April 13, 2012: Through some of the tensest moments in Greece-Turk relations during the 1990s, the Greek and Turkish business communities advocated improved relations and increased economic cooperation. Ironically, Greece’s financial crisis has given the business communities some additional clout. Greeks are looking for investors and Turks are interested. Greek and Turkish businesspeople have been holding conferences in Istanbul to link Greek businesses that need capital to Turkish companies, investors, and entrepreneurs. Despite thorny political relations, for many years (decades, actually) Turkish hotels and tourist businesses have tried to increase collaboration with Greek tour operators. Now several Greek construction companies and manufacturers are seeking Turkish partners. Making money doesn’t completely erase bad mutual history–but it can help facilitate the process.
April 12, 2012: Turkey has been vetting intervention options in Syria for almost a year. In the last month the government has begun discussing the Adana Agreement of October 1998. Now it is also discussing invoking NATO’s Article 5, which covers mutual defense in the event of an attack. Article 5 of the NATO alliance treaty says an armed attack against any single NATO member constitutes an attack on all NATO members. It was invoked after the 9-11 terror attacks on the US.
The Adana Agreement came after Turkey threatened to invade Syria because Syria’s Assad dictatorship was harboring the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) senior commander, Apo Ocalan. Syria didn’t want war with Turkey. The Assad regime gave Turkey Ocalan and then promised (in the Adana agreement) to refrain from aiding the PKK. One article of the agreement states that Syria “will not permit any activity that emanates from its territory aimed at jeopardizing the security and stability of Turkey.” While this is aimed at the PKK (denying bases, stopping training and funding activities, etc.) other groups and incidents with connections to Syria (and for that matter, attributable to the Syrian government) could also jeopardize Turkish security. Refugee flows, for example. Turkey already has from 25,000 to 30,000 Syrian refugees in camps along its southern border. Turkish aid groups expect that number to swell to 50,000 within the next few weeks, regardless of ceasefire agreements and negotiations. The worst case refugee estimate is 500,000. A refugee surge may or may not violate the treaty, but discussing it sends the signal that Turkey is looking for international legal justification for intervention. Mentioning the treaty also serves as a diplomatic reminder to the Assad regime to keep the Syrian wing of the PKK in check. Several PKK commanders have threatened to launch a new offensive inside Turkey if Turkey sends troops into Syria: in other words, the PKK is supporting Assad. Turkey is thus reminding the Assad regime that it will be abrogating a treaty if Syrian-based PKK fighters launch attacks.
Merely mentioning NATO Article 5 ups the diplomatic ante even more than discussing the implications of the Adana Agreement. Adana is bilateral and NATO is highly multi-lateral. NATO also intervened in Libya. Syrian dictator Bashir al Assad knows this and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows he knows it. In a statement made April 12, Erdogan specifically mentioned Article 5. “NATO,” Erdogan said, “has responsibilities (to protect) Turkey's borders, according to Article 5." Erdogan said the April 9 incident when Syrian security forces fired across the border and wounded four people in a refugee camp in Kilis province constituted a border violation. (Austin Bay)
April 10, 2012: Despite a ceasefire negotiated by the UN, armed clashes continued inside Syria. The Turkish government expressed doubts that Syria’s Assad regime was committed to the ceasefire. Several other NATO nations declared that Syria had failed to comply with ceasefire guidelines. The Syrian government had failed to withdraw security forces and heavy weapons (tanks and other armored vehicles) from several key towns and cities.
April 9, 2012: Turkey accused Syrian security forces of firing from Syrian territory into Turkish territory and violating Turkish sovereignty. Turkey reported four people inside a refugee camp in Kilis province (definitely on Turkish soil) were wounded by Syrian bullets. Two of the wounded were Syrian refugees. The other two wounded were Turkish aid volunteers. Turkey also accused Syria of firing on a group of Syrian refugees who were fleeing Syria as they tried to cross the border. 23 people were wounded in the attack. Two of those wounded later died.
April 6, 2012: Turkey reported to the UN that in the two-day time period (April 4-5), 2,400 Syrian refugees fled Syria and entered Turkey. Turkey described the refugee surge as an international problem.
