On a recent visit to India, Lt Gen Themistoklis Bourolias, Chief of the Hellenic Air Force General Staff (Greece) paid homage to Indian fallen soldiers at the National War Memorial.
He also met with India’s military top brass and discussed issues of mutual interest, including ongoing and new avenues for defence cooperation, as per officials.
He met the Indian Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Anil Chauhan, Indian Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande and Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari.
Military experts have written that Greece being a part of the US-led NATO alliance could be of great tactical help to the Indian Air Force, as the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) operates Rafale jets, also operated by the Indian Air Force, and, more importantly, India can learn more from them about the F-16 C/D used by the Pakistan Air Force. India and Greece are coming closer and closer militarily, but what is the reason?
Twenty-first century geopolitics have brought two ancient friends together to pursue their common goals, “peace in our regions and peace in the world”. The impact of the Indo-Greek kingdom (known as Yavana kingdom in ancient India) has been enormous in India, and Indians look upon that period in history as an age when Greeks assimilated in their new Indian homeland and contributed in making India what it is today.
Indo-Greeks were a strong military power, and so are Indians and Greeks today. Greece recognized India as a “world power”, as stated by the then Greek President Prokopios Pavlopoulos in his meeting with the President of India Mr. Ramnath Kovind in 2018.
When India became a nuclear power by doing nuclear tests in May 1998, most western countries were thinking about imposing sanctions on India, but Greece went out of the league and stood by India, signing a Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation that year.
Furthermore, Greece supports India on the Kashmir issue, which as per Greece is an internal matter for India, and India supports Greece on the Cyprus issue.
Historical Common Threat
Greek civilization thrived in what is now Turkey even before Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic period, and what is now geographically Pakistan was part of the Indian civilization, but slowly nomads from Central Asia started moving into these territories.
Their arrival was initially not viewed as a threat by the Byzantines or the Indians, but they later expressed their desire to call the land where they settled their own homeland and to rule it.
While Turkic Alp Arslan defeated Byzantine emperor Romanus IV Diogenes in Manzikert in 1071, Turkic Mahmud Ghazni defeated Hindushahi king Jaya Pala in 1000: the former opened the gates of Greek lands for the Turks and latter opened the gates of Indian lands for the Turks. Soon a substantial part of Greek and Indian populations came under Turkish influence.
Slowly sites of Greek and Indian heritage were transformed by the new rulers: after the Ottoman conquest of the Greek (Byzantine/Eastern Roman) city of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia church was turned into a mosque, and after the Mughal conquest of the Indian city of Ayodhya, Ram Janmabhumi Hindu temple was also turned into a mosque.
Greece and India both saw population exchange with their neighbors, Turkey and Pakistan respectively; the only difference is that almost all Muslims from Greece moved to Turkey, but many Muslims in India stayed in India. Nevertheless Greece became a Christian majority country and India a Hindu majority country.
Greece-India and Turkey-Pakistan military partnerships
With the Turkey-Pakistan axis becoming stronger, the India-Greece axis has also became stronger. While Turkey started doing war exercises with Pakistan, India and Greece started doing war exercises together too.
In August 2017 four ships of the Indian Navy (INS Mumbai, INS Aditya, INS Tarkash and INS Trishul) paid a goodwill visit to Souda Bay, Crete; then on 30 June 2021, a joint exercise was carried out by the Indian Navy Frigate INS Tabar and the Greek Themistoklis Frigate in the sea area southwest of Crete.
Indian and Greek Air Forces too participated together in the ‘Blue Flag’ exercise held in Israel from 17 October to 28 October, 2021.
When the Greek Air Force exercise ‘Iniochos 2021’ was held in April 20, 2021 at the Andravida airbase, about 300 kilometres from Athens, the only invitation extended to a non-participating country was sent to the Indian Mission, and in 2023, from April 26 to May 03, the Greek and Indian Air Forces collaborated on a joint training exercise with Su-30, F-16, and Rafale fighter jets over Greece and the Mediterranean Sea.
The exercise was conducted as part of the annual Greek exercise ‘Iniochos 23’, led by the Greek Air Force and the Greek Air Tactics Center of the Ministry of Defence.
Greece and India have continued to support each other on the Cyprus and Kashmir issues, and the Indian foreign minister even raised the matter of Cyprus in his meeting with the Turkish foreign minister.