Letter to The Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 1996

The Editor
The Christian Science Monitor
1 Norway Street
Boston, MA 02115

To the Editor:

Tozun Bahcheli's and Alan Makovsky's April 19th essay on the containment of Greco-Turkish disputes presented a broad yet sharp overview of the relevant issues, and evinced a familiarity with a subject poorly understood by the American press. Nevertheless, the authors' essay served to misguide rather than enlighten leading readers amiss with one overriding flaw, two misstatements, one red-herring and, as a result, one overlooked solution.

The basic flaw stems from the essay's functionalist approach to analyzing the ongoing tensions between the two nations thereby encouraging the implementation of solutions without regard to the problem's legal and moral dimensions. Although this approach does avoid the mind-numbing counter-productive soapbox sermons and finger-pointing that has characterized much of Balkan and Middle-Eastern affairs, it is a realpolitik that has one overriding drawback: that such an approach is inherently pro-Turkish and as a result is counterproductive to any genuine progress in relations between Athens and Ankara.

Not that Turkey does not have legitimate issues to address with Greece; but as between the two nations, international law, human rights, and issues of international aggression weigh far more in Greece's favor, and weigh heavily against Turkey. Ignoring these issues would be tantamount to dismissing the foundation upon which most of Greece's objections are based and, worse yet, sanctioning an amoral, machiavellian realpolitik that has in the past resulted in the horror of genocide and holocaust.

Furthermore, many of Turkey's actions both internationally as well as domestically so clearly involve serious legal and moral transgressions, that concern over the general slipperiness and chameleon nature of these concepts should not discourage their application to the Greco-Turkish dispute.

That since the 1970's Turkey's role has fundamentally been that of an aggressor, and that Greece has generally taken a reactive, defensive posture is readily apparent. The marginalization of international law by the West when understanding the Greco-Turkish dispute has often led to a strong feeling of indignation and outrage on the part of Greece, a reaction which has indeed added significantly to the intractability of the situation. Yet instead of further exacerbating the problem by blaming Greece for her impassioned reaction and thus further marginalizing her legitimate concerns regarding Turkey's expansionism and endemic human rights violations reversing this posture would far better lend itself to a solution. By recognizing the moral and legal validity of Greece's concerns and incorporating them substantially in the calculus of any negotiations, Greece's posture would be far more conciliatory and conducive to the finding of a solution.

A good example of the effectiveness of this approach involves the Imia crisis. That Imia has clearly been recognized in the past as Greek territory under international treaty, custom and practice and even by Turkey's own official statements would be disingenuous to sincerely dispute. After Ankara laid its claims on the islet and the West at first did not respond by recognizing Greece's sovereignty, in fact even criticized Greece for her heightened response, Greece's reaction was one of pronounced outrage and its posture was stubborn and galvanized. Greece, ready to go to war over the islet, refused to even entertain the notion of referring the dispute to the Hague or any other third party, and any attempts at negotiation would have been futile. Yet once the EU finally recognized Greece's sovereignty over the islet, Greece vindicated, feeling far less threatened, and thus acting with greater calm and restraint was willing to take the lead in offering a resolution to the crisis by referring the matter to the International Court of Justice (an offer that was subsequently turned down by Turkey).

Consequently, the authors' reckoning of the situation, that "Greece resists [the notion for the need for dialogue] fearing that willingness to talk will lead to compromise of its rights" offers only a limited assessment of the situation, and ignores the most effective solution to this impasse: legitimizing Greece's demonstrably valid concerns regarding issues of Turkish aggression and human rights.

