GCT EXCLUSIVE: Syrian consulate to open in Thessaloniki as joint efforts against Turkish aggression strengthens

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In December 2012, Greece ceased diplomatic relations with Syria under orders of NATO and the European Union. As a country that came under European Banker and International Monetary Fund control in 2010, Greece lost any semblance of its independent foreign policy and in the process, puppet leaders decided to severe relations with friendly countries like Syria.

However, geopolitical realities and Greece beginning to exit the economic crisis, Athens, as well as Nicosia, recently decided to restart diplomatic relations with Syria, as reported by Greek City Times.

Although diplomatic relations only began the path towards normalisation last week, sources speaking to Greek City Times have confirmed that military relations have been going on for many months longer in response to Turkish aggression against both countries.

Following the exciting news of diplomatic relations being restored, Greek City Times spoke exclusively with Dr. Vaggelis Bachar Moussa, a Greek-Syrian academic at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, who is part of exciting projects to strengthen Greek and Syrian relations.

He told Greek City Times that the Greek and Cypriot decision to send special envoys to Damascus has two important factors.

"First, Greece as a neighbour of Turkey, and that it has historical disputes with, has made such a decision while the Syrian ground developments are at their most sensitive juncture," the academic explained. "Second, Greece is an EU member and its independent decision regarding Syria deserves attention."

"The reopening of the Greek embassy in Damascus should be regarded as revenge against
Turkey which over the past few months unleashed large numbers of refugees to the
Greek border. Turkey opened the doors to the Greek border for refugees and
migrants coming from northern Syria and even other countries, after tensions
escalated in Syria’s Idlib province, trying to put strains on the European leaders. This caused a serious crisis for Greece," Moussa continued.

The professor explained that Greece's restoration of relations with Syria is a "symbolic political stance" to show a unified opposition to aggressive Turkish policies "and to prevent a new refugee crisis."

It is for this reason the Syrian-born academic believes that Greece seeks strengthened relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that are opposed to Turkish actions in his home country.

He said that Greece's opening of relations with Syria helps the country enter the world stage more, especially after its "military triumphs against foreign-backed terrorists" and as it appears Damascus will "be returning to the Arab League and may join the League’s leaders-level meeting in Algeria" later this year.

"Reopening demonstrates a deepening division among the European countries. The EU still insists on maintaining anti-Syrian pressures and sets up hurdles ahead
of the return of the Syrian refugees and still continues its policy of hostility against
the legitimate Syrian government," Moussa said.

"Greece is dissatisfied with EU policy in its confrontation with refugees
pouring towards its borders and also the EU’s dis-satisfactory economic aid to Athens
when the country struggled with the economic crisis. Moreover, the EU is no longer a united body in taking common decisions and its alliance is experiencing disarray," he continued.

The academic explained that a part of Turkey's aggressive behaviour in the Eastern Mediterranean is motivated by the desire to exploit Greek, Egyptian and Cypriot oil and gas fields.

"Turkey argues that it can explore and produce gas from a major part of the
Mediterranean gas reserves using an illegal agreement on energy resources with Libya that was signed in December. According to the pact with Libya, Turkey can explore gas and oil and produce them in Libyan territorial waters in accordance with so-called international laws. Turkey defends the pact and asserts that others have no such agreements and cannot produce gas in the Eastern Mediterranean," he explained.

"The Greek government strongly opposes this stance by the Turkish government and needs to be accompanied by actions. At this moment, geopolitical closeness to regional rivals of Turkey, such as Syria and Saudi Arabia, can be a part of this action," the academic continued.

Moussa also explained that historical and archaeological documents show that Syrian-Greek relations have existed since the second millennium BC and continue to this day.

"During the crisis in Syria, the political relations between the two countries were
severed. But trade exchange slowly continued because Syria is linked with
Greece within the agreement signed within the European Community in 1977, which
gives Syrian goods exemptions and preferential customs privileges when entering European market, without Syria having to grant the same advantages of European
goods when entering the Syrian market," he said.

Moussa also recounted that on February 23, 2003, an agreement was signed between the the two countries to encourage and mutually protect investments with the aim of
intensifying economic cooperation between them.

In the midst of a deep economic crisis, Greece cut trade relations with a friendly country. But how much did this cost the Greek economy?

"The trade balance between the two countries in 2008 recorded a deficit of 1.513
billion pounds. The volume of trade exchange between the two countries in 2008 was
about 11.306 billion pounds. The value of Syrian imports from Greece in 2008 amounted to 6.410 billion pounds, forming about 2.6 percent of Syrian imports from the European Union, and about 0.76 percent of total Syrian imports. The value of Syrian exports to Greece during the same period amounted to about 4.896 billion pounds, forming about 2 percent of Syrian exports to European Union countries, and about 0.69 percent of total Syrian exports," the academic explained.

Speaking to Greek City Times, Moussa also revealed some exciting news - a Greek-Syrian Chamber is opening in Thessaloniki.

"In continuation of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Businessmen Association of Greece and the Damascus Chamber of Commerce on 17-19 October 2017 in Thessaloniki, which is of strategic importance for the development of the socioeconomic relations between Greece and Syria, the establishment of a Greek-Syrian Chamber of Commerce – Industry – Construction – Tourism - Maritime Association, was a necessary procedure. The Greek-Syrian Chamber will carry out, with absolute responsibility, the expressed business interests of the Greek and Syrian business community, and on the other hand the accommodation and abridgement of the transactional (commercial, business and investment) procedures from the point of view of legal support in the search for short or medium-term financing solutions," he said.

In addition to these responsibilities, the Chamber will also create and develop a Greek-Syrian naval and shipping company that will develop a maritime transportation network.

He explained that the Chamber is opening in Thessaloniki thanks to the efforts of the Macedonian business community represented by the President of the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Tourism and Shipping Businessmen, Ioannis Mandrinos. This was under the supervision of the Deanery of the Department of Economic Studies at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, represented by Professor Grigoris Zarotiadis - Moussa said he was responsible for international trade and relations.

More excitingly, the academic said that eventually the Chamber will turn into a consulate with "approval of the Syrian authorities in cooperation with the Greek authorities."

He explained that "as a professor of economics, coordinator of the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean Academic Network of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, member of the Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Black Sea and Mediterranean Studies, and mainly responsible for the international relations of the Pan-Hellenic Federation of Tourism and Shipping Businessmen, due to my knowledge of Arabic and Greek, I will be the Facilitator of bilateral relations and transactions."

When asked where he sees Greece's relations with the EU heading in the future, he said Greece is trying to become a major logistical centre in the Aegean and a business hub in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean.

"Greece is trying gradually to establish itself as an important geopolitical and business hub for the entire region and as a logistics centre in the Aegean Sea through significant Chinese investment," he said.

"Thus, Greece forms strong ties with new EU candidate countries and helps foster
modernisation and economic development in Serbia and Montenegro who could join the EU in 2026. This creates prospects, not only for bypassing market fragmentation inherent in Southeast Europe, but also for overcoming implications of Greece's location at the periphery of the EU. Greece continues to play a leading role in the process, thus re-affirming its position as the anchor of stability in the region," the academic explained.

However, there is still doubt about the pan-European project, especially as it economically devastated Greece in 2010.

"The lack of transparency and the imposition of austerity as the only solution for some of the European countries, smashed by the financial and pandemic crisis, at a time when other countries like Germany continued to prosper, has cast doubts on the entire European project. For those of us who still believe in a social Europe, the real patient is the EU and the Eurozone – a new treatment is urgently needed," he concluded.