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HomeExpertsErdoğan's Controversial Remarks: Threats or Rhetoric in Turbulent Greek-Turkish Relations

Erdoğan’s Controversial Remarks: Threats or Rhetoric in Turbulent Greek-Turkish Relations

In the past, Erdoğan has threatened Greece several times with the phrase ‘We may come suddenly one night!’ Today (December 7, 2023), he is visiting Greece. Before his visit, in a statement to a Greek newspaper, he said that the phrase ‘We may come suddenly one night!’ was not intended for Greece, but for terrorist organizations threatening Turkey.

However, Erdoğan, speaking at the Teknofest 2022 at the Samsun Çarşamba Airport on Saturday, September 3, 2022, and emphasizing Athens’ threats against Turkey, said, ‘Look at Greek history. If you go much further, the price will be heavy. Do not forget İzmir. The same Turkey now proves itself with achievements exceeding those of developed countries in some fields. When the time comes, we will do what is necessary. We may come suddenly one night.’

Following the reactions from Athens, Washington, and NATO, Erdoğan reiterated his threat during a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, saying, ‘If we say we may come suddenly one night, we mean when the time comes, we may come suddenly. Why? They have these islands, there are bases on these islands, if illegitimate threats continue from there, patience has an end. When the end of patience comes, it is salvation. I believe Greece knows this. When the time comes, what is necessary will be done. Radar lock, these steps, are not a good sign.’

It is necessary to state the truths and realities clearly.

What is clear is that the person leading Turkey is threatening a neighboring country with a surprise military attack. Whether it is to gain domestic political advantages, the irresistible appeal of attacking Greece prevalent in Turkey, or getting carried away in the heat of the moment, Turkey’s executive president is talking about attacking Greece.

Kathimerini newspaper published these. They can be found with a superficial internet search. Yesterday (December 6, 2023), Erdoğan’s backpedaling and retracting his words are not important. Reiterating the well-known truths about a man who lies, even to a pathological extent, and has reached the highest administrative level in Turkey, is not very necessary. The concerning reality is the governance weakness in Turkey. Let me explain.

Turkey is clearly not complying with the only international document that is the foundation of its existence, namely the Treaty of Lausanne. Ankara describes some of the islands in the Aegean Sea belonging to Greece as ‘islands with disputed sovereignty.’

This is a newly emerged argument and is completely contrary to international law. The text of Lausanne is very clear on the Aegean islands. Islands located more than 3 nautical miles from the Anatolian coast belong to Greece. Period. That is, according to international law, Ankara cannot claim rights over other islands beyond 3 miles or argue that it is disputable whether these islands belong to Greece. Today Turkey is doing this.

This is clearly an expansionist tendency, and it is evident that this adopted position will not be favorable for Turkey.

Another issue is Turkey’s non-recognition of the continental shelf of the Greek islands in the Aegean.

However, according to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and established norms in maritime law, every island has its own continental shelf. According to this norm, islands can extend their territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles. Turkey’s territorial waters regime in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean is 12 nautical miles. In the Aegean, however, it enforces 6 nautical miles and effectively imposes this on Greece. Greece legally has determined its territorial waters as 12 nautical miles, but Ankara considers the implementation of 12 instead of 6 miles as a casus belli, therefore, it is not put into practice.

At this point, even though Turkey’s theses are not supported by international law, finding a common ground in the long term under good neighborly relations could have been possible. However, Ankara never laid the groundwork for this and did not present any confidence-building approach.

On the contrary, Turkey established the Aegean Army in 1982. This army is entirely formed for the invasion of Greece. It is Turkey’s only army not affiliated with NATO. This army, established after the coup, is a clear threat to Greece, so the Greek government began arming the demilitarized islands in the Eastern Aegean.

International politics is a matter of action and reaction. The establishment of the Aegean Army is an action. Greece arming the islands in the Eastern Aegean is a reaction. Considering that the population of Greece is half that of Istanbul, I think everyone who is objective can understand how the existence of Turkey’s Aegean Army is perceived as a threat.

The Treaty of Lausanne is much more defining for Turkey than for Greece. Diluting this treaty brings more disadvantages to Turkey than to Greece.

Within this outlined context, Erdoğan’s saying ‘We may come suddenly one night!’ cannot be interpreted as mere rhetoric or the delusion of a failing dictator. History is full of disasters built on such delusions having real political effects.

Countries that cannot accept their own borders are irredentist.

Turkey, which constantly reads its near history – even its entire history! – from the axis of ‘territorial gains and losses,’ seeing success as conquest and failure as loss of territory, is pathological, ethically wrong, incompatible with international norms, and most importantly, risky and a security threat.

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.

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