Friday, 30 July 2010

Sotiris Kyrgiakos booed by racist Skopjans

I managed to find a stream to watch the Europa League 3rd qualifying round first leg tie between Liverpool and Rabotnicki – some rubbish pseudo-Macedonian team – and noticed the extremely raucous heckling and jeering Liverpool’s Greek international centre back, Sotiris Kyrgiakos, was subjected to by the pseudo-Macedonian home crowd every time he touched the ball or was involved in play. The video clip above gives a taste of the dog’s abuse Kyrgiakos suffered throughout the match. In this instance, he is jeered after one of the pseudo-Macedonian players whacks him in the face at a corner kick and Sotiris has to go off for treatment.
Clearly, the Fyromians do not like Greeks, which I don’t understand, since what have we ever done to them, apart from civilise them? Ingrates. Anyway, it did strike me, given UEFA’s tedious anti-racism campaign, that if this sort of jeering had been aimed at a black player, there would be outrage and the Fyromian team would be fined, banned and all the rest. Never mind. Kyrgiakos didn’t let it affect his game – which was probably one of the easiest he’s ever played, given the standard of the opposition – and Liverpool comfortably won 2-0, making their qualification for the Europa League group stages a virtual formality.
UPDATE: And I’ve just noticed that the match was played at the so-called Phillip II Arena, in Skopje. Phillip II!? Can you believe these idiots? Like always, I don’t know whether to laugh at the Freedonians or get wound up by them.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

All of a sudden, Cyprus has ‘friends’

I’m reprinting below Melanie Phillips’ piece from the Spectator website regarding UK PM David Cameron’s fawning performance yesterday in Turkey, advocating that country’s EU membership. Phillips, who initially lambasted Cameron’s speech in this piece yesterday for its cynicism and failure to recognise Turkey’s alleged turn to Islamic fundamentalism, returns to the subject today to remind Cameron that ‘for the past 36 years Turkey has been illegally occupying part of Cyprus’.

Phillips is somewhat of a Zionist fanatic and perhaps the leading British advocate of the pro-Israel inspired Eurabia theory, i.e. that Europe is under threat demographically and culturally from Islamic immigration and appeasement of Islam generally. Phillips is the author of the best-selling Londonistan: how Britain is creating a terror state within.

Now, what interests me about Phillips’ piece is not its content – a standard critique of the Turkish occupation of Cyprus – nor do I have much time for Phillips as a journalist or public figure. However, firstly, it would have been unthinkable until very recently for such a piece to appear in the Spectator – a right-wing rag with close links to the Conservative Party; and, secondly, it is typical of articles about Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus written by pro-Israel advocates that are now regularly appearing in the UK, Israeli and US media. Of course, Israel and its defenders worldwide don’t care one iota about Cyprus and are just – post the Gaza flotilla incident – interested in bashing Turkey. I’m just making a note of this trend and welcoming the publicity for the Greek cause.

Poodle in a mirror?
Another crucial point about Turkey further underlines the sheer amoral perversity of David Cameron’s gushing endorsement of that country, analysed below. As Martin Packard, a former UN mediating officer in Cyprus points out in a letter to the Times (£) today, for the past 36 years Turkey has been illegally occupying part of Cyprus:

In advocating Turkish membership of the EU Mr Cameron should remember that Turkey is an invader and illegal occupier of Commonwealth and EU territory, in contravention of numerous UN and EU resolutions. The aim of bringing Turkey into the EU is a sensible and commendable one, but Mr Cameron might best advance Turkey’s cause by persuading it to withdraw its troops from Cyprus.

But all Cameron said about this in his speech was

...we want you to continue to work towards a solution in Cyprus

to help

...convince the doubters

that the case for Turkey's membership of the EU was


It’s also striking, isn’t it, how there are never any Unison or university boycotts of Turkey, or angry demonstrations outside Turkish airline offices, or denunciations of Turkey’s illegal occupation by NGOs or the UN.

For as Leo Rennert observes on American Thinker, noting an ad in the New York Times against the Turkish occupation:

In these 36 years, the ad asserts, Turkey ethnically cleansed from their homes 200,000 Greek Cypriots, killed 6,500 of them, deployed 43,000 occupation troops, brought in 160,000 Turks to cement its occupation, destroyed churches, synagogues and cemeteries, while it continued to oppress Kurds in Turkey.

The ad contrasts these horrors with a pro-Western, anti-terrorism record of the other half of the island where a Greek-Cypriot government recently confiscated Syrian arms destined for Hamas, refused use of Cyprus ports to the Turkish flotilla, while partnering with Greece to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza, and worked closely with the U.S. on terrorism issues.

But now Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister has placed himself firmly on the side of the destroyers of human rights and against those who resist tyranny. Some have speculated that he has done so at the behest of Obama, who is keen (of course) for Turkey to join the EU. If so, it would add bitterly ironic reinforcement to the impression that Cameron is a mirror image of his role-model Tony Blair. Blair was styled ‘Bush’s poodle’ for yoking Britain to the White House in the defence of the west. Cameron may have volunteered to be Obama’s poodle, yoking Britain to the White House in the cause of surrendering the west.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Mass rape of Greek women during Turkish invasion of Cyprus

The above video, taken from a documentary on Alter TV from the late 1990s, indicates the extent to which Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974 was characterised by depravity. Indeed, incidents of rape by Turkish soldiers and Turkish Cypriots against Greek women were so widespread that the Orthodox Church was compelled to relax its previous strictures on abortion. I’ve written previously on the subject here. I originally saw the video on this youtube channel, and decided it would be useful to add English subtitles to it.

*Also see this post: ‘Those who want to rape the daughters of the priest, come now!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Turkey seeks nuclear weapons

This report in today’s edition of the Cypriot daily Simerini suggested that Israel has told Greece that Turkey is seeking the acquisition of nuclear weapons.
I had two thoughts about this. Firstly, that it’s possible that the Israelis are making this up as part of an effort to draw Greece into a closer alliance with Israel now that Turkey-Israel relations are badly damaged; and, secondly, that the Israelis – who should know, given their intelligence gathering strengths and previously close strategic alliance with Turkey – are telling the truth, and that Turkey is now taking its inflated regional and, indeed, global ambitions to the next level, which is the pursuit of nuclear weaponry. 

And then I came across the article below (from worldtribune. com) by Gregory Copley, which adds flesh to the bones of this story and reveals just how Turkey is going about the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Copley is president of the International Strategic Studies Association, a foreign policy think-tank based in Washington DC, who has written extensively about strategic affairs in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean; and even though Ive read things of his that seem a little wild – he once suggested that Turkey had used Cypriot POWs from 1974 as guinea pigs for chemical weapons experiments – and his article on Turkey and nuclear weapons is not wholly convincing, there can be no doubt that the logic of Turkeys ambitions to be a superpower demands that it acquire nuclear weapons. The implications for Greece are obvious.

Turkey moving rapidly to acquire nuclear weapons
A quiet but intense debate is ongoing within senior circles of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey over whether or not this is the time to proceed rapidly with the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons.

