Turkey’s Hubris

Written by Dr Yiorghos Leventis*


On either side of the Aegean Sea a Greek tragedy, in its full sense and extent, is being performed before our eyes. As the whole world witnesses the unfolding multiple Greek tragedy – huge foreign debt leading to economic, institutional and above all moral crisis – Greece’s eastern neighbour, Turkey, shows clear signs that in taking advantage of the Greek predicament, is bent on performing a central part of the Greek tragedy: hubris.

No doubt the incumbent Turkish ruling elite seeking to resurrect (or enliven) the former ‘Ottoman space’ – eloquently described by Prof. Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign policy boss, as ‘strategic depth’ – remembers too well the story of the modern Greek hubris, enacted at the dawn of the last century. The Hellenic Army’s Asia Minor expedition (1919-22), part and parcel of the Great Idea of the resurrection of the Byzantine Empire through the capture of the nascent Turkish capital of Ankara (the Greek vision of the creation of the Great Hellas of the two Continents and the Five Seas), ended up in the routing of the Greek Armed Forces and the concomitant disorderly expulsion of a million and a half Greeks from their millennia-old ancestral homeland. Naturally the whole sad affair did register in the Greek collective memory as Mikrasiatiki (Asia Minor) Catastrophe while on the other hand the Turkish official historiography registered the same event as ‘the Great War of Independence against imperialist aggression’.



Times have changed. Great ideas rise and fall. Today, the Ankara-based Turkish leadership exercising full control of the geostrategically located Anatolian peninsula, is presumptuously driven by the deceiving force of hubris, which the Greeks first experienced in ancient times, and sadly tasted its bitter fruits also in modern times.

What, then, is hubris? An excess of ambition transgressing into sheer arrogance. If the ancient Greek wisdom serves us right, such an excessive behaviour ultimately causes the transgressor’s ruin.

The list of Turkish instances of hubris is long, to say the least. The last hundred years have been littered with such incidents. The Turkish ruling elite have not reconciled themselves with their sinful Ottoman past, the bitter experience of which stubbornly refuses to weather away from the living memory of Albanians, Arabs, Bulgarians, Greeks, Romanians and Serbs alike. Instead of repentance, contrition and apology, the Gul-Erdogan-Davutoglu arrogant trio have been busy whitewashing the Ottoman (and Young Turk) record while continuing down the beaten path of bulling around, throwing their weight in every possible direction and coining the whole process as ‘zero problems with neighbours’.

What is the Turkish ruling trio record then? Let us briefly examine the latest developments in Turkey’s domestic and … pacifying neighbourhood policy. For what is worth, the much-trumpeted time-honoured Ataturkian slogan ‘peace at home, peace in the world’ resonates in my mind …


1. Turkish-Armenian Relations 

Ankara refuses to put an end to the historical row by offering a long due unequivocal apology to the Armenian people and their government on account of the 1915 Armenian Genocide; a move that, by all accounts, forms the linchpin of the normalization matrix in the relations between the two historical neighbours. Furthermore, opening of the sealed-off Armenian border would greatly help bilateral trade to flourish as envisaged in the relevant protocol signed between the two countries. Instead of doing so, Erdogan thunders against Nicolas Sarkozy, seeking to register on the Euro-Turkish agenda an examination of the wrongdoings in France’s colonial past. Is contemporary Turkish-Armenian history fabrication and the economic suffocation of Lilliputian, impoverished Armenia a dictate of Davutoglu’s zero-problems-with-neighbours policy?

2. Israeli Occupation of Gaza & Turkish Occupation of Northern Cyprus.

All of a sudden in the last couple of years, Tayyip Erdogan became very vocal championing the Palestinian refugee rights and challenging on multiple fronts the Israeli occupation of the Gaza strip, lambasting Israeli policies that suffocate the destitute and hopeless Gaza residents. An independent observer would ask the self-assertive Turkish PM: Erdogan-effendi, what about your powerful army’s 37 year-old occupation of two-fifths of Cyprus territory? What about the inalienable human rights of 160,000 Greek Cypriots? Are there no UN resolutions on Cyprus that Turkey has long been due to comply with? Such a selective sensitivity on human rights on your behalf.

3. Treatment of Minorities in Turkey.

In the space of this short article it is an impossible task even to list the sheer number, let alone to analyze the seriousness of flagrant violations of fundamental human rights of minorities in Turkey. Let us confine our reference on this vital issue to the latest developments on the front of the sizeable Kurdish minority. The Kurds form eighteen per cent of the country’s 79 million population – ironically of exactly the same size as the Turkish minority in the Republic of Cyprus for whom Ankara demands ‘political equality’ – loosely interpreted as sharing power with the eighty per cent Greek majority on a fifty-fifty basis. The number of internally displaced persons due to 27 years of fighting exceeds one million people, while around 30,000 lost their lives.

The Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan has been perishing in solitary confinement in a Turkish jail since 1999 while 3000 Kurdish activists continue to be under detention. The civil rights of 20 million Kurds have gradually been eroded. The novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk was charged and tried for “public denigration of Turkish identity”, after mentioning in a 2005 interview that “30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it”. The EU has recently called on Turkey to bring its justice system into line with international standards and amend its anti-terrorism legislation. (The Guardian, 6 Oct 2011)

Obviously, the Turkish policy of suppressing Kurdish identity failed dismally. However, there are no prospects for a political settlement granting the Kurds the longed-for autonomy. On the contrary, in recent weeks the international community witnesses an upsurge in violent clashes between the TAF and Kurdish freedom fighters. Only yesterday (13 Oct 2011) a policeman and a Kurdish rebel were killed in yet another shooting incident in Iskenderun (Alexandretta).

4. Freedom of Expression: An Abominable Record …

Only this month The Guardian also reported that “the International Press Institute has expressed ‘serious concern‘ at the continued imprisonment of at least 64 journalists and named Turkey as the country with the ‘highest number of journalists in prison in the world’ – surpassing Iran and China”. However, a year ago, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the well known Chatham House, London awarded Mr. Gul its annual prize in recognition of his role behind many of the positive steps that Turkey has taken in recent years and as a significant figure for reconciliation and moderation within Turkey and internationally. Laughing stock or thinly disguised quasi-official British aiding and abetting in state of the art Turkish hubris?

5. Escalation of Tension in the Eastern Mediterranean

Far from withdrawing its troops from the territory of the Republic of Cyprus, as stipulated in numerous UN resolutions, Ankara openly and audaciously challenges the sovereign rights of the RoC emanating from the Law of the Sea. To this day, Ankara failed to become a party to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, Montego Bay, Jamaica, 10 Dec 1982). Nevertheless, Turkey has already extended its territorial waters into the Black and Mediterranean Sea to twelve nautical miles, a provision allowed to UNCLOS signatories. Both Cyprus and Greece signed and ratified UNCLOS. Yet neither have so far dared to extend their territorial waters to the limit allowed by the international convention, paying extra attention not to provoke non-signatory Turkey, which in its zero-problems-with-neighbours policy framework … threatens them with war in case they do so.

But that’s an old story from the eighties – not much has changed: the Fourth Turkish Army (Aegean Army) based on the Eastern shores of the Aegean Sea has since been in full swing with thousands of marines manning a well-equipped fleet of landing vessels ready to land, if need be, on the Dodecanese, Greece. (Interestingly the 40,000-strong occupation force in Cyprus forms part of the Aegean Army Command structure).

In the last eight years Cyprus signed Exclusive Economic Zone delimitation agreements with all its neighbours – save Greece and Turkey. Egypt (2003) and Israel (2010) ratified the EEZ agreements. The parliament in Beirut has not done so. However, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry is sending experts this week to Nicosia in order to iron out not-too-important differences in the agreement concerning the interface of the three zones (Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel).

In the last couple of months, sniffing the smell of the vast reserves of natural gas in Cyprus’ southern EEZ, the neo-Ottoman administration in Ankara is orchestrating a tension escalation plan in the Eastern Mediterranean. Having expelled the Israeli ambassador, on account of Israel’s refusal to issue a formal apology on the killing of nine Turkish activists aboard the ‘Mavi Marmara’, pay compensation and lift the Gaza blockade (September 2011), Ankara reportedly exercises pressure on Egypt and Lebanon to rescind their EEZ agreements with Cyprus.

A couple of weeks ago, Ankara sent out its own oceanographic vessel, the forty-year old ill-equipped Piri-Reis along with a commissioned more technologically advanced Norwegian vessel. Both are still meddling in Cyprus’ EEZ. Once more, this flagrant provocation is taken in contravention of international law and flies in the face of statements issued by the EU, US and Russia calling for respect of the Republic of Cyprus’ sovereign right to exploit its natural resources lying below the seabed of its EEZ.

In yet another act of defiance, according to the government-leaning Turkish daily ‘Bugun’, the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff have mapped out a three-stage patrolling plan of ten hot spots in the Eastern Mediterranean divided according to their TAF-inspired importance into blue, yellow and red categories. The first stage of Turkish navy muscle flexing in Mediterranean waters will reach its peak on 15 November 2011, the 28th anniversary of the ‘TRNC’s UDI. The second stage will last till May 15, 2012, while the third till August 15, 2012 marking once more the 38th anniversary of the Attila II Cyprus invasion operation.

Yet again, Turkey’s hubris appears limitless: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an authentic neo-Sultan fashion, asserts to dictate to the EU who among its own members, is entitled to assume the European club’s presidency, and who is not. The audacious Turk signaled that he would call off his country’s EU accession talks in case Cyprus takes the EU helm in July 2012.

For one, the international community of statesmen will need one day soon, to congratulate the neo-Ottoman trio for implementing the (originally Greek) concept of hubris in its no-limits contemporary version …


* Dr Yiorghos Leventis is the Director of International Security Forum






Hits: 4016


Does Erdogan deserve to lead the arabic world?
written by Titou titos, October 15, 2011 

Leaders have many characteristics from wisdom to bravery. I dont see how Erdogan can possibly be one of the many worthy historic leaders of the Arabic world since he has been caught on video not only falling off his high horse but also being kicked in the balls – by the horse (pls search youtube: Erdogan horse falls). He should see this as a message and realize that he will be kicked in the balls if he climbs again on his “high horse”.



professor University of Belgrade
written by Darko Tanasković, October 16, 2011 
Excellent and acute analysis of the actual neo-ottoman case of the historically well known disease common to all subjects on the international scene that are at the same time challenged and conditioned by the insolent pride born out of some relative and fallacious successes on the path of an imaginary world glory.  



