Peoples want peace not war
In the middle of a worryingly increasing number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, without the customary parades and military marches, Greeks celebrated their national day, known as the “No” day. Oct. 28, 1940 is a day of remembrance for the refusal by the then Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas to allow the Italian army to enter Greece.
By that, though, Metaxas opened the way for Greece’s entry to the Second World War, which ended four years later. Interestingly, and perhaps uniquely, Greece does not celebrate the end of the war, but the beginning of the war.
Turkey celebrated its national day, one day after the Greeks, on Oct. 29, for the proclamation of Turkey as a republic, after a long and bloody war with the Greeks, under strict measures with the minimum participation of political leaders and ordinary citizens. Health dominates politics, and the prospect of an even more difficult winter is ahead of us.
Several decades of war and peace, these two neighbouring countries, Turkey and Greece, are once again standing opposite each other, on a near-war footing. This time what is at stake are their rights and interests in the seas that separate them. A recent attempt to start a dialogue through the mediation of Germany, hardly achieved anything concrete: The two countries agree on certain bilateral issues but disagreeing on almost everything else. Their disputes over maritime jurisdiction and rights for the exploitation of natural resources in east Med, climaxed during the summer to a near collision. Both call upon the international law to defend their corner, but each from their own perspective. Once again, the weakness in relying on international law is obvious: Unless there is consent between the disputing parties, international law is difficult to apply.
Public opinion in both countries is following this recent prolonged—the longest in recent history-crisis between Turkey and Greece with anxiety and discomfort. It has never been so bad, for a long time. Actually, until the east Mediterranean became an area which might become the source of wealth, hence potential conflict, Greeks and Turks had come to know each other better.
With the relaxation of visa requirements, during the last decade, Turks started crossing regularly over to the Greek islands to spend their holidays, or drive through the land border to Western Thrace, spending their long weekends in Alexandroupolis, Kavala or Salonica. On the other hand, Greeks continued to visit Istanbul regularly and often crossed the sea from their islands for daily trips to the coastal Turkish cities. Direct flights brought thousands of Turks to the popular islands and many Turks benefited from the golden visa legislation to get a convenient residence. Greeks were happy seeing that a significant part of their touristic capital came from Turkish visitors. Until the mutual travel bans due to the pandemic, it was no longer a rarity to listen to Turkish language spoken in many places in Athens, Salonica, Kavala or the islands. Of course, I am not omitting the fact that the attempted coup of 2016 also contributed to the flow of Turks to neighbouring Greece. But whatever the reason, the barrier wall of these two peoples, was replaced in recent years by a sense of familiarity and awareness of each other’s society.
Unfortunately, the recent flare up of political tension over old and known issues, which now have acquired urgency due to the new economic and strategic realities of the region, is forcing the two societies move away from each other again.
We are now at a critical point, with neither side willing to give way for a dialogue; with navy and air force facing each other in the area, and with people on both sides unsure whether we go for war or for peace.
But do people want war as an ultimate resort if it they think their country is right, or that the opponent wants to grab part of their sovereignty?
It seems that they don’t. A recent poll in Greece showed that people prefer diplomacy and dialogue (63.7 percent) with Turkey, and only 38.1 percent want a tough stance (war option) against Turkey. On the other hand, more than 70 percent worry and fear a “hot incident” between the two sides might lead to confrontation.
Turks don’t want war either, by 60 percent, according to a poll last August. War was an option for just 32 percent of the respondents, although another recent poll showed that 66.1 percent do not expect a positive result from a negotiation process on east Mediterranean and the Aegean between the two countries.
The last two days, Oct. 28 and 29, Greece and Turkey mutually agreed to refraining from any military activities in the east Mediterranean and the Aegean abiding by an agreement of 1988 to refrain from any such activities on national days.
That was called “Papoulias-Yılmaz Memorandum” drawn on May 7, 1988, between the two foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey. It was a confidence building package that also provided for a direct contact between diplomats in case of an emergency, something like what has been agreed now through NATO.
Both peoples prefer peace and politicians should put that as their priority.