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Turkish and Greek nationalism, a two way street

In search of cooler heads to prevail as competing ideologies of the past are on the rise

By Nikos Stelgias

Blue Homeland is a term that was put together by Turkish coup d'etat generals, who emerged once again following the fallout between the government and the Gulen movement.

There have been recent reports by Kathimerini Cyprus shedding light on the new official doctrine in Turkey, where coupists of yesterday but also political analysts and ideologues of today all believe that Turkey’s vital interests in the Mediterranean and the Aegean are under the threat of Greek and Cypriot “expansionism.”

The term Blue Homeland was front and centre in the last few days due to the large naval drill of the Turkish Armed Forces taking place in the Black Sea, Aegean, and the eastern Mediterranean. But behind this historic exercise is really nothing more than big flaws in Turkish diplomacy.

At the start of this decade, Turkish diplomacy was carried away by false hopes and wrong calculations by the government. There was an effort to define its own ideological line and expansionist strategy in the wider region (i.e., Syria). This strategy not only failed but at the same time it brought about Turkey’s regional isolation. While supporters of the government were cheering on dreaming of one day praying at a historic mosque in Damascus, an opposing bloc was gradually emerging in the eastern Mediterranean. This camp has joined forces on many levels especially on defence and energy matters.

Athens and Nicosia see “Blue Homeland” as an important tool behind which they can hide and put off resolutions to important issues, such as the Cyprus problem

So, at a fist reading, Turkey is falling behind developments by “missing the train of history” in the eastern Mediterranean and is now running to catch up. The neighbouring country is choosing to project military might and place its hopes in the results of exploratory drills for natural gas in the foreseeable future in waters off Cyprus. But in reality these are kneejerk reactions by a diplomatic front that continues to this day to be misled by incorrect calculations.

In this op-ed we won’t focus on the wrong moves in Turkish diplomacy, as there is another issue that jumps out. Today, we are more concerned about the rise of opposing nationalisms in the region. The design by Turkish coupists has given way to Greek and Cypriot analysts wearing their ethnicity on their sleeve and going on offence.

There are two key dimensions in this whole situation. At the official rhetoric level, Athens and Nicosia see “Blue Homeland” as an important tool behind which they can hide and put off resolutions to important issues, such as the Cyprus problem.

Turkish nationalism gives rival Greek nationalism a perfect opportunity to develop a competing discourse in the wider region. This of course amid an election campaign will serve the interests of political parties and absolve those hawkish voices in Greek diplomacy as well as at the Greek Pentagon, both of which are at the helm of Greco-Turkish relations and the Cyprus issue.

The two way street of the competing nationalist ideologies - Greek and Turkish - has another dimension, which is society’s failure to have a proper mechanism to undertake an exhaustive and critical analysis. Instead, the general public is happy to consume with great ease a kind of junk food by the well known restaurant chain of dogma meals prepared decades earlier but reheated and served today as “Blue Homeland.”

There is no better example to describe this development than taking a look at Greek and Cypriot journalism, where colleagues, analysts, writers have all for days been wasting ink to hammer in and influence public opinion on the so called important measures jointly taken by Athens and Nicosia to counter this new provocation from Ankara. Colleagues do not seem to make the effort to focus behind the scenes on the Turkish anxiety over energy goings-on in the area or the prospect of a final division of Cyprus including that of the eastern Mediterranean.

I am certain that a careful reader of this column will have already formed a critical question in his or her mind. If we don’t wish to get carried away by this two-way street where competing nationalist ideologies invoke notions of “enemy” and “opponent” then what are we to do? What is the strategy we have to implement in order to thwart this new nationalism on the rise in our own back yard?

The answer is not simple. First of all, if we want to have a full picture of the situation we need cooler heads and better analysis of the “other” or Turkey in this case. Second, since energy and the Cyprus problem are at the core of the dispute, we ought to be mindful of mistakes of the past. Third, when it comes to Turkey, Greece and Cyprus need a strategy that will be proactive. That is, a dialogue is needed aimed at actively engaging the other side and not isolating it, with terms of discussion based on international law while also taking into account the dynamics of global power politics.


The article was first published by Kathimerini Cyprus on 4 March 2019

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