Research Assistant on the Study Project of National Security Council Secretariat, Government of India with Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation of United Service Institution of India.
In International relations, Samuel P. Huntington’s thesis of the clash of civilizations (Huntington, 1993, pp. 22-49) clearly characterizes the historical antagonism between contemporary Turkey and Greece where they both shares the distinct civilizations where the former is dominated by ‘Sunni’ Muslims and the latter consists of overwhelming Christians. Moreover, their antagonism and mutual hostility goes back to the historical Ottoman and Byzantine Empire.
However, in the prevailing Westphalian world order, the fight is still persisting, but for the sovereignty of the land and ownership of the resources and at the same time, it has become the stage for the regional heavyweights to balance against each other.
Since Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire, the asymmetrical demarcations of the boundaries led to the advent of rivalry where major Greek-speaking islands such as Crete, Cyprus and other Aegean islands were in the hands of Ottoman and Greece yearned to see them incorporating them into their territory. Over a period of time, the sovereignty over Cyprus became matter of contestation as a majority of the Cypriots are Greeks and wanted to unite with Greece. It quickly flared up in Turkey and it developed a feeling of envy and resentment amongst Turks. Later on, it was followed by the violent pogrom against the minority Greeks in Turkey. Several were massacred and were forced to leave their home in Turkey, and all these developments weakened the Greek government there and some people took advantage of this political instability and staged the military coup and overthrew the government over there. These political developments in Athens made political stakeholders in Ankara cautious and made them suspicious of Greek military junta’s intentions as far as the disputed territory of Cyprus is concerned.
Turkey’s scepticism became palpable when some Greek Cypriots, with Athens’ support, staged a coup against Cypriot president and replaced him with their henchman. However, it was sternly responded by Turkey by invading Cyprus and got control over the northern part of it (Marcus, 2020).
Afterwards, the northern half declared its independence from the Republic of Cyprus and formed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. United Nations and other guarantor countries are involved in the peaceful resolution (Xypolia, 2017) of the conflict and urged both the parties to discuss further reunification process, but the talks have been stalled many times due to contestation of either side regarding other concerning issues and through realist lens, the conflict was avoided for meanwhile, but the threat of major conflict still looms large in the region. Experts believe that conflict should be resolved bilaterally, otherwise the involvement of the regional and global power with their vested interests, which has already started with France’s support to Greece, will make it a proxy zone in the Mediterranean and then it will be a major security concern for both Turkey and Greece.
Cyprus remains the major bone of contention between the two regional powers for a long period of time, but in these days, ownership over the energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean has further deteriorated the relations amongst the two regional powers. Earlier this month, Greece and Egypt signed a maritime boundary agreement (Staff R. , 2020) where they agreed to jointly explore the energy resources in the bed of Eastern Mediterranean. This strategic move enraged Turkey and raised the possibility of a major tussle between them. However, at the same time, Turkey signed a maritime accord with the Libyan Government of National Accord (Staff T. W., 2019) where they agreed on cooperating the joint exploration of resources in the region that Greece claims its economic zone (Ülgen, 2020) and called alleged Turkey the violator of international maritime laws. In the anarchical world order, every state has the responsibility to take care of its national interests and balance the adversaries’ hegemony in the region. As far as the exploration is concerned, neither Turkey nor Greece are obliged to put their national interests at stake but their conflictual engagement in the region will first, unnecessarily drag the attention of global powers and secondly, will harm the international commerce. In the era of globalization, one can actually resolve the conflict through mediation and dialogue and can figure out a mechanism and can turn the conflict into a ‘positive sum game’. And the middle path is not only in the interest of these two powers, but the whole region wherein from the country like Turkey, it is expected to focus on its larger geopolitical goal and with its rapid ascendency in the global power structure and the Muslim World.
It was globally appreciated when Turkey withdrew its exploratory vessel from the contested site in the eastern Mediterranean and burgeon the scope of dialogue with Greece on this topical issue. It is the high time for Greece also to acknowledge the welcoming move of Turkey to sort their mutual issues and grievances through dialogue.
In the whole spectrum of conflicting events, greater responsibilities rests with the European Union (EU) to mediate in resolving the issue and not let it politicized. In the meantime, France has attempted to encircle Turkey by raising the issue before the EU and putting its favour towards Greece. These sorts of calculated moves will push Turkey into the Chinese camp (Colakoğlu, 2018) and inevitably make it a major challenge for the EU at its gates.
In the end, by considering every facet of the bilateral relations between Greece and Turkey, Cyrus conflict and exploratory rights of the natural resources have the potential to escalate the ongoing mutual enmity into a full-fledged war and experts are obscure of any rapprochement between Greece and Turkey unless Cyprus and energy resources are off the table.
Colakoğlu, S. (2018, March 20). Turkey-China Relations: From “Strategic Cooperation” to “Strategic Partnership”? Middle East Institute. Retrieved from https://www.mei.edu/publications/turkey-china-relations-strategic-cooperation-strategic-partnership
Huntington, S. P. (1993). The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs, 72(3). doi:10.2307/20045621
Marcus, J. (2020, August 25). The Eastern Mediterranean tinderbox: Why Greek-Turkish rivalries have expanded. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53906360
Staff, R. (2020, August 06). Egypt and Greece sign agreement on exclusive economic zone. Reuters. Retrieved from https://in.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-greece/egypt-and-greece-sign-agreement-on-exclusive-economic-zone-idUSKCN252216
Staff, T. W. (2019, December 10). Why did Turkey sign a maritime deal with Libya? TRT World. Retrieved from https://www.trtworld.com/turkey/why-did-turkey-sign-a-maritime-deal-with-libya-32064
Ülgen, A. A. (2020, September 18). A conflict could be brewing in the eastern Mediterranean. Here’s how to stop it. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/17/conflict-could-be-brewing-eastern-mediterranean-heres-how-stop-it/
Xypolia, I. (2017, June 30). Are the Cyprus reunification talks doomed to fail again? The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/are-the-cyprus-reunification-talks-doomed-to-fail-again-80251
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author (s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Jindal Centre for the Global South or its members.