Greece should bet on Turkish semi-democracy rather than Egyptian dictatorship


I was planning to write a follow up to the latest article I wrote about Turkish-Greek cultural cooperation, which I learned had been translated and published on a number of Greek websites. However, the recent cool winds blowing in the Mediterranean changed the focus of this article.

The discovery of gas in the Mediterranean had raised hopes that diplomatic work to find a solution to the Cyprus problem could be sped up. Unfortunately, it has become an additional obstruction for settlement efforts.

Following attempts to start drilling in 2011 and 2013, both of which triggered a reaction from Turkey, Greek Cyprus once more decided to try its luck in late October, by starting exploration activities just as talks were continuing between the two communities.

It is hard to imagine that the Greek Cypriot leadership was not expecting a reaction from Ankara. Indeed, Turkey sent the Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa scientific ship to carry out seismic surveys around the same area, which was declared an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by Greek Cyprus, disputed by Turkey and Turkish Cyprus.

Our View: Realism needed on power of regional agreements

Antonis Samaras of Greece and Nicos Anastasiades of South Cyprus

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades then announced that he would not attend the peace talks.

I would not be surprised if many Turkish decision-makers are convinced that the exploration activities were authorized by Anastasiades, specifically at this time, in order to trigger a reaction from Ankara that would give him an alibi to quit the negotiations, which Turks believe he was not incredibly enthusiastic about anyway.

Meanwhile, just as third party players, like the U.N. Secretary General’s representative, were trying to find a way out from the impasse, the leaders of Greece, Greek Cyprus and Egypt recently met in Cairo to pledge greater energy cooperation in the Middle East.

Ankara refrained from making an official statement about the summit, but let their naval forces commander made an announcement that there were more assertive rules of engagement in the Mediterranean.

Now we learn that the trilateral meeting in Cairo will be followed by a new trilateral meeting between Greek Cyprus, Greece and Israel. The time of that meeting is not yet set, but Anastasiades is due to visit Israel on Dec. 2. This visit was preceded by a visit to Nicosia last week of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who lambasted Turkey for intruding on Greek Cyprus’ EEZ.

So the picture that comes around is like this: On the one side is Turkey, whose international standing is not exactly brilliant, and on the other an alliance of Israel, Egypt and Greek Cyprus, each of which have, for the time being at least, very hostile relations with Turkey.

As someone who has been highly critical of Turkey’s foreign policy course in the past, you might think I will talk about how the government’s erroneous policies have landed Turkey in such a situation in the East Mediterranean.

Nicos Anastasiade, Antonis Samaras and Abdel Fatah el-Sisi

Indeed, Turkey is partly responsible for the picture in which you can see Egypt’s former military leader, now President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi standing between Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Anastasiades.

I can understand Greek Cyprus’ futile effort to forge an alliance with Egypt and Israel up to a certain point, but Greece? Tension in the Aegean has never served Athens. The last decade is a testament to how Greece has benefited from engaging with Turkey.

Let’s suppose Turkey’s policy on the issue is totally wrong. Even so, is it the right course for Greece to go and pose together with a coup leader just to support Greek Cypriots? Does the Greek government seriously think an alliance with Israel and Egypt will frighten and deter Turkey? Couldn’t Greece surprise us and work as a silent mediator to defuse the tension?

Greece has more to benefit from cooperating with a semi-democracy like Turkey than a dictatorship like Egypt, or Israel, which is increasingly being isolated by the European Union.

In addition, Turkey may have temporary strains in its relations with Israel and Egypt, but the moment is there for normalization; both Tel Aviv and Cario have ties with Ankara that will always outweigh those with Greece and Greek Cyprus, as was rightly underlined in a comment published yesterday in the Cyprus Mail titled “Realism needed on the power of regional agreement.”

I am still optimistic that the Turkish-Greek reconciliation will stand strong against this new wave of tension.

It’s good to know that just as the foreign ministers of Greece, Greek Cyprus and Egypt were meeting in Nicosia to prepare for the Cairo summit, the Greeks were attending a Turkish film week in Athens. Meanwhile, just as the two countries’ naval officers issued statements over the weekend about new rules of engagement in the Mediterranean, Turks were attending the Athens marathon on Nov. 9. In addition, the Turkish economy minister and the Greek development minister will be attending a business forum this week in İzmir; while as Israel prepares to welcome Anastasiades on Dec. 2, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is set to visit Athens on Dec. 4.



