The second week of the Edirne case

The second week of the Edirne case

Today, the families of two Greek soldiers will again make the trip to the northwestern Turkish city of Edirne, on the border with Greece and Bulgaria, to visit their sons jailed in an F-type prison.

Since March 5, after their appeal was rejected, the two soldiers have been in jail awaiting the date of their trial while the Turkish authorities continue the investigation. Ankara has denied hoping for any “exchange” deal between the two jailed soldiers and eight Turkish “Gülenist” officers who have escaped to Greece.

Both government spokesman Bekir Bozdag and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoğlu have ruled out such a deal, claiming that the whole issue is now “in the hands of Turkey’s judiciary.” But they also hinted that the Turkish authorities are questioning whether the two soldiers entered the Turkish side of the border “by mistake,” as they claim, or “intentionally.” The digital content of their confiscated phones could be a crucial element in the court’s final assessment.

Although the Turkish government has avoided politicizing the matter, this is not the case on the Greek side. A near-stormy atmosphere is a permanent state in Greek politics. But the political tension was unusually high just before the crisis over the “Edirne case” broke out. The Alexis Tsipras government and the opposition parties were already entangled in a fierce battle over a massive corruption scandal involving the pharmaceutical giant Novartis. A judicial enquiry had sent the files of eight ministers, including two former prime ministers, to parliament, and a parliamentary commission had been set up to probe whether the named politicians should be prosecuted for corruption. Among them is former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

The case of the two soldiers upset the plans of the Greek government to score much-needed points against the opposition parties, which the leftist Syriza Party accuses of all the ills that brought the country to a near economic collapse. The events of last week overturned this agenda. Assisted by a mostly anti-government media, the opposition has now stolen the show, accusing Tsipras of carelessness, irresponsibility and cowardly behavior toward the Turks. It also frequently reminds him of the fiasco of Turkish President Erdoğan’s visit to Greece last December, when he shockingly voiced “updating the Lausanne Treaty” on the agenda. One may sometimes be confused about whether the opposition is mostly angry at the Greek government or the Turks. But the fact is that the Novartis affair has now been driven off the TV screens, which are now fixated by the situation in Edirne.

The Syriza-led coalition government seems to have decided not to succumb to the opposition’s call to raise the rhetoric against Turkey. But the image of a calm and composed government has been challenged by the leader of its minority partner, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos. He called the two Greek soldiers “hostages” and warned of a likely “fatal accident” between Greece and Turkey either in the air or in the sea.

This is not the first time that this ideologically odd coalition of a leftist and a nationalist party have shown strains of cohabitation. In the past, a public reassurance that “everything in the government is fine” was usually enough, but this time Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias had to both silence the opposition and address Turkey. “Greek diplomacy is taking all necessary steps to defend the national interest and the rights of Greek officers, without big talk and fanfare. We call on Turkey to not try to create a major political event and a prolonged violation of international law,” he said in an interview published today, while adding that the government wants to “keep all communication channels open.”

Today marks the start of the second week in an issue that hopefully will not develop into a major political event. But it may well become a prolonged legal complexity, further straining both Athens-Ankara ties as well as the nerves of the families of the two soldiers.

Ariana Ferentinou, hdn, Opinion,