The Greek Foreign Ministry describes the Indian-Greek friendship as “excellent, with relations being multifaceted, harmonious and warm, as the two peoples are linked by close ties of friendship and mutual cooperation, and represent ancient cultures.”
This close relationship was reflected in a busy 2020 that saw relationship building between Athens and New Delhi reach unprecedented heights despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was scheduled to visit Athens in November. The visit was unfortunately delayed due to a second wave of COVID-19 hitting Greece. Nonetheless, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Jaishankar held a virtual meeting on October 29 where they discussed strengthening cooperation in the defence and technological sectors. The meeting, Greek diplomatic sources said, is part of Greece’s efforts to foster fruitful relations with rising powers such as India.
Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis revealed in October that a direct air flight between Athens and India will be established. This will allow Greece to benefit from India’s burgeoning middle class who are increasingly traveling abroad for pleasure.
Also, a month before the October 29 virtual meeting between the foreign ministers and the announcement of a new flight route, Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos met with Indian Ambassador Amrit Lugun in Athens to increase military relations between the two countries.
There is no denying that the last few months of 2020 was a whirlwind in Indian-Greek relations.
However, perhaps it was President Ram Nath Kovind on Twitter who most eloquently described the historical relationship between Greece and India.
“The most famous Greek to come to India was of course Alexander the Great. He arrived at the head of an invading army in 326 BC – but he left as a friend. Every Indian schoolchild knows of how Alexander and Porus fought a pitched battle and then became allies.”
It is this single quote made by President Kovind that best defines the ancient ties between Greek and Indian civilizations. Nearly a thousand years before the concept of an England was conceptualised and nearly 2,000 years before the founding of the United States of America, Greeks and Indians had already gone to war, and then immediately become friends.
Although Greek philosopher Pythagoras is credited for the Pythagorean theory, Indians had known of this theorem at least 300 years earlier via the Shuba Sutra of Baudhayan. It is perhaps here that further defines the immensity of our civilizations - both capable of independently discovering, researching, philosophizing and theorizing revolutionary ideas and thoughts that are for the betterment of humanity.
Our civilizations survived the test of times when others went into the pages of history permanently, such as the Babylonians. But despite these thousands of years of history, Greece and India have not quite reached the glories of their ancient forefathers just yet due to centuries of foreign invasions and colonialism that saw untold riches leave the shores of the Indian subcontinent and the Greek peninsula to the treasuries of foreign conquerors.
The catastrophic drain of wealth put both countries on the back foot, so to speak, when they achieved their respective independence.
From the 1200s, Indians experienced the brutality of various conquering Turkic warlords, followed by the Mughals, and then finally the British. And although it was the conquering Turkic tribes that left a profound demographic change on the Indian subcontinent with the consolidation of Islam, it was the British who truly drained the country financially with an immense $45 trillion being looted, according to professor Utsa Patnaik.
Greeks, too, have experienced over a millennium of warfare against various Turkic tribes, most prominently the Ottomans, who just like the British in India, drained Greeks of their wealth, leaving Greece backwards, destitute and underdeveloped when it achieved independence in 1821.
In fact, it was these conquering Turkic tribes that disconnected Greek and Indian civilizations from each for nearly a thousand years.
The modern era, however, has no such issues, especially when considering technology and the formation of our respective countries as modern, functioning and democratic states