğlu responded to the Turkish president with a Twitter post, saying it “is imperative to increase the pressure in the Mediterranean and the Aegean.” 

He went on to say it is not enough for Turkey to send out a ship then withdraw it and “wishing [U.S. President Joe] Biden would call me.”

He urged Erdoğan to make the necessary moves in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus and the Greek islands that are militarised.

“We will support you,” he said. 

Kılıçdaroğlu and opposition parties had recently come under fire from pro-government media for “expressing the positions of Greece.”

His position on Greek-Turkish relations carries weight as he is considered one of Erdoğan’s potential rivals in the 2023 presidential election. Other Turkish leaders with a hard-line on foreign policy are IYI (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş, who is now a member of the CHP and rumoured as potential candidate for president.

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu is also member of the CHP, and amid this wave of nationalism it is unlikely he won’t agree with the positions of his president.

(A version of this article was originally published by the Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)

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