Armenia, Greece and Cyprus Triangle May be in the Offing

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Armenia, Greece and Cyprus have been destined to be natural allies as victims of Turkey’s crimes against them, but for a variety of reasons, those friendly relations have not lived up to their potential. But the landscape is changing, once again due to the Turkish factor, and this coalition may finally bear fruit.

The competition to explore the newly-discovered wealth of hydrocarbon in the Eastern Mediterranean, the rise of Greece’s importance in the NATO structure and Turkey’s isolation in the Arab-Muslim world, have set into motion a new dynamic in the politics of the region.

Armenia, which was completely isolated during the 44-day war, except for some lip service from Europe, may join the fray to develop its defense capabilities. As Azerbaijan has been rearming, its authoritarian leader, Ilham Aliyev, has warned Armenia against “revanchism,” and against rearming itself, so that Armenia could remain at Baku’s mercy.

Russia needs Azerbaijan more than it needs Armenia and certainly will be cautious in supplying arms to Armenia. Given the existential threat from Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia is entitled to seek its defense needs elsewhere — or anywhere.

Although Greece and Turkey had joined NATO in 1952, Greece was always treated as the lesser member, with Turkey always being favored against the latter. To press the point, a ration of 7/10 was maintained in the procurement of arms to the two countries. That is why Athens was first to blink every time there was a standoff between the two countries.

The narrative around the Turkish occupation of Cyprus in 1974 has been distorted to present the Greek side to be the provocateur. This narrative suggests that the Greek military junta is to blame for orchestrating a coup against the legally-elected President Archbishop Makarios through an opportunist called Nikos Samson who vowed to unite the island with Greece (Enosis).

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To begin with, that junta came to power through the good graces of Washington and could not dare to take any actions without the consent of the US. The junta’s actions legitimized Turkey’s aggression based on the 1960 agreements of Zurich and London assigning Turkey as the protector of Turkish minority (18.2 percent of the population at the time) although nobody had threatened that minority in the first place.

The crux of the matter is that when Turkey invaded Cyprus, Henry Kissinger, then US secretary of state, warned the Greek side to stay put, because if Greece tried to intervene, it would meet the US Air Force. Ever since, Turkey has been occupying 37 percent of the island and altering its demographic profile by settling Anatolian Turks in the Turkish Republic of Cyprus in the north, a country they carved out which is recognized by no country other than Turkey.

More recently, Greece’s former socialist government had reduced the country into a basket case. But Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ center-right New Democracy Party won a landslide election in 2019 and brought about a turnaround to the country’s economy and politics.

Although Turkey brags that it has the second strongest army after the US in the NATO structure, Greece no longer lags far behind. As Turkey continues to abuse its power and thus erode its standing in NATO, sympathy and support is shifting to Greece.

After Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May, a spokesperson called the two countries to resolve their problems through diplomacy and characterized Greece as “an irreplaceable ally and key ally of the United States in NATO,” while describing Turkey as “an important US partner and important ally in NATO.”

The characterizations are very subtle but clear enough to make clear their place in US foreign policy.

Along with the US, other NATO members are realigning with Greece. One country notable in changing its tone is Germany, which historically has had an affinity for the Turks since World War I (and hence its complicity in the Armenian Genocide). That change seemed to come about when Ankara threatened the sovereignty of several Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. At a recent press conference in Berlin, a spokesperson for the government stated that Chancellor Olaf Scholz “is of the opinion that, given the current situation, it is necessary for all NATO allies to stand together and refrain from provocations between themselves.” Invading Greek airspace and flying over Greek islands is not OK, adding, “we cannot accept the questioning of the sovereignty of member-states of the European Union.”

The change in the German stance came after the Greek premier met with the Scholz followed by a strong and clear statement from French President Emmanuel Macron in defense of Greece’s sovereignty in the face of Turkish threats.

Turkey has been violating Greek air space regularly and recently it has conducted mock raids on those islands in military exercises with Azerbaijani forces. Most probably, the latter is repaying its debt to Turkey, which helped Baku win the 44-Day War against Armenia.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu also has threatened Greece a few times, asking Athens to demilitarize the Aegean islands, or face Turkish occupation (“challenge their sovereignty”). In his turn, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has scolded the Greek government, threatening them in his own unique style: “You keep putting on shows for us with your planes. What are you doing? Pull yourself together. Do you not learn lessons from history?”

This last threat was perhaps a reference to the Ataturk period, when Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos’ forces had occupied Smyrna and President Ataturk, supported by Russia’s Vladimir Lenin with arms, money and supplies, pushed the Greek forces to the sea as he expelled the Armenians from Cilicia. But what brought Mr. Erdogan’s anger to a boil was Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ successful trip to Washington in May, where he sealed a deal for F-35 fighter jets, while lobbying against including Turkey in the F-16 fighter jet program during his speech at the joint session of the US Congress.

Turkey has been trying to mend fences with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Erdogan’s trip to Riyadh did not yield any major results other than warm accolades from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The latter’s return trip to Ankara was initially greeted with jubilation, only for the Turkish government to find out later that the crown prince had included in the same trip visits to Greece and Cyprus as well, to balance his policy.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had earlier stood by the quartet of Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and Israel, which had isolated Turkey in the energy rivalry in the Eastern Mediterranean.

There are also some reports that the US may move its air base from Incirlik to Greece — its ace for pushing for its own agenda in the US. Mr. Erdogan had been complaining about the 12 military bases on the Aegean islands.

Greece has recovered its economy and military might and has responded to Turkish threats, saying that “Ankara will pay a steep price in any military adventure.”

Mr. Erdogan’s run of bad decisions and foreign policy snubs could not come at a worse time; his country’s economy is sagging and Turkey is further isolated while Erdogan has been strategizing to win the 2023 election, celebrate the centennial of the republic and anoint himself as the second Suleyman the Magnificent or Ataturk.

It looks like Armenia may make gains as a result of the Greek-Turkish standoff. For several years now, Armenia has had a military training program with Greece.

As Turkey threatens Greece with a new war, Athens has taken the courageous step of sending a military delegation to Armenia. Indeed, on June 2, Armenia’s Defense Minister Suren Papikyan received a Greek delegation headed by the Deputy National Defense Minister Nikolaos Hardalias. Papikyan presented an overview of the situation after the 44-Day War and emphasized the need to develop a partnership in the military-technical sphere. Mr. Hardalias noted that warm and friendly relations between the two countries oblige them to also meet the existing challenges.

Armenia has also similar relations with the government of Cyprus. Although these countries share the same history, this time around, Turkey has pushed them closer. Thus, Armenia will have an alternative source for developing its defense capabilities and Moscow should understand that an alternate choice in no way compromises its alliance obligations with Russia.

After all, Azerbaijan, under the same treaty obligations towards Moscow, has been building its arsenal through purchases from Belarus, Ukraine and in particular, from Israel, while offering no apologies to anyone.

 

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