Erdogan travels to Greece, forgets to pack reality

The Turkish president’s visit to Greece is predictably controversial

By Georgia Logothetis, Managing Director

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Greece this week — the first Turkish president to do so in 65 years — and brought with him the baggage of a politician whose once-bright star has faded on the international stage. Weighed down by condemnation from democracies around the world for his authoritarianism, Erdogan arrived in Greece in typical Erdogan fashion, with a sultan-like air of contempt and a haughtiness towards history and protocol.

Even before he stepped on Greek soil, Erdogan made clear that this trip would be less about diplomacy between neighbors and more about advancing his revisionist history:

Mr. Erdogan managed to provoke his hosts even before landing in Athens. In an interview published in the Greek daily Kathimerini on Thursday, he suggested an “update” of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which defined Turkey’s borders with neighboring countries after World War I.

He repeated the demand at a tense, televised news conference with his Greek counterpart, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

As Prime Minister Tsipras and President Pavlopoulos stressed during Erdogan’s visit, there will be no Lausanne 2.0. To hear Erdogan pout about it, Turkey was out-bargained at the negotiating table and improperly gave up land he claims were Turkish — “we gave away the islands that you could shout across to,” he claimed. Erdogan’s call to reopen the 94-year-old treaty is clearly a pipe dream, but his irredentist rhetoric does shore up his support among the growing number of Turks who believe in establishing a neo-Ottoman empire.

Not only did Erdogan call for reopening the Treaty of Lausanne, but he also called for the return of eight Turkish military officers who have sought asylum in Greece following this summer’s failed coup attempt. Greek courts have been sympathetic to the group’s contention that they will not receive a fair trial in Turkey. Erdogan demanded the extradition of the men, claiming that Turkish judicial system is “the best in Europe.” At least Erdogan packed his rose-colored glasses.

In reality, Turkish courts have been purged, experienced judges have been replaced with Erdogan loyalists, and while we’re at it, Turkey happens to be one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists. Oh, and Turkey isn’t “in Europe.”

On the continued illegal occupation of Cyprus as well, Erdogan checked reality at the door when he placed full blame for the collapse of the latest round of peace negotiations squarely at the feet of the Republic of Cyprus. This from a man who defiantly declared that “we are going to be there forever.”

Given Erdogan’s record, there weren’t really high hopes for this largely symbolic visit. Greece outstretched its hand, Turkey as expected smacked it back. For Greece, it was another expression of its commitment to diplomacy and keeping the peace in the region. For Erdogan? It was a chance to express his view that the world — that facts and reality — revolve around him.

The Turkish presidency even tweeted out that “President Erdoğan Receives Greek PM Tsipras,” as if Erdogan was the one who invited Tsipras to Athens. In Erdogan’s world, untethered from reality, that well may have been the case.

This is just the first day of a two day long visit by Erdogan before he packs his bags and travels back to Turkey, back to the comfort of his delusions. The question is, how many more fact-free claims will he make before he leaves?

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