At stake is Turkey’s strategic parity with other nuclear powers in the region: Russia, Israel, Pakistan, and Iran. Highly-placed sources indicate that Turkey has been deliberating the acquisition of military nuclear capability for some time, but has been constrained by its need to maintain good relations with the USA and NATO partners generally, as well as the EU. The Turkish General Staff is also engaged in this debate, but, for the most part, this is a debate dominated by the civilian leadership.

Turkish acquisition of nuclear weapons would significantly transform the balance of power and the strategic dynamic of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Greater Black Sea Basin and the Caucasus, and would be the cornerstone of Turkey’s ambitious program to restore what it sees as its historical pan-Turkist mission. Indeed, without nuclear weapons — at least as far as regional perception is concerned — Turkey could not compete against a nuclear Iran or be seen as an independent ‘great power’ in the region.

Nuclear weapons research has long been underway, under conditions of extreme secrecy, in Turkey, and the AKP leadership is aware that it is probable that this will become public knowledge as the effort becomes more intense.

It is not totally dependent on, but benefits from, the acquisition by Turkey of uranium-based nuclear power reactors, which will ultimately provide a base of fissionable materials to sustain an indigenous nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, however, nuclear weapons research — which requires only a minimal amount of fissionable material, obtainable on the world market — can continue separately. There is no doubt that Turkey’s growing relationships with Iran, Brazil, and Pakistan have been — as far as the Turkish leadership is concerned — with the military nuclear program partially in mind.

As far back as 1998, Turkish media reports indicated that then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had offered Turkey co-operation in the development of nuclear weapons. [Significantly, Nawaz Sharif is poised to make a political comeback in Pakistan in the next general elections]. The dramatic lowering of leverage which the US and EU have over Turkish strategic direction over the past 18 months, coupled with the growing separation with Israel at the behest of the AKP as a means of reducing the domestic Turkish political influence of the General Staff, along with the perceived need to firmly establish a stronger measure of Turkish independence from Russia, are all contributory factors in the Turkish government’s moves to press ahead as rapidly as possible with the nuclear weapons and nuclear power programs.

What is significant is that Turkey played a significant rôle in the early 1980s in helping Pakistan acquire systems for the development of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program, and there is little doubt that Turkey now expects a quid pro quo. Pakistan, despite ill-informed Western media speculation, has been extremely cautious about sharing its nuclear weapons knowledge, and may not deliver what Ankara wants with regard to nuclear co-operation at this point. Nonetheless, the growing military supply relationship between Turkey and Pakistan highlights the quiet co-operation between the two former Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) member states, and now Turkey and Iran (another former CENTO member) have cautiously come back together under the aegis of the Russian regional energy networking. In 1992, US Senator John Glenn and other US congressmen accused Turkey of supplying sensitive technology to Pakistan in order to aid in Pakistan’s acquisition of uranium enrichment technology.

The Turkish government has been careful about moving ahead with independent nuclear weapons capabilities until this point because such a move could have precipitated a cut-off of Turkey from the US and EU economies and its position within NATO. Now, however, Turkey is reaching a junction point where Turkish membership of the EU is seen by many in the Turkish government as no longer feasible or desirable and the AKP is beginning to feel as though it has the General Staff (GB) more or less under control and not in a position to challenge or overthrow the civilian Islamist government. On the other hand, Russia — which more or less took off the velvet gloves with Turkey in early 2009 to bring Ankara within the Russian strategic orbit — is not in a strong position to stop Turkey moving ahead with its nuclear weapons program, just as it has been unable to stop Iran in its process of acquiring externally-built nuclear weapons and developing its own nuclear weapons production capabilities.

Very senior sources in Israel, Russia, and the US have privately expressed concern that Turkey is proceeding with its nuclear weapons program, and that Turkey has obtained a significant knowledge of nuclear weapons technology, protocols, and operational doctrine from its association with NATO and Israel. Moreover, officials in Israel, Russia, and the US are fully aware that neither the Turkish government nor the Turkish military pays any attention to confidentiality clauses, end-user certificates, or use strictures on weapons, intelligence, or defense systems made available to Turkey by its allies.

One Israeli official told GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs: “We are all fully aware that when the Turkish Armed Forces invaded Cyprus in 1974 they did so using US military equipment in defiance of the use strictures placed on that equipment when it was provided by the US to Turkey. Today, Turkey is in open violation of all of its agreements with the US and Israel with regard to the US and Israeli military systems which are the backbone of the Turkish Armed Forces now occupying northern Cyprus.”

This was the first disclosure that Israeli military equipment was being used by the Turkish military in Cyprus, and that this was a violation of understandings between Turkey and Israel when the equipment was supplied.

The Turkish Armed Forces have long worked with the US military on the use of nuclear weapons, particularly artillery-launched, air-delivered, and theater-level ballistic missile-delivered nuclear warheads and bombs. US nuclear weapons are still based in Turkey. On November 23, 2009, the US left-leaning Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — an anti-nuclear organization — published a report by Alexandra Bell and Benjamin Loehrke. stating: “Turkey hosts an estimated 90 B61 [nuclear] gravity bombs at Incirlik Air Base. Fifty of these bombs are reportedly assigned for delivery by US pilots, and 40 are assigned for delivery by the Turkish Air Force. However, no permanent nuclear-capable US fighter wing is based at Incirlik, and the Turkish Air Force is reportedly not certified for NATO nuclear missions, meaning nuclear-capable F-16s from other US bases would need to be brought in if Turkey’s bombs were ever needed.”

Turkish analyst and author Mehmet Kalyoncu, writing on September 19, 2008, in Today’s Zaman website, noted: “Ankara is intensifying its lobbying in Western capitals, most notably in Washington, to get the green light to develop nuclear weapons. Ankara presents itself as the most viable nuclear power in the region to counterbalance the nuclear Iran, pointing out that the other likely candidates, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria, which lack democratic institutions, checks and balances and transparency, cannot be trusted with such military capabilities. Furthermore, Ankara is seeking to justify its quest for nuclear weapons by arguing that with or without the approval of its Western allies Turkey has to develop such capabilities because a nuclear Iran next to its border puts Turkish national security under threat. Accordingly, Ankara is seeking assistance from the major material and know-how suppliers, such as the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and Israel. Finally, the United States tacitly approves Turkey’s acquisition of nuclear weapon capabilities in order to both counterbalance a nuclear Iran in the Middle East and to prevent another rogue state in the region besides Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Consequently, the US is competing with the other suppliers to seize the lion share in Turkey’s emerging nuclear market.”

Kalyoncu continued:

•    Any possible reluctance on the side of Turkey’s Western allies to provide Turkey with the necessary material and know-how to develop nuclear weapons will encourage Ankara to seek other possible partners, which are quite numerous, including Iran itself. The most likely scenarios and the alternative scenarios of Turkey acquiring nuclear weapons or the capability of building nuclear weapons differ from each other not in terms of Turkey’s driving motivations but in terms of the acquisition process.

