Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a bad habit of mouthing off at his adversaries. Lacking even a modicum of self-restraint or tact, much less diplomacy, he tends to unleash a torrent of verbal abuse at his opponents that bears little or no resemblance to the truth. Erdogan’s angry outbursts invariably mangle the historical record and largely appeal to his xenophobic nationalist base.
Being an equal opportunity abuser, Erdogan has lashed out at friends and foes alike. Israel is occasionally one of his targets. Erdogan has falsely accused Israel of committing crimes against humanity and has grotesquely equated its behavior with that of Nazi Germany.
The object of his latest temper tantrum is Greece, which, like some neighboring countries, has been inundated by a flood of migrants from the Middle East and Africa.
A couple of days ago, Erdogan accused the Greek government of mistreating migrants clamoring to enter Greece by land or sea. Erdogan issued this statement after announcing he would permit refugees in Turkey to cross into Greece, a European Union member state.
Fearing that a torrent of new refugees would be an intolerable strain on its economy, Greece deployed riot police and border guards to drive back the desperate migrants. By way of response, Erdogan accused Greece of brutality, claiming that its security personnel had killed four migrants and injured around around 1,000. Greece denied Erdogan’s accusations.
In laying out his case against Greece, Erdogan said, “There is no difference with what the Nazis did and the images from the border with Greece.” He added, “To open fire, fire tear gas and use boiling water on innocent people whose only aim is to save their lives and build a better future for their children is barbaric in the true meaning of the word.”
Erdogan’s historical comparison is a gross misrepresentation of reality, and should not go unchallenged.
To compare Nazi Germany’s unprecedented campaign of ethnic cleansing and extermination with Greece’s reluctance to accept more refugees is either an exercise in untrammelled cynicism or a bare-faced lie. Erdogan’s gratuitous comment is also deeply insulting to Greece, which suffered during the brutal Nazi occupation.
Unfortunately, Erdogan often resorts to such outlandish comparisons when he’s in attack mode. His advisors should let him know they are not only inappropriate but inaccurate.
To be completely fair, though, Erdogan’s compassion for the migrants is not misplaced and may even be sincere. Turkey, after all, already hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees and fears that the latest outbreak of fighting in the civil war in Syria could touch off another massive flow of Syrians into its territory.
Three months ago, the Syrian army, in conjunction with the Russian Air Force, launched an offensive to clear rebels out of Idlib province, the last opposition bastion in Syria. Since then, one million Syrians, the majority of whom are women and children, have been displaced and pushed toward the Turkish frontier.
Concerned that Turkey could be forced to take responsibility for their welfare, Erdogan conferred with European leaders in Brussels recently. With their talks having ended in stalemate, he said he would not prevent refugees in Turkey from crossing into Greece. As he put it, “We are not thinking of closing these gates. Our proposal to Greece is to open the gates. These people won’t stay in Greece. Let them cross from Greece into other European countries.”
At the same time, Erdogan announced he would host the leaders of France and Germany for a new round of negotiations in Istanbul next week. In advance of these discussions, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey is interested in reaching an agreement with the European Union before its next summit on March 26.
What all this means is that Turkey will presumably continue to allow migrants to enter Greece until all its issues with the European Union are fully resolved. In 2016, Turkey agreed to offer hospitality to refugees in exchange for a European Union grant of $6.8 billion.
Claiming that the Europeans reneged on this deal, Turkey says it has not received all the promised funding and that other major stipulations in the agreement, visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens and a revision to a customs union pact, have yet to be fulfilled.
Turkey’s legitimate grievances should be seriously addressed by the European Union, which is hardly blameless for the current crisis. But in the meantime, Erdogan needs to learn that his intemperate language and faulty comparisons are out of place and counter-productive.