The last thing Greece needs right now is another crisis— and given the instability in Turkey, not to mention the blood-thirsty catharsis campaign instigated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a crisis in Greek-Turkish relations could erupt at any given time.
The issue at the crux of a potential conflict is the eight fugitives from Turkey who fled on the evening of the so-called coup attempt in a Turkish military helicopter, fearing for their lives and requesting political asylum in neighboring Greece.
Turkish government officials— including the prime minister himself immediately demanded them back, calling them traitors and hinting that the country could restore the death penalty to handle the perpetrators of the failed coup attempt.
Just days after their arrest in Greece and following a phone call with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias, the Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu claimed that Greece would return the eight individuals.
“They will expedite the extradition process,” he said, adding: “God willing, we will bring those traitors to Turkey and surrender them to justice.”
But Greece is a signatory to numerous international treaties regarding asylum requests, including the Treaty of Geneva, and must fulfill its obligations under these treaties— something Turkey clearly has no regard for in demanding their immediate extradition and even insinuating that they could be executed.
But in addition to the ire of the European Court of Justice, where such cases could be heard, Greece’s leftwing government could face an internal backlash from its constituency, which hails the preservation of human rights as one of its major platforms.
Turkey’s ambassador to Athens, Kerim Uras, raised the pressure on Greece, saying that delays in returning the eight asylum seekers would anger the Turkish public and worsen bilateral relations. “It was a mistake to accept these people in the first place,” Mr. Uras said at a news conference in Athens, assuring reporters that the officers “will face a fair trial” in Turkey.
But “fair” is anything but what they expect to get if they are returned to Turkey given the intensity of statements coming from the government and media, which have already effectively sentenced these people.
“What we expect from Greek authorities is that they cooperate [with Turkey] and send these traitors back,” Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu told state-run television channel TRT on Friday.
But lawyers representing the eight say they fear for their lives if they are returned to Turkey.
“They fear for their lives and do not believe they will be given a fair trial there,” said Vasiliki Marinaki, one of three Greek lawyers representing the men. “They insist they were not involved in the coup,” she told The Guardian, saying that the officers had been on a mission to save wounded civilians when they decided to flee after coming under police fire.
“Politically and diplomatically it is a hot potato for Greece,” the defense expert Thanos Dokos told the Guardian. “This is a government that is sensitive to human rights issues but also knows that the cost of not sending them back could be great. Ultimately much will depend on whether the death penalty is reinstated [in Turkey].”