Turkish–Greek relations under Syriza

Turkish–Greek relations under Syriza

I guess the big smiles that appeared on the faces of many Turks after the electoral victory of Syriza in Greece were frozen when they heard that Alexis Tsipras had forged a coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks party. What’s more, the first thing that the Independent Greeks leader, Panos Kammenos, did as Athens’ new defense minister was to resurrect an old tension with Turkey. 

Kammenos first act as minister was to leave a wreath off the waters of a group of Aegean islets that almost led Ankara and Athens to the point of war in 1996. This move was justified by the party’s spokesperson as an act of patriotism, “honoring those who died there. No one has done this for the past 19 years.” 

Interestingly, the number of those in Turkey feeling the effects of a cold shower after Kemmenos’ move could be quiet significant. Ironically enough, Syriza’s victory sparked a wind of enthusiasm not only among the leftists, (whoever they are), but also throughout the whole Turkish political landscape.

Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan. To associate Syriza with Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is absurd enough, but what about the claims we have heard suggesting that it has parallels with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)? 

So far, the only resemblance they have is the fact that both Syriza and AKP first emerged as winners not because of their credentials, but because the public was highly frustrated by the incompetence of the traditional parties, whose mistakes they had to pay the painful price of.

But leaving aside the differences or similarities, once the wind of euphoria goes away, we will be dealing with the hardcore realities. When it comes to Turkish–Greek relations, the signals so far have been mixed.
What Kammenos did was not a good sign for a beginning. His trip sparked tension both in the air and in the sea, which is obviously not good news ahead of the tourism season, when thousands of Turks will start heading to the Greek islands for their holiday.

Perhaps there lies the gist of the issue. One would think that because the new prime minister will be busy reformulating Greece’s relations with the EU, which will be causing strains in its relations with many European capitals, the last thing he would want is a crisis with Turkey. However, to what degree Alexis Tsipras will be able to strike a balance with his coalition partner on the issue of Turkey remains to be seen. 

It is important that Tsipras has met with the representative of the Turkish Cypriots, but many argue that his rhetoric was no different to any other Greek prime minister. But it might be a mistake to speculate on Tsipras’ vision on Turkey based only on his first visit to Cyprus, because there has been a tendency in Greece over the last decade to separate the Cyprus problem from Turkish–Greek relations.

Greek colleagues point to the fact that the country’s new foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, who was a former advisor to George Papandreou when he was foreign minister, is very knowledgeable about Turkish issues. That could be a positive factor. But it all depends on what Tsipras really wants to achieve on relations with Turkey. Does he want all aspects of relations to continue to prosper, while keeping some of the problems frozen? Or will he dare to open the door of the refrigerator? Obviously, this will also depend on how he fares in dealing with Greece’s more immediate problems.