•    It is possible that the United States and the European Union will not give the green light to Turkey to acquire nuclear weapon capabilities, and will at the same time try to deter Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and/or another nuclear aspirant from acquiring or developing nuclear weapons. However, the two cannot succeed in doing so, as is the case with Iran. In addition, the US and the EU may not provide a credible and reliable guarantee to Turkey that they will protect Turkey against a nuclear threat. Actually, no such guarantee, including the NATO membership, may suffice to convince Turkey to stop its quest for nuclear weapon capabilities given the destructive capability of a nuclear attack and the fact that its very national security is at stake. Worried with the risk of remaining weak and vulnerable in its region and being threatened by a rogue nuclear power, Turkey would then seek nuclear weapon capabilities, risking confrontation with both the United States and the European Union. After all, then the domestic public opinion wouldn’t just condone Turkey acquiring nuclear weapons, but demand it from the government.

•    Given that Turkey’s Western allies do not condone Turkey becoming a nuclear power, Ankara is forced to seek non-Western partners and suppliers for its nuclear program. Turkey does not have difficulty in finding them.

•    Actually, most likely, they would find Turkey anyway. Respectively, Pakistan, Russia, Israel and finally Iran are among the possible partners in Turkey’s nuclear endeavor. Historically, Pakistan has always been supportive of the idea of Turkey becoming a nuclear power. Islamabad first approached Ankara to offer Pakistan’s assistance to Turkey in developing nuclear weapons during the rule of Gen. Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s and then during the rule of Nawaz Sharif in the late 1990s. However, Ankara had to disregard both offers because of concerns about alienating its Western allies. However, under the current circumstances, the national security threat Turkey faces and the Western allies’ refusal to address Turkey’s concerns make it imperative for Ankara to seek Pakistan’s help in developing a nuclear weapons program.

•    Once Turkey comes out as a possible buyer of nuclear material and technology, Israel, Turkey’s long-time ally in the Middle East, would also want to help Turkey by selling it the necessary material, equipment and know-how. Similarly, Russia is likely to reap the benefits of this emerging market for its nuclear technology before the US or the EU does. Finally, though reluctantly, Tehran would also be willing to assist Ankara, calculating that Turkey’s becoming a nuclear power would only further legitimize Iran having nuclear weapons, even if it would eliminate Iran’s chances of becoming the sole regional leader.

It now seems clear that the AKP government feels that the Turkish population would be ready to support a move toward nuclear weapons even at the expense of finally ending the Turkish entry process into the EU. However, it is by no means certain that the EU entry process would be formally stopped — even though it has become totally academic at this point, in any event — even if Turkey went ahead with an open nuclear program. What seems more likely, however, is that the Turkish government will continue to deny its nuclear weapons program for as long as possible; indeed, until testing or deployment, even if the reality becomes obvious. After all, it fully understands how Israel operates in this regard: the Israeli government will still not confirm the presence of a nuclear weapons capability in the Israel Defense Force, almost a half-century after Israel acquired military nuclear capabilities.

There has been no response from sources in the Hellenic Defense Forces as to a reaction by Greece to the acquisition by Turkey of nuclear weapons, but the emergence of the realization that Turkey is now moving in this direction would further spur Greece to boost its strategic relations with Israel (Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou visited Israel on July 21, 2010, the first visit by a Greek Prime Minister since Konstantinos Mitsotakis visited in 1992). This process is now underway.

One of the major areas for the international trade in illicit nuclear materials — both technologies and fissionable material — has been Croatia and the Albanian (particularly Kosovo Albanian) mafia. Most of this trade has involved systems and matériel from the former Soviet Union. Turkey’s strenuous and discreet program of support for the Kosovo Albanians, the Islamists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Croatians in their wars of the 1990s against the Serbs, should now be seen, also, in the light of the nuclear ambitions of Turkey as well as in the light of its attempts to restore dominion over the former Ottoman sphere in the Balkans.

The Turkish moves to resume influence in the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, the Horn of Africa, and the Maghreb are also part of the new Turkish strategic dynamic. Already, Turkish officials have felt that they could resume influence in administering conflict resolution issues in the Horn of Africa, and the presence of Turkish officials and actions in Somalia are now overt. Ankara also recently hosted a major conference on Horn of Africa issues, even though Ottoman influence in the region has largely been forgotten by all but the Turks.

Overall, Turkish strategic initiatives have been designed, à priori, to give the Islamist AKP absolute control at home, reducing the military to a pre-republic (i.e. Ottoman) status in Turkey, but also to challenge the other ‘great powers’, including Russia, the US, the UK, and France, as well as to the regional authority of the Iranians, Egyptians, and Israelis. There is some belief in Ankara that this ‘window of opportunity’ provided by US powerlessness and EU confusion will not be open long, and that Ankara must act on all its strategic initiatives even before the Russians can assert dominance over the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. As a result, Ankara is moving rapidly, perhaps to the point of recklessness. Absent a coherent response from the EU, the US and particularly from a distracted Greece, Turkey may well attempt to further entrench itself in Cyprus, quite apart from making strenuous claims elsewhere in the region.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Papandreou’s plan to overthrow Makarios

Below is another translated extract from Marios Evriviades’article  (‘Plans for betrayal from 1964’) that argues that the Ioannides coup against Makarios in 1974 was nothing more than the implementation of a Greek policy aimed at partitioning Cyprus with Turkey that had been dreamed up 10 years previously.

In fact, it is striking that the nature of the coup planned by Giorgos Papandreou in 1964 – overthrow Makarios, declare enosis, then open negotiations with the Turks on which part of Cyprus to give them – was precisely what Ioannides had in mind in 1974. It was a stupid idea in 1964 – which is presumably why Papandreou was persuaded to abandon it – and it was an even stupider idea in 1974, the predictable consequences of which were the Turkish invasion and partition of Cyprus not on Greece’s terms but on Turkey’s.

Plans for betrayal from 1964 
In August 1964, with the knowledge of the Americans and, previously, with American encouragement (in February 1964, US Assistant Secretary of State George Ball, was the main protagonist), the government  of Giorgos Papandreou drew up a plan for a coup in Cyprus and informed President Johnsons special Cyprus representative, Dean Acheson, in Geneva of their proposal.

In Geneva, while on the surface the talks taking place between Greece and Turkey on the future of Cyprus were under UN auspices, in practice it was Acheson who was running the show, with his plan or, more correctly, plans for the division of Cyprus. There were many Acheson plans (just as there were many Annan plans), and the Turks accepted only the first one, which would have secured them sovereignty over 30% of Cyprus and the Greek island of Kastelorizo.

From the Greek side, Papandreou accepted the proposal for a leased Turkish base on the island comprising 99 square miles and informed Acheson of this in Geneva in writing on 22 August. Nowhere does there exist a corresponding Turkish letter as to whether Turkey accepted this proposal, but there is a Turkish letter to Acheson dated 28 August, according to which Turkey rejected Achesons efforts at mediation because there was no longer on the table an offer that secured Turkey sovereignty over a part of Cyprus. 