This is a far more workable as well as morally and legally appropriate response than that proposed by Messrs. Bahcheli and Makovsky. For example, although your authors recognize that Greece has "an apparent right to . . . extend its territorial seas . . . under the Law of the Sea Treaty" they nevertheless inexplicably conclude from this that Greece "should cease making that claim" publicly to "cool . . . inflammatory rhetoric". As anyone even nominally familiar with the area's thoughtwork can attest to, the silencing of the Greek Government where it has a genuine and legitimate fear over Turkish belligerency against one of its most valuable and historically cherished assets, the Aegean Sea, is not a feasible solution, as it should not be. By recognizing Greece's 12-mile claim as a valid one under international law and allaying Greece's fears over the loss of her territorial waters, a more secure and confident Greece would then be willing to genuinely entertain Turkish concerns over shipping routes and other issues regarding the Aegean, and to negotiate their resolution. For example, the permission granted by Greece recently for the overflight of fighter jets over her territory in furtherance of an important military milestone for Turkey the first mid-air refueling of a military aircraft evinces the conciliatory nature of a Greece that does not feel threatened. An even more potent example, Greece finally agreed not to exercise its veto over the EU customs union with Turkey, an enormous benefit for Turkey and an important first step for the fulfillment of Turkey's seven-decade-long aspiration of European inclusion. This huge concession by Greece was reportedly granted in return for Turkey's pledge for greater cooperation and good neighborliness with Greece, including beginning bilateral negotiations on solving the Cyprus issue. Yet when Imia was claimed by Turkey, and Greece's immediate security was again threatened, Greece blocked EU funding for Turkey that had been agreed upon under the framework of the customs agreement.

The reason why Bahcheli's and Makovsky's suggestion of a "mutual nonaggression pledge" would be nothing less than farcical in the eyes of many Greeks is because Greece has clearly been in a defensive posture, and Turkey in a clearly aggressive one, for at least the past four decades. As with the buildup of forces during the Imia crisis, any reasonable observer will note that any military activity by Greece has been reactive and clearly founded upon a defensive posture. In addition, Turkey's far more powerful military machine, the largest in NATO after the U.S., poses a far greater threat to Greece than Greece's armed forces do to Turkey.

Finally, the relevance of all this to larger issues is clear: Tozun Bahcheli's and Alan Makovsky's avoidance of the legal and moral dimensions in a situation where they are so clearly relevant (and discernible) is that they risk becoming marginalized, not only with regard to Greco-Turkish relations but with regard to all international problems as well.


Although your authors cite Turkey's view of "Greece as impeding its efforts to develop closer ties with the West [and] particularly the European Union" as the "[m]ost important" reason why "Greek-Turkish relations [are] increasingly unstable", EU insiders are well aware that it is not only Athens that is keeping Turkey from fuller EU membership. European ministers have time and again stated that Turkey is far from ready for political (as opposed to economic) inclusion in the EU.

It is Turkey that has an endemic human rights problem, treating its citizens in ways wholly repellent to the democratic values held dear by EU nations. It is Turkey that is engaging in what can reasonably be called the ethnic cleansing of Kurdish civilians from Turkish Kurdistan.

With these problems as well as its deprivation of women's civil liberties, its suppression of religion resulting in an increase in Islamic fundamentalism, its occupation of Cyprus and its belligerence towards EU-member Greece, its blockade of its former genocide victims the Armenians in contravention of U.S. and international law, and its continued suppression of numerous minorities including the near-extinct Constantinopolean Greeks and the Alawite Moslems, it would be far more genuine and productive to conclude that Turkey is keeping itself out of the EU. The Turkish Government's actions are wholly antithetical to that of a Western value system, and until this most important of all hurdles is overcome by more than simply cosmetic changes and public relations efforts, Turkey cannot expect to be embraced, or even welcomed, into the Western fold.

Your correspondents further cited Turkey's claim of a Greek-Syrian "military cooperation agreement aimed at Turkey" as another source of the problems between Greece and Turkey. Although this agreement was indeed an unusual one and clearly a reaction to Turkey's military pact with Israel, your authors summarily dismissed the crucial importance of the Turko-Israeli agreement in the calculus of the region's shifting alliances and balances of power, concluding that "it can safely be assumed that Israelis will not involve themselves in Greek-Turkish disputes". The fact is that they already have, by entering into the agreement and by now being in a position to provide the Turks with crucial martial technologies, intelligence and know-how that could tip the already lopsided military scales even further in Turkey's favor. Potentially even more valuable than the military assistance provided to Turkey would be any significant support by any number of influential Jewish American organizations or lobby groups.

