Monday, 12 January 2009

Turkey’s Aegean shenanigans and the implications for Cyprus

Above is Stavros Lygeros – one of Greece’s better commentators – discussing on NET’s Ουδείς Aναμάρτητος the recent escalation by the Turks in the Aegean, in which Greek airspace over Agathonisi and Pharmakonisi was flagrantly violated as part of a long-standing Turkish campaign to challenge Greece’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Lygeros suggests that the new element to the provocations is that the Turks are no longer disputing the sovereignty of uninhabited Greek islets but islands with established Greek populations and he suggests three reasons why the Turks have stepped up their cold war with Greece:

1. Turkey’s ambition to expand its Exclusive Economic Zones in the Eastern Mediterranean, which may contain large deposits of oil and gas.

2. The continuation of Turkey’s ‘Agios Efstratios’ strategy – i.e. in 2007 Turkey managed to get cancelled a NATO exercise incorporating Agios Efstratios, an inhabited island near Limnos, on the grounds that the island was in a ‘demilitarised zone’. (Update: 13/01/09. Just to clarify the point Lygeros is making on Ai Stratis: As this article in Greek reports, the NATO exercise 'Noble Archer', which the Turks initially objected to on the grounds that the island of Ai Stratis was in a 'demilitarised zone', finally went ahead last month – and included Ai Stratis. The inclusion of Ai Stratis in the exercise is regarded as a slap in the face for the Turks, and Greek analysts, like Lygeros, are suggesting that the recent escalation over Agathonisi and Pharmakonisi is a reaction to Turkey's failure and humiliation in this matter).

3. An expression of the conflict in Turkey between the ultranationalist Kemalist deep state – which, of course, is led by the Turkish military – and newer forces in Turkish society, including pro-EU liberals and Islamists, as represented by the government of prime minister Tayyip Erdogan.

On Lygeros’ last point: I believe the nationalism of the Kemalists is shared by the Islamists, that the logic of Turkish nationalism demands conflict and hostility with Greece and that Turkey regards its losses to Greece over the years – and particularly those suffered in 1912-3 and 1947 – as unjust and reversible. In this context, Greece is deluding itself by supposing there is a divergence between Kemalists and Islamists over Turkey’s foreign policy and it is an exercise in futility for Greece to invest hope for improved relations with Erdogan and other non-Kemalist elements in Turkish society. The Islamists might not subscribe to Kemalism’s secularism, but they do subscribe to its ultranationalism. Thus, the conflict between Greece and Turkey is more realistically regarded as perpetual and civilisational.

It’s also worth pointing out that last Thursday ANT1 evening news reported that the Greek foreign ministry was furious with President Karolos Papoulias for visiting Agathonisi and Pharmakonisi during Epiphany and stressing in statements Greece’s determination to defend its sovereignty. According to ANT1, the foreign ministry judged that Papoulias’ visit and statements were unhelpful in reducing tension with the Turks. Now, how the Greek foreign ministry can interpret the president of Greece visiting indisputably Greek territory and emphasising the inviolability of Greek sovereignty, as a provocation to the Turks is another mind-boggling indication of this government’s inertia, fear and lack of ideas.

The intensification of Turkish provocations in the Aegean would also suggest that Turkey is more interested in pursuing its neo-Ottoman agenda than in securing EU membership. This blows out of the water the main strategy Greece’s last two governments have adopted to confront the Turkish threat, i.e. offering the Turks an EU perspective in the hope that this will increase democracy and liberalism in Turkey and weaken the military’s and the nationalists’ grip on the country.

Turkey’s inability and unwillingness to meet EU standards and norms of behaviour also has far-reaching implications for the Cyprus issue.

Turkey only countenanced amending the post-invasion status quo in Cyprus because of the Republic of Cyprus’ impending entry into the EU (achieved in 2004), and from whose ranks, Turkey and its allies feared, Cyprus would influence EU policy on Turkey and transform the Cyprus problem into a European problem. The Annan plan, of course, was a gift to Turkey from its principal allies – the US and UK – made with the intention of abolishing the Republic of Cyprus, subjugating Cypriot Hellenism and thus preventing Cyprus from using its EU membership to harm Turkey’s relations with the EU and obstructing Turkey’s own EU aspirations.

If Turkey has decided it cannot comply with EU standards, then this removes its incentive to support a settlement in Cyprus and certainly not a settlement that significantly deviates from the Annan plan. Concern that Turkey is hardening its Cyprus stance may encourage AKEL and DISY – the two largest parties on the island and the most dovish (DISY was in favour of the Annan plan, as were a significant minority in AKEL) – to conclude that since Cyprus cannot afford for the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus in its current form to continue, that the effects of the occupation are becoming increasingly irreversible, then a solution similar to that envisaged by Annan will have to be accepted, as the lesser of two evils.


Anonymous said...

John -- the situation is getting quite serious. Check out the latest.

Within 4 kms of Sounio, off the coast of Attica!

What other county in the world would stand by and let this happen?!


john akritas said...

I don't think even the smallest, poorest, weakest country would respond in the craven way Greece has been responding – for years – to the Turks. It is stomach-churning. Soon there'll be bashibazouks in Syntagma and Dora and Karamanlis will be telling us it's nothing to worry about; it's just the Turks being provocative. Maybe when the Turks do set foot in Athens, there'll be protests and riots – about Israel's bombing of Gaza. And to think in '74, Cypriots were waiting for Greece to come to the island's rescue.

Hermes said...

