Greece should improve relations with Turkiye, do EastMed pipeline project together: Greek expert
Strong anti-Turkish narrative misinforms Greek public, poisons Turkish-Greece relations, says Alexis Heraclides
Misinformation, disinformation, and misperceptions about Turkiye are common and strong both among decision-makers and common people in Greece, said political science professor Alexis Heraclides of the Panteion University in the Greek capital Athens.
“One of the consequences of this state of affairs is that Greeks think the Aegean Sea solely belongs to them,” he added.
According to Heraclides, some Greek media outlets, including mainstream daily and broadcasters, play a role in making the image of Turkiye as a “ Neo-Ottomanist, expansionist power wanting to invade Greece.”
They, for instance, quote speeches by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, or Defense Minister Hulusi Akar out of context and hence fuel skepticism or hostile feelings towards them and Turkiye in general, he further explained.
Greek nationalism, which is greatly ethnocentric and anti-Turkish, is resilient and influential in all Greek political parties- more in right-wing, less in left-wing ones, and consequently, you can easily be branded as a traitor or Turkish spy, among other things, when you stress the need for a solution to problems between Turkiye and Greece, Heraclides explained.
“Even though Greeks were influential in the imperial bureaucracy and trade networks of the Ottoman Empire, modern Greeks were indoctrinated by official historiography about the so-called 400 years of the Ottoman yoke, not the facts.”
He revealed that there were times when Greek decision-makers, including conservative leader Konstantinos Karamanlis in the late 1970s or social-democrat Kostas Simitis and Georgios Papandreou, truly appreciated the need for a permanent solution to the Aegean Sea, but strong public reaction prevented them from taking further steps.
There is still a fraction in the governing conservative, nationalist Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy) ND party that desires better relations with Turkiye. This fraction includes prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, his sister, former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, but former prime minister Kostas Karamanlis is fearful of the internal cost of any agreement with Turkiye.
There is, however, another constituent in the party, a keen anti-Turkiye one, led by former prime minister Antonis Samaras. I understand that this party is skeptical about Mitsotakis’ stance on Turkiye and tries to undermine his policies on Turkiye, Heraclides claimed.
Having said that, he continued, Mitsotakis’ meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 13 in Istanbul was presented in favorable terms in the Greek media.
Furthermore, the time and conditions are already right for the betterment of the bilateral relations, Heraclides noted.
“There are cool-headed, objective people in Greek bureaucracy, who know most of the narratives about Turkey are false and better relations with it benefit both countries.”
On the Cyprus issue, which has constituted one of the main obstacles in enhancing Turkish-Greek relations, Heraclides was equivocal.
“First and foremost, it should be known that Greece does not exert so much influence on Greek Cypriots. On the contrary, they captivate the Greek decision-makers by mobilizing Greek public opinion whenever the relations with Turkey seem improving.”
He underlined that the Annan Peace Plan of 2004, which was supported by Turkiye, accepted by Turkish Cypriots in a referendum yet rejected by Greek Cypriots, was a great chance missed.
Noteworthy to remember, he said, current Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiadis had sincerely wanted a solution to the Cyprus problem and consequently supported the plan.
Heraclides added that Russia didn’t want a solution in Cyprus and pressed Anastasiadis to change his pro-solution policy.
The lack of a solution in Cyprus allowed Russia to remain a relevant and effective power in the Eastern Mediterranean. Moreover, Russian oligarchs needed the Greek Cyprus administration to launder vast amounts of money.
Heraclides, however, argued that the appointment of moderate and realist Ioannis Kasoulides in January as foreign minister could be seen as a good sign.
“Everybody now knows that the EastMed pipeline project, which was illogical and undoable from the beginning, is dead. In the background, the EU actively seeks to lessen its dependency on Russian gas. The best solution would be finding a solution in Cyprus and transmitting the natural gas to the EU through Turkey, a project that would involve all parties in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said.