Journalist Abdullah Bozkurt believes Turkey’s autocratic president is threatening the annexation of Greek islands close to Turkey. This would mean invasion and occupation of those islands. Although Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inflammatory speech may prove to be empty rhetoric, aimed at his domestic audience, there’s plentiful evidence that his threat to “invade”, as Bozkurt puts it, should not be ignored.
Meanwhile, Greek armed forces are on a high state of alert.
Bozkurt was bureau chief in Ankara of Daily Zaman, but chose exile to Sweden when Erdoğan closed down the paper after the failed 2016 coup. On 19 August 2020, Bozkurt reported on a speech given that day by Erdoğan:
Documents reveal Erdogan’s plan
According to Bozkurt, a secret plan for a Turkish invasion of Greece (and Armenia) goes back to 2014. The plan is named after Çaka Bey, who led the 11th-century Turkish invasion of several Aegean islands, including Rhodes, Chios, Samos, and Lesbos.
In recent months, there have been hundreds of instances of Turkish naval and air force incursions into Greek territorial waters and airspace. A December 2019 article in Greek Reporter showed that “Turkish Navy and Turkish Coast Guard have violated Greece’s territorial waters a grand total of 2,032 times so far in 2019”. And in October of that year, another Greek Reporter article claimed 3,954 incidences of Turkish aircraft invading Greek airspace over the previous ten months.
As one news channel puts it, Turkey is now engaged in “militarising” the eastern Mediterranean:
#Gravitas | Turkey is militarising the East Mediterranean region.@RTErdogan is threatening France, Cyprus & Greece with retaliation if Turkish vessels are targeted.@palkisu tells you how Turkey is taking a cue from China@EmmanuelMacron @AnastasiadesCY @PresidencyGR pic.twitter.com/K2pzOcU8uB
— WION (@WIONews) August 20, 2020
And in July, Greek and Turkish jet fights engaged in “mock dogfights” in the skies above the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
More recently, on 13 August, Greek armed forces were placed on high alert and “recalled its naval and air force officers from leave”.
Not just about territory
This militarisation may not only be an indication of possible territorial expansion by Turkey, but about the exploitation of a certain commodity.
On 21 August, Erdoğan made a big announcement – Turkey has discovered a gas field in the Black Sea:
Turkish President #Erdogan took the discovery of gas field opportunity in Black Sea to hammer #Greece, repeated earlier threats of taking military action against #Turkey's NATO ally, slammed the EU for spoiling Greeks, and vowed that European Union can't save Greece pic.twitter.com/2uHeTFYsrZ
— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) August 21, 2020
The news is not unexpected. Indeed, the day before the Economist argued that one of the main drivers in Turkey’s expansionist drive is gas fields in the eastern Med. As one commentator argued, Turkey is basically seeking “control over the waters of the eastern Aegean and the northern Mediterranean”:
"Erdogan’s government has embraced a revanchist doctrine known as the "Blue Homeland", which seeks to give Turkey control over the waters of the eastern Aegean and the northern Mediterranean, disregarding every Greek island from Samothrace to Rhodes." https://t.co/ZPx7D0ienc
— The Greek Analyst (@GreekAnalyst) August 20, 2020
In 2019, Turkey stepped up its drilling for gas in the waters off northern Cyprus. This area was invaded by Turkey in 1974 and declared as the Turkish Republic of Cyprus – separate from the rest of Cyprus. It is only recognised by Turkey.
In 2019, Turkey and Libya declared that the waters between Cyprus and Libya, including the Greek island of Crete, were their ‘exclusive economic zone’. Turkey also intends to drill for oil off Rhodes.
Trump has a stake
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that Donald Trump has a personal connection to Erdoğan:
One part of the backdrop of this story–perhaps explaining Trump's unusual actions with respect to Turkey: the involvement of three son's in law: Jared Kushner in the US. Son in law of Erdogan. Son in law of the developer of Trump towers in Istanbul. https://t.co/elswtwTZdJ
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) February 3, 2020
As the New York Times put it:
Behind President Trump’s accommodating attitude toward Turkey is an unusual back channel: a trio of sons-in-law who married into power and now play key roles in connecting Ankara with Washington.
One, Turkey’s finance minister, is the son-in-law of its strongman president and oversees his country’s relationship with the United States.
Another is the son-in-law of a Turkish tycoon and became a business partner to the Trump Organization. Now he advocates for Turkey with the Trump administration.
And the third is Jared Kushner, who as the son-in-law of and senior adviser to Mr. Trump has a vague if expansive foreign policy portfolio.
This might partly explain why, in October 2019, Trump gave the green light to Turkey to annex parts of the Kurdish-majority area of northern Syria.
There’s also another family link between the Turkish president and the exploitation of oil. Erdoğan’s son, Bilal, owns BMZ, the Turkish company that handles most of Turkey’s oil exports.
Turkey’s war against the Kurds
It would be a mistake to dismiss Erdoğan’s rhetoric as just ‘chest-thumping’. Over the years he has imprisoned his enemies, including journalists and opposition leaders, in the aftermath of a failed coup. He also waged war against the Kurdish-majority areas of Turkey; actions subsequently ruled as a war crime by the . And his regime’s repression of its Kurdish population is ongoing.
Erdoğan furthermore exploited the war against Daesh (Isis/Isil) to wage war against Kurdish people in northern Syria:
- In January 2014, MIT (Turkey’s intelligence service) was caught red-handed “transporting missiles, mortars and anti-aircraft ammunition” via trucks to al-Qaeda in Syria. Also, evidence emerged that appeared to provide details of similar operations. For example, there were claims that one clandestine operation involved “six steel containers in three trucks [that] held a total of 1,000 artillery shells, 50,000 machine gun rounds, 30,000 heavy machine-gun rounds and 1,000 mortar shells”. These arms were reportedly destined for the al-Qaeda affiliated group Ansar al-Islam.
- In July 2015, it was reported that in June of that year Turkish officials met with Turkmen forces in Syria to arrange their help for an offensive against the Kurdish YPG/YPJ militias of northern Syria (the male and female militias defending the autonomous and multi-ethnic communities of Rojava). A plan for that offensive was first conceived in August 2015, as reported by The Canary.
- In 2016, the autonomous Kurdish-majority communities in northern Syria published “compelling evidence” of collusion between Daesh militants and Turkey. Other evidence of cooperation between Turkey and Daesh included supplying arms and jailing journalists.
- Turkey also colluded with Syrian-based jihadist and Islamist groups in its 2018 invasion of Afrin and the 2019 invasion of Rojava.
- This 2015 article provides many more examples of Turkish collusion with Daesh.
Democracy under threat
Erdoğan is a clear and present danger to Syria and Greece, the latter often cited as the birthplace of democracy. For almost 400 years, Greece was occupied by the Ottoman Turks. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Lausanne Treaty, agreed between Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania and the Serb-Croat-Slovene state, specified the borders of Turkey in particular. Hence, any change in those borders without full agreement of all parties is a violation of that treaty.
When Turkey’s president can’t get his way, he makes threats. In October 2019, he threatened Europe with 3.6 million refugees if it continued to characterise Turkey’s invasion of the largely Kurdish populated Rojava as an invasion. He’s made similar threats before.
However, if Erdoğan acts upon his rhetoric this time and today’s ‘big powers’ refuse to intervene, then the people of Europe must rise up and defend Greece from invasion by a country that’s led by this authoritarian and most murderous man.
Featured image via Wikimedia
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