Curbing Erdogan Is Possible

September 12, 2020

Recep Erdogan has made it clear that Turkey plans to seize Greek territory, to establish a Turkish Cypriot sub-state, and to violate the territorial boundaries of Greece and Cyprus. The United States is the force most able to thwart this aggressive agenda which gives Greek America a chance to play a crucial role in shaping events in the Eastern Mediterranean.

All members of the House of Representatives and one-third of our Senators are up for re-election. The Trump and Biden race is neck to neck. These circumstances create an opportunity for Greek Americans to act. To be effective, our agenda must not be framed as ethnic demands but as non-partisan actions that advance American interests and regional stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.

President Trump has questioned NATO’s credibility as a viable alliance. The most egregious example, which he doesn’t cite, is Turkey’s daily violation of the air space of

Greece, a fellow NATO member. We must withhold support for any candidate who does not make a stand against these provocations by Turkey, including severe economic sanctions. It makes no sense to fund a fighting machine that attacks itself!

Another reasonable demand is that Turkey must be pressured to stop denying the validity of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 that set the current borders in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey could be left free to question specific provisions but only after recognizing the validity of the treaty as a whole.

Turkey has threatened the oil companies of its NATO allies that are licensed to drill for hydrocarbons in waters internationally recognized as belonging to Greece or Cyprus. The United States needs to assert such intimidations are intolerable and we will use our navy to protect authorized drilling operations of our own companies and those of our NATO allies.

Much of the energy now expended by Greek Americans protesting the Aghia Sophia conversion would be more useful if shifted to trying to influence the election. Archbishop Elpidophoros needs to mobilize ecumenical outrage about the religious intolerance fostered by Erdogan. Congressional lobbying groups such as AHI need to be more strongly funded. Most crucially, grass roots organizations need to be meeting with their local Congressional candidates.

We need every candidate to make a public statement supporting the Lausanne Treaty and denouncing any threat to a NATO member or EU state. Candidates in marginal races are always anxious to meet with organized constituents. Safe-seat candidates also would be amiable to supporting pro-Greek positions if they can enhance their margins. The response of Turkish supporters would be muted as they prefer to keep these issues out of public discourse.

Democratic candidates are likely to be quite attentive as they need a big turnout of voters to succeed. The Greek-American agenda does not harm them with any major constituency and reinforces their claim to be for genuine law and order. Biden is rhetorically supportive of Hellenic interests but short on action. Nor did the Obama-Biden team effectively curb Turkey’s expansionism. On the plus side, Biden is critical of Erdogan and is open to listening to qualified advisors. 

A core of mainstream Democratic support is led by Senator Menendez (NJ), Representative Maloney (NY), and Representative Sarbanes (DE), but progressives who loath Erdogan have to be aroused from their almost exclusive attention to domestic issues. Yes, I am speaking of Senators Sanders (VT) and Warren (MA). And the Greeks in Queens should be conferring with Alexandria Ocasio-Ortiz whose support would have considerable national impact.

The Republicans are more problematic due to Trump’s infatuation with Erdogan. His pro-Turkish orientation was evident when he appointed Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor. Flynn had been a registered “foreign agent” for Turkey. Trump’s pro-Turkish stance is further evidenced by his assisting Turkey’s aggressive moves in Syria by abandoning the Kurds and remaining silent about Turkey’s repeated threats to Hellenic interests. 

The down-ticket Republicans are more flexible. Many still resent Turkey for denying our use of U.S. bases in Turkey at the onset of the invasion of Iraq and for its convert support of Islamic extremists. A pro-Greek Republican stalwart is Congressman Bilirakis who was done yeoman work for Hellenic causes. He is particularly influential in Florida, which is a key battleground state.

Despite profound attachments to Greece and Cyprus, Greek Americans have a history of doing too little too late. The conversion of Aghia Sophia to a mosque is a case in point. We have mounted vigorous protests but that horse is already out of the barn. We need to think forward rather than just protest past infamies.

Pushing away the Turkish threat to Hellenism often seems like a Sisyphean task. We push the rock to the top of the mountain only to have it fall back at the end of day. The challenge facing Greek America is to give that mythical parable a happier ending.


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