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Will Turkey’s Erdoğan Order An Invasion of Greece?


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On April 15, Turkish military aircraft carried out 90 incursions into Greek airspace, including three overflights of inhabited islands. According to the Hellenic General Staff, Turkey violated Greek airspace on a daily basis from April 11 to 13. Turkish F16s were reportedly identified and intercepted by fighter jets according to the daily Kathimerini.

Since January 6, Epiphany Day for the Greek Orthodox Church, Ankara has launched 37 incursions into Hellenic airspace using F-16 fighters and CN 235 transports, Turkish incursions into airspace have not ceased. On February 7, the Turks carried out 60 incursions. Although at a meeting in Istanbul on March 13 Ankara and Athens agreed to reduce tensions, another 25 Turkish incursions were reported the following day.

Turkey and Greece are members of NATO, but while still belonging to the Alliance, Ankara launched a savage pogrom against Greeks, Armenians, and Jews in 1955. It practiced a forced expulsion of Greek Orthodox Christians in 1964. It invaded Northern Cyprus in 1974 and took advantage of the fight against ISIS to invade northern Syria occupying it with jihadist paramilitaries to this day.

As early as February 2018, Turkish journalist Uzay Bulut warned on the Gatestone Institute portal that the Turkish government and opposition were openly threatening an invasion of the Greek islands. Turkey insisted on its provocations in the Hellenic naval and airspace. And Erdoğan’s peculiar combination of fundamentalism and “Ottomanism” was moving him in a direction that NATO could not tolerate indefinitely.

On October 19, 2016, Erdoğan had already launched a speech of Ottoman irredentism stating:

“Our territories were as large as 2.5 million square kilometers, and (…) decreased to 780 thousand square kilometers (…) it is the greatest injustice to be done to the country and (…) we cannot see how to preserve our 1923 status as a success.”

And on October 22 of that year he insisted: “We do not accept our borders voluntarily.”

Turquía, presidente, Erdogan

The fact is that the Treaty of Lausanne established in 1923 the borders of Turkey and Greece. Greek sovereignty over its Aegean islands was confirmed in the Treaty of Montreux in 1936 and the Treaty of Paris in 1947. But in July 2021 Turkey’s representative to the UN lodged a complaint in a letter to Secretary-General António Guterres claiming that his country had ceded sovereignty over the islands to Greece on the “strict condition” that they remain demilitarized and Athens was in breach of that condition.

The Greek Representative to the UN responded with another letter to Secretary General Gutérres, stating that sovereignty over the Aegean islands was definitively and unconditionally ceded to Greece and any interpretation against the letter or spirit of the Treaties was an unacceptable claim to modify them unilaterally. The Spokesman for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, Peter Spano, issued a statement affirming that Greek sovereignty over these islands is unquestionable and Turkey must respect it by refraining from provocative statements and actions.

But in 2021 the Yoneylem poll revealed that 53% of Turks have lost confidence in Erdoğan because of the falling economy, and ORC polls revealed that Erdoğan’s party continued to lose votes month after month. So, the president is tempted to materialize his irrendentist discourse in a military action on Greece to regain lost popularity and achieve hegemony over the Aegean, assuming that Russia’s return to the Black Sea would force Washington to accept it. I estimate that this would be a miscalculation that would either bring down Erdoğan or “divorce” Turkey from a NATO on which it depends to face Moscow in the Black Sea.

NATO must prevent an armed conflict between two of its member states and that requires Washington to act firmly and skillfully vis-à-vis Ankara in time. Unless the Biden administration is incapable of that as well.

Guillermo Rodríguez is a professor of Political Economy in the extension area of the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Universidad Monteávila, in Caracas. A researcher at the Juan de Mariana Center and author of several books // Guillermo es profesor de Economía Política en el área de extensión de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas de la Universidad Monteávila, en Caracas, investigador en el Centro Juan de Mariana y autor de varios libros

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