Turkey hoping for better relations with Greece after Syriza victory

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu congratulated Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras on winning the Greek election Sunday. Being part of the EU, on their own terms, is something the two neighbours have in common.

Cyprus, energy projects and the European Union are key issues between the neighbours

Alexis Tsipras (C), Syriza party leader and winner of the Greek parliamentary elections, arrives for his swearing-in ceremony in Athens Monday. (REUTERS)

If political victories were cups of sugar, there are those in Turkey who might love to borrow some from its neighbour Greece.

On social media and in certain left-leaning circles, some Turks were wishing the far left Syriza Party's win in Greece might signal a bigger shift in the region, to encompass Turkey as well.

"Wishful thinking," says Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, director of the Centre of International Studies at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. "There is no correlation, the context is different," he says. 

Take the economy, for example. Turkey's unemployment rate is roughly 10 per cent. In Greece it is 25 per cent.

Still, the Turkish leadership does have its own hopes for the region as it watches the new Greek government take shape.

"We respect the decision of the Greek people," Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu said today, adding he has met in the past with Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras.

"We'd like the meetings to continue to decrease the tension in the Aegean… We'd like the Cyprus negotiations to resume."

Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. (REUTERS)

Beyond resolving the two countries' long-standing dispute over Cyprus, Turkey's interests also include working with the new Greek government on energy projects in the eastern Mediterranean.

Triantaphyllou says the primarily left-leaning Greek coalition government will likely be "more willing to communicate" with the Turks.  But with crippling debt and all of those economic election promises to deal with first, "foreign policy is low on their priority list."

There is another aspect to the Syriza election that is of note for Turks. Three of Syriza's MPs are Turks from northern Greece, known for its minority Turk population.

And when it comes to the relationship with the European Union — which defined this election for Greece and still plays a role in political discourse in Turkey, too, as it still aims to join —​ Triantaphyllou says Greece supports Turkish membership.

He says they both share "that logic" of being geographically on the periphery of the EU and NATO, which means they both vacillate "between belonging to Europe and belonging to themselves." 


Nil Köksal is the host of World Report, CBC's flagship national radio news show. She begins her mornings with more than a million loyal listeners. She returned from her post as CBC’s foreign correspondent in Turkey in 2018.


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