Op/Ed#2 Greece-Turkey Relations: is a War Imminent?

By Louis Lacroix

Tensions between Greece and Turkey, two of the oldest NATO’s members, have been gaining attention from the rest of Europe in the past. It is said that diplomacy is going so poorly between the neighbors that a war could break out if the situation isn’t defused. But since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire following the Great war and the Greco-Turkish war ending in 1922, no military conflict was able to emerge between them even with their history of competition and liberation. While it seems that the two countries are preparing for war, it will never happen as their dispute is about being superior to the other, not their rival’s elimination.

The modern relationship between Greece and Turkey begins with the recognition of Greece independency by the Ottoman Empire in 1832, but the point of focus will be after 1922. Hatred between the Turks and the Greeks never went away, and some events came close to start a new war, but it never happened. One of the best example would be the Istanbul pogrom against Greeks of 1955, as the Turk authorities hindered the influence and wealth of the Greek community in their largest city to provoke their rival and gain more economical autonomy in that region. Although outrage by this turn of events, Athens did not act on it, denouncing the pogrom and helping its Greek migrants. One of the particularly important element of the ongoing conflict is Cyprus. The island was invaded in 1974 and forced the island to split between a Greek and a Turk regime, even though most of the country’s population was of Greek descendancy. While the Cypriots live there in a relatively peaceful manner with one and other of different origins, they got into a political issue between their homelands. The island represents a special case because it embodies the essence of the battle between the two. While they have not taken direct action against the main territories, their nationalist ways have dictated their movements with the goal to humiliate and gain an edge on the other. Since the Turkish side of the island is still not recognized by the world, negotiations with Greece and the other half of Cyprus are still in progress with periods of more stability, with the 2000s having some non concluding attempts at closing the situation peacefully. Yet, direct war has not been declared while menaces of it are looming.

As of today, the tensions are rising once again over the militarization of the Greek side following the arms embargo lift on the Greek Cyprus administration. Furthermore, there has been some discoveries of natural gas and oil in this region of the Mediterranean Sea. The Greek government justifies its more aggressive stance as a mean of defense against Turkish bullying. They made a political calculus; the situation for the Northern Turkish government in Cyprus places them in a corner as they are stuck between the international stage not recognizing their legitimacy and the Greek side arming up. While the world consensus is to avoid war on the island, it would be difficult to impose sanctions on Greece or Cyprus as it will basically be a “liberation” war. Again, if an event like this happen, Turkey nor Greece will push the matter on their territories as the ONU and the United States will condemn the attacker and probably support the invaded. This will only be a blow to Turkish efforts of gaining influence over a foreign territory that has some Turkish individuals, and both of the competitors will go back to finding ways to harm the other.

Realistically, the only way Greece and Turkey are getting into a new war would be through Turkish minority sovereign movements in Greece in the Western Thrace. It would look similar to the situation in Ukraine with Crimea in 2014 and the current invasion, but since Turkey is definitely a lot weaker, they would require quite the mobilization effort from within Greece. Furthermore, after the tragic events of the 1955 Pogrom in Istanbul, there is approximately 2 500 Greeks in Turkey. Since one of the principal arguments to invade a country is justified through “protection” of their cultural population and its getting less and less possible for both sides, there is less interest to conquer territorial parts as the local population would still be very homogenous. It seems that for now that Greeks and Turks will simply continue to hate each other rather than look for the complete annihilation of the other.

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