Despite the nationalist hysteria that the state propaganda media and the mass media cultivate in both countries, the agony of the popular masses is evident, both in Greece and in Turkey, about  the possibility of a war.  

By Pantelis Afthinos and Κostas Kousiantas

The conflict between Greek capitalism and Turkish capitalism is once again approaching a boiling point. The time left until the end of September will be crucial. The last time something like this happened was in 1996, when the war was averted at the last minute.

It is a conflict between two regional sub-imperialisms, reactionary on both sides. And it is not new.

The struggle for regional domination in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans, as well as for economic and political influence in the Middle East, began in the mid-1950s. A critical point in the conflict is the struggle for control of Cyprus. A conflict that each side carries out, in cooperation with the leadership, of its respective national community of the island.

It has now escalated again with the discovery of gas deposits in the last decade in the Eastern Mediterranean. This discovery has sparked the run for the division of the international waters of the East Mediterranean, by Greece Turkey and Cyprus, through the definition of exclusive economic zones (ΕΕΖ), the continental shelfs and the expansion of maritime territorial waters, completely abolishing any notion of a free sea. This is a new round of capitalist plunder this time of maritime wealth combined with new catastrophic fossil fuel extraction.

Both sides have linked this conflict to their conflicting strategies against the popular movements and uprisings in the wider Middle East, as well as to the confrontations of world imperialist powers intervening in the region.

Turkish capitalism allied itself with and strengthened conservative religious political forces – the Muslim Brotherhood – which sought to halt the revolutionary dynamics of the Arab Spring and divert it in reactionary directions.

Greek capitalism in Middle East

Greek capitalism, after the outbreak of the Arab Spring and the collapse of authoritarian regimes in the region, attempts to emerge through the quadruple Greece-Cyprus-Israel-Egypt alliance (under the auspices of the US), as a force for imperialist stability and support for the old, authoritarian regimes:Immediately after Sisi’s coup in Egypt, the Greek government rushed to sign an agreement with him, thus immediately offering to the Egyptian dictatorship international legitimacy and channels of cooperation with the EU.The Greek governments have upgraded its economic relations with Israel and have been fully aligned with Israeli policy on the Palestinian issue.Last January, the Greek government offered to provide military support to Saudi Arabia, offering it a missile defense system and personnel (patriot missiles battery).It offered full political and diplomatic support to the coup leader Khalifa Haftar in Libya.In addition, Greece has maintained economic relations with the Assad regime (since 2017 Greece is the main buyer of phosphates from Syria).And at this moment it has entered into a series of cooperation agreements with the UAE, conducting joint military exercises in the Mediterranean.

At the same time, Greek capitalism is trying to emerge as the most credible guarantor of the interests of the great Western imperialist powers in the Middle East:For example, one day after the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the Greek government hastened to declare its readiness to support the United States in a possible military conflict with Iran.But much more important is the effort of Greek capitalism today to be the main diplomatic and military support of the French imperialist expedition to the Middle East and Africa. In many statements by government officials and in its friendly media, the Mediterranean is described as a «vital area» of France. At this moment, discussions are underway for the signing of an agreement between Greece and France, for military cooperation at all levels. This cooperation and Macron’s clear support for Greece, at this moment, gives confidence to Greek capitalism to escalate the tensions.

Τhe refugee crisis and the Greek-Turkish conflict

Another tragic dimension of this conflict is the attempt of Greek capitalism to emerge, in these circumstances, as the main «administrator» of the «refugee problem» in the Eastern Mediterranean. A key diplomatic card played by the previous SYRIZA government was that Greece is the EU’s stronghold for halting refugee flows and tackling the «threat of jihadist invasion» in Europe.

The current right-wing government of New Democracy (ND) has further upgraded this policy and turned the «refugee problem» into an aspect of the Greek-Turkish conflict, launching a real war against the refugees. According to the Greek government, Turkey is trying to «invade» Greece, through the refugees it «sends». This war already results in dead refugees on the river Evros (the border between Greece and Turkey) from the gunshots of the Greek armed forces or armed extreme right-wing militias, drowned refugees in the Aegean and (hundreds possibly) illegal push backs of refugees to Turkey. The political logic of this war against refugees is the Greek government’s attempt to convince the EU of the Greek state’s ability not to allow any refugee from Turkey to cross into EU countries. In this way, Greek capitalism attempts to convince the EU that it does not need Turkey in order to deal with the refugee issue in the framework of «fortress Europe»

.At this moment, the Greek government, in addition to strengthening its military capability (purchase of warplanes from France), is also strengthening its military forces on its land border in Evros and extending the fence in the area, arguing that it must face a possible new «invasion of illegal immigrants, who will be sent by Turkey».The escalation of tension between NATO’s two main allies in the Eastern Mediterranean is of course a matter of concern to the US and the EU, as they fear that a military conflict will destabilize the southeastern part of the imperialist alliance. At the moment, although the EU expresses its support for Greece, both the EU and the US are trying to mediate to avoid a military conflict.

Nevertheless, as for the two regional imperialist powers, Greece and Turkey, the stakes of their conflict are so serious (that is, who will have the main political, economic and military control in the Eastern Mediterranean) that they are pushing both countries in moves that are not always in line with key EU and US policies in the region, or even in initiatives to seek the support of their common, strong allies.

An internationalist anti-war perspective

In any case, what is required is international solidarity and the joint action of the forces of the left and the labor movement in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.Unfortunately at this point we are far behind. There are, of course, common statements between organizations of the anti-capitalist and revolutionary left on both sides of the Aegean Sea.But the problem lies with SYRIZA and the Communist Party, the two major left-wing parties in Greece. Both parties have a pro-war stance. SYRIZA – having been a government party – is proposing a more aggressive diplomatic and military strategy. The Communist Party (KKE) uses strong anti-imperialist rhetoric, but only to denounce Western imperialism because it does not support Greek claims. Both criticize the right-wing government that with its «lukewarm» reactions -as they characterize them- cedes to Turkey «sovereign rights of Greece»!

Despite the nationalist hysteria that the state propaganda media and the mass media cultivate in both countries, the agony of the popular masses is evident, both in Greece and in Turkey, about  the possibility of a war. In both countries, significant grassroots movements from below have emerged in recent years that can support an anti-war internationalist movement. It is the duty of the anti-capitalist left organizations to organize communication and joint action on both sides of the Aegean Sea.Pantelis AfthinosKostas KousiantasSept. 11, 2020Pantelis Afthinos and Kostas Kousiantas participate in the editorial team of the Greek anti-capitalist web site «e la liberta»

Pantelis Afthinos and Κostas Kousiantas

September 10, 2020