Turkey’s President Erdogan has just said the following: “We have one sentence to Greece: Don’t forget Izmir”. State to state messages don’t get much more incendiary than that.
Erdogan was referencing the crushing defeat of Greek forces on the Turkish mainland in 1922, and the Turkish army’s entry into Izmir on September 9th of that year. Massacres of Greeks and Armenians followed and, on the 13th, a fire broke out which destroyed the Greek and Armenian quarters of the city. Tens of thousands of refugees then crowded into the port area trying to escape, with many jumping into the water. To this day, nationalist Turkish politicians make “jokes” about “Teaching Greeks to swim”.
The jibe by the Turkish leader follows weeks of rising tension between the two countries on a range of issues culminating in Erdogan saying last weekend that:”When the time comes, we’ll do what’s necessary. As we say, we may come down suddenly one night.” This was a reference to the Greek islands which Erdogan argues are Turkish and therefore under occupation. There are other islands which Ankara says are mandated to be demilitarised but on which Greece has positioned weapons. He stressed that “opposite the Aegean islands is stationed the biggest landing fleet in Europe and a full Turkish army group”.