Who knows what the Greeks were thinking when they invited terrible-tempered Turkish despot, Recep Erdogan, to visit Athens.
The Ottoman boor wasted no time making the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, regret the gesture. Erdogan began by demanding a renegotiation of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. That was a treaty between the Ottoman empire and the WWI allies - France, Britain, Japan, Italy, Greece and Romania. The Ottomans, who had thrown their hat in with the Kaiser, were the losers. The allies, who had emerged victorious were, well, the opposite of the Ottomans. The original treaty, the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, would have really carved up the Ottoman turf, allowing for the creation of a true homeland for the Kurds. The war-weary Brits and French, however, caved with the arrival of the Turkish nationalist, Ataturk, who rejected Sevres. Hence the Treaty of Lausanne which, apparently, no longer suits Erdogan.
Disputes that had lain dormant – not least the 1923 Treaty of Lausannedelineating the borders between the two nations – were prised open with brutal force on Thursday by Erdoğan on the first day of a historic visit dominated by the leader’s unpredictability.
Within an hour of stepping off his plane, the pugilistic politician was sparring with the Greek head of state, Prokopis Pavlopoulos. Athens, he said imperiously, would never have entered Nato had it not been for Ankara’s support. As an ally, it should seek to improve the religious rights of the Muslim minority in Thracewhich were enshrined in the Lausanne treaty, he insisted, sitting stony-faced in the inner sanctum of the presidential palace. “It needs to be modernised,” he said of the treaty, which has long governed Greek-Turkish relations and is seen as a cornerstone of regional peace.
A visibly stunned Pavlopoulos hit back, calling the treaty non-negotiable.
“The Treaty of Lausanne defines the territory and the sovereignty of Greece, and of the European Union, and this treaty is non-negotiable. It has no flaws, it does not need to be reviewed, or updated.”
After Pavlopoulos got the treatment, it was Tsipras' turn for an Erdogan lashing.
Athens, he continued, should also return the eight Turkish officers who had escaped to Greece as the coup unfolded even if the country’s judicial system had blocked their repatriation on the grounds that they would not be given a fair trial. “It is possible to return them to Turkey, which is a country that has abolished the death penalty and is not a country of torture,” he told a press conference in the prime minister’s office.
Looking on in dismay – Greek ministers exchanging knowing smiles around him – Tsipras repeated that as the birthplace of democracy, where executive power was separate from the law, Greece respected decisions made by the country’s justice system.
Earlier, the 43-year-old had attempted to ameliorate the frosty atmosphere, telling his guest that respect for international law was the basis of solid ties between the two neighbours.
“Differences have always existed and [they exist] today,” the leftist leader said. “It is important … that we express our disagreements in a constructive way, without being provocative.”
The two countries came close to war ...in 1996 over a pair of uninhabited isles in the Aegean Sea. Most recently, tensions have resurfaced over Greece’s frontier role in the refugee crisis, failed talks to reunify Cyprus and, according to officials in Athens, Turkey’s repeated violations of Greek air and naval space in the Aegean.
The defence ministry claims more than 3,000 airspace violations have occurred this year, more than at any other time since 2003. Erdoğan’s open questioning of the peace treaty that forged the boundaries of the two states has exacerbated friction even further.
The Greeks are also acutely aware that geography means they must coexist with Turkey and stand to benefit most if Ankara remains anchored to Europe.
They're both NATO partners and, as such, entitled to invoke Article 5 of the Alliance charter but, if it comes to a clash, I sure hope Canada and our allies side with one side and that's not Erdogan's.