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Istanbul΄s Greeks want citizenship back

The Greek population of Istanbul, which was rather forced to leave Turkey because of the sociopolitical situation, is now asking for its citizenship rights΄ restoration, daily Sunday΄s Zaman reported. Greeks in Istanbul, known as Rums (Turkey΄s Greeks), are finally given the chance to actually voice their demands thanks to recent improvements relating the minorities΄ rights.

Talks have been carried out with government officials through the Istanbul Rums Universal Federation, established in 2005. The federation, after sending a letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressing their problems and demands, also sent a written statement to the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of EU Affairs in September, 2012.

The federation΄s head, Nikolaos Uzunoglu, presented a number of suggestions, among which were granting quick Turkish citizenship to people who would like to return, giving them orientation classes in order to help them open up small businesses and learn Turkish.

In the beginning of March, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc highlighted to his government members the importance of improving the lives of minorities in Turkey by expanding their rights, while calling minorities to return to Turkey.

According to Sunday΄s Zaman΄s, Uzunoglu also underlined that it is highly important for young Greeks to return to Turkey in order to keep their culture alive.

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More Children in Greece Start to Go Hungry


Michalis Petrakis, who is jobless and whose son Pantelis has been going to school hungry, shows his nearly empty refrigerator.


ATHENS — As an elementary school principal, Leonidas Nikas is used to seeing children play, laugh and dream about the future. But recently he has seen something altogether different, something he thought was impossible in Greece: children picking through school trash cans for food; needy youngsters asking playmates for leftovers; and an 11-year-old boy, Pantelis Petrakis, bent over with hunger pains.

“He had eaten almost nothing at home,” Mr. Nikas said, sitting in his cramped school office near the port of Piraeus, a working-class suburb of Athens, as the sound of a jump rope skittered across the playground. He confronted Pantelis’s parents, who were ashamed and embarrassed but admitted that they had not been able to find work for months. Their savings were gone, and they were living on rations of pasta and ketchup.

“Not in my wildest dreams would I expect to see the situation we are in,” Mr. Nikas said. “We have reached a point where children in Greece are coming to school hungry. Today, families have difficulties not only of employment, but of survival.”

The Greek economy is in free fall, having shrunk by 20 percent in the past five years. The unemployment rate is more than 27 percent, the highest in Europe, and 6 of 10 job seekers say they have not worked in more than a year. Those dry statistics are reshaping the lives of Greek families with children, more of whom are arriving at schools hungry or underfed, even malnourished, according to private groups and the government itself.

Last year, an estimated 10 percent of Greek elementary and middle school students suffered from what public health professionals call “food insecurity,” meaning they faced hunger or the risk of it, said Dr. Athena Linos, a professor at the University of Athens Medical School who also heads a food assistance program at Prolepsis, a nongovernmental public health group that has studied the situation. “When it comes to food insecurity, Greece has now fallen to the level of some African countries,” she said.

Unlike those in the United States, Greek schools do not offer subsidized cafeteria lunches. Students bring their own food or buy items from a canteen. The cost has become insurmountable for some families with little or no income. Their troubles have been compounded by new austerity measures demanded by Greece’s creditors, including higher electricity taxes and cuts in subsidies for large families. As a result, parents without work are seeing their savings and benefits rapidly disappear.

“All around me I hear kids saying: ‘My parents don’t have any money. We don’t know what we are going to do,’ ” said Evangelia Karakaxa, a vivacious 15-year-old at the No. 9 junior high school in Acharnes.

Acharnes, a working-class town among the mountains of Attica, was bustling with activity from imports until the economic crisis wiped out thousands of factory jobs.

Now, several of Evangelia’s classmates are frequently hungry, she said, and one boy recently fainted. Some children were starting to steal for food, she added. While she does not excuse it, she understands their plight. “Those who are well fed will never understand those who are not,” she said.

“Our dreams are crushed,” added Evangelia, whose parents are unemployed but who is not in the same dire situation as her peers. She paused, then continued in a low voice. “They say that when you drown, your life flashes before your eyes. My sense is that in Greece, we are drowning on dry land.”

