Türkiye, Greece forge new geopolitical axis
    Amid historical rapprochement

    ANALYTICS  20 May 2024 - 16:04

    Serhey Bohdan

    Armenian nationalists are about to lose their longtime Greek ally. On May 13, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis travelled to Türkiye for a visit. But the significance of this event is not limited to the weakening of Armenian revanchists - these are just trifles.

    Another thing is much more important. The successful continuation of the rapprochement between Türkiye and Greece will stabilize the route of land and pipeline transit from different regions of Asia to Europe - the only one after the outbreak of war in Eastern Europe. In a way, this route may become one of the geopolitical axes of modern history. This strengthens the position not only of Ankara but also of Baku, which controls the most important parts of this route.

    War within NATO

    The Greek prime minister visited Ankara in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's December visit to Athens. At that time, a Declaration on Friendly Relations and Good Neighborliness and another dozen and a half documents were signed. This time it was about the road map of bilateral cooperation and its priorities. The presence in the Greek delegation of not only expected persons like the Foreign Minister, but also high-ranking law enforcement officials indicated the seriousness of intentions to establish relations. The high-level talks were complemented by a dialogue between diplomats and special services.

    For many years before that, Türkiye and Greece had fiercely opposed each other in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean, sometimes coming to the brink of military confrontation. To this day, most of the Greek army's combat units are deployed against Türkiye, just off its shores. In 1996, NATO - already falling apart from lack of use and idleness at the time - looked on in horror as the two countries were about to clash at arms. And the problem was not only the islands, but also the Greek support for organizations like the PKK that fought against Türkiye. As we remember, Ocalan, who was expelled from Syria, sought refuge in the Greek consulates.

    As a result, the confrontation with Greece inevitably consumed much of the Turkish state's resources, attention and energy, which could have been directed elsewhere. It is not surprising that the Turkish leadership has persistently worked to improve relations with Greece despite any excesses. And no matter how much Erdogan is accused of "great-power ambitions," it was he who in 2017 became the first Turkish leader in 65 years to visit Greece. The visit failed as a dispute erupted over a number of issues, including the predatory 1923 peace treaty imposed on Türkiye by Western powers. It gave the Greeks virtually all the islands off Türkiye's coast, creating an absurd and dangerous situation for Ankara.

    However, the work on building relations continued, and immediately after the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis was received in Istanbul. The talks were constructive - against the backdrop of the war raging in the neighborhood, through which the opposing superpowers threaten to drag the whole world into chaos, Türkiye and Greece resisted these tendencies and agreed to cooperate.

    Alas, shortly thereafter, the Greek leader visited the United States and tried to engage the global hegemon in pressuring Türkiye. Erdogan pointed out the destructiveness of such an approach,  remarking "we agreed not to include third countries in our disputes. Like Azerbaijan in the Caucasus, Türkiye seeks to "regionalize" issues in its relations with its neighbours, i.e. to resolve them in a neighbourly manner, without involving external powers, especially superpowers. And while Baku is working to restore the historical unity of the South Caucasus through normalization with Armenia and reunification of torn communications, Ankara is "stitching together" the Balkan region and the Eastern Mediterranean torn as a result of imperialist intervention of world powers.

    The current rapprochement between Ankara and Athens is beneficial to everyone except some external forces, especially the superpowers. As for Azerbaijan, it will gain an even stronger ally in the face of Türkiye and reconciled Greece, whose government will certainly be less inclined to get involved in adventures like supporting Armenian revanchism. Greek nationalists have regularly engaged in such projects to pressure Türkiye. And if Athens moves away from this practice of supporting Armenian revanchism, it will be a serious blow to the latter - it will lose a much more stable ally within the structures of the Western world, even if not as large as France.

    Türkiye will pave the road to Europe through Greece

    However, for these geopolitical transformations to become a reality, Ankara and Athens still have many issues to resolve. First of all, it concerns disputes over maritime boundaries and the right to extract energy resources in the Mediterranean Sea. Athens has unilaterally expanded the zone of its territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles offshore along its coast. Given that they did this around the perimeter of more than 2,000 islands in the Aegean Sea-locking the passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea-the scale of this elegant creeping territorial expansion becomes clear, creating problems for free navigation on the approaches to the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits. This geopolitical upheaval was carried out by Athens without the slightest embarrassment - deploying armaments even on some of the treaty-demilitarized islands.

    Ankara did not agree with such steps of its neighbours, and the same Turkish aviation continued to fly as before, ignoring the unilateral steps by Athens. The Greeks raised their air force to intercept Turkish planes, and so on year after year. Following strategic considerations, Ankara, in a show of goodwill, has stopped such flights in recent months. The Turkish government has also regularly reiterated that it is ready to settle disputes with the Greeks through negotiations. So far, Athens has flatly refused to talk to Ankara about anything other than the boundaries of the exclusive economic zones - although it has threatened to submit the issue to arbitration if no agreement can be reached.

    As seen in recent events, due to the complexity of some of the disputed issues, Ankara and Athens have decided not to stop cooperation in other areas for the time being. The expectation is that the positive agenda built in this way will contribute to the solution of other problems as well.

