Whether it happened in a flash of sheer (and unfortunate) inspiration or put forward and imposed from the outside, President Erdoğan’s visit to Greece gave him the opportunity to steal the limelight, communication-wise and beyond. With our tolerance and cooperation, he contrived to internationalise his provocative demands on our country.
At the same time, he left the President and the Prime Minister of Greece exposed, both with his arrogant behaviour and with his sultan-like clamour. Apart from asking for a revision of the Lausanne Treaty, and questioning our sovereign rights to the Aegean, and calling the Muslim minority in Thrace “Turkish”—which he had been expected to do anyway—he even asked the Greek Prime Minister (one more time!) to extradite to Turkey the 10 Turkish military officers who, after the 15 July 2016 coup d’état attempt, requested asylum in Greece, eight of them right after the attempt and the two SAT commandos in February 2017.
The case of the Turkish officers is, on one hand, another typical example of the Greek government’s inability to handle some simple but important issues of foreign policy and, on the other hand, it reveals the phobic syndrome that the government suffers from when it comes to facing Turkey. As a consequence, a purely legal issue evolved into a politically sensitive dispute, and Turkey was given the chance to use it as a lever of pressure against us.
First of all, the Turkish military officers did not, as coup plotters, commit any criminal offence but a political one. Obviously, they faced prosecution in Turkey for their political convictions. That being so, there is no justification for Turkey’s request to extradite them. Given the certainty that if they were sent back to their own country, their lives would be in danger and they would be subjected to torture, the Greek government should have straightaway taken any of the following steps: 1. submitted their asylum applications to the Common European Asylum System last September—as was written in the press, those applications were filed and sent to asylum aid services througout the EU; 2. placed the applicants under a special (supplementary) protected status in Greece; 3. granted them political asylum and provided them with a “Single Journey Travel Document.” With this document, they would have been free to travel to any other EU country and have their asylum applications examined there.
Besides, in order to avoid a possible Turkish demand for their extradition, the Greek government should have agreed with the government of an EU country that had already granted asylum to Turkish coup plotters before, to give passports to those 8 asylum applicants as well. If that had happened, those military officers would now be considered EU citizens and, according to case law stemming from the European Courts and in particular the Court of Human Rights, it would be illegal to detain them because that would violate the principle of free movement regarding EU citizens. Alternatively, the Greek government could have overcome the problem if it had, in conformity with the Supreme Court’s decision not to extradite them to Turkey, released them and allowed them to leave the country—as it should have done in compliance with both Greek legislation (L. 4375/2016, Article 46.4) and EU legislation (Article 26 of Directive 2013/32/EU and Articles 8-11 of Directive 2013/33/EU).
Contrary to all the above, the Greek Prime Minister, as President Erdoğan revealed just one day before he visited Greece, had promised him that he would send the Turkish officers back to Turkey within two or three weeks maximum. To clear up any doubt, Mr Tsipras said that Greece neither supports nor welcomes coup plotters into its territory. In other words, Mr Tsipras had already made the decision to hand them over. Just to get along with basically everybody, whilst he claims that he respects the decisions of Greek justice, he makes illegitimate promises to Mr Erdoğan, damaging his prestige as the Prime Minister of Greece and tarnishing our image as a country.
The following incidents give evidence that the Greek Prime Minister really intends to extradite the asylum seekers to Turkey:
In June 2017, Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Guy Verhofstadt sent a letter to European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos, complaining about the refoulement of Turkish nationals by the Greek border authorities the previous month. According to the Hellenic League of Human Rights, they had crossed the River Evros and asked for political asylum in Greece. As was reported by the media, among the extradited were families with women and children.
Likewise, it was mentioned in the Greek press that five Turkish SAT commandos had crossed the River Evros in February 2017 and asked for political asylum. Two of them surrendered to the police accompanied by a lawyer and they are now still being detained. The other three commandos, apparently deprived of any legal defence and assistance, were secretly sent back to Turkey. I do not think we should have the slightest doubt over the fate of those unfortunate people who had placed confidence in Greece. By now, they will have received the “complimentary gifts” that we all know our neighbours like to shower coup plotters with: beatings, rapes, genital electrocution and other kinds of torture that may disturb the mental and emotional balance of an individual.
But also the way in which the government is handling the issue of the 10 Turkish military officers clearly shows that the Prime Minister (and not just him) is moving towards extraditing them to Turkey, either immediately or in a few months. They have all been detained in violation of national and EU law, eight of them for 14 months and the two SAT commandos for 10 months. Although they are coup plotters, they have been arbitrarily classified as “terrorists” by administrative decisions. This is arbitrary because they were labelled as terrorists not by a Court Decision but by a decision of the asylum authority, i.e. a secondary administrative body. By the way, calling coup plotters “terrorists” is an Erdoğan invention; he has even described Fethullah Gülen’s organisation as terrorist. No court (European or Greek) shares this view. This is also the reason why all EU countries where Turkish military officers escaped to, have granted them asylum or a residence permit for humanitarian reasons. As far as the officers who surrendered here in Greece are concerned, it is worth noting that even if they had been labelled as “terrorists,” they should not have been detained for more than three months, in line with the aforementioned EU Directives.
Nevertheless, the Greek government, disregarding EU legislation and the Supreme Court’s ruling, is still detaining them! In this respect, we have undoubtedly shown great originality on a world scale.
Another interesting question is what will happen next. Will the detainees be released and their travel documents issued to finally settle their case or will they be suddenly and secretly extradited to Turkey? The second scenario brings up another serious question: Would that outcome be the result of turcophilia, turcophobia, extortion or bribery of certain government circles? If some consider my concern to be far-fetched or prejudiced, let me remind them that the “Sultan” has been following this practice consistently. Besides, we still remember the $15 million bribery case of Michael Flynn, the former National Security Adviser to U.S. President Trump. Well, let’s wait and see.
Now, to conclude this brief analysis on the subject, there is one more final question. What does the largest opposition party really have to say about all those issues that directly cast doubt on the international credibility of our country? This is a rhetorical question, of course, as the answer is known: NOTHING. Quite simply, the largest opposition party will continue to gawk like a political cow, watching the trains go by. But then again, those people have never even bothered about the serious problems that G r e e k military officers are facing—would they now care about 10 Turks?
Retired Army Lieutenant General
Member of the European Parliament
for the Popular Association “Golden Dawn”