East Med: the crisis that is not

With today’s and foreseeable prices, let alone potential deep sea drilling, even if you hit a gas reserve right down in your water-closet, you won’t be able to market it for the simple reason that there is no buyer. So, what’s the hustle is all about?

A couple of days ago I received from a much cherished friend of mine a, what I gather to be a semi-serious, invitation via WhatsApp to co-write an article on the current and umpteenth East Med crisis that we have at hand. I wrote back a pretentious and even more apathic “BIG YAWN” in capital letters by way of reply. There is a fair chance that the fact that I was on Turkey’s beautiful North Aegean coast right across Greece’s equally beautiful Lesvos Island at that particular moment was a determinant factor in my decision making process. Olive trees, blue seas, fresh sardines, stone houses, you would know the deal. 

With today’s and foreseeable prices, let alone potential deep sea drilling, even if you hit a gas reserve right down in your water-closet, you won’t be able to market it for the simple reason that there is no buyer. So, what’s the hustle is all about? Let’s give it a try. In Turkey, since a long while by now, foreign policy is domestic policy, that is for starters. On the other, if there is some sort of a remaining modicum of diplomatic wisdom in Ankara all this bravado is about bringing back Greece to table for continued political negotiations. I lost the count of the exploratory bilateral talks and nıt sure if there remains any stone not turned.

Greece, on its side, is more than happy to bring the EU in to the larger Mediterranean and is as deep in sin as Turkey when it comes to nationalistic chauvinism and maximalist demands. Nothing new there.  Furthermore, you can take a long peripatetic long walk and back, and the map of the Aegean will still be the same. For Ankara though, political negotiations may as well remain a goal in itself. Meaning, paradoxically, the ruling AKP which claims to push back against in-built red tape tendencies of the foreign ministry mandarins of yore, negotiates in general just to do that: to negotiate some more.      

The metaphorical “kick & run” game can be translated vaguely to Turkish as “doldur – boşalt” which literally means “fill it up and empty it again” -that is an aimless running around for the sake of being seen as active and pro-active. A white haired retired ambassador had once remarked that “zeal should not be confounded as action” in diplomacy. Whereas, for our present day foreign policy Kissingers comfortably holed up at the palace in Ankara, all the phone calls that are being made to Bulgarian or Lithuanian counterparts or I don’t which is which, without any whatsoever offence to these countries, as long as they make it into news cycles are all chalked-up as wins.  

What they think diplomacy is, is self-assuring for them and provides a platform that they think that they are really being taken seriously and considered as a serious player in the international arena. By the same token PR for sure is of essence. If you commit an unforced error such as reverting Hagia Sophia back to its mosque status then you have to rush forward to invite all the Greek Orthodox people in the world to celebrate their mid-August St. Mary mass in recently restored Sumela Monastery in Trabzon or to attempt to draw reporters’ attention to the fact that the most ancient synagogue in İzmir, Etz Haim, will now be restored too.  

France-Turkey angle is a tad more exciting, interesting and intriguing. The way an owl’s scream is at the dead of the night. Meaning, you prick one ear for a split second and then you go back to sleep or to mull about more important stuff like whether Nero d’Avola grape variety of Sicily is a distant cousin to all the “kara” (“nero” in Turkish) grapes of Turkey: Adakarasi, Çalkarasi, Horozkarasi, Kalecikkarasi, Papazkarasi, Karasakiz -also known as Kuntra or Karalahna*. Then you extrapolate to how late Roger Scrutton or Mathias Enard conceptions of East-West pseudo-dichotomy differs from the fast-food tabloid coverage of the current antics. 

“Null and void” remarked the minister of truth, Mr. Altun about the UAE-Israel deal. The president declared that the closing down Turkish Embassy in Abu Dhabi is being seriously considered. İn the meantime, Avi Scharf** shared mysterious Israeli private jet landings to Oman, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, Bahrein and Qatar –all of which have no diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv. Leaving all the others aside, Ankara can be in for a greatest surprise especially if the last one transpires to be a concrete step forward for the normalization of the relations. As for the bilateral trade between Israel and Turkey, its volume increases anyway come rain or come shine.

We listen to the same tune when the issue is France -allegedly: It supports the creation of a “terrorist statelet” right at the door step of Turkey. It is on the wrong side of history with its support to “coupist warlord” Hafter in Libya. It is being provocative by sending a frigate and a few Rafales to Cyprus. I mentioned the map remaining the same here-above. NATO membership too remains the same and all the three countries involved –Turkey, France and Greece- are all members of that international military organisation. Will they go to war against each other? No. Are the leaders of these three countries happy to come across tough and warlike? Yes. They will talk the talk, that’s it.  

The owl screams again in the darkness, stubbornly this time. It is time to go to bed. St. Mary feast was and still is a celebration of grapes too, both for Greeks as well as for Armenians. Wine was invented somewhere in or around these lands. Dionysus was worshipped here long before Virgin Mary. Italian artist Fabrizio Dori has a wonderful graphic novel aptly named “Il Dio Vagabondo” in which he beautifully describes how the cult of Dionysus remains alive and indestructible hidden in between different layers of culture across the ages. It may be time to invent a dionysian foreign policy of sorts. 

*Let me give it a try, because I enjoy it: (in respective order) Nero d’Isola, Nero di Çal, Nero di Gallo, Nero di Kalecik, Nero di Prete, Gommanegra (Kuntra in Greek a.k.a. Lahnanegra)  

**Editor, Haaretz English Edition

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