Earlier, on 23 August, Giorgos Papandreou gave an order by telephone to Greeces negotiators in Geneva, Sosiades and Nikolareizis, to inform Acheson that Greece could overthrow Makarios within a week, after which ‘immediate enosis would be declared and then negotiations would start with the Turks on the basis of the Acheson plan, which would result in Greece providing Turkey with a base area in Cyprus, in the Cape Greco region [south of Famagusta] rather than in the Karpas peninsula, and the granting of minority rights to the Turkish Cypriots. Acheson told Sosiades and Nikolareizis that Washington agreed with the proposed coup against Makarios.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Why did Greece want to overthrow Makarios?

I was reading a very interesting article on the infognomonpolitics blog, written by Marios Evriviades and which originally appeared in the Cypriot daily, Phileleftheros.

Evriviades argues that the 15 July 1974 coup against Makarios was not necessarily a hastily concocted putsch by the junta, but the culmination of 10-years of Greek state policy.

Greece, during this period, Evriviades says, was determined to come to an agreement with Turkey on the partition of Cyprus and was prepared to contemplate the forced removal of Cyprus’ president, Makarios, and the dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus, in order to accelerate its aims.

I’ve translated below the first part of Evriviades’ article, which suggests that even if the goal of removing Makarios remained the same, the reasons for Athens wanting it done in 1964, under the premiership of Giorgos Papandreou, were different to those that motivated Dimitris Ioannides, the head of the junta, in 1974.

Just to add that the more I find out about Greece’s official policy towards Cyprus in the years leading up the coup and Turkish invasion, the more I am struck by the breathtaking incompetence and stupidity of Greece's policy makers, and this applies to those associated with the junta and those who ran Greece before the colonels seized power. In fact, one of the reasons the story of Greece’s betrayal of Cyprus remains of interest, is because this same incompetence and stupidity continued in Greece after 1974 and is responsible for the sweeping crisis affecting the country right now.

I’ll try and post further translation of Evriviades’ piece later this week.

Plans for betrayal from 1964
The betrayal of 15 July 1974 was the culmination of 10-years of scheming by Greece. However, the reasons for the scheming during this period change. In 1964, when the scheming starts, the aim and target of the coupists was the overthrow of the Makarios government and the dissolution of the Cypriot state, with the rationale of preventing Cyprus from becoming another Cuba, of becoming communist. In 1974, the aim of the coupists was more simple. It was the survival of the regime in Athens. Junta leader Dimitris Ioannides and the rest of his gang organised the coup in order to buy time from their transatlantic patrons and to appease the Turks and prime minister Bulent Ecevit, who were threatening Greece in the Aegean.

By overthrowing Makarios – the ‘devil-priest’, the red-priest, the anti-Greek – the junta believed it was providing a service to Washington and Ankara, who would be duly grateful. Ioannides believed the Americans would press Turkey to react to the coup with moderation since it was Athens intention, with Makarios out of the way, to sit down with the Turks and ‘close the Cyprus problem, which Greece and Turkey had been discussing intermittently from 1964, on the basis of the US-inspired Acheson plan, which envisaged partition of the island.

A second motive the Ioannides’ junta had for wanting to be rid of Makarios was that in doing so it would end the threat posed to the Athens regime by the democracy that existed in Cyprus. In the paranoid world of the Athens junta, Cyprus was a haven for dissidents conspiring against the regime ruling Greece; dissidents,
particularly those made up of former officers from the Greek armed forces, who, the junta believed, were being aided and abetted by Makarios.

For more of this article, go here.

Monday, 12 July 2010

'Turkey is at the centre of everything'

The above video – which I noticed on the infognomonpolitics blog – is of a lecture given last week by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davoutoglu at Chatham House, a leading foreign policy think-tank here in London.

His theme is Transatlantic Relations, but his objective is to persuade his audience to accept that Turkey’s strategic imperatives are exactly the same as the West’s.

‘Turkey is at the centre of everything,’ Davoutoglu brazenly declares, as he takes us on a tour of all those areas he believes Turkey has influence and interests – Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Bosnia, Kosovo – and makes it clear that he expects the West, particularly Britain and America, to back Turkey’s global vision for itself as if it was their own, and the realisation of which he presents as organic and inevitable – based on Turkey’s geography, economic power and cultural connections.

His audience seems to lap it up, and whereas 10-15 years ago you may have expected questions to a Turkish foreign minister to be about Turkey’s relations with Greece and Cyprus, Armenian genocide recognition or the Kurdish rebellion, none of these issues is ever mentioned. It’s all to do with Turkey and Iran, Turkey and the Middle East, Turkey and Central Asia, Turkey and Russia – i.e the strategic agenda that Turkey has set.

Davoutoglu makes neo-Ottomanism sound so benign – continually referring to peace, democracy, the free market, soft power, and so on – and only once does he let his mask slip – when he adamantly refutes the existence of anti-semitism in Turkish society and portrays Turkey as a paradigm of tolerance and multiculturalism; which proves that for all his eloquence and erudition, he still suffers from the same delusions about Turkey as the dumbest and most blinkered Turk nationalist.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Jennifer Lopez withdraws from occupied Cyprus gig

Well, well, well. I guess all us cynics who thought, 1. Jennifer Lopez would not be deterred from appearing at the Cratos Hotel in occupied Kyrenia because the $3m on offer would override the politics of the occupation of northern Cyprus; and that 2. grassroots campaigns are ineffective, now have to take it all back, because Lopez has just released on her website an Official Statement Regarding Cyprus Appearance, which says:

Jennifer Lopez would never knowingly support any state, country, institution or regime that was associated with any form of human rights abuse. After a full review of the relevant circumstances in Cyprus, it was the decision of her advisors to withdraw from the appearance. This was a team decision that reflects our sensitivity to the political realities of the region.

Well done to the tireless and fearless Nikolaos Taneris of CANA (please join the mailing list) and the organisers of the Facebook campaign who identified the prospect of Lopez appearing in Kyrenia as a huge propaganda coup for the occupation regime and resolved to try and prevent it; which they did, and in the process – and this is important – generated significant publicity for the realities of Turkey’s presence in Cyprus and brought together many young Greeks from all over the world in a good cause.

And while it remains unclear exactly why Lopez has withdrawn – fear of controversy is the most likely explanation (though I also notice that Sophia Cotzia of PSEKA is suggesting that Lopez backed out after getting a call from a ‘friend on Capitol Hill’) – the fact of her withdrawal does put down a marker and perhaps suggests to all those Turk businessman who dream of turning occupied Cyprus into Las Vegas that their thievery and despicable plans will not be easily fulfilled.

