Wednesday June 01, 2022

Turkey, Greece relations hit once again

Turkey, Greece relations hit once again

Recep Tayyep Erdogan, Kyriakos Mitsotakis

The quarrel between Turkey and Greece goes a long away, perhaps to early 19th century when Greece was fighting for its independence from the then Ottoman Empire – the present-day Turkey. Then in the early 1960s came the unhappy development when Greece appeared to be usurping Cyprus, and Turkey felt forced to intervene, and that problem has crystallised into the North Cyprus under Turkey and the rest of Cyprus. Surprisingly, both Greece and Turkey are members of the United Stated-led Nato, but their differences continue to simmer. Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan calling off high-level talks with Greece is but the latest episode in the testy relations between the two countries. Part of the provocation seems to be Greek violation of Turkish airspace, but more importantly Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is believed to have told United States officials not to sell F16 fighter planes to Turkey, and this has upset President Erdogan. Reacting to the issue, Erdogan claimed that Mitsotakis does not exist for him anymore. It seems that this was a series of irritants that have been cropping up between the two countries. Erdogan wanted to know why Greece would not learn from history. The Greece-Turkey rivalry is also based on the fact they are neighbours each with its own history and traditions, and there has been a sense of rivalry between the two. And it looks like that it has become difficult to keep the horns out of the bilateral relations.

But Greece is not the only country that Turkey is angry with. Turkey is angry with Sweden and Finland, which have applied for membership in Nato and require the consent of Turkey because decisions relating membership to Nato are based on consensus, and Erdogan made it clear that Turkey is opposed to the membership of the two Nordic countries because they harbour Turkish dissidents, especially the Kurds and their political organization, PKK.

As the two countries are democratic, the Turkish dissidents and their supporters are part of the democratic set-up of these two countries. Erdogan is demanding that the Turkish dissidents should be banned in the two countries. Turkey and Erdogan are also angry with Syria – no, it is the refugees, and Turkey is host to the largest Syrian refugee camp – because the Syria-based Kurdish organisations are fighting the Daesh and other groups inside Syria on the Syria-Turkey border. Turkey wants the Kurdish organisations to be banned.

It might appear that Turkey is angry almost with all its neighbours, but it is not so. The Kurds in neighbouring Iraq, which have a province of their own, and a Kurd is always the president of Iraq according to the constitution that was written after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Turkey may be uneasy, but it seems to be at peace with Iraq and its Kurdish minority. Erdogan is unhappy with the United States too because Turkish dissident Fetulla Gulen is living in exile in the United Sates, and Erdogan suspect that it is  Gulen’s followers who carried out the aborted coup in July 2016. Like many strong and effective leaders –  Erdogan has been in power for 20 years now – he seems to feel angry easily. Greece does its own bit of mischief in keeping the bilateral relations off-key. But the two countries have to find a way of talking to each other despite their differences. It should not appear that Erdogan has called off talks with Greece because of a whim. Despite the perceived provocation, the talks should have been held, though perhaps at the lower officials’ level to reflect Erdogan’s anger. Greece should realise too that Turkey is a useful economic partner because it is a larger country with a greater number of people, who provide a good market for Greece’s exports as well as a good source of income for Greek tourism.

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