To a high degree Greece is Turkey’s concern. The quagmire the country is in, believe it or not, worries people. When the stories about poverty, misery, panic, unemployment and suicide reach here, they awaken memories in Turks. The 2001 economic crisis that threw Turkey into chaos is reflected in everything Turks see on TV screens and read in newspapers.
But they also remember the genuine compassion the Greeks showed Turkey when İstanbul and the İzmit bay area were hit by a huge earthquake in 1999. The empathy is mutual. Those who mutter nowadays, “The crisis is theirs, they brought it on themselves, they deserve it,” are clearly part of a small minority.
Crises of this magnitude, like the one in Greece, present huge risks and temptations, as well as great opportunities. It is obvious Greece’s younger generations will have to live for a decade or more with this new mindset, with struggle and hardship, but the possibilities for real peace with Turkey are stronger than ever.
What about traps along the way? According to my colleague Alexis Papachelas, editor of the respected daily Kathimerini, there have been some worrisome episodes in Greece’s past during which domestic crises spilled over into the international arena, many involving its eastern neighbor and NATO ally Turkey.
According to Papachelas, “The Imia crisis in 1996, over which Greece almost went to war with Turkey, for example, occurred when Costas Simitis was just taking over as prime minister [of Greece], at a time when he was not in full control of his party or of his government, and following a long period of what was basically non-governance.” In an article titled “The Self-Destructive Streak” published on May 27, 2012, Papachelas writes: “The persecution of İstanbul’s Greek minority occurred shortly before Constantine Karamanlis was appointed prime minister and the occupation of northern Cyprus coincided with the collapse of the junta in Athens.”
The nuances of this incident include its contribution to the ethno-fascist movement in Cyprus under the leadership of Nicos Samson, and the subsequent coup in 1974, which led to both the Turkish invasion and the collapse of the Greek dictatorship. Nevertheless, Papachelas is right to point out that the easiest path for a populist politician experiencing a national crisis is to create a common enemy and raise the distraction of the threat of military action.
As Greece faces severe austerity measures, the least addressed issue is the defense budget. It is true that for the past three decades Greece and Turkey have engaged in a mindless escalation in armaments, refusing to adapt to the new world emerging after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Greece’s EU accession and Turkey’s membership bid.
That Greece is a military threat to Turkey, or that Turkey is waiting for the right moment to strike and invade Greece, is pure fiction. The leadership of both nations, the deep state or networks of power closer to the surface have contributed to this invention. The unresolved conflict has been applauded by the global arms lobby and exacerbated by nationalist media in both countries. State-sponsored propaganda has overwhelmed the true story and buried objective data in newspapers and on TV screens. It is time for this fiction to come to an end.
If recent reports are accurate, Greek armed forces are now preparing for a large-scale military exercise off Crete in the coming days. It is inconceivable that Greece would be outlaying money rather than making necessary cuts. It is luxury amid misery, to say the least.
The level of alarm in the Aegean, which has no logical explanation, must be lowered, or people will be vulnerable to provocation in order to cause another conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey does not pose a threat to Greece. It takes a great deal of knowledge to understand that a country so profoundly concerned by the ongoing negative developments of its eastern and southern neighbors -- three countries -- should harbor military ambitions. The Greek crisis happened to occur at a time when Turkey’s mighty military, which has for so long had the ear of the Turkish government with its characterization of Greece as “enemy number one,” is on the irrevocable retreat to its barracks.
Waves of arrests and trials in Turkey responding to allegations of warmongering against Greece and provocation of its peace-loving people by Turkish generals over the past decades make this a good time to talk. It is a good time to stop mindless military expenditure and military presence that scares away tourists, to have practical discussions about confidence-building to achieve an Aegean without a military presence, to sign a pact of non-aggression, to develop common means to combat human smuggling and to seek creative ways to build business relationships.
As Obama says, “Yes, we can!” This is a time when an economically stable and globalizing, internationally connected Turkey, Greece’s NATO ally, can be of help. All it takes is wisdom, new thinking, pragmatism (not nationalism) and resolute leadership. Turkish media is much less nationalistic now than in the past and Greece’s media should be the same. It is a time when the media on both sides must also show their support for rapprochement.