Greece and Turkey: not yet a war, already a conflict / News / News agency Inforos
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Greece and Turkey: not yet a war, already a conflict

Aggravation between the two countries affects the entire Mediterranean

Greece and Turkey: not yet a war, already a conflict

Another aggravation in Greek-Turkish relations can hardly surprise anyone in itself, if you remember the number of conflicts in their history. Suffice it to recall that a hundred years ago, after the defeat of Turkey (the Ottoman Empire back then) in World War I, the Greeks decided to deal the final blow and create a new version of Byzantium on its debris, the so-called "Magna Graecia". Despite the fact that the sons of Hellas came close to Ankara somewhere along the line and seriously considered the capture of Istanbul (Constantinople back then), the Turkish army led by Mustafa Kemal (future Ataturk) managed to retaliate strongly. The Turkish military successes were accompanied by a savage massacre of the former Empire's Greek civilian population, somewhat less than the Armenian genocide but also impressive, with hundreds of thousands victims. In the conflict’s aftermath, Greece officially renounced its territorial claims to Turkey, and the parties exchanged populations so that a minimum amount of Greeks remained in Turkey, and vice versa.

However, the minority of Greeks on the Turkish soil was still subjected to persecution. The last notable devastating act against it occurred in Istanbul in 1955, when a "mere" dozen and a half people were killed. Notably, Greece and Turkey were already NATO allies at that moment of time. Nineteen years later, these allies virtually found themselves in a brief state of war, when the Greek junta of the "Black Colonels" decided to annex Cyprus, and Turkey moved its units to the island to protect local tribesmen.

After two more aggravations in the 1980s and 1990s, Ankara and Athens entered a relatively long-term, by their standards, thaw of relations. Now, however, it looks like a thing of the past. Long-standing antagonists have once again found themselves between the cold war and hot war.

The main reasons for this time are geo-economic in nature. We have already written about the conflict between Turkey and the Greece-Israel-Cyprus coalition over the latter's desire to build a gas pipeline for transporting gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe. This ambitious project was and remains a significant and direct blow to Turkey's ambitions as an energy power. The Turks responded with signing an agreement with the allied Libyan Government of National Accord chaired by Fayez al-Sarraj. Having drawn criticism with the EU, the agreement provided for mutual understanding on maritime zones and their partition so as to block activities of the Greek-Israeli-Cyprus consortium. However, the latter paid back with finally formalizing the pipeline agreement. A few months later, Turkey took another step in the shady escalation enterprise by stepping up oil and gas exploration in the Greek continental shelf area.

An additional aggravation trigger is the Turkish leader's promise to turn the Hagia Sophia – a Greek and pan-Orthodox shrine – into a mosque. After Constantinople fell in 1453, the cathedral became a mosque. Kemal Ataturk made it a museum in 1935, while Erdogan, as we can see, is seeking to recover its previous status. This issue had been raised four years ago, when there was a simultaneous deterioration of the Turkish leader's relations with Russia, the EU and the United States. This fact is, by the way, alluding to the secondary nature of religion as compared with geopolitics and geo-economics. To Erdogan, the cathedral is a propaganda winning hand in relations with Christian or at least residual Christian countries. Even present-day Greeks can hardly be regarded as real zealots of the Orthodox faith, all the way to being ready to fight for it. After all, they didn't resent a lot when their previous Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, a blatant atheist, refused to swear the traditional Bible oath.

As for the overall balance of power, it looks the following. During current Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' recent visit to Israel, the leadership of that country represented by Benjamin Netanyahu expressed unequivocal support for him. At the meeting, the energy issue was discussed inseparably with the Libyan one. This combination slightly complicates Europe's attitude to the present moment. While along the energy track alone Europe-the EU as a whole tend to support Greece and Israel (Cyprus is automatically assumed as the "big brothers'" satellite), the Libyan track does not always provide for separate countries' rates to coincide: Italy supports al-Sarraj and France supports Haftar, who is at war with him. On top of that, Paris' bilateral relations with Ankara have sharply deteriorated in the last days.

There are certain blind spots in the US position as well. Washington, like Europe, seems to be more well-disposed to the energy trio, and this support is even called the "three plus" format. But Erdogan also tried to mend fences again after the autumn-winter seasonally recurring plate smashing with his overseas partner. On June 9, the news broke about the Turkish leader's negotiations with his American counterpart. Erdogan announced an understanding reached on the Libyan issue and wouldn't particularly mind leaving Field Marshal Haftar outside the peace process. Moreover, the Turkish President expressed intention to recognize the left-wing Antifa organization (a network of organizations, more specifically), which demonstrates high-performance activity in the American street riots, as terrorist. Not only due to solidarity with Trump, but also because of its ties to the Kurds. However, it is the American unrest and the profound split in the American elites behind it that blur the US stance on the Mediterranean region and many other items on the international agenda. It is not entirely and always clear which of at least two "United States" is implied.

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