The “hot summer” between Greece and Turkey is over at last. Or not quite...
As I write this article on September 21, on International Peace Day, the only peace between Turkey and Greece has turned out to be a cold one.
To be fair, Ankara made the first big gesture and pulled the seismic research vessel Oruç Reis back to the Mediterranean port of Antalya on September 12. That was the expiration date of the NAVTEX that designated the Oruç Reis as a hydrocarbon research vessel, so failing to extend that NAVTEX was a significant symbolic gesture. The second gesture from Ankara came on September 15: a NAVTEX was issued that seemed to be argumentative, but was in fact a reconciliatory “olive branch.” The NAVTEX from Turkey argued that Greece had militarized Chios Island in violation of the Lausanne Peace Treaty signed in Switzerland in 1923.
President Recep Erdoğan started rattling Greece back in September 2016, when he remarked that the Lausanne Treaty was deceivingly branded as a victory when it was actually a failure. This was taken by Athens to be an opening of the Lausanne Treaty to discussion, meaning that Turkey could try to assert its hegemony over the Aegean islands. Nine months later, on July 24, 2017, the anniversary of the Lausanne Treaty, Erdoğan changed his tune and referred to the treaty as the “founding document of the Turkish Republic.”
But barely five months later, in December 2017, during President Erdoğan’s visit to Athens, the Lausanne Treaty became a source of controversy again. A day prior to meeting his Greek counterpart Prokopis Pavlopoulos, Erdoğan appeared on a Greek TV channel for an interview and made the following statement:
"First and foremost, the Lausanne Treaty does not only encompass Greece but the entire region. And because of that alone – I think that over time all treaties need revision – the Lausanne Treaty, in the face of the recent developments, needs a revision, too."
Pavlopoulos retorted back the following day during the meeting with Erdoğan: “The Treaty of Lausanne defines the territory and the sovereignty of Greece and of the European Union, and this treaty is non-negotiable.”
Ankara has continued to toss around and toy with the Lausanne Treaty in a series of symbolic gestures since then, but the most significant instrumentalization came on this year’s anniversary, the day of which the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque and opened to prayer.
Now, issuing a NAVTEX that takes Lausanne as its basis is in fact a positive gesture on behalf of Ankara.
That is how “positive” things can get between Turkey and Greece for the time being: as previously mentioned, we can only talk about a cold peace for right now.
Ankara is moody as usual: Germany is doing all it can behind the scenes, and is working on saving the day for Turkey by shoveling off the possibility of the sanctions from the European Union. Various German diplomatic circles are openly signaling that “now” is not the time for sanctioning Turkey. During the German EU Council Presidency, sanctions are unlikely — Berlin wants to pass the buck.
Greece’s oldest newspaper, the conservative ESTIA, reported that Berlin was seeking to demilitarize the Greek islands and remove the Greek Navy from most of the Aegean. Meanwhile, Turkey is to pull its naval presence out from Izmir/Smyrni.
ESTIA wrote: “Berlin is pressuring Athens and Ankara at the same time to withdraw troops, with the Army and the National Guard leaving our islands and islets, and another for Smyrni. This is something that is the goal of Erdogan, whose appetite calls for the demilitarisation of Erimos, Agathonisi, Farmakonisi and Chios!”
Meanwhile, a huge Holy Cross has been erected in the area surrounding the Holy Monastery of Agia Skepi-Agia Paraskevi of Nea Vyssa, close to Greek-Turkish border. The gigantic cross shines with electric lights at night and Turkey’s border town of Edirne/Adrianople gets the “shimmering” view.
The mood in Greece seems to be defiant, reaching even the level of a full-blown declaration that “this is Sparta!”
Alexandros Mallias (Greece’s former ambassador to the United States and Special Advisor at the prestigious Greek think tank ELIA-MEP) described the prevailing sentiment in the country:
“It is not necessary to reiterate that Thermopylae and Salamis saved Greece and the Western civilization. They countered despotism, thus saving democracy and the anthropocentric political and social systems. History is not just what happened, but also what happened because of it. Since then, Thermopylae has remained the ecumenical symbol of valor, heroism and sacrifice. ‘No surrender.’ And Salamis is the paradigm for political and military leadership, strategy, as well as psychological warfare.”
Greece is feeling very much as though it is “the West’s Easternmost frontier,” just as Mallias’ article conveyed. It is a sentiment that is turning into a “European philosophy.”
The summer of 2020 may have passed with no war and Turkey-Greece relations may at least be “warless,” with “exploratory talks“ on the way, but they are now in a “cold war” period. Greece and Turkey have lost the peace between them somewhere deep in the Aegean — for the time being.