Public support increasing for men who fled to Greece after attempted coup in Turkey in case seen as test for European values. The hotly awaited judgment, six months after the doomed putsch against Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has put considerable pressure on already strained relations between Athens and Ankara.
Greece’s supreme court will decide this week on the fate of eight Turkish military officers who fled their country a day after last year’s attempted coup in a case that has triggered outrage among intellectuals and is viewed as a test for European democratic values.
The hotly awaited judgment, six months after the doomed putsch against Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has put considerable pressure on already strained relations between Athens and Ankara. “Turkey feels very strongly about this,” a senior official said. “Everyone is watching very closely.”
With the refugee crisis far from over and talks to reunify Cyprus at a critical stage, the ruling could send ripples across the turbulent Aegean Sea that divides the two longstanding Nato rivals. Erdoğan has made clear that he wants the eight men extradited in order to face charges of trying to overthrow the government.
He has publicly said that the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has assured him the officers will be sent back. Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, claims he extracted a similar promise from Nikos Kotzias, his Greek counterpart, during a telephone conversation on 16 July, the day the officers flew their Black Hawk helicopter across the border.
The issue not only poses an unwanted dilemma for Tsipras’s embattled administration but also has ethical and existential dimensions that cut to the core of Greece’s identity as an EU member state. Even if the eight men were involved in the coup – and they strenuously deny they were – many argue that to return them to a country that has cracked down so fiercely on perceived dissent would be tantamount to surrendering the principles underpinning western values and democratic rule. Erdoğan has openly said he is considering reinstating the death penalty.
“Greece’s honour is at stake,” said Stefanos Manos, a former finance minister who founded the liberal Drassi party. “Our laws, and European laws, say very clearly that you cannot extradite people to a country where they will not be able to face fair trial. It will be dishonourable if for practical purposes, or political expediency, that is not respected.”
More than 60% of Greeks signalled in a recent poll that they were staunchly opposed to surrendering to Turkey’s extradition request.
Three supreme court prosecutors separately upheld that view this month, saying that under no circumstances should the officers be returned to a nation where they risked being tortured and their lives would be endangered. “They may be the biggest enemies of Greece, they may have violated airspace, but they came here as suppliants,” Charalambos Vourliotis, one of the prosecutors, told the court, insisting that it was Greece’s civic duty to uphold the law and European values.
The Greek government’s apparent willingness to intervene has heightened concerns. The officers’ application for political asylum has already been rejected. The supreme court, or Areios Pagos, is headed by a government appointee. The Greek minister of justice could have the last say.
Although Athens would face stern criticism if the men were extradited, Tsipras is also acutely aware that an irate Turkey could open the way for thousands of refugees to enter Greece – effectively turning a blind eye to the agreement it has signed with Europe to curb the flows – if the decision doesn’t go its way.
“This is going to create problems one way or the other,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of philosophy of law at the University of Athens. “Ultimately this is an ethical issue, a clash between morality and moral principles and raw political power,” he added drawing a parallel with Britain and France when they chose to appease Hitler in 1938. “Do we abandon those principles or appease a country that is clearly becoming increasingly authoritarian?”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010