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Nicosia,
22 January, 2019
 

A lingering crisis

Turkey and Greece are speaking two entirely different “languages”

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

The ongoing travails of the two Greek soldiers jailed in Turkey is a crisis. No self-respecting state can accept the fact that the pair are being kept in prison on a variety of different pretexts as a matter of routine. Beyond the significant humanitarian aspect, their return is also a matter of honour.

This will not be easy, as Turkey and Greece are speaking two entirely different “languages” right now. Things are happening in Turkey that never become public and cannot be checked as to whether they are in line with the country’s domestic laws or European regulations. Even if the media finds out about them, they will be forced to bury the news.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes that all countries and governments act in the same way. Ever since the failed 2016 coup, he has been looking at the world through the prism of a conspiracy theorist, often bordering on the paranoid. He, therefore, expects that the Greek government can also act outside the institutional framework and do his bidding in relations to the eight Turkish servicemen seeking protection in Greece from prosecution for treason in Turkey... or others.

There’s only a handful of politicians who can mediate

No one knows with any certainty whether the arrest of the two Greek soldiers was an effort to give Erdogan a bargaining chip or part of a plan to dampen morale in Athens. The longer the issue drags on, though, the more deliberate it all seems, as though planned by the “Erdogan state.” It is obvious that he has had a bee in his bonnet from the onset with regard to the eight servicemen.

There’s only a handful of politicians who can mediate: US President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel with French President Emmanuel Macron and the leader of the European Union collectively, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. For the time being, mediating efforts are taking place behind the scenes, but there are no signs that they will bear fruit. Washington is in a state of chaos because of the change of key players in foreign policy. The United States doesn’t even have an ambassador in Ankara right now; it does have certain citizens or employees who are being held “hostage.”

The Europeans advise self-restraint. They know Erdogan knows that Turkey will not become an EU member. They are afraid Turkey will pull the stopgap against the refugee flow. Putin, meanwhile, is playing his own game and has other priorities.

There are no magical solutions. Those who suggest harebrained schemes like “grabbing four of their guys” don’t understand the dangers. So, surprises aside, we should brace ourselves for a lingering crisis and tension. Tough decisions will need to be made. In a country beset by division and a laissez-faire attitude that treats such issues lightly, the time has come to get serious and come up with a plan.

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