Kotzias and Greek media group brawl over Erdoğan interview
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Greece at the start of this month - the first from a Turkish president in 65 years - is still causing controversy in the country.
The problems started even before Erdoğan set foot on Greek soil. One day before he set out for Athens, Erdoğan chose to reveal his thoughts on Turkish-Greek relations in a comprehensive interview given to Alexis Papachelas, the editor of the Kathimerini newspaper. In the interview, Erdoğan made his controversial proposal to review the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, while also touching on other contentious issues such as the continuing dogfights over the Aegean between the Turkish and Greek air forces, the state of the Muslim minority of Western Thrace, and the eight Gülenist officers who sought refuge in Greece and are not being extradited to Turkey. Generally Erdoğan seemed cautious about any quick improvement in Turkish-Greek relations.
The interview, which was published in Kathimerini and broadcast by Skai TV, which is owned by the same media group, was certainly a scoop, though Erdoğan gave a second interview later to the newspaper To Vima.
However, questions were raised about why Erdoğan chose to speak exclusively to private outlets when Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras gave a similarly long and carefully prepared interview to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency. On the basis of “media reciprocity” during such state occasions, if the Greek prime minister speaks to the state news agency in Turkey then the Turkish president should speak to the corresponding Athens News Agency in Greece.
There was an additional reason for irritation: Kathimerini belongs to the same media group that owns Skai TV, which since the rise to power of the leftist Syriza has sustained a particularly strong anti-government stance. “They are our biggest enemies,” Greek government sources have told me. So Erdoğan’s interview to an opposition newspaper and TV channel caused yet another spate of conspiratorial plots about the business interests of private media groups in Greece who supposedly “want to overthrow the government.”
Normally, such “inter-media” quarrels would have quietened down to yield their place to new items on the agenda, such as rumors about an early general election in the New Year and moves by the official opposition to team up with the newly formed center-socialist movement in order to defeat the government.
But nothing is more exciting or intriguing for the Greeks than Turkey-Greece affairs. And when Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias took up the task of defending the decision of his government (and the Greek president) to invite Erdoğan to Greece, he left more questions than answers.
Kotzias spoke to a special session of the National Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Greek Parliament and defended the significance of Erdoğan’s recent visit. He asked the opposition to “get rid of its phobic syndromes” when dealing with Turkey. He added that only the Turkish president can solve practical issues with Greece and only he can solve the Cyprus question too. “He is the center of power in Turkey,” Kotzias added.
He also touched on the issue of Erdoğan’s pre-visit interview with Kathimerini and Skai TV, stating that Erdoğan conceded to members of the Greek government when he came to Athens that “apparently he has made a mistake.” Kotzias noted that Erdoğan said initially he agreed to give an interview to the Athens News Agency but he changed his mind after speaking with Acun Ilıcalı, a popular Turkish TV producer. Three of the high-rating shows that Ilicali holds the copyrights for (including “Survivor”) are currently screened on Skai TV!
It is not difficult to imagine the reaction that Kotzias’ statement caused. Predictably, Skai TV claimed that Erdoğan chose it simply because it is Greece’s most watched channel. The man who conducted the interview, Alexis Papachelas, is one of the most respected Greek journalists and has interviewed Erdoğan several times in the past.
Ultimately it may take a first-hand statement from either Erdoğan or Ilıcalı to clarify the confusion and settle the ongoing row in Greece.