Greek government officials are preparing themselves for a period of high tension with Turkey ahead of critical elections for President Erdoğan as he slips in the polls ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections, expected in June 2023, Greek daily Kathimerini reported.
“The Greek government has deliberately chosen not to respond to a barrage of recent and increasing verbal attacks against Greece, considering them bizarre and aimed towards a domestic audience,” Kathimerini said, as some commentators accused Turkey’s governing coalition of trying to whip up votes by inflaming nationalistic emotions.
Observers such as security scholar Alex Kassidaris have suggested Turkey’s leaders may be trying through inflammatory rhetoric to drum up nationalistic emotions and therefore votes for the governing coalition of the Islamic-nationalist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and ultra-nationalist far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
A recent example of hostile rhetoric toward Greece came in mid-August when Ankara accused Greece of ‘locking on’ to Turkish fighter jets with air defence systems near Rhodes. Greece has repeatedly warned of illegal Turkish incursions into its airspace.
Tensions have dramatically escalated since then, to the point where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened Greece on Saturday, saying that Greece had violated international agreements by militarising islands in the Aegean Sea and even hinting that Turkey could respond with military force.
“You occupying the islands doesn’t bind us,” Erdoğan said, referring to Greece on Saturday at a military air technology show in Samsun. Erdoğan warned that Turkey could “come down suddenly one night”, an expression he had previously used before invading Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria.
“When the time comes, we’ll do what’s necessary. As we say, we may come down suddenly one night.” He added: “Look at history, if you go further, the price will be heavy.”
“We have one sentence to Greece: Don’t forget Izmir,” Erdoğan said, referring to the brutal 1922 forced depopulation of the Aegean city, considered by many to be part of a genocide of Greeks perpetrated during the founding of the Turkish Republic.
The recent Turkish threats come just days after the 100th anniversary of what Turkey refers to as ‘Victory Day’, a public holiday in commemorating the decisive victory in the Greece-Turkey war between 1919 and 1922, which ended with the Battle of Dumlupinar on 30 August 1922, and the brutal explusion of Greeks from Turkey, especially from Izmir, formerly known by its Greek inhabitants as Smyrna.
In recent days, Turkish officials have accused Greece of harbouring Kurdish militants in the refugee camp at Lavrion, which Deputy Interior Minister İsmail Çataklı said had been “turned over to terrorists” and state broadcaster TRT said had been used to train guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Following a tweet from Yusuf Erem, Editor-at-large of TRT World, Turkey’s state broadcaster regarding the Lavrion PKK story, Greek academic and political commentator, Nikos Michailidis was prompted to respond to the story, cynically awarding Yusuf Erem with the ‘Joseph Goebbels Prize for best Turkish journalist.’
Interviewed about Turkey’s recent escalation of threats against Greece, Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, said:
“I see them as an extremely dangerous distraction at a moment when NATO is focused on helping Ukraine against Putin’s aggression. Any hostile action by Erdoğan versus Greece would not only be a catastrophe in itself but would severely damage the united front against the Russian invasion. NATO needs to warn Erdoğan loud and clear that it will stand with Greece against Turkey just as it stands with Ukraine against Russia. Also, I wonder if Putin encouraged Erdoğan to threaten Greece; if so, what might the threat or quid pro quo be?”