Although the notion of Jewish Americans supporting a traditionally antisemitic country that has made genocide denial a primary foreign policy objective may seem incredible, the Turko-Israeli military agreement may be a first step in this direction. While the European press has routinely reported on the Turks' rampant human rights abuses including the ethnic cleansing campaign against Turkey's Kurdish minority which has displaced hundreds of thousands more than even the horrors visited upon the Bosnians the American public has been denied this information despite the fact that Turkey is the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign economic and military aid. In this context it is conceivable that equally uninformed Jewish Americans, traditionally fervent advocates of human rights causes, may nevertheless be misled by their leadership and paradoxically throw their considerable weight in support of the Turkish agenda in the U.S., given Turkey's and Israel's newfound perception of a convergence of interests. The danger of such an alliance to Greek national security would far outweigh the danger posed to Turkey's own security by a nominal, and most likely unworkable, military cooperation agreement between two highly unlikely bedfellows, Greece and Syria.


Your correspondents further cite Turkish suspicions of Greek assistance to Kurdish separatists as a genuine issue preventing better Greco-Turkish relations; an excuse Ankara menacingly holds over Greece's head, and one that will no doubt one day serve as a pretext to the threat of military action in the future. Yet other than allowing Kurdish organizations in Greece to demonstrate, publish materials and otherwise exercise basic democratic freedoms which are denied them in Turkey Ankara has been unable to come up with one shred of credible evidence, doctored or otherwise, to support its paranoia of any actual assistance to the separatist Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK). Turkey's well-known strategy of diverting attention away from domestic problems and towards ethnic scapegoats, most often Greeks and Armenians, has led to even greater displays absurdities: during rioting last year by Alawite Muslims, another of Turkey's beleaguered minorities, in which scores of Alawites were killed by security forces, then-Prime Minister Tansu Ciller had the temerity to publicly attribute the rioting to a conspiracy hatched by dark Greek forces again without a shred of evidence. Such statements might be laughable, were they not so dangerous. As expected Greek cemeteries were desecrated, bomb-threats were made against both the Patriarchate and Greek minority schools (such as the Zappion Girls' School and Zographion Lycee), Greeks were physically attacked, and other hate-crimes were perpetrated against the Greek minority with no action on the part of the Turkish authorities to protect this minority.


The best hope for resolving one of the region's most intractable problems lies with the United States. Unlike Bosnia, China, Somalia and a myriad of other troubled areas in which the U.S. has committed itself and has taken an affirmative stance with little hope of decisively resolving these conflicts U.S. political, economic and diplomatic intervention in response to Turkish transgressions would indeed provide exceptionally good chances of decisively resolving the Greco-Turkish rivalry. US pressure on Turkey would have a far greater effect than similar intervention would have on Greece, as Greece's central focus is now directed towards the EU. Turkey, on the other hand, would have nowhere else to turn.

The EU is far from ready to integrate Turkey into its ranks. And with the ever-increasing queue of far more eligible applicants, Ankara would no doubt suffocate if it decided to hold its breath for EU membership. Furthermore, the Turks have invested far too much towards their 70-year Westernization effort to turn their backs now, even in response to sustained and aggressive U.S. pressure. Were Turkey to turn towards Islamic fundamentalism in reaction a fear held by many U.S. and European strategists that has caused them to conveniently overlook Turkey's decidedly undemocratic practices Turkey would run into a dead end, finding itself isolated from both the West and the East. A Turko-Arab and Turko-Persian alliance would be about as unlikely as a Turko-Russian one. Intense historical animosities between Arabs and Turks aside, Turkish interests have long since come to a head with Arab ones. Syria, Iraq and Iran can accurately be characterized as having an decidedly belligerent position towards Turkey. Turkish monopolization of precious Middle Eastern water resources flowing from the Euphrates have pitted Turkey and Syria dangerously at odds with each other. Iran and Turkey are already in frantic competition over the vast oil resources of central Asia's ex-Soviet republics.

Turkey has no choice but to continue looking Westward, and particularly towards the U.S. Any substantial and sustained pressure by the U.S. on Turkey would not only eventually result in Turkey's cessation of its foreign policy of aggression, thereby laying a solid foundation for Greco-Turkish peace initiatives, but would result in the West's gaining a truly valuable ally one which could become a full member of the West, sharing the same genuine respect for peace, democracy and human rights with all its difficulties as well as its benefits.

Very truly yours,

Phillip Spyropoulos, Esq.

cc: Tozun Bahcheli Alan Makovsky

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