After the aborted military coup of July 15, 2016 it seems that the president Recep Tayyp Erdogan is gearing up the country for an evolution that may mark Turkey’s modern history in a distinctive way.
After rapidly adopting and enforcing extraordinary measures (they say they were in store since some time) securing him a total control of main state institutions, Erdogan carried out an extended political activity so that the country became less polarized (read to attain a strong agreement for his policy) and succeeded in aligning – at least on the surface and for the moment – secular and Islamist parties.
The tough measures taken by the government and president, among which we quote: more than 10,000 military arrested (among whom 150 Generals and other 149 Generals were discharged from office); 39,400 employees of the ministry of education; almost 9000 police officers and around 7,600 staff employed in the Security General Directorate; more than 5000 university professors and academics (1500 deans were forced to resign); almost 3,500 prosecutors and judges; around 900 employees of the ministry of finance; 453 diplomats and the numbers can continue with other cathegories or the showed ones could increase, might have contributed to the new situation.
- Another step aimed at increasing the internal cohesion was, among others as well, president Erdogan’s recent speech (September 29) whereby he referred to the fact that Ankara “gave up the islands” (Imvros and Tenedons Islands in the north-east of the Aegean Sea) in Greece’s favour by signing the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, a Treaty that set modern Turkey’s borders as a result of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.
- In fact, the speech was criticizing the Kemalists: “some have tried to cheat us by presenting Lausanne (the Treaty of) as a victory”.
- Moreover, Erdogan mentioned also that the ones who attemted the coup would have imposed a worsened situation: “If that coup succeeded they would have brought us worse than Sevres” (the treaty of August 10, 1920) that included the division of the Ottoman Empire and its abolishment). “We still struggle to see what the continental plateau means, for the airspace and the land. The reason is the way those who sat at the negotiations table have negotiated. Those did not make justice (to us) and we are trying to mend these mistakes right now” Erdogan added.
As a reaction to Erdogan’s speech, a source of the Greek Foreign Ministry declared that “everybody should respect the Treaty of Lausanne” and added that “it is a reality of the civilized world that nobody, not even Ankara, could ignore”. The same source appreciated that Turkish president’s statements were mostly meant for domestic consumption.
On February 24, 2016 NATO agreed on the text of an understanding concerning Navy patrols in the Aegean Sea in order to prevent the migrants flow from Turkey to Europe. Turkey’s and Greece’s Navies were excluded from such miliary missions as a result of the well known disputes between the two countries.
According to certain sources, Ankara wants to discontinue these patrols and made the request during the last meeting of the North-Atlantic Council in September arguing they are not necessary anymore following the considerable decrease of the migrants flow during the latest months.
We will not enter the elements of the disputes of the two countries but remind only that since Greece’s independence (1832) Ankara and Athens confronted each other in four major wars: The Greek-Turkish war of 1897, the first Balkan War (1912-1913), The First World War (1914-1918) and the Greek-Turkish war (1919-1922) that was followed by an exchange of populations. Both countries joined NATO in 1952 and the pogrom in Istanbul occured in 1955 followed by a massive expulsion of Greeks while in 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus.
Greece and Turkey share a long and turbulent history in the Aegean Sea. The tensions between the two countries are mostly represented by the disputes concerning the continental plateau, defining the limits and the width of the territorial sea and they are periodically witnessing increased intensity. For achieving a durable peace in the Aegean Sea, Greece and Turkey must solve their disputes through the existing international mechanisms or to appeal to a European Union possible mediation.
Picture by NATO from left to right: Panos Kammenos (Minister of Defence, Greece) with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in February 2016 at NATO Headquarters in Brussels.