I have to say those of us who live the occupation of our country on a daily basis and have done for 36 years can get extremely worked up when confronted by those who don’t take our anguish seriously and we want them to suffer as much as our families have suffered at the hands of the Turks so that they know what injustice feels like. It’s an unfortunate mentality to have, but one that is understandable. Anyway, personally, I don't know much about Jennifer Lopez – I don’t think I’ve ever heard one of her songs – other than she has a reputation for having a large behind; though I have seen her in a very good film with George Clooney, called Out of Sight, which is based on a novel by the superb American crime writer, Elmore Leonard.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The end of the best way to see Greece

It was with dismay that I read that OSE (the Hellenic Railways Organisation) is going to eliminate some of its loss-making routes; routes that I have travelled on, particularly in the Peloponnese – Corinth, Napfaktos, Patras; or, going south, on the narrow gauge railway, Corinth, Mycenae, Argos, through Arkadia to Kalamata and up the west coast to Kyparissia and Pyrgos – and in Macedonia, from Thessaloniki, east to Serres and Drama, and west to Naoussa and Edessa. It is a fantastic way to see the country – the stations themselves are architectural gems and socially fascinating – and it is a great pity these routes were underused and will now be closed.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Campaign against Jennifer Lopez' Cyprus trip gathers momentum

Well done to the Cyprus Action Network of America (CANA), whose campaign against the proposed visit of the American showbiz personality Jennifer Lopez to Turkish-occupied Cyprus to open a Las Vegas style hotel/casino near Kyrenia, has received a great deal of publicity and support, which will, hopefully, make Lopez reconsider and withdraw from this sordid engagement.

I notice CANA says that it has garnered the support of the estimable Diamanda Galas (pictured) for its campaign, which has even been mentioned in a Guardian report by the less estimable Helena Smith.

If moral arguments do not dissuade Lopez from supporting the occupation regime in Cyprus, then I suggest it might be worth pointing out to her that she's entering a war zone and that, one way or another, her security and that of her family is at risk. She should also be made aware that, previously, Greek Cypriot refugees have successfully sued those trespassing on their property. 

I also wonder what the role of the US Embassy in Nicosia is in all this. I'm sure that if the embassy or the State Department wanted to, it could get in touch with Lopez and her people and suggest she avoid Cyprus; unless, of course, the Americans are keen to do the occupation regime a favour, especially as a means to show their displeasure at the Cyprus government's increasing closeness to Russia; closeness which the Americans may suspect had something to do with the case of the Russian 'spy' Christopher Metsos (a pseudonym), who having been arrested on Cyprus at the behest of Interpol was subsequently released on bail only to disappear, presumably with the assistance of Russian secret services on the island.


The Geopolitics of Greece: A Sea at Heart

I've managed to find and read the Stratfor piece Hermes previously referred to regarding Greece's increasingly difficult strategic position. The article, which I reprint below, makes some valid points, though it also has many omissions and inaccuracies; suffers from spurious comparisons between ancient and modern Greece; and is diminished by geographical determinism – i.e. the suggestion that Greek choices are definitively circumscribed by the mountains and the sea. On this last point, it's worth stressing that it is human beings that make history, through the choices they make and the ideas they cultivate, and not geographical imperatives. In the past, Greeks chose to overcome the limitations of their geography by developing an energetic culture and a will to defend – and, where appropriate, expand – their homeland. And, today, Greece is not limited by the sea and the mountains, but by its ambitions.

The Geopolitics of Greece: A Sea at Heart
Throughout the history of Greece, its geography has been both a blessing and a curse, a blessing because it allowed Greece to dominate the “known Western world” for a good portion of Europe’s ancient history due to a combination of sea access and rugged topography. In the ancient era, these were perfect conditions for a maritime city-state culture oriented toward commerce and one that was difficult to dislodge by more powerful land-based opponents. This geography incubated the West’s first advanced civilization (Athens) and produced its first empire (ancient Macedon).

However, Greek geography is also a curse because it is isolated on the very tip of the rugged and practically impassable Balkan Peninsula, forcing it to rely on the Mediterranean Sea for trade and communication. None of the Greek cities had much of a hinterland. These small coastal enclaves were easily defendable, but they were not easily unified, nor could they become large or rich due to a dearth of local resources. This has been a key disadvantage for Greece, which has had to vie with more powerful civilizations throughout its history, particularly those based on the Sea of Marmara in the east and the Po, Tiber and Arno valleys of the Apennine Peninsula to the west.

Peninsula at the Edge of Europe
Greece is located in southeastern Europe on the southernmost portion of the Balkan Peninsula, an extremely mountainous peninsula extending south from the fertile Pannonian plain. The Greek mainland culminates in what was once the Peloponnesian Peninsula and is now a similarly rugged island separated by the man-made Corinth Canal. Greek mountains are characterized by steep cliffs, deep gorges and jagged peaks. The average terrain altitude of Greece is twice that of Germany and comparable to the Alpine country of Slovenia. The Greek coastline is also very mountainous with many cliffs rising right out of the sea.

Greece is easily recognizable on a map by its multitude of islands, about 6,000 in total. Hence, Greece consists of not only the peninsular mainland but almost all of the Aegean Sea, which is bounded by the Dodecanese Islands (of which Rhodes is the largest) in the east, off the coast of Anatolia, and Crete in the south. Greece also includes the Ionian Islands (of which Corfu is the largest) in the west and thousands of islands in the middle of the Aegean. The combination of islands and rugged peninsular coastline gives Greece the 10th longest coastline in the world, longer than those of Italy, the United Kingdom and Mexico.

Mountainous barriers in the north and the northeast mean that the Greek peninsula is largely insulated from mainland Europe. Throughout its history, Greece has parlayed its natural borders and jagged terrain into a defensive advantage. Invasion forces that managed to make a landing on one of the few Greek plains were immediately met by high-rising cliffs hugging the coastline and well-entrenched Greek defenders blocking the path forward. The famous battle of Thermopylae is the best example, when a force of 300 Spartans and another 1,000 or so Greeks challenged a Persian force numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The Ottomans fared better than the Persians in that they actually managed to conquer Greece, but they ruled little of Greece’s vast mountainous interior, where roving bands of Greek brigands — called khlepts — blocked key mountain passes and ravines and entered Greek lore as heroes. To this day, its rugged topography gives Greece a regionalized character that makes effective, centralized control practically impossible. Everything from delivering mail to collecting taxes — the latter being a key factor in Greece’s ongoing debt crisis — becomes a challenge.

With rugged terrain come defensive benefits, but also two geographic handicaps. First, Greece is largely devoid of any land-based transport routes to mainland Europe. The only two links between Greece and Europe are the Axios and Strimonas rivers, both which drain into the Aegean in Greek Macedonia. The Axios (also called the Vardar River) is key because it connects to the Morava River in Central Serbia and thus forms an Axios-Morava-Danube transportation corridor. While no part of the river is actually navigable, one can travel up the Balkan Peninsula on valley roads. The Strimonas takes one from Greek Macedonia to Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, and from there via the Iskar River through the Balkan Mountains to the Danubian plain of present-day Romania. Neither of these valleys is an ideal transportation route, however, since each forces the Greeks to depend on their Balkan neighbors to the north for links to Europe, historically an unenviable position for Greece.

The second handicap for Greece is that its high mountains and jagged coastline leave very little room for fertile valleys and plains, which are necessary for supporting large population centers. Greece has many rivers and streams that are formed in its mountains, but because of the extreme slope of most hills, most of these waterways create narrow valleys, gorges or ravines in the interior of the peninsula. This terrain is conducive to sheep- and goat-herding but not to large-scale agriculture.

