Armenia on September 9 got a gift from Greece — a law making it a crime to deny that the World-War-I slaughter of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey amounts to genocide. Needless to say, thanks already have been expressed.
The measure comes as part of a new anti-hate-crime law that applies similar penalties for rebuttals of the Holocaust and other war-crimes. The law also toughens punishments for racially and sexually motivated hate-crimes.
Greece ranks as the third country after Switzerland and Slovakia to criminalize claims that the slaughter, which Turkey downplays as one of many atrocities of World War I, ranks as a genocide. In 2012, France, home to a large Armenian Diaspora, adopted a similar bill, which strained relations with Turkey before being overturned by the French Constitutional Court.
Ankara, which is playing its cards warily with Armenia in the run-up to the 2015 centennial anniversary of the massacre, does not appear yet to have responded to Athens’ criminalization vote.
Nor, as yet, has Turkic strategic ally Azerbaijan, Armenia’s enemy-number-one.
The two “brothers” are not generally quiet on such matters; the Azerbaijani government, for instance, stepped up to the plate for Turkey on France’s genocide-denial decision.
While European and North American food producers might be worried about the sting of Russia's new ban on western produce, Turkish exporters could soon be celebrating.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, Moscow's ban -- enacted in response to western sanctions on Russia to punish it for its role in the current crisis in Ukraine -- is providing Turkey with an opportunity for expanding its agricultural exports:
Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision last week to block certain food imports from the European Union and the U.S. is a potential boon for Turkey just as Islamist insurgents in Iraq choke off trade to key markets for Turkish goods. Exporting food to Russia could also help make up for slowly recovering demand from the EU, Turkey's biggest market.
Shipping more fruit, vegetables and dairy products would also aid Turkey in plugging an annual trade deficit of about $20 billion with Russia.
"This is 100% positive, we need to seize this opportunity, Russia can devour everything we produce," said Ahmet Ozer, vice president of the general assembly at the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce. "We don't have energy like Russia, but we have agriculture, water and farmlands; we must work them and sell our produce."
Last year, Turkey sold $7 billion worth of goods to Russia, which Mr. Ozer said could jump by 25% as Moscow turns to Ankara, among others, for food it previously imported from Australia, Canada, Norway, the U.S. and the EU.
Last week's visit to Turkey by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras certainly hit all the right positive notes. Dozens of bilateral agreements were signed by the two countries and Samaras and his Turkish counterpart both vowed to increase trade between Turkey and Greece and to work together to solve the Cyprus problem.
The two once-bickering neighbors have certainly come a long way from decades past, when a visit like Samaras's to Turkey -- now something fairly routine -- would have been hailed as a major breakthrough. That said, it appears that some trouble might be in store for Turkey-Greece relations, particularly regarding the issue of Athens' desire to lay claim to a vast amount of potentially oil- and gas-rich maritime territory in the eastern Mediterranean. From a recent Wall Street Journal report that came out only days after Samaras left Turkey:
Greece has renewed its territorial claims over a broad swath of disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean where the indebted country hopes to find vast oil and gas deposits—a plan that risks sparking a confrontation with Turkey.
Over the past several weeks, senior government officials have made a series of public statements—both at home and abroad—pointing to an almost two-decade-old international treaty granting those rights, one Greece hasn't asserted until now. Athens also has been building support in other European capitals and stepping up a diplomatic campaign at the United Nations….
Has the White House inadvertently stepped into one of the Mediterranean's oldest unresolved conflicts, namely: which country in the region gets to claim itself as the inventor of baklava?
The issue has been heating up over the last few years. In 2006, for example, Turkish makers of the flaky dessert were outraged when European Union tourism posters featured baklava as a, gasp, Cypriot invention. But the baklava battle has opened up a new front after a March 22 White House dinner in honor of Greek Independence Day. Although it was a closed affair, Maria Loi, a New York-based Greek chef who prepared the evening's dinner, told a Greek-American publication that President Barack Obama "loved baklava." Picked up by the Turkish press, the story became one of the President saying how much he loved "Greek baklava," leading to angry denunciations from columnists who suggested Obama brush up on his Balkan culinary history and that Loi's entire menu for the affair -- moussaka, stuffed grape leaves, Greek salad and the offending baklava -- was comprised of nothing more than Turkish dishes dressed up as Greek ones.
Worried about the Greeks claiming other cross-border staples as their own, some Turkish foodmakers are now taking preemptive action. Reports Turkey's Cihan news agency:
The İstanbul Simit Tradesmen Chamber has launched a process to get an international patent for the number one Turkish street food, the simit, a ring of chewy bread coated with toasted sesame seeds.
Greece has long been concerned about the flow of irregular migrants who cross its borders from Turkey, but a Greek plan to build a water-filled ditch along the two countries' shared border is causing concern in Ankara that the plan is not just about stopping migrants from crossing the frontier. From a very interesting article in The National:
"We are following the recent developments in Greece about digging a ditch at the Turkish border with concern," Egemen Bagis, Turkey's minister for EU affairs, said earlier this month. "I hope our Greek friends are not after a foreign crisis to divert the attention from their domestic crisis," Mr Bagis added in reference to the financial turmoil in Greece, which is close to bankruptcy and has to rely on help from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
It was "surprising to see Greece spending funds in such a project at a time when it is muddling through a financial crisis", Mr Bagis said. "For a more effective solution, Greece should have chosen to increase its cooperation with Turkey against irregular migration rather than coming up with palliative solutions."
Greece is digging a 120-kilometre trench along its north-eastern border river Evros, or Meric in Turkish, to hold back recurring river floods but also to stem illegal immigration, the Athens daily Ta Nea reported. The ditch, which is being built by the military, is reported to be seven metres deep and 30 metres wide. About 14.5km had been dug as of early August. The online edition of the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini reported the trench was to be filled with water, adding that the project was treated as a "military operation".