A week's break in Cyprus naturally led to some discussion of the Green Line, and the Turkish invasion of 1974. This, in turn, led to thoughts on the so-called Turkish War of Independence after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, and the ethnic cleansing which characterised the violence in Anatolia and Eastern Greece, with cities like Smyrna - once a vibrant multi-cultural trading city - being transformed into mono-cultural Izmir. The partitioning of Cyprus was, in effect, the final move some fifty years on of that process of separation and ethnic entrenchment.
Flying back yesterday over the ragged coastline of south-western Turkey, with the various isthmuses round Marmaris and Bodrum mingling so intimately with Greek islands like Rhodes, Kos, Samos, Chios, made me wonder about Turkish feelings on the political settlement there. Was there resentment? Was there, even, the possibility of trouble ahead, bearing in mind the Cypriot example?
As is so often the case when you start to think about some issue, it turns out that this has indeed come up recently - from (no surprise) Erdogan himself:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan caused displeasure in Athens on Thursday by indicating that Ankara “gave away” Aegean islands to Greece under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, the pact that defined the borders of modern Turkey following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
In a speech to regional officials in Ankara, Erdogan appeared to express his regret for the border decisions imposed by the pact. “Some tried to deceive us by presenting Lausanne as victory,” he said.
“In Lausanne, we gave away the islands that you could shout across to,” he said, referring to Greek islands located in the Aegean Sea close to the Turkish coastline.
Reacting to Erdogan’s comments, a Greek Foreign Ministry source remarked that “everyone should respect the Treaty of Lausanne,” noting that it is “a reality in the civilized world which no one, including Ankara, can ignore.”
The same source indicated that the Turkish leader’s comments were likely geared for domestic consumption.
That was last month. But this wasn't a one-off. He came back to the subject ten days ago:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again referred to the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923 stating that his country has been “trapped” in this document that defines borders between Greece and Turkey. He made these comments while a dogfight took place in the Aegean as two Turkish F16 planes entered Greek air space. Erdogan had said that the Turkish borders had shrunk drastically since the signing of the treaty and stated that the country was in a “vicious circle.”
“The Ottomans had a state with such deep roots that its collapse caused material and moral wounds to our nation,” he said, adding that the Lausanne Treaty has been brought to the attention of Turkey’s National Council. “Our territories were 2.5 million square kilometers in 1914 and were reduced to 780,000 square kilometers with the signing of the Lausanne Treaty.” Erdogan stated his doubt in the way history has been interpreted. “I want youth to examine Lausanne and let some of them be annoyed. These mistakes need to be known.”
He prompted youth to inquire into the signing of the treaty. “I want youth to be like beekeepers,” he said, while also reminiscing the power of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire that the founders of Modern Turkey signed away.
This comment is the latest in a series of comments showing dissatisfaction with Turkey’s borders and indicating Ankara’s expansionist policies. Erdogan’s rhetoric since the failed coup attempt against him has increased tension between the two countries.
No doubt Erdogan is indeed speaking for domestic consumption. He's a ruler in the paranoid style, ever on the look-out for enemies against whom to unite his supporters. But if he feels the need to do something - if the appeal of attacking the Kurds or attacking his supposed arch-enemy Gülen starts to wane - then why not? There would of course be world-wide condemnation, but would anyone now, with an increasingly feeble Western alliance and an emboldened Turkey and Russia, actually do anything? There was world-wide condemnation of Turkey back in 1974 when it invaded Cyprus, but the Green Line is still in place.