This does not mean that there is no room for crops to grow. Indeed, rivers meeting the Aegean and Ionian seas carve short valleys that open to the coast where the sea breeze creates excellent conditions for agriculture. The problem is that, other than in Thessaly and Greek Macedonia, most of these valleys are limited in area. This explains to an extent why Greece, throughout its history, has retained a regionalized character, with each river estuary providing sufficient food production for literally one city-state and with jagged mountain peaks greatly complicating overland communication among these population centers. The only place where this is not the case is in Greek Macedonia — the location of present-day Thessaloniki — where a relatively large agricultural area provided for the West’s first true empire, led by Alexander the Great.

Lack of large areas of arable land combined with poor overland transportation also complicate capital formation. Each river valley can supply its one regional center with food and sufficient capital for one trading port, but this only reinforces Greece’s regionalized mentality. From the perspective of each region, there is no reason why it should supply the little capital it generates to a central government when it could just as well use that capital to develop a naval capability of its own, crucial for bringing in food via the Aegean. This creates a situation where the whole suffers from a lack of coordination and capital generation while substantial resources are spent on dozens of independent maritime regions, a situation best illustrated by ancient Greek city-states, most of which had independent navies. Considering that developing a competent navy is one of the costliest of state endeavors, one can imagine how such a regionalized approach to naval development constrained an already capital-poor Greece.

The lack of capital generation is therefore the most serious implication of Greek geography. Situated as far from global flows of capital as any European country that considers itself part of the West, Greece finds itself surrounded by sheltered ports, most of which are protected by mountains and cliffs that drop off into the sea. This affords Greece little room for population growth, and contributes to its inability to produce much domestic capital. This, combined with the regionalized approach to political authority encouraged by mountainous geography, has made Greece a country that has been inefficiently distributing what little capital it has had for millennia.

Countries that have low capital growth and considerable infrastructural costs usually tend to develop a very uneven distribution of wealth. The reason is simple: Those who have access to capital get to build and control vital infrastructure and thereby make the decisions both in public and working life. In countries that have to import capital, this becomes even more pronounced, since those who control industries and businesses that bring in foreign cash have more control than those who control fixed infrastructure, which can always be nationalized (industries and businesses can move elsewhere if threatened with nationalization). When such uneven distribution of wealth is entrenched in a society, a serious labor-capital (or, in the European context, a left-right) split emerges. This is why Greece is politically similar to Latin American countries, which face the same infrastructural and capital problems, right down to periods of military rule and an ongoing and vicious labor-capital split.

Greek Core: The Aegean
Despite the limitations on its capital generation, Greece has no alternative but to create an expensive defensive capability that allows it to control the Aegean Sea. Put simply, the core of Greece is neither the breadbaskets of Thessaly and Greek Macedonia, nor the Athens-Piraeus metropolitan area, where around half of the population lives. The core of Greece is the Aegean Sea — the actual water, not the coastland — which allows these three critical areas of Greece to be connected for trade, defense and communication. Control of the Aegean also gives Greece the additional benefit of influencing trade between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Without control of the Aegean, there simply is no Greece.

To control the Aegean and Cretan seas, Greece has to control two key islands in its archipelago, Rhodes and Crete, as well as the Dodecanese archipelago. With those islands under its control, the Aegean and Cretan seas truly become Greek “lakes.” The other island of importance to Athens is Corfu, which gives Greece an anchor in the Otranto Strait and thus an awareness of threats emerging from the Adriatic.

Anything beyond the main Aegean islands and Corfu is not within the scope of Greece’s basic national security interests and can only be gained by the projection of power. In this strategic context, Cyprus becomes important as a way to distract and flank Turkey and break its communications with the Levant and Egypt, traditional spheres of Istanbul’s (and later Ankara’s) influence. Sicily is also within the range of Greek power projection, and at the height of Greece’s power in ancient times, Sicily was frequently colonized by Greek powers. Controlling Sicily gives Greece the key gateway into the western Mediterranean and brackets off the entire eastern half of the Mediterranean for itself. But neither is essential, and projecting Greek power toward either Sicily or Cyprus in the modern day is extremely taxing, although Greece has attempted it with Cyprus, an attempt that led to a near disastrous military confrontation with neighboring Turkey.

The cost of controlling just the Aegean Sea and its multitude of islands cannot be overstated. Aside from the monumental expense of maintaining a navy, Greece has the additional problem of having to compete with Turkey, which is still considered an existential threat for Greece.

In the modern context, this has also underscored the importance of air superiority over the Aegean. The Greek air force prides itself on maintaining a large and advanced fleet of front-line combat aircraft well in excess of the country’s economic means, and many observers believe that their fighter pilots are among the best and most experienced in Europe — and beyond (they regularly tangle with Turkish pilots over the Aegean).

But maintaining, owning and training a superior air force means that Greece was spending more than 6 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, twice what other European countries were spending, just prior to the onset of the current financial crisis (it has since pledged to reduce it significantly, to below 3 percent). With no indigenous capital generation of its own, Greece has been forced to import capital from abroad to maintain such an advanced military. This is in addition to a generous social welfare system and considerable infrastructural needs created by its rugged geography.

The result is the ongoing debt crisis that is threatening not only to collapse Greece but also to take the rest of the eurozone with it. The Greek budget deficit reached 13.6 percent of GDP in 2009, and government debt is approaching 150 percent of GDP.

Greece has not always been a fiscal mess. It has, in fact, been everything from a global superpower to a moderately wealthy European state to a political and economic backwater. To understand how this isolated, capital-poor country has devolved, we need to look beyond physical geography and contemplate the political geography of the region in which Greece has found itself throughout history.

From Ancient Superpower…
Ancient Greece gave the Western world its first culture and philosophy. It also gave birth to the study of geopolitics with Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, which is considered to be a seminal work on international relations. It is an injustice to give the ancient Greek period a quick overview, since it deserves a geopolitical monograph of its own, but a brief look provides a relevant glimpse at how geography played a role in turning Greek city-states into a superpower. The political geography of the period was vastly different from that of the present day. The Mediterranean Sea was the center of the world, one in which a handful of Greek city-states clutching the coast of the Aegean Sea could launch “colonial” expeditions across the Mediterranean. The rugged geography also afforded these city-states a terrain that favored defense and allowed them to defeat more powerful opponents.

Nonetheless, the ancient Greek period is the last time that Greece had some semblance of political independence. It therefore offers insights into how Greek geography has crafted Greek strategy.

From this ancient period, we note that control of the Aegean was of paramount importance, as it still is today. The Greeks — faced with nearly impassible terrain on the Peloponnesian Peninsula — were forced to become excellent mariners. Securing the Aegean was also crucial in repelling two major Persian invasions in antiquity, and each major land battle had its contemporary naval battle to sever Persian supply lines. Once the existential Persian threat was eliminated, Athens, the most powerful of the Greek city-states, launched an attempt to expand itself into an empire. This included establishing control of key Aegean islands. That imperial extension essentially ended with a long, drawn-out campaign to occupy and hold Sicily, which would have formed the basis of control of the entire eastern Mediterranean, and to wrestle Cyprus from Persian control.

