Just a day after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis made assurances that Greece “will not go to war with Turkey,” his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan intensified his bellicose rhetoric during a political rally in Istanbul.
Erdogan warned Mitsotakis to “behave smartly or [he] will see the march of crazy Turks.” Despite both nations nominally being allies within NATO, Erdogan’s rhetoric fits an existing pattern of worsening relations between Greece and Turkey.
Over the past few months, the two countries have been at loggerheads over a range of issues, including maritime territorial boundaries in the Aegean, occupied Cyprus, and military acquisitions.
Erdogan threatens Mitsotakis and Greece
“We will not go to war with Turkey,” Mitsotakis told CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria at an event on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“We should be able to sit down with Turkey as reasonable adults and discuss the issue of the continental shelf and sea zones in the Aegean,” the Greek Prime Minister added. “We did it successfully with Italy and Egypt, [and] with Albania.”
The Turkish President then accused Greece of inflaming tensions in the Aegean. “We can see Greek authorities are failing to implement conditions of Lausanne with their approach,” he commented.
Erdogan proceeded to declare that “this won’t stand” and that “when the time is right,” Greece would be left to “fend for itself.”
“Behave smartly or you will see the march of crazy Turks,” the Turkish President warned, echoing earlier threats issued against Greece, such as his warning that the Turks “may come suddenly one night.”
In a public event today, #Turkey's war-mongering dictator @RTErdogan threatened #Greece with waging a war AGAIN, saying "Crazy Turks" will mobilize when Greeks make a single wrong against Turkey pic.twitter.com/Rrj8TFLtLj
— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) January 20, 2023
Saber rattling or a serious threat?
With upcoming elections in Turkey scheduled to take place in May of this year, some analysts have suggested that Erdogan’s rhetoric is intended to galvanize domestic Turkish audiences.
Selcan Hacaoglu, a Turkey analyst for Bloomberg, wrote that “Erdogan turned to nationalist rhetoric against Greece to fire up supporters ahead of this year’s elections.”
Turkey is currently facing one of the worst economic crises in its history, characterized by soaring inflation and a “devaluation spiral” of its currency. This could spell trouble for Erdogan at the polls if disgruntled voters lose faith and turn to the opposition.
Although Greece and Turkey share a long history of grievances marked by drastically divergent strategic differences, in the present and immediate future, the country’s domestic politics may be the main driving force behind Erdogan’s approach to Greece.
“With inflation rampant and the lira sinking, a manufactured crisis might be just the thing he needs,” assessed Steven Erlanger in The New York Times last October.