It appears that almost everywhere Turkey is making the right moves. The provocations in the Aegean - coupled with the ones in Thrace and Cyprus - is a veritable laundry list of bargaining chips from which they can use to get concessions from Greece in future bilateral and multilateral negotiations. In contrast, Greece continues to occasionally ask for something vague in Cyprus and restitution of the legal and physical status of the Patriarch. Obviously, the former is critical but Greeece appears to completely subscribe to a neoliberal post modern conception of nationhood, rather than realising that Cyprus is an integral part of Hellenism and has an excellent strategic position. The outcomes of any efforts to solve the problem are unlikely to be beneficial to the containment and perhaps destruction of Turkey - which should be the grand strategic imperative. The latter is almost from a symbolic perspective but hardly going to result in any geopolitical gain. Beyond these two issues, Greece does not exacerbate (nor create problems) for Turkey to neutralise the problems it creates for Greece. This is unfortunate because Turkey has more serious problems than Greece and small moves have a greater impact.

Hermes said...

A difficult but tremendous article by Ifestos filed under Political Systems and History:

And the website of Giorgios Kontogiorgios (some articles in English):

john akritas said...

H, everything you say is true and commonsensical. Since the Ocalan and Imia fiascos and the triumph of the view that not only should Greece support Turkey's EU perspective but it should also act as that country's principal advocate in Europe, Greece has become shockingly passive, waiting for whatever fate delivers.

Also, it is not just Cyprus that Greece has abandoned, but Northern Epirus too; and in many ways the abandonment of Northern Epirus is even more bewildering and craven than the abandonment of Cyprus, given that in the case of Epirus, Greece is dealing with Albania, an impoverished, weak Ruritanian country, vulnerable to Greek pressure and half of whose citizens live in and depend on Greece. It's ugly to admit, but Sarris – in the latest Τομές – is absolutely right when he talks about 'το μίσος' felt in certain Greek circles for Cypriots, Northern Epirotes and other Greeks who, as you say, don't fit in with their postmodern concept of the nation. (In fact, the latest Τομές is Sarris at his best and I feel bad about mocking him previously).I guess the point is that Greece isn't just failing to respond to a resurgent Turkey; but that it is also lacking in the bottle or gumption to impose itself on Albania and Skopje. The crisis in Greece is that deep.

Iphestos' piece is very good and hard to argue against us. There is no reason why Greece can't make the hard choice to pursue a strategy of ισορροπία with the Turks; though all the evidence suggests that the answer to the question he poses at the end – 'αν στην Ελλάδα θα αρχίσουμε να μιλάμε σοβαρά για αυτά τα ζητήματα πριν ή μετά την μεγάλη ζημιά που επέρχεται στις εξωτερικές μας σχέσεις' – will be 'μετά'. Also, his pessimism about Cyprus is well-founded.

Hermes said...

However, my most important point is that despite some idiotic hoodlums running wild in Greek cities, Turkey has much more serious problems compared to Greece. Turkey's problems are existential in nature; the Kurdish, Alevi and even Laz and Circassion problems threaten the existence of the Turkish state in its current form and are almost intractable. Often, we navel gaze too much and fail to notice these things. However, if Greece wanted too it could easily deal with some of the problems bedevilling it today. Even the Albanian immigrant problem is not so grave as Turkey's problems; although, it is catching up. What does this mean for strategy? Greece need only make small moves against Turkey for there to be a larger impact than on Turkey making moves on Greece. This is assuming that Greece can defend itself - most experts believe it can if it has the will. However, is Greece making any strategic moves? If Greece was serious there should have been hundreds of Greek companies encouraged by the State and public organisations in northern Iraq (Kurdistan) helping them to build education systems, hospitals, telecommunications, oil refineries, banking; and of course, military installations, hardware and technical training for armed forces. Also, rather than Greece doing the bidding of secular/Islamic Turkey they should be assisting the Kurds, Alevis etc, find their way on the world stage to achieve their political aims. Of course, this is not happening along with other stomach churning defensive and or passive postures by Greece as you have alluded too. You ask why does Greece do this? Sarris mostly answers this question in the following clips:

The Greek governing elite behaves in a craven way because of real and perceived pressure from Washington and certain Greek politicians trying to curry favour with various international political organs for their own narrow political gain.

Sarris also rightly contends that Russia has a European trajectory (Putin has always been a Westerniser) which bodes well for Greek relations vis a vis Turkey. By the way Sarris makes some good points regarding Russian-American relations and certain Jewish families in the United States and their projection of negativity towards Russia. Of course, our esteemed Greek-American and American educated Greeks fail to see this. They have been well trained by their masters.

john akritas said...

Greece did until recently seek to exert pressure on Turkey through the Kurds; but obviously this changed with the Ocalan affair after which there was a dramatic change in policy and Greece decided to be Turkey's best friend in Europe. Of course, there's no reason why Greece can't do both, support the Kurds – and the Laz and the Alevis – and purport to be Turkey's advocate in Europe, but supporting the Kurds would increase the possibility of hostilities with the Turkish military and there's nothing more frightening to the Greek state than the prospect of real hostilities with the Turks. The Greek state fears Greece will come off worse in any conflict with the Turks and that'll be the end of the Greek state in its current form, and its functionaries will end up in front of the firing squad – like in 1922 – or in jail, like the junta.

Again, presumably Greece doesn't get involved in Kurdistan in the ways you describe for fear of antagonising the Turks and derailing Greece's one-track policy of civilising the Turks through the EU.

It's also worth remembering the case of Theophilos Georgiades, president of the Cyprus-Kurdistan solidarity committee, murdered by the MIT on his doorstep in Lefkosia in 1994. Georgiades also believed that Turkey had many weak points, most notably connected to the Kurds, that Greeks should be exploiting and for his fearlessness he paid with his life.

The killing of Georgiades was a signal from the Turks that if Greece and Cyprus were serious about getting involved in what Turkey perceived to be its internal affairs, then they should expect state terrorism in return. Again, Greece and Cyprus decided they didn't have the stomach for this kind of open confrontation with the Turks.