While the Athenians may have understood the geopolitics of the Mediterranean well, they did not have advanced bureaucratic and communications technology that makes running a country much easier in the modern age or the population with which to prosecute their plans. Athenian expeditions to Cyprus and Egypt were repulsed while Sicily became Athens’ endgame, causing dissent in the coalition of city-states that eventually brought about the end of Athenian power. This example only serves to illustrate how difficult it was to maintain control of mainland Greece. Athens settled for a loose confederation of city-states, which was not a sufficient basis of control on which to establish an empire.

Bitter rivalries among the various Peloponnesian city-states created a power vacuum in the 4th century B.C. that was quickly filled by the Kingdom of Macedon. Despite its reputation as the most “backward” of the Greek regions — in terms of culture, system of government, philosophy and arts — Macedon had something that the city-states did not: the ample agricultural land of the Axios and Strimonas river valleys — ample, at least, compared to the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Whereas Athens and other city-states depended on seaborne trade to obtain grain from regions beyond the Turkish straits and the Black Sea, Macedon had domestic agriculture. It also had an absolute authoritarian system of government that allowed it to launch the first truly Greek-dominant foray into global power projection under Alexander the Great.

This effort, however, could not be sustained. Ultimately, the estuary of Axios did not provide the necessary agricultural base to counter the rise of Rome, which was able to draw not only on the Tiber and Arno river valleys but also, in time, the large Po river valley. Rome first extended itself into the Greek domain by capturing the island of Corfu — illustrating the island’s importance as a point of invasion from the west — which had already fallen out of Greek hands in the 3rd century B.C. With Corfu secured, Rome had nothing standing between it and the Greek mainland, and through military campaigns ultimately secured control over all of Greece by 86 B.C.

The fall of Greece to Rome essentially wiped Greece out of the annals of history as an independent entity for the next 2,000 years and destined mainland Greece and the Peloponnesian Peninsula to the backwater status it had under Byzantine and Ottoman rule (save for Thessaloniki, which remained a key port and trading city in the Ottoman Empire). While it may be tempting to include Byzantium in the discussion of Greek geopolitics, since its culture and language were essentially Greek, the Byzantine geography was much more approximate to that of the Ottoman Empire and later Turkey than that of Greece proper. The core of Byzantium was the Sea of Marmara, which Byzantium held onto against the encroaching Ottoman Turks until the mid-15th century.

In the story of the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans, the territory of modern Greece is essentially an afterthought. It was the Ottoman advance through the Maritsa River valley that destroyed Bulgarian and Serbian kingdoms in the 14th century, allowing the Ottomans to then concentrate on consolidating the remaining Byzantine territories and conquering Constantinople in the mid-15th century after a brief interregnum caused by Mongol invasions of Anatolia. Greece proper was not conquered as much as it was abruptly severed from the rest of the Balkans — and therefore Christian Europe — by the Ottoman power that thoroughly dominated all the land and sea surrounding it.

…To Vassal State
The ascent of the Ottoman Empire created a new political geography around Greece that made an independent and powerful Greece impossible. The Ottoman Empire was an impressive political entity that plugged up the Balkans by controlling the southern flanks of the Carpathians in present-day Romania and the central Balkan Mountains of present-day Serbia and Bulgaria. Greece, as part of the Ottoman Empire, was not vital for Ottoman defense or purse, although Greeks as people were valued as administrators and were assigned as such to various parts of the empire. Greece itself, however, had become an afterthought.

If we had to pinpoint the exact time and place where political geography in southeastern Europe changed, we could look at Sept. 11, 1683, at around 5 p.m. on the battlefields near Vienna. It was here that Polish King Jan Sobieski III led what was, at the time, the largest cavalry charge in history against the Ottoman forces besieging Vienna. The result was not just a symbolic defeat for Istanbul but also a failure to plug the Vienna gap that the Danube and Morava (the Slovak, not Serbian Morava) rivers create between the Alps and the Carpathians.

Holding the Vienna gap would have allowed the Ottomans to focus their military resources in defense of the empire at a geographical bottleneck — Vienna — freeing up resources to concentrate on developing the Balkan hinterland. The Pannonian plain, fertile and capital rich because of the Danube, would have added additional resources. The Ottoman Empire did not crumble immediately after its failure in Vienna, but its stranglehold on the Balkans slowly began to erode as two new powers — the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires — rose to challenge it.

Without the Vienna gap secured, the Ottoman Empire was left without natural boundaries to the northwest. From Vienna down to the confluence of the Danube and Sava, where present-day Belgrade is located, the Pannonian plain is borderless save for rivers. The mountainous Balkans provide some protection but are equally difficult for the Ottomans to control without the time and resources to concentrate on assimilating the region. The loss of Vienna, therefore, exposed portions of the Balkan Peninsula to Western (and, crucially, Russian) influence and interests as well as Western notions of nationalism, which began circulating throughout the Continent with great force following the French Revolution.

First to turn against the Ottomans was Serbia in the early 19th century. The Greek struggle followed closely afterward. While initial Greek gains against the Ottomans in the 1820s were impressive, the Ottomans unleashed their Egyptian forces on Greece in 1826. The Europeans were at first resistant to help Christian Greece because the precedent set by the nationalist rebellion was equally unwelcome in multiethnic Russia and Austro-Hungary or the imperial United Kingdom. Ultimately, the Europeans had a greater fear that one of the three would move in and profit from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and gain access to the eastern Mediterranean.

While Austro-Hungary and Russia had designs on the Balkans, more established European powers like the United Kingdom, France and (later in the 19th century) Germany wanted to limit any territorial gains by Vienna and St. Petersburg. This was vital for the United Kingdom, which did not want to allow the Russian Empire access to the Mediterranean.

Since the end of its war against the Ottomans in 1832, Greece has been geopolitically vital for the West. First it was vital for the British, as a bulwark against great-power encroachment on the crumbling Ottoman hold in the Balkans. The United Kingdom retained a presence — at various periods and in various capacities — in Corfu, Crete and Cyprus. To this day, the United Kingdom still has military installations in Cyprus that are considered sovereign territory under direct British rule.

Greece also became vital for the United States as part of the U.S. Soviet-containment strategy. To maintain influence in Greece, the United States intervened in the Greek Civil War (1946-1949), furnished the Greek merchant marine with ships after World War II, rushed Greece and Turkey into NATO in 1952 and continued to underwrite Greek defense outlays throughout the 20th century. Even a brief military junta in Greece, referred to as the “Rule of the Colonels” (1967-1974), did not affect Greek membership in NATO. Neither did Greece’s near-wars with fellow NATO member Turkey in 1964 (over Cyprus), in 1974 (over Cyprus again), in 1987 (over the Aegean Sea) and in 1996 (over an uninhabited island in the Aegean).

The United Kingdom and later the United States were willing to underwrite Greek defense expenditures and provide Greece with sufficient capital to be a viable independent state and enjoy a near-Western standard of living. In exchange, Greece offered the West a key location from which to plug Russian and later Soviet penetration into the Mediterranean basin.

Geopolitical Imperatives
Before we go into a discussion of the contemporary Greek predicament, we can summarize the story of Greek geography as told by history in a few strategic imperatives:

• Secure control of the Aegean to maintain defensive and communication lines with key mainland population centers.
• Establish control of Corfu, Crete and Rhodes to prevent invasions from the sea.
• Hold the Axios River valley and as far up the valley as possible for agricultural land and access to mainland Europe.
• Consolidate the hold on inland Greece by eliminating regional power centers and brigands, then collect taxes and concentrate capital in accordance with the needs of the state.
• Extend control to outer islands such as Cyprus and Sicily to dominate the eastern Mediterranean (this is an imperative that Greece has not accomplished since ancient times).

Greece Today
With the collapse of the Soviet threat at the end of the Cold War and the subsequent end of the Balkan wars with the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, the political geography of the region changed once again. This time the change was unfavorable for Athens. With the West largely uninterested in the affairs of the region, Greece lost its status as a strategic ally. And along with that status, Athens lost the political and economic support that allowed it to overcome its capital deficiencies.

This was evident to everyone but the Greeks. Countries rarely accept their geopolitical irrelevance lightly. Athens absolutely refused to. Instead it did everything it could to retain its membership in the first-world club, borrowing enormous sums of money to spend on the most sophisticated military equipment available and producing erroneous financial records to get into the eurozone. This is often lost amid the ongoing debt crisis, which is commonly described — mainly by the Western European press — as a result of Greek laziness, profligate spending habits and irresponsibility. But faced with a geography that engenders a capital- poor environment and an existential threat from Turkey that challenges its Aegean core, Greece had no alternative but to indebt itself after its Western patrons lost interest, and now even that option is in doubt. (Trying to keep up with its fellow EU states in terms of quality of life obviously played a role in Greece’s financial overextension, but this can also be placed in the context of keeping up with a modernizing Turkey next door).

Today, Greece cannot even dream of achieving its fifth geopolitical imperative, dominating the eastern Mediterranean. Even its fourth imperative, the consolidation of inland Greece, is in question, as illustrated by Greece’s inability to collect taxes. Nearly 25 percent of the Greek economy is in the so-called “shadow” sector, by far the highest rate among the world’s developed countries.

Succeeding in maintaining control of the Aegean, Greece’s most important imperative, in the face of regional opposition is simply impossible without an outside patron. Going forward, the question for Greece is whether it will be able to accept its much-reduced geopolitical role. This, too, is out of its hands, depending as it does on the strategies that Turkey adopts. Turkey is a rising geopolitical power intent on spreading its influence in the Balkans, the Middle East and the Caucasus. The question is now whether Turkey will focus its intentions on the Aegean, or instead will be willing to make a deal with Greece in order to concentrate on other interests.

Ultimately, Greece needs to find a way to become useful again to one or more great powers — unlikely, unless a great-power conflict returns to the Balkans — or to sue for lasting peace with Turkey and begin learning how to live within its geopolitical means. Either way, the next three years will be defining ones in Greek history. The joint 110 billion-euro bailout package from the International Monetary Fund and European Union comes with severe austerity strings attached, which are likely to destabilize the country to a significant degree. Grafted onto Greece’s regionalized social geography, vicious left-right split and history of political and social violence, the IMF-EU measures will further weaken the central government and undermine its control. An eventual default is almost assured by the level of government debt, which will soon be above 150 percent of GDP.

It is only a question of when, not if, the Europeans pull the plug on Athens — which most likely will be at the first opportunity, when Greece does not present a systemic risk to the rest of Europe. At that point, without access to international capital or more bailout money, Greece could face a total collapse of political control and social violence not seen since the military junta of the 1970s. Greece, therefore, finds itself in very unfamiliar situation. For the first time since the 1820s, it is truly alone.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Turkey and Israel in secret talks

As I've been saying, it really makes no sense for Israel and Turkey to break off relations with each other and turn their attentions to partnerships, in the case of Israel, with Greece and Cyprus, and, in the case of Turkey, with Iran and Syria – and for what, the sake of Hamas and the Palestinians?

Much more likely is that the Turks and Israel will put aside the very small details that divide them and resume their alliance. And the report below from the BBC indicates that things are already moving in this direction.

Turkey and Israel hold first talks since flotilla raid
Israel and Turkey have held their first high-level meeting since the row over the killing of Turkish activists on an aid ship bound for Gaza, officials say.

Israeli Trade Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer held secret talks with Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, reportedly in Brussels on Wednesday.

Turkish officials have said nothing substantial was agreed at the meeting.

Turkey curtailed diplomatic relations with Israel in May, after the naval raid in which nine Turks were killed.

The country, which had been Israel's most important Muslim ally, has demanded an apology and compensation for the victims' families.

Israel has refused, saying its commandos acted in self-defence after being attacked by a group of passengers on the ship, which was part of a flotilla trying to break its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the ship's cargo has begun to arrive in Gaza via land, starting with second-hand mobility scooters for the handicapped. The aid was impounded by the Israeli authorities after the raid.

Lieberman 'insulted'
News of the secret meeting between representatives of the former allies was broken on Wednesday evening by Israeli Channel 2 TV.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office subsequently confirmed the reports, saying: "Minister Ben-Eliezer informed the prime minister of an offer by a Turkish figure to hold an unofficial meeting."

"The prime minister saw nothing to prevent such a meeting, as in recent weeks there have been various initiatives for contacts with Turkey."

A senior Israeli source told the Haaretz newspaper that the White House had pushed for a meeting and co-ordinated its details with both parties.

Mr Ben-Eliezer is the most pro-Turkish member of the Israeli cabinet and, unlike his colleagues, he openly supported a call by the UN for an international inquiry into last month's raid. Israel has agreed only to an internal investigation involving two foreign observers.

Turkish officials said nothing substantial was agreed during the meeting and that their demand for an apology from Israel, compensation for the victims of the raid and an international inquiry were not met.

But they said Turkey's goal was still to rebuild relations with Israel.

There were conflicting reports about who requested Wednesday's meeting. An Israeli spokesman told the BBC that Turkey had initiated contact, while Turkish officials told the AFP news agency Israel had.

Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was not aware the secret talks had taken place until it was reported by the media and later accused Mr Netanyahu of undermining his authority.

There were large-scale Turkish protests against Israel's naval raid.

"The foreign minister takes a very serious view of the fact that this occurred without informing the ministry of foreign affairs," he said in a statement.

"This is an insult to the norms of accepted behaviour and a heavy blow to the confidence between the foreign minister and the prime minister."

Mr Netanyahu's office blamed "technical reasons" for the failure.

Correspondents say Mr Lieberman's hardline approach to Palestinians and Israel-Arabs has made him unpopular abroad. In the past, other ministers have been sent in his place to diplomatic meetings.

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul said that after a month of angry exchanges between the Israeli and Turkish governments, Wednesday's meeting would be seen as an important step back from a complete break in relations.