Tensions between Greece and Turkey are escalating.
After centuries of hostilities, it is not surprising that current relations between Greece and Turkey, even at the best of times, are rather frosty. Yet recently the situation between the two countries is becoming even more contentious than usual.
Over the last few weeks Turkish officials have made a variety of provocative statements towards Greece (and other neighboring nations). President Erdoğan has repeatedly called into question the Treaty of Lausanne,1 while Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu declared that the Greek island of Imia is in fact “Turkish land.”2 Journalist Ali Karahasanoğlu has advocated that Turkey send a couple thousand migrants by boat and bus to Greece so as to convince the latter to extradite some Turkey soldiers implicated in the July 15 attempted coup.3
Even Tanzu Ozkhan, a member of supposedly liberal CHP, the main opposition party in Turkey, remarked that he “will go [to] the [Greek] islands and raise the Turkish flag. Then I will fold the Greek flag and send it to the Greek government via courier service.”4 Well, I guess his statements are not so bad, at least he is considerate enough to return Greece’s flag.
In addition to Turkish politicians and journalists making such statements, the Turkish air force has partaken in provocative actions towards Greece. On December 5 a number of Turkish fighter jets violated Greek airspace and even harassed two military helicopters transporting officials including Defence Minister Panos Kammenos.5
This last incident may have broken Kammenos’ last thread of patience with Turkey, as on December 8 he made some rather frank and strong comments relating to Turkey. He described Erdoğan as a “ruthless dictator who is at the moment threatening our home.”6 He then defiantly made it clear that if Turkey “threaten[s] our country, they will meet with our response and they will know that we shall not make concessions in the name of diplomacy to issues of national sovereignty.”
While Greek officials have repeated protested Turkey’s behavior, Kammenos’ remarks are probably the sternest and most bellicose I have heard from anyone in the current Greek government. Of course Turkey is not impressed with such tone, with the Turkish Defence Ministry responding “We strongly condemn Greece defense minister for his new statements on a radio channel, which lack manners, cognition and responsibility, and we are returning his expressions back to him.”7 They also complained that Kammenos “had the insensitivity to actually honor a group like the EOKA [National Organization of Cypriot Fighters], which had carried out terror attacks in Cyprus, is damaging the ongoing efforts to improve Greek-Turkish relations.”8
There has also been other previous Turkish criticisms of the Greek Defence Minister. Following Erdoğan’s remarks that the Treaty of Lausanne was not “a holy text,” Kammenos responded “If Erdoğan wants to annul the Lausanne Treaty then we can return to the Treaty of Sevres.” For those unaware the Treaty of Sevres, signed in 1920, ceded to Greece a significant portion of Turkey’s Eastern Thrace region and the province of Izmir. The Turks, already irked by the Ottoman possessions ceded by the Treaty of Lausanne, responded via the Foreign Ministry that Kammenos should act in a manner “befitting the dignity of his position.”9
I find it rather risible that the Turks deride Kammenos for “damaging the ongoing efforts to improve Greek-Turkish relations” and for acting in an undignified manner, when they themselves are guilty of habitually doing what they accuse Kammenos of. Is it good for Greek-Turkish relations when Turkish officials declare how terrible it is that most of the Aegean islands are Greek territory or that Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, is actually apart of Turkey’s National Contract?10 Or how about the repeated violations of Greek airspace by Turkish warplanes?11 But if a person is bothered by such behaviors and then voices criticisms of them, then that person is an obstacle to improving relations.
But there is something more pressing than exposing Turkey’s hypocrisy and that is the possibility that sooner or later, Turkey’s provocations towards Greece, and what appears to be Greece’s increasing aggravation caused by these provocations, as evinced by Kammenos’ recent comments, could very well lead to a military confrontation in the Aegean between the two nations.
In the short term, it seem that the chances of such a conflict is unlikely, simply because Turkey is currently preoccupied with ongoings in the Middle East, such as the Syrian Civil War and their Euphrates Shield intervention, and the Battle of Mosul. Yet as these conflicts eventually resolve themselves, and as Erdoğan furthers is dictatorial grip on power in Turkey and becomes more emboldened in realizing his neo-Ottoman fantasy, Turkey will then be able to to focus its gaze westward towards Greece.
And while Turkey may not want to immediately act military against Greece, if Turkish provocations continue, such as their frequent violations of Greek airspace, one day Greece’s patience may be worn out and instead of responding to Turkish jets with mock dogfights they may instead engage in real dogfights. If such an incident ever does occur then the most likely outcome is a war between Greece and Turkey.