Alexandra Perri, who works at the school, said that at least 60 of the 280 students suffered from malnutrition. Children who once boasted of sweets and meat now talk of eating boiled macaroni, lentils, rice or potatoes. “The cheapest stuff,” Ms. Perri said.

This year the number of malnutrition cases jumped. “A year ago, it wasn’t like this,” Ms. Perri, said, fighting back tears. “What’s frightening is the speed at which it is happening.”

The government, which initially dismissed the reports as exaggerations, recently acknowledged that it needed to tackle the issue of malnutrition in schools. But with priorities placed on repaying bailout funds, there is little money in Greek coffers to cope.

Mr. Nikas, the principal, said he knew that the Greek government was laboring to fix the economy. Now that talk of Greece’s exiting the euro zone has disappeared, things look better to the outside world. “But tell that to the family of Pantelis,” he said. “They don’t feel the improvement in their lives.”

Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 18, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: More Children In Greece Start To Go Hungry.

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Greek Attaché in Istanbul Wants Free Time

The Greek Education and Culture Attaché in Istanbul, Stauros Gioltzoglou,  in a shot at Germans who want Greeks to work harder – although statistics show they work more than their German counterparts already – said there’s more to life than just work.

stauros-gioltzoglou-238x300“Are we here in this world just to work?” he asked and continued saying “We live for 60-70 years, at most 80 years, let’s say”, to complain about the lack of leisure time in today’s society. According to a press statement from the University, while criticizing Germans he said: “Germans say Greeks are lazy. They work 330 days and come to our country on vacation for 30 days. Will I work for bankers? Where else could I find a pleasure like drinking a coffee with a Turkish friend on the Bosphorus?”

As hurriyetdailynews reports, Mr. Gioltzoglou wasn’t ready to comment regarding that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become a “hate figure” in Greece because of the tough austerity measures imposed on Greece in return for promised loans and debt relief.

“Some 120,000 people demonstrated in Greece when Gen. Kenan Evren staged a coup in 1980. Democracy in the grass roots of Greece”, the Greek Attaché said regarding the strikes and the demonstrations organized by the Greek people.

Stauros Gioltzoglou referred to his surname origins, saying that it comes from his grandfather in the northern city of Samsun, who had migrated during a population exchange.

The Israel-Turkey-Greece Triangle

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (L) and his Greek counterpart, Dimitris Avramopoulos, watch a military parade at the Defense Ministry in Athens, Jan. 10, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis ) Read more:
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak (L) and his Greek counterpart, Dimitris Avramopoulos, watch a military parade at the Defense Ministry in Athens, Jan. 10, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis )
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By: Jean-Loup Samaan for Al-Monitor

Earlier this month, the navies of Israel, Greece and the United States gathered to conduct a two-week joint military exercise. This operation, named “Noble Dina,” was launched in 2011 and has since then been conducted each year. It can be seen as one of the various indicators that Israel and Greece are in the process of strengthening their bilateral ties. Indeed, for the last three years, both countries have moved closer to each other.

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Jean-Loup Samaan writes that the Israel-Turkey split is not really grounded in substance but rather in the personal ties of their leaders, and that a thaw may be in the works.

Author: Jean-Loup Samaan

It all started through various high-level visits at the level of presidents, prime ministers and defense ministers. In 2010, former Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou visited Jerusalem and signed a cooperation memorandum. The following year, Israel defense Minister Ehud Barak and his Greek counterpart, Panos Beglitis, went further by passing a security cooperation agreement. Meanwhile, the Greek parliament approved the purchase of Israeli bomb-precision upgrade kits, which cost $155 million for 400 systems.

The Israel-Greece rapprochement is not only visible in the military realm but also in other sectors such as tourism, culture, education and trade. Prior to the Papandreou visit of 2010, there were around 150,000 Israeli tourists each year coming to Greece. For 2012, they were estimated to reach 400,000. Furthermore, since late 2011, Israel has been working closely with Greece and Cyprus in the extraction of the newly found natural gas reserves in the Southeastern Mediterranean. The discovery of these reserves in the exclusive economic zones of Israel, Cyprus and Greece has generated a new area of cooperation for the three countries. Israeli Energy Minister Uzi Landau talked in 2010 of “an axis of Greece, Cyprus and Israel, and possibly more countries, which will offer an anchor of stability.”

