Turkey could have helped Greece

Turkey could have helped Greece

The suggestion by Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ertuğrul Kürkçü that Turkey should underwrite 1.6 billion euros of Greece’s debt in order to prevent it from defaulting to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), was not the flight of fancy that some may think. 

The idea also resonated with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who said they were ready to help Athens, adding that Turkey would not want to see neighboring Greece weakened as a result of its economic woes. Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, for his part, announced that they would consider this recommendation if a request to this effect came.

Of course this request was highly unlikely to come. Greece may be angry with its EU partners, especially with Germany, but when it comes to Turkey, nationalist sentiments among Greeks gain added potency.

Much that is positive has nevertheless occurred in Turkish-Greek ties over the past 15 years, since the late Turkish Foreign Minister İsmail Cem İpekçi and Yorgo Papandreou, his Greek counterpart at the time, started the reconciliation process between the two countries.

That process came on the heels of one of the worst times in ties when there was much talk of war between the two countries. What occasioned the start of this process was the earthquake disaster in Turkey in 1999, which clearly touched a chord in Greek hearts and made them the first nation to help Turks in the face of a major calamity.

This also paved the way for what came rapidly to be known as “earthquake diplomacy” between the two countries aimed at improving ties. The Gods on Mount Olympus obviously wanted this to continue and sent a small earthquake to Athens shortly after the Turkish disaster, enabling Turks this time to respond to Greeks in kind.

This was not first time that Turks and Greeks reached out to each other in difficult moments. Greeks rushed to help Turks after the devastating Erzincan earthquake in 1939 that killed 40,000 people. A few years later it was the Turks’ turn to help Greeks starving under Nazi occupation.

This is why Kürkçü’s suggestion was not a flight of fancy. As he pointed out, Turkey has the financial wherewithal today to do this. Given his political credentials one must also note that Kürkçü is the last person Greeks can accuse of being a Turkish nationalist who is toying with their country.

Again, as Kürkçü indicated, extending such a helping hand to the Greeks would not only contribute to the amity between the two nations - which in fact has increased on many levels in term of day-to-day human interaction anyway - but would also contribute to solving the problems that continue to exist between the two countries, especially with regard to the Aegean.

The subject is academic at this stage since Greece has defaulted on its IMF loan. At any rate, a request for financial help from Ankara would have been rejected by nationalist Greeks given their obsession with Turkey.
Take, for example, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, the founder of the right wing “Independent Greeks” party which political circumstance has made the coalition partner of left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. 

He was quoted in the media recently saying in a speech to parliament that fulfilling the request of Greece’s creditors would leave the country defenseless against an invasion by Turkey. This of course is demagoguery at its best, and is aimed at stirring up nationalist sentiments at a moment of great domestic difficulty when you need to unite people around a cause.

In actual fact the only invasion today, as far as one can see, is the invasion of Greek Islands by Turks who are not coming with flying sabers, but are being welcomed, not only because of the shared cultural ambience they bring, but also because of the hard currency they leave.

The bottom line, however, is that no matter how good ties get on the human level, there is always someone prepared to trump friendship by taking nationalist punches in order to advance his or her political ambitions.