Greece Iran Express Concern With Rise of Turkish Nationalists

ATHENS–TEHRAN (Reuters)–Greek government officials Tuesday joined in concerns voice by Iran about the surprise rise to prominence of Turkey’s nationalist party could further damage Ankara’s already shaky relations with Athens.

"Nobody expected that the Turkish nationalists would win such a big percentage of the vote. We don’t like it because the last thing Greek-Turkish relations need are hard-liners who can thrive on anti-Greek hysteria," a senior official–who asked not to be named–told Reuters.

Computer projections in Turkey said the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) of Devlet Bahceli would win about 130 seats in the 550-seat assembly after Sunday’s general election. The MHP had failed to win any seats in the 1995 elections.

The nationalists finished a close second to the Democratic Left Party (DSP) of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit who is flirting with them to form a coalition government.

"It will be very interesting to see how this right-left combination will work. We just hope that if such a coalition government arises Mr. Ecevit will convince Mr. Bahceli to soften his radical positions," the official said.

Greece identifies the MHP with its far right founder Alparslan Turkes and his "Gray Wolf" youth gangs known for their fanatic anti-Greek sentimen’s.

"If the new Turkish government wants good relations with Greece then groups like the Gray Wolves must be kept marginalized. We won’t accept any state-sponsored terrorism against Greek interests in Turkey," the official added.

The group has been accused by Athens in the past of damaging the Christian Orthodox Patriarchate during anti-Greek protests in Istanbul and vandalizing Greek Orthodox graves.

NATO allies Greece and Turkey have long been at odds over territorial and mineral rights in the Aegean Sea and over the divided island of Cyprus.

Repeated Western efforts in the past 20 years to promote a Greek-Turkish dialogue over the Aegean have failed while Cyprus has remained divided into Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sectors since the early seventies.

Athens is also not happy with the re-emergence of Ecevit as the key political figure in Turkey.

As prime minister in 1974 he ordered Turkish troops to invade and occupy the northern third of Cyprus following a Greek-engineered coup in Nicosia which Ankara saw as a threat to the island’s Turkish Cypriot minority.

And as caretaker premier last February–Turkish agents managed to snatch in Kenya Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan after he had hidden for two weeks at the Greek embassy in Nairobi.

"It is true that Mr. Ecevit has been involved in two highly unfortunate momen’s for Greece," the Greek official said. "But he is an experienced politician and he is aware that tense Greek-Turkish relations will hurt us both."

Iran’s state radio said on Monday that neighboring Turkey would not achieve political stability after its weekend general elections–in which a nationalist party made unexpectedly strong gains.

"The election results will not lead Turkish society toward moderation and calm because the future government will again be a coalition of ruling parties with different tendencies," Tehran radio said in a commentary on Sunday’s poll.

"The Islamist Fazilat (Virtue) Party’s position was stabilized in Turkey’s political structure–even though it obtained less votes than in the 1995 elections," the radio said.

"The popular vote establishing the Fazilat Party as the third party in parliament…showed that the efforts by the military and secularists to prevent the Islamic party’s active participation on Turkey’s political scene have not had any appreciable success," Iran’s state television said.

Tehran radio said voters had backed nationalist candidates because of the Turkish government’s "humiliating policy of rapprochement with Israel."

Iran–which in the past often had diplomatic rows with its secular neighbor–has strongly criticized Turkey for signing a military cooperation pact with Israel–the Islamic republic’s arch-foe.

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