A post-script to the Erdogan visit to Athens: “win-win” or “go slow”?

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis


The international media reception of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visit to Athens and the extensive talks with Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis (in full reversal of Erdogan’s dismissive formulation “Mitsotakis yok!” 18 months ago) was more-than-positive; at times verging to ebullient.

Erdogans’ own proclamation of “a new chapter” in Greek-Turkish relations, to which the quote was added “if differences are addressed through dialogue and common ground is found, this will be to the benefit of all”, was intended to set the tone for the months if not years ahead.

The Athens visit, with a dozen agreements of practical “low-intensity” content signed between Greece and Turkey, corroborated this perspective. The State Department expressed their approval, Brussels chimed in with appreciation.

So, a clear path ahead? Positive expectations are nowadays in style for Greek-Turkish relations; they are also sorely needed since both nations are still reeling from a series of crises (and natural disasters, ranging from earthquakes to floods and wildfires), while having to accommodate a self-imposed armaments race that threatens to get out of hand. Central players of the international sceme, too, have a vested interest in not allowing Greek-Turkish disputes to get out of hand: the arc of instability ranging from the Ukraine to Gaza, after crossing the Caucasus and Syria/Kurdistan, would be stressed to breaking point by a flare-up around the Aegean. (Cyprus, too, constitutes a looming crack: Turkish proposals to relocate Gaza refugees to the North occupied area of the island are cause for renewed concern).

All of which explains why systemic/Western players advocate the “win-win” approach of building on the thaw in Greek-Turkish relations, with bilateral accords meant to help in containing the flow of migrants to cross (through Greek borders) to Europe, or then to relax visa requirements for Turkish nationals visiting islands of the Aegean. Still, “hard” issues of sovereignty and/or of sovereign rights over islands and maritime zones (in the Aegean or the Eastern Mediterranean) remain there for all to see and puzzle over. So, rather than a win-win situation, it would be rather a go-slow over the area known to Europeans of the past  as “the Near East” to be  experienced for the foreseeable future.