Greece After Turkey's Coup D'état

Developments in Turkey have further destabilized the Eastern Mediterranean. With Greece representing the real frontier of the democratic West, now is the time to provide some much needed debt relief and make Greece a true "success story."
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Flags of the Turkey and the European Union. Turkey Flag and EU Flag. World flag concept.
Flags of the Turkey and the European Union. Turkey Flag and EU Flag. World flag concept.

The failure of the recent coup d'état in Turkey will transform the country in ways that present significant opportunities and challenges to neighboring Greece. Responding to them requires first a clear understanding of the new Turkey that is emerging.

Without any doubt, seeing a putsch defeated by people in the streets and military forces loyal to the concept of civilian control is a welcome outcome. However, the scope and depth of President Erdoğan's reaction has been breathtaking: thousands of military officers, educators and civil servants have been summarily arrested or fired. A three month state of emergency means the suspension of basic human rights while the death penalty may be re-imposed. The wrath of the victors is such that there have been reports that deceased coup participants have even been denied Islamic burial rites.

The conclusion is inescapable: Turkey will become more autocratic and less secular, the paradigmatic example of an Islamic illiberal democracy; and it will remain a deeply divided society. As a result, the country's soft power and international image will take a beating. Turkey's regional allure based on a model of economic success and political liberalization within a framework of supposedly mild Islam is no longer tenable. Tourism and possibly Foreign Direct Investing will suffer. Furthermore, Turkey's chances of European Union accession, already slim, are effectively finished. European leaders may find the charade that one day they might be welcoming Turkey as an equal member useful. But Brexit, the immigration crisis and the rise of Erdoğan's authoritarianism mean that it is far likelier that the EU will first meet its demise before Turkey joins in.

At the same time, Turkey's relations with the United States might become strained. Demands for the extradition of the cleric Fethullah Gülen's and wild statements implying that America might have been complicit in the coup will certainly not be conducive to stellar bilateral relations. Also, Turkey's role in NATO will be somewhat downgraded. For example, some experts have already began to question the wisdom of keeping NATO nuclear weapons in Incirlik base. However, there is no denying that Turkey possesses one of the largest NATO militaries, a key geographic position and is indispensable in certain issues, such as combating ISIS.

The failure of the coup d'état also means that there will be no rapprochement between Cairo and Ankara. A different outcome would have paved the way for an understanding among the two countries military leaders. This will now not be the case. In addition, relations with Israel will probably not accelerate or deepen. Simply put, it is doubtful that Israel will truly trust Turkey so long as Erdoğan is in charge; and for those prone to conspiracy theories, it is worth noting that Jerusalem's timing to normalize relations with Ankara was not opportune, since post-coup much better terms could have been exacted from a weakened Turkey. So much for those who instinctively consider that Israel might have somehow been linked to the coup.

Before turning to how Athens should respond to all these developments, a word of caution to the many Greeks this author has encountered who appear to have supported the coup plotters. First, Greece's history of military rule and coups has been dreadful and hence they ought to know better. Second, according to a Greek official at the highest levels of power, Erdoğan's Turkey refused to take advantage of Greece's economic weakness in a specific manner that would have wreaked havoc in the country's banking sector. Most importantly, though, and despite his authoritarian instincts, there has been no significant military episode between Greece and Turkey during Erdoğan's tenure. This is not necessarily because of his statesmanlike qualities but probably because he did not want to empower the military (Greek officials suspect that the tension evinced in the Aegean at around Easter 2016 might have been due to semi-autonomous military decisions). But it remains a fact that the most important crises that occurred in 1955, 1963, 1964, 1974, 1976, 1987 and 1996 (the list is long), were perpetrated by Kemalist secular nationalists--not Islamists. Whether this pattern holds in the future remains to be seen, but from a Greek, democratic and national interest perspective, support for the coup is unjustified.

Greece now has a neighbor that is more divided, isolated and weak. The last thing that Athens should do is provide an excuse to Ankara to turn its domestic challenges into a dispute with Greece. There are of course eight coup plotters who have requested from Greece political asylum. The only way to deal with them is to strictly follow a rule of law approach devoid of political interventions, as befits a European country. But Greece must not become a haven for coup plotters and their entering the country should be actively discouraged. Remember, these are not some kind of "freedom fighters" but participants in an effort to subvert democracy that ended up killing scores of innocent civilians.

A new reality is now crystallizing in the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece, Cyprus (and Israel) are the last bastions of the West as we understand it. For example, Greece is a member of NATO, the EU, the eurozone, fully respects human rights and holds free democratic elections and referendums on an all too regular basis. In this part of the world, the West ends with Hellenism and Judaism. Turkey is a crucial NATO ally but the country's pro-Western secular (and nationalist) forces have suffered a historic defeat from which they might never recover.

Greece has an opportunity to finally delineate its Exclusive Economic Zone with Egypt, the timing being perfect. Relations with Israel can continue to deepen and solidify. At the same time, the forces of Hellenism have a moral imperative to point out that part of Cyprus is still under Turkish military occupation. This is the same military that just organized a coup. Can it be trusted? Is this situation in accordance with Western norms and principles? Militaries should be in their barracks and as a Cypriot politician recently told his European counterparts, the same should apply to the occupying forces--except that their proper place of residence is in Turkey.

Developments in Turkey have further destabilized the Eastern Mediterranean. With Greece representing the real frontier of the democratic West, now is the time to provide some much needed debt relief and make Greece a true "success story." The United States and the European Union can thus actively contribute to regional stability that will eventually also require a just resolution of the Cyprus Issue.

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