IN DEPTH – Volume 17 Issue 5 – September 2020

Neofytos Aspriadis
PhD in International Political Communication



During the last six months, Turkey has escalated the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean region, especially against Greece and Cyprus. Beginning in March 2020 Turkey sent deliberately immigrants and refugees to the Greek boarders in Evros to pass over to Greece and Europe. In combination with fake news and disinformation campaigns, Turkey attempted to frame Greece’s reaction to the asymmetric threat in its favor. In addition, the transformation of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul into a mosque in July 2020 was considered as another provocation from Turkey against Greece and Orthodox Christianity. The monument of Hagia Sofia represents a cultural and symbolic connection between orthodox Hellenism and the Byzantine past and therefore the transformation was thought as an indirect cultural provocation.

However, the tension escalated with the recent crisis of Oruc Reis. Turkey issued a series of NAVTEX for research in the Aegean Sea, south of the island of Kastelorizo which provoked the imminent reaction of the Greek government. At the same time, all these actions were accompanied with a heated rhetoric against Greece and its European allies including fear appeals and country defamation tactics.

With evidence of deliberate misinformation campaigns, spreading of fake news, accusations and blaming, Ankara intensified its actions and waged a psychological war against Greece. The rhetoric used by Turkey through the speeches and interviews of its political leadership refers to a large extent to the logic of Country Reputation Assassination.

The Character Assassination of States refers to the pursuit of sovereign states to destroy the reputation and image of their opponents and enemies. This action refers both to the procedure and outcome of the defamation campaign undertaken against the image of the enemy state in international politics. Country Reputation Assassination is being used either as supportive measure or as a main strategic “weapon” against an opponent, in order to deconstruct its positive image or even destabilize the country’s position in the international society. Through this process, a state can achieve diplomatic and political objectives. The target of a Country Reputation Assassination campaign can either be the leader of a nation, as the main state representative, the state itself or its people as a vital entity.

Character attacks on foreign leaders often enable their political opponents inside the other country to gain a competitive advantage in the exercise of opposition politics. On the other hand, the demonization of the enemy can prevent any diplomatic dialogue between states, as negotiating with an “evil” enemy looks like a “deal with the devil”. Subsequently, any attempt at reaching diplomatic consensus is condemned, while at the same time any arguments and any actions undertaken by the demonized state before the international community are delegitimized.

Country Reputation Assassination campaign has been used in great power politics like the United States and Russia under different circumstances as part of their grand strategy. In particular, US President G.W. Bush used a series of character assassination strategies like demonization against Saddam Hussein and Iraq in order to legitimize his attack in 2003 and at the same time in order to achieve international isolation of Iraq. Another example is the case of Russia during the Ukraine crisis in 2014, where the destabilization of Ukraine was attempted to stop its European course. In this context, Russia has used character assassination strategies against the insurgents by identifying them with Nazis or terrorists to legitimize its own operations for intervention.

Turkey during the last semester has intensified its rhetoric towards Greece using also country reputation assassination strategies. During the refugee crisis in Evros, President Erdogan blamed Greece for “Human Rights violation”, “inhumane behavior” and that they (the Greeks) “were sinking the ships caring refugees in the islands and were shooting against the refugees who were trying to cross the Greek – Turkish boarders in Evros”.  At the same time, Turkey exerted psychological pressure against the Greek side by threatening that “the Greeks at some point may find themselves in the need to ask for compassion themselves”. The accusation for violation of human rights and especially for the intentional sinking of the refugee ships constitutes a powerful attempt to defame the reputation of Greece and eventually the image of the European Union. This strategy mainly contained the ad hominem of double standards.

Greece had during the past years shown a great humanitarian interest in helping and giving shelter to refugees that arrived at the Greek shores in the Aegean. Through its management of the refugee crisis at that time, Greece accomplished to restore its negative image from the economic crisis. Through the ad hominem attack of double standards, Turkey aimed at deconstructing Greece’s positive image regarding the migration issue management. In particular, the aim was to deconstruct the image of Greece in the eyes of the West and to alarm humanitarian organizations and a part of western civil society to condemn Greece.

During the long-lasting crisis of Oruc Reis, Turkey’s attacks focus on the defensive actions of Greece considering them a “jeopardy for the coastal and navigational safety of all the ships in the region” and that “with this attitude, which is against international law, goodwill and neighborly relations, Greece has thrown itself into a chaos which it will not be able to come through”. Furthermore, President Erdogan asks whether the “Greek people are accepting what is going to happen to them due to the ambitions of their incapable leaders”. In fact, President Erdogan uses disinformation in order to construct the image of the “dangerous” and “bad neighbor” for Greece that is the cause of all problems in the region. The reference to international law is being used by President Erdogan to deconstruct the image of Greece, which usually presented itself as the defender of international law and stability in the region. Using disinformation, President Erdogan attempts to reverse the image of the two countries and to destroy the image that Greece has projected over the years for its role in the region.

Consequently, Turkey carries out a systematic Character Reputation Assassination against Greece using strategies like disinformation, blaming, accusations, ad hominem attacks and plausible deniability for some actions, trying to change the image of Greece. The campaign’s objective is to construct a new negative strategic image of Greece, and at the same time present Turkey as the stabilizing power and defender of the International Law in the region. In this sense, Turkey aims directly at the “heart” of Greece’s foreign policy position during the past years. Turkey’s objective is to gain international legitimation for its actions and to deconstruct Greece’s image in the international community. Turkey’s strategic communication should be dealt with directly by Greece in order not to allow the distortion of reality and leave no room for alternative interpretations in the international community.