    The reconciliation of Türkiye and Greece is extremely disadvantageous for a number of imperialist forces. After all, the result will be the strengthening of these countries and the unification of neighbouring regions, which will deprive the world powers of the opportunity to exploit strife and discord. These powers are eager to exploit historical grievances and cultural differences to cover up the squabble for resources and revenues.

    "Pseudo-history" versus common sense

    Ankara realizes that any projects of mutually beneficial economic cooperation can be destroyed by external forces, primarily superpowers, by playing on what is commonly called "identities" and "historical heritage," but in reality is just a cynical pitting entire nations against each other. This is exactly what the Turkish leadership would like to overcome.

    In an interview with the Athens-based newspaper Kathimerini ahead of talks with the Greek prime minister, Erdogan said, "The goal is clear - to tackle the challenges of strengthening our friendship and raise bilateral relations to an unprecedented level in history." Türkiye and Greece not only share the same geography but also many common elements of historical dimension. Of course, there are disagreements, but the number of issues on which we can agree is not insignificant."

    The most important such issue could be a partnership in establishing communications between Europe and the three most important regions - the Caucasus, Central Asia (followed by the Far East) and the Middle East. Moreover, as far as communications between Europe and Central Asia are concerned, in the current global strategic configuration, this route through Türkiye is the only alternative due to the blocking of communications through Russia and Iran by the collective West. Building normal relations between Ankara and Athens will make it much more convenient at the point of entry of transit flows into the common economic space of the European Union.

    Some commentators reduce the matter to the Turkish Stream project, through which Russian gas goes to the EU. "Turkish Stream may indeed be completed to Greece, but this is only one aspect of possible cooperation, which is being hyped and distorted as some kind of attempt to circumvent anti-Russian sanctions - although who is forcing the EU to set records in buying Russian gas and the US to buy Russian uranium? Meanwhile, a much more significant geo-economic and geopolitical role can be played by options for increasing energy supplies to the EU from Azerbaijan, Central Asia and the Middle East through the already existing network via Türkiye and Greece - alternatives to Russian ones. The same applies to transit flows of other goods.

    One thing is clear: as trade flows and money continue to leave Eastern Europe and the Middle East, they can be attracted to states that pursue a constructive agenda and restructure their regions in the interests of the people of those regions, rather than according to the demands and norms of self-appointed apologists for liberal democracy. This is an issue of global importance, and opposition to the construction of vital transportation arteries from Europe to Asia will be serious, especially in terms of influencing the states that control the bottlenecks on this route - sections that are impossible to bypass or even fly around in the current situation. These are Azerbaijan, Türkiye, Georgia and Kazakhstan. Destabilization of any of these countries breaks the new route, and there are many who want to work on this destabilization - the situation in Georgia is an example.

    The bloody result of serving overseas empires

    The rapprochement between Türkiye and Greece is also not going smoothly, as it affects the interests of a number of world players. Its benefits are obvious for Türkiye and its neighbouring countries to the east. But for the Greek establishment, the need to improve relations with Türkiye cannot but be obvious.  First, only through cooperation with neighbouring, dynamically developing Türkiye (85 million population), small Greece (10 million population) can get out of chronic economic problems.  

    After all, despite all the EU subsidies (or because of them?), this country regularly faces severe financial problems, and the ideologically liberalized membership in the "European family" (instead of building its own region) has not helped it either to establish a sustainable economic model or even to build a modern infrastructure on the level of Western countries. For decades, EU officials have openly and unceremoniously referred to Greece as the EU's "problem child," clearly demonstrating their attitude toward the country.

    Secondly, Greek history is replete with examples of the perniciousness of anti-Turkish nationalism. On more than one occasion, Greeks have agreed to become instruments of reprisal against the Ottoman Empire or Türkiye by imperialist countries. A characteristic example was the so-called "Little Asia Campaign", during which Greek troops, openly instigated and supplied by Britain and France, landed in Izmir in 1919 and began, together with the British, French and Italians, to tear Türkiye apart. Initially, they thought that they were in an excellent campaign and together with the Western empires they would destroy their neighbours in no time.

    The Greek King Constantine promised his subjects to create a "great Greece" in cooperation with the democratic Christian West "on the corpse of Türkiye". But after two years of popular resistance, the Greek invaders were defeated, and those events became known in Greece as the "Asia Minor Catastrophe".

    Armenian nationalists in modern times did in the Caucasus what Greek chauvinists did in Asia Minor. They tried to realize expansion by entering the service of distant empires. And today, when the importance of communications running through the South Caucasus is increasing, they are again trying to follow the same pernicious path, hoping that they will be given a handout from the bar table for their help to external states in disrupting the plans for the reconstruction of the region. Alas, the lessons of history take a long time to be learned.

    It is all the more important that the Turkish and Greek leaders are now taking steps into the future, overcoming the negative legacy of the times when Turks and Greeks were pitted against each other by the imperialist powers and returning to the much more solid legacy of centuries of constructive coexistence and cooperation. This will also help to build peace in the Caucasus.

    The views and opinions expressed by guest columnists in their op-eds may differ from and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.


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