Not all is quiet on Turkey’s western front. Patience inside the country is running short, while tensions with Greece are running high. Couple that with falling tourism, the strange brew that makes peace in this region doesn’t take long to sour.
Symi is a pretty place, about an hour’s ferry ride from Rhodes. The main town’s brightly painted Italianate façades encircle its natural harbour. Day trippers can browse the little boutiques lining the narrow lanes then later enjoy a good lunch with a half-litre of wine.
It was the first stop on our honeymoon cruise nearly nine years ago (where does the time go?). That first visit was also our first successful attempt at med-mooring. Mostly thanks to clear instructions from the burly chap collecting money on the quayside. This time we went into Pedi cove, just around the corner to the south. An initial attempt at anchoring gave way to sheer idleness and we put into the nearby marina.
Tying off the lines, I chatted with our marinero. Asking him how the season was shaping up. Tall, slim, muscular and tattooed like a Greek ex-navy seal should be, he was probably only a few years younger than me. “Not well”, he said gloomily, “I have friends in Athens who call and ask me if it’s safe to visit the island. You know we are neighbours with Turkey. Boats come and go all the time. I don’t understand what the government there is thinking. We’ve had a hard time in Greece in the past 10 years. The financial crisis, then the pandemic, and now this.”
After we’d secured Aleta, we broke off and I went below to delve into his comments a little more. Sure enough, Turkey was disputing the terms of 1923’s Treaty of Lausanne which laid out the boundaries of islands in the Aegean with Greece. Accusing Greece of violating the terms of the treaty by ‘militarising’ the region. Ignoring, of course, its own air force’s frequent flyovers. We’ve seen no signs of military build-up in the area, but we haven’t looked that hard, either.
I suspect this has much more to do with Turkey’s President, Recep Erdoğan, trying to find a way out of the financial mess he created over the past couple of years. Last year Turkey disputed the maritime zones around Cyprus, where, coincidentally, large natural gas reserves exist off its southern (Greek) coast. Similarly, a huge natural gas field was discovered south of Crete a few years ago.
Claiming such riches would go a long way to restoring international faith in the lira, which has taken a pounding in the past six months. When we arrived, petrol sold for about 8 lira/litre. With inflation fuelled by Erdoğan’s inverted monetary policy (he clearly didn’t take to heart lessons from the Chicago School of Economics), and supply disruptions thanks to Russia’s war with the Ukraine, gas now sells for ~28 lira/litre. The dollar’s strengthening exchange rate has cushioned us from most of the impacts.
For the average Turk things are much worse. In six months, prices have more than doubled for food, goods, housing, everything. Of course, wages haven’t increased, only frustration and anger with the government. Speaking with locals, the election can’t come soon enough. There is a grim recognition it takes at least a decade for an economy to stabilise even if recovery started tomorrow. Offering a bit of hope, I said that the United States and Europe wouldn’t let Turkey fail. It is too strategically important and as a member of NATO critical to containing any future Russian ambitions in the Middle East.
The First 90 Days
With that context we felt a combined sense of relief when the handsome young officer stamped us back into Schengen Europe. Not quite as handsome as the one who stamped us out of Turkey, Carol pointed out. Our visas give us 90 days to kick up our heels. Time enough to figure out where we’ll park Aleta once we head to the UK for a couple of weeks in August.