Bosnia held ceremonies in Sarajevo to commemorate the beginning of the Bosnian War 20 years ago. No one is still quite certain how many people died in the four-year long Bosnian conflict. 100,000 to 120,000 is now a fairly consistent estimate.
April 3, 2012: Turkey reported that it has established nine refugee camps along its southern border in order to house Syrian refugees. Eight are tent camps, one (in Kilis) is described as a container city (ie, using shipping containers and trailers as housing units).
April 2, 2012: Greek police stated that that a splinter far-left group has now taken responsibility for planting an improvised bomb on the subway in Athens in February. The group identified itself as the February 12th Movement. Over the last year several dozen far-left and anarchist groups advocating violence have appeared in Greece. It is unclear just how unique some of these groups are. In the past militants and terrorists in Greece have migrated from one violent group to another or simply changed names in order to frustrate investigators or to make it appear that their movement is larger than it really is.
April 1, 2012: Greek and Israeli military forces, and elements of the US Sixth Fleet, are conducting Exercise Noble Dina (a naval operation) in the Mediterranean Sea. Greek media reported that one scenario involves protecting offshore natural gas production platforms. Turkey is engaged in a complex dispute with Greece, Cyprus, and Israel over natural gas exploration and drilling issues in the eastern Mediterranean. It is obvious that Greece thinks its participation in the exercise with Israel sends a political message to Turkey. As Turkish and Israeli relations have deteriorated, Greece has made a substantial effort to improve its relations with Israel. The exercise began March 26.
March 31, 2012: Serbia detained two policemen from Kosovo. Serbia claimed the policemen crossed the border into Serbia. Kosovo claimed the two policemen were seized on the Kosovo side of the border. Meanwhile, Kosovo decided to release five Kosovar Serbs who have been in jail since late February on charges of undermining Kosovo’s laws.
March 30, 2012: Romania’s former (2000 to 2004) prime minister, Adrian Nastase, received a sentence of three years on probation for involvement in a blackmail and corruption incident. The court had previously found him innocent of a bribery charge. Nastase claims he is innocent and that he was framed for political reasons.
It may not seem like a big event but in Moldova it is. Moldova’s prime minister and the president of the separatist Transdniestr statelet agreed to restore rail traffic. Moldovan trains will now be able to use the railroad in Transdniestr. Moldova and Transdniestr agree on very little. Since 1992, Transdniestr has operated as a separate region, thanks to the presence of Russian soldiers. The Russian soldiers are now part of a peacekeeping contingent.
March 29, 2012: Turkish government lawyers demanded that the 364 current and former military officers indicted for participating in the so-called Ergenekon coup plot should each receive jail sentences of from 15 to 20 years.
Slovenia announced that it will keep its forces serving with the NATO contingent in Afghanistan through 2014. Slovenia has around 80 soldiers and aid workers in Afghanistan.
March 27, 2012: Turkey’s former military chief of staff, General Ilker Basbug, walked out of a hearing held by government prosecutors who have charged him with involvement in the Ergenekon conspiracy. Basbug said the charges are frivolous and that he is not involved in the alleged plot to overthrow the government and commit terrorist acts.
March 26, 2012: Two NATO nations, Turkey and Norway, announced that they were closing their embassies in Damascus, Syria. Turkey said that its embassy activities were temporarily suspended because of the deteriorating security situation inside Syria.
March 25, 2012: Greece celebrated its Independence Day with military parades. However, police kept crowds to a minimum and in some cases only people participating in the parade were allowed on the streets. The government was worried about anti-austerity protestors using the parades to start violent demonstrations.
March 23, 2012: Russia’s ambassador to Serbia claimed that NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999, created more separatist problems. In his statement he declared that the Kosovo situation remains unresolved 13 years later. He stated that the intervention was part of a “Euro-Atlantic plan” to partition Serbia (Atlantic in this case means the United States).
March 19, 2012: Police reported that a fire bomb was hurled at the Macedonian embassy in Pristina, Kosovo. The incident took place on March 16.