Prospects for Turkish-Greek ties look good

Prospects for Turkish-Greek ties look good

The advent of Syriza and its young and energetic leader Alexis Tsipras is good news for Turks of my generation, as it must be for all left-leaning Europeans. This is a first for Europe, and it has revived the youthful and idealistic optimism of many people, which has been missing for some time.

It will not be long, however, before a sense of realism will have to set in once the honeymoon comes to an end. Tsipras will first have to negotiate for a coalition and then come to terms with the very real problems Greece is faced with. It is obvious that it cannot overcome these problems without outside help, whatever its election promises were.

European officials who have been using Greece as something of a whipping boy these past few years, however, will also have to come to terms with what the results of the Greek elections represent for Europe. There is a wake-up call for them too. Eyes are now turned to Spain, and many are wondering whether there will be a chain reaction in other European countries whose economies have come to the brink of collapse.

The bottom line is that Europe’s economic planners will also have to face the fact that there is a very real need to put people, not finance, first in dealing with the ongoing economic crisis. They are faced with a situation where “it is not all about the economy, stupid!”

Many in Ankara will no doubt be wondering what this left-wing swing in Athens means for Turkish-Greek relations. It is not hard to see that the prospects are good. The first positive outcome for Ankara is that the far-right and rabidly anti-Turkish (and generally xenophobic) Golden Dawn party did not make a major leap forward, even performing fractionally worse than it did in the June 2012 elections.

Turks say wolves hunt in the mist, and it is generally at such hard times that parties like the Golden Dawn often increase their support base. But Greeks have shown that they are too wise to fall for that one.

A party that won the elections on a “people first” ticket is also good for Turkey, because it will be concentrating on improving the lives of the citizenry, rather than trying to divert attention away from problems with populist and nationalist rhetoric.

The last thing a Syriza-led government will want at a time like this is unnecessary friction with Turkey. Especially when it is not faced with a bellicose Ankara, and when developing economic ties with Turkey will also be part of the solution for Athens.

More and more Greeks have come around to understanding the significance of having a country to their east that is economically growing and also becoming an energy hub, which will provide important advantages for Greece.

There are also issues like illegal crossings by refugees in the Aegean and the threat from groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which will require the continuation of efforts for more cooperation between the two countries.

The Cyprus issue, while it comes up every now and then, is no longer one of the central issues in Turkish-Greek affairs, since the Greek Cypriot administration is able to do its own bidding now in the EU as a full veto-wielding member.

Good relations between Ankara and Athens, on the other hand, could have a positive influence on trying to solve the Cyprus problem. Pushing an anti-Turkish nationalist line is clearly not going to get results for Greek Cypriots either, when they too have experienced an economic meltdown.

In the backdrop to all of this is the fact that social and cultural interaction between Greeks and Turks is also increasing, which only adds to hopes for even better ties between the two countries under a Syriza-led government in Athens.