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Malarkey on Eastern Mediterranean Tensions

By on October 10, 2020
Endy Zemenides

by Endy Zemenides

There is a saying attributed to Mark Twain that holds: “A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” This saying represents one of the major problems Greece and Cyprus face vis a vis Turkey when it comes to the recent tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean.

For far too long, Greece and Cyprus have been indecisive about even which boots they were going to wear while Turkish lies were proliferating.  This is not an across the board indictment, since efforts with segments of the American political establishment have yielded results as have recent efforts in the think tank community.  But the chronic underinvestment in engaging with American thought leadership is hampering efforts to hold Turkey accountable in the United States.

Let’s take just one instance of Turkish lies that traveled far and wide while Athens and Nicosia were absent from the debate.  Soner Cagaptay, a Senior Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has on Twitter recently pushed the strained argument that the EU effectively ending Turkey’s prospects for full membership is the reason for the present tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey is continuing the provocations in Greek waters with her exploratory vessels while she talks of dialogue...

Turkey is continuing the provocations in Greek waters with her exploratory vessels while she talks of dialogue…

It is hard to pin down Cagaptay on Turkey, he vacillates between being a harsh critic of Erdogan and apologist for revanchist policies.  He makes statements that cast doubt on the level of information he has on certain issues – and may indicate that he himself if a victim of spin efforts out of Ankara.  Take this tweet for example: “Turkey made a valiant effort to unify Cyprus and open EU accession talks in 2005 and many of my Greek diplomat friends fawned on Erdogan as a great leader around the same time. Turkish-Greek ties stayed in good shape until the EU shut close doors of accession for Ankara.”

This narrative of Turkish “valor” when it came to the Annan Plan is not limited to Cagaptay.  Thought leaders and policy makers in both Europe and the US – Carl Bildt, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the Atlantic Council – have long bought into this narrative.  Nonetheless, Turkish “valor” on Cyprus is a fiction.

Turkey was dragged into this process – first of all by Richard Holbrooke, who laid prime responsibility for lack of progress on Cyprus at the feet of Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, and then by the EU who made it clear that Ankara did not hold a veto over Cypriot membership of the EU.  That Turkey was happy with the plan that went to referendum cannot be considered valiant in any way, since it did not rob them of a right of intervention on Cyprus, did not force them to remove occupation troops, did not make them pay any cost of reunification, and gave them an effective veto in an EU member state.  Such valor. . .

Policy makers in the U.S., France, Israel and Egypt have finally realized what a bullet they dodged.  The effective veto the Annan Plan would have granted Ankara over EU foreign policy and Eastern Mediterranean collaboration would have been disastrous.

When it comes to Cagaptay’s “Greek diplomat friends”, he should check back with them.  They – and many others – will admit that they were duped.  Their higher expectations for Erdogan stemmed solely from the fact that he was not a traditional Kemalist with whom they had problems with and they were encouraged by his government’s “zero problems” rhetoric.  Indeed, Turkey’s Christians, its Kurds, and Armenians in Turkey and in Armenia fell prey to similar expectations.  And in his final interview with The Atlantic as President, Barack Obama admitted to being duped by Erdogan as well – labelling him “a failure and an authoritarian”.

The hope that Erdogan was a reformer and committed to Western democracy must have been so strong that it blinded so many to who he really was.  While EU membership was still very much in play, Erdogan declared: “Democracy is like a train; you get off once you have reached your destination.”

The EU was a tool for Erdogan.  It helped him consolidate power by neutering Turkey’s Deep State.  But the price of being a full EU member is not one that would fit with his ambitions (either geopolitically or his desire to surpass Ataturk).  Moreover, Greece and Cyprus have always been in favor of Turkey’s eventual full membership.  To attack them in retaliation for the EU “ending” negotiations only makes sense in Turkey-apologist world.

Turkey is the antagonist – more accurately, the villain – in the drama that is unfolding from Libya all the way to the Caucasus.  This may be inconvenient for those who spent decades of intellectual energy and political capital in Turkey being the West’s great Islamic hope.  It is time for the truth to lace up the boots fully and catch up to the lies.

About Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), a national advocacy organization for the Greek American community. To learn more about HALC, visit www.hellenicleaders.com