A nery nice article
written by Christos Alexandrou, October 17, 2011 

Dr Leventis wrote a very deep and serius article.That not because a brilliat academic but also because his Greek. That mean carry out and lives the historical experiences and evets.



turkey will not be dictated to either
written by kodlu, October 17, 2011 

.. strip away what erdogan writes for *internal* consumption, but there is no way a weakened EU and other institutions can take turkey for granted and dictate to her either, the leverage has disappeared since the man on the street in turkey can see that entering eu is no longer desirable. i do believe that erdogan is bluster to an extent, but not 100% bluster.

you can now return to your mutual admiration session, no it is not necessary to be a greek to write a nice article 🙂  



written by Xenia Economidou, October 17, 2011

“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results”.



What is the USA’s part in this?
written by Benjamin Pomeroy, October 17, 2011 

It is a widely known truth that the leadership of powerful nations, and even those with little real international clout, suffers from hubris to a certain extent. In recent times, the country exhibiting arguably the most hubris with regard to global politics and getting away with it has been the United States of America. Indeed, especially since World War II, the USA has been known to throw around its economic, political, and military weight to get what it wants. With a multifaceted strangle hold on the Americas, a formidable presence in the Middle East, and Asia, among numerous (perhaps all) other points of the globe, the USA is no stranger to excessive arrogance in the global sphere.
With this in mind, an informed observer can see that fortune smiles on those nations which, by some stroke of fate or luck, have a beneficial relationship with the USA. Such a nation, protected by the USA, might easily conclude that it could exhibit a large degree of its own hubris; more so than it would without the comforting presence of the United States’ support. Turkey, at least until the Iraq War of 2003, has enjoyed exactly this type of close relationship with the USA, giving it a platform to stand on in defiance of the International Community’s calls for reform.
It will be interesting to see how the change in Turkey’s relationship with the USA post President Bush might affect the degree to which Turkey continues to exhibit hubristic behaviors vis a vis its neighbors. The USA has also historically supported Israel in a similar manner; a nation that repeatedly gets away with a large degree of hubristic acts. It is interesting to note Turkey’s sudden sympathy with the Palestinians; a new stance on an issue that is decades old. This (though less so now that the USA is more publically denouncing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians) is a challenge to one of the USA’s close political allies, and is thus an indirect challenge to the USA itself. This might conceivably reflect the changing relationship between the USA and Turkey.



written by Athanasios Fragkis, October 18, 2011 

The recent actions of the Turkish leadership should be assessed as part of the global picture rather than as an attempt for local dominance.
The post Tohoku catastrophe need to a shift from nuclear energy dependency to alternative forms in the long run, and additional fossil fuels in the short run, taken together with the (not so recent) discovery of natural gas and oil in the eastern Med.on one hand. The change in progress in the last few years, that sees the centres of power moving from US/America to Asia,provide some clue as to who is pulling the strings of the later day sultan.



Government Employee
written by kate Sorokou, October 23, 2011 

It is an excellent article, full of truths and insights, as to what might happen further, in our country, in the near future. Unfortunately we the greeks never learn from our past or struggles against our enemies.



written by Lina, Vilnius, October 26, 2011 

Thank you. It is a very interesting article. I understand about the situation of Cyprus better now.



Dr. and Lecturer in British history and Literature, Ionian University
written by William Mallinson, October 26, 2011 

A pithy piece, reaching the parts that many pieces do not reach. Of course, much of the problem lies in the fact that the US, Britain and even the EU tend to turn a blind eye to Turkish excesses. Some years ago, the British FCO wrote: ‘Turkey must be regarded as more important to Western strategic interests than Greece and that,if risks must be run, they should be risks of further straining Greek rathr than Turkish rekations withb the West.’ Charming! Things are the same today,perhaps with different colours. I have one quibble, about the Asia Minor campaign. I have copies of documents from the British National Archives that betray considerable Foreign Office irritation with Mr. Venizelos for allowing the Greek army to advance further than had been agreed.It is a shame that a man who had done so much for Greecethen went and spoiled much of what he had achieved by over-enthusiasm.



written by Michael Olympios, October 31, 2011 

Very well written. I could add that Turkey’s economic prosperity and importance as a regional power has rendered its administration arrogant. Turkey’s foreign policy agenda went astray and growing skepticism in the west may hinder on its ambition to become a full member state in the EU.


written by Tsvetan Radev, November 03, 2011 

Good article. Turkish attitude towards its neighbours is a well discussed topic in Bulgaira too. Especially the attempts of interference in internal affairs and the Neo Otoman policy of Davutoglu, planning to restore Turkish influence in the previous Ottoman borders.