One step forward, two steps back in Turkish-Greek relations


The sudden tensions in Turkish-Greek relations, reciprocal negative remarks and media’s exaggerated news has created an atmosphere of panic in the Greek public.

Hardly a day passes without Turkey making headlines in Greek media. News headlines such as “Turkey’s new provocation,” “New provocative statements from Turkey” and “Turkish jets violate Greek airspace again” result in feelings about the dangers of war in the eyes of the public.

However, Turkish-Greek relations have been on the right track since 2002, when then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had become the first Turkish prime minister largely accepted and popular in the eyes of Greeks. Alexis Tsipras, who became the prime minister of Greece in 2015, also became very popular in Turkey.

The breakdown in Turkish-Greek relations and the reciprocal showdown actually began after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

The escape of eight putschist soldiers from Turkey on the morning of July 16 to seek political asylum in Greece dealt a blow to Turkish-Greek ties that were on the way to normalization.

Despite the promises made by Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nicos Kotzias that the putschists are not welcome in Greece and they will be extradited to Turkey in 15 to 20 days, the Greek judiciary rejected Ankara’s demands, claiming that the judiciary is not impartial in Turkey, making Tsipras look weak in President Erdoğan’s eyes.

The tensions in ties were fueled by the coalition partner’s Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who is known for his nationalist tendencies.

In addition, the dispute over the Treaty of Laussane, which Erdoğan brought up during his visit to Athens in December, acted as icing on the cake, while the detention of two Greek soldiers, who mistakenly crossed the border into Turkey in early March was the latest sticking point in the straining of ties.

Tsipras’s radical left Syriza party, which opposes Kammenos’s nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party over national issues, had come together to form the coalition in 2015, as they both agreed on an anti-EU and anti-International Monetary Fund (IMF) position concerning the economic crisis.

Disagreements between Tsipras, who is in favor of lowering the tone against Turkey, and Kammenos, who supports anti-Turkey rhetoric, including threats against Turkey, have also recently surfaced.

The staunch opposition and rhetoric by Kammenos, which has received a harsh response from Turkish officials, complicated Tsipras’s government’s ties with Ankara.

The reason behind such a strong national tendency against Turkey from Kammenos is related to the decline in support for ANEL.

Most of the recent polls show that support for ANEL is below the 3 percent election threshold in Greece, pushing Kammenos to mobilize Greek nationalism as a strategy for the 2019 elections. In addition, this strategy is mobilized to receive votes from the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn.

Many analysts suggest that Kammenos put party interests ahead of national interests. Syriza supporters, on the other hand, are not happy with Tsipras’s silence on ANEL and Kammenos.

Turkey and Greece need to focus on a positive agenda in their bilateral relations, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım told Tsipras in a phone call on Thursday.

According to Prime Ministry sources, Yıldırım said communication channels need to remain open and both sides should treat their problems in a constructive way through conversation.

“The two prime ministers agreed to keep open channels of communication in the coming period and to strengthen dialogue between the two countries in the future,” a statement from Tsipras’s office said.

Yıldırım also offered his condolences over the death of the pilot who was killed in a Greek fighter jet crash earlier Thursday.

The Greek air force said pilot Georgios Baltadoros, 34, was fatally injured when his Mirage 2000-5 crashed into the Aegean Sea while preparing to land “after concluding an operational mission.”

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