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.