Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

Stormy weather in Greek-Turkish relations: Athens focuses on Ankara's revisionism

“Provocative” and “offensive” moves by Ankara cause concern in Athens

Whilst the tension in Greek-Turkish relations continues, Athens responds in high tones to the messages coming from Ankara. In Athens, there is strong concern about the future of the Greek-Turkish relationship.

During the past few days, the Greek side responded aggressively to the two new moves made by Ankara. The Greek Prime Minister asked the Turkish President to clarify his position about Turkey's claims in the Aegean. The new development was prompted first by a photograph showing a map presented to the junior partner in the Turkish ruling coalition and second by the new Turkish tourism campaign, which bears the distinctive name “TurkAegean.”

Greek analysts are following the latest developments on the Greece-Turkey axis with particular concern. From their point of view, the latest developments show that Turkey is attempting to utilise its diplomatic and geo-strategic advantages to impose its positions on Greek-Turkish relations. According to the Greek analysts, Athens must put forward a new strategy against Ankara’s aggressive stance.

Mitsotakis’ frustration

“Take a good look at this map. Crete, Rhodes, Lesvos, Chios, Samos all consumed by Turkey. Α fever dream of extremists or Turkey’s official policy? Another provocation or the true goal? President Erdogan must make his position clear regarding his junior coalition partner’s latest antics”. This was the reaction of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to a map presented to the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (ΜΗΡ), Devlet Bahceli. On the map, several Greek islands are depicted within Turkish territory, in red color.

For Mitsotakis, Ankara's new “provocation,” especially at a time of great tension in Greek-Turkish relations, is an unacceptable development. For this reason, the Greek Prime Minister called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan via twitter, to clarify whether he shares the stance of his junior coalition partner.

In the same wavelength, the Greek government spokesperson Yiannis Oikonomou noted “the great disparity between Turkish policy in relation to international law and the conventions Ankara has signed.” With its extreme provocativeness, Turkey, he said, is not a factor of stability and it insists on provoking, with untrue and unfounded allegations, whilst “revisionism is condemned by all the world powers, both in the EU and in the international community, EU and NATO.”

The opposition parties also reacted to the map presented to the MHP leader. According to the Greek press, Bahçeli was denounced by the Greek opposition, with SYRIZA’s shadow foreign affairs minister, Giorgos Katrougalos, decrying an “extreme, illegal and unacceptable provocation.” Also, PASOK President, Nikos Androulakis, said it “demands immediate international condemnation,” while the nationalist Hellenic Solution party called it a direct threat of war.

Bitterness for the “TurkAegean” campaign

During the past few days, Athens has also reacted to one more negative development in Greek-Turkish relations. The Greek side perceived Turkey's new tourism campaign, which bears the characteristic name “TurkAegean,” as “offensive” Athens, on the one hand, accuses Ankara of aggressive rhetoric in the Aegean and on the other hand expressed discomfort with the EU's decision to allow the specific term for the needs of the Turkish tourism industry.

According to the Greek media, PM Mitsotakis complained about the decision of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) to approve Turkey’s request to use the term ‘Turkaegean’ for commercial purposes, with effect until July 2031. Briefing journalists for the new development, Mitsotakis said that “the government will exhaust our legal avenues to deal with this development.”

“There are responsibilities because there wasn’t a prompt reaction. Some people within the administration, simply, did not do their job well,” he said, while expressing confidence that “we have a legal arsenal at our disposal to correct what has happened,” Mitsotakis added.

The whole affair had a big impact on the Greek press. The Greek media covering the developments, were quick to send the message that “Ankara is swift to use any opportunity to promote its claims in the Aegean.” The opposition press accused the government under the pretext that the weaknesses and gaps in the national strategy for Greek-Turkish relations are facilitating Ankara's manoeuvres.

Whilst the above developments made Greek headlines, the armed forces of the two neighbouring countries were engaging in virtual battles in the sea and airspace of the Aegean. The said virtual battles which are daily broadcasted by the Greek press fuel the agitation of the Greek and Turkish societies.

The pessimism of the Greek columnists

Greek columnists and analysts complain about the course of developments in Greek-Turkish relations. From their point of view, Turkey uses its diplomatic and geostrategic advantages to impose its positions in the Aegean. Faced with Ankara's aggressive strategy, Athens needs a new approach to Greek-Turkish relations.

“In order to better understand the importance of Turkey as a regional power treated with awe by its allies within NATO as a bordering power with Russia and the Asian continent, it is necessary to identify Turkey as a major paragon on the African continent as well,” stresses Marinos Yiannis, who writes for one of the most historic Greek newspapers, Vima.

According to the columnist, by challenging China's long-established economic presence and influence in Africa, Turkey benefits from its ties with several Muslim nations in the continent and strengthens its position on the international diplomatic chessboard.

“Turkey started this effort by exploiting Islam in conservative Muslim Somalia. Ankara gradually dominated this country. In the same period, Turkey's trade with African countries reached $29 billion in 2021 and concluded into military agreements with many African countries (most recently with Nigeria, Senegal and Togo),” adds Yiannis.

For the columnist, Ankara’s role in Africa helps us understand the great importance which the superpowers of the West and the East attach to Turkey and explains the high level of difficulty of small Greece in the face of Turkish provocations and claims in the Aegean.

Criticism of Mitsotakis

Yannis Magriotis who writes for another historical Greek newspaper, Ethnos, asks the Greek government to attach particular importance to the criticality of the new developments in Greek-Turkish relations.

“The invasion of Cyprus in 1974, after the Zurich-London Treaties, was the first application of Turkey's revisionist strategy. The second was in Imia (Kardak) and the third was with the Turkish-Cypriot Memorandum which violates international law. Greece, after the Turcolibian Memorandum in November 2019, is drifting behind Turkey's choices” underlines Magriotis. Continuing, the columnist adds that: “The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) agreements with Italy and Egypt, the defence agreements, the extraordinary costly major armaments, the identification with French and then American policy, especially after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are the (Greek) government's tactical and strategic choices, that have many contradictions, many grey areas, diplomatic losses, such as the tension in relations with Russia and are without visible national benefits. The government's strategy which ignores the new geopolitical and geo-economic realities is a dead end. It pushes the problems away and is buying political time at home.”

Magriotis is urging the Greek government to consider “a national understanding, an in-depth analysis of geopolitical developments, the strengthening of the military deterrent power without being dragged into continuous and expensive armaments race and the forcing Turkey to de-escalation.”

 *Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece on the news website 'Duvar".

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