Greeks, too, are apprehensive of April 16

Greeks, too, are apprehensive of April 16

As Turkey enters the last phase before its crucial referendum, its next-door neighbor is getting more nervous.

What will Turkey be like after the referendum if the results adorn President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with executive powers or what will change if the electorate does not approve the constitutional amendments? Will Turkey be calmer or more agitated?

Greeks are following the developments in Turkey very closely, but what worries them is what might happen until April 16.

It was not long ago that a high-pitched war of words across the Aegean brought Turkey and Greece toward a dangerous confrontation. We all got scared that an “accident” may happen, as we all remembered the Kardak/Imia crisis. Fortunately, the tempest subsided in a relatively short time. Ankara turned its attention to Western Europe with whom it found plenty to quarrel about. In fact, the leitmotivs that came out from that East versus West, Christian versus Muslim, Cross versus Crescent verbal standoff between Turkey and the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Switzerland have since been incorporated into the standard political oratory of the Turkish president and the governing party. But as the elections in the Netherlands are over and Turks in Europe have already cast their votes, the intensity of the Europe-Turkey row has also started to ease. 

So, Greeks have started feeling uneasy about whether Ankara will turn its attention to Athens just two weeks before the big day. After all, the eight military officers accused of taking part in last year’s coup are still in Greece after their extradition was turned down by the Greek Supreme Court. 

And perhaps some Greeks will have reason to worry if they took seriously a Twitter message last week by a former editor of Today’s Zaman, Abdullah Bozkurt, who claimed that “his sources” are telling him that “Turkish intelligence has escalated clandestine operations in Greece, raising the number of operatives.”

 Naturally, Bozkurt left the catch phrase for the end, asking if they were “plotting something?”  

Of course, Bozkurt’s move could be seen just as an effort by a disgruntled Gülenist, but what about a comprehensive article by Helena Smith, the veteran Athens correspondent of the Guardian, who described a potentially explosive atmosphere of nationalism between Turkey and Greece which could lead even to a hot conflict “by accident?” 

Turkey has regularly been the top story in the Greek media since the fugitive Gülenist officer incident, with commentators fueling worst-case scenarios for a real war with Turkey. In the case of Greek TV news, this high-pitched warmongering coverage was also fueled by the recent intensification of tough competition between private TV channels who are desperate for high ratings in a shrinking advertising market. 

The start of the crucial last two weeks before the referendum will certainly give reason for more debates about an imminent Turkish plan against Greece. Already, some of the most passionate Greek commentators are sure that a mini incident is around the corner. Or, that a plan is on the way against the Christian West which would rally an angrier Muslim electorate behind the Turkish president who will be seen as the leader defending both the country and its faith. 

And that latter scenario takes us directly to Haghia Sophia. Could these be the last days of Haghia Sophia as a global cultural monument and as the oldest and the most magnificent church in Orthodoxy? “Informed sources” in Turkey are fuelling the story which is being reported widely in Greece that Erdoğan chose the date of the referendum because it coincided with Orthodox Easter and that he will use the Friday prayers before the referendum which is also this year’s Orthodox Good Friday to turn Haghia Sophia back into a mosque, as it was used from 1453 until 1935 when it was turned into a world museum. 

If that latest scenario proves right, it would indeed be a deep blow to world heritage where such monuments belong – not to any specific nation, state or faith, but to humanity as a whole.       

After a tense standoff over the eight military officers who escaped to Greece after the abortive coup against Erdoğan last July – an impasse exacerbated when the Greek Supreme Court rejected a request for their extradition – hostility has been measured in almost daily dogfights between armed jets and Turkish research vessels’ naval incursions into Greek waters.