With regards to the gas reserves in the Mediterranean, this huge project is valued at 10 billion euros ($13 billion), so far mostly funded by Israel. Experts evaluate that it will take about six to seven years to complete. On the long haul, for Israel, Greece may become a hub through which it could transport and export gas supplies to Europe and the Balkans. This Israel-Greece-Cyprus initiative has logically triggered strong opposition from Turkey, which does not recognize the government in Nicosia and objects to the claims of the Greek Cypriot Administration over the gas reserves in the south of the island. Ankara responded by conducting air and sea military drills close to the area of the planned project and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu threatened that Turkey would take appropriate measures if the three countries were to go on with the project. This has been denounced by Israel as “gunboat diplomacy.”

This is where the logic of Israel-Greece starts to unfold: this rapprochement clearly grew in earnest following the degradation of Israel-Turkey relations. The rift between Ankara and Jerusalem became palpable after Israel’s Cast Lead operation in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and Prime Minister Erdogan’s strong condemnation of Israeli military adventurism. Turkey then decided to put a halt to its mediation efforts between Israel and Syria. The split got worse a year later with the crisis of the Mavi Marmara flotilla. On May 31, 2010, the Israeli military shot and killed nine Turkish citizens who were on board the “Freedom Flotilla” that was heading toward the Gaza Strip. Since then, political dialogue between both countries is in a deadlock, with Israel’s government refusing to apologize for the clash over the Turkish flotilla and the authorities of Turkey blocking not only bilateral cooperation but Israel-NATO cooperation as well.

It is in this specific context that Israel-Greece relations have been improved. True, the Israelis and the Greeks emphasize that cooperation did not come out of the blue in 2010, that the first bilateral economic agreement was written in 1992 and the first military agreement in 1994 — in fact before the one between Israel and Turkey. Still, this move has all the features of a classic balance-of-power move by Israel vis-à-vis Turkey. Noticeably, the Greek-Israeli military exercises in the last years have taken place close to Turkish borders and, needless to say, they engendered major concerns in Ankara. This logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is not without embarrassment for the Greeks who want to see more than bitter politics in the rapprochement. In fact, it is in the interest of neither Greece nor Israel to confine their rapprochement to a move to counterbalance Turkey.

Athens is not so keen on using its Israeli policy to antagonize Ankara: The new Greek prime minister, Antonis Samara visited Turkey this month to commit his country to the enhancement of the relationship with its historical rival. Specifically Samara, along with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan pledged to double their annual trade over the next three years.

Meanwhile even though Israelis might have been tempted to use their Greek policy to counter Turkey’s strategy and to proclaim it as a long-term strategic realignment, decision makers are eventually aware that in no way can Greece provide them with the kind of strategic reach Turkey was providing. Not only is Greece enduring a financial crisis that is eroding its military capabilities, but it never had the type of leverage Turkey enjoys in the Middle East and that Israel crucially needs today.

In fact, after three years of euphoria on the rapprochement with Greece, Israeli diplomats and officers are toning down the idea of geopolitical shift or the one of a zero-sum game. In reality, diplomats in Jerusalem and the military in Tel Aviv are eager to fix the partnership with Turkey. This reflects how the Israel-Turkey split is not really grounded in substance but rather in the personal relationship of its leaders.

In the last months, there have been numerous signs that both countries may be in the process of restoring their political relations. Several high-level meetings have taken place, including the heads of intelligence in Cairo. Besides, far away from the political upheaval, bilateral trade did not really suffer and its volume is in fact at its highest level in history.

All in all, this means that the speculation over Israel-Greece rapprochement should be treated with caution due to the strategic limitations of the bilateral relations as well as to the clear need of both countries to avoid portraying it as a zero-sum game vis-à-vis Turkey.

Jean-Loup Samaan is a researcher in the Middle East Department of the NATO Defense College. His current research projects include the Israel-Hezbollah stand-off since the 2006 war, the Syrian civil war and its impact on the region as well as the evolution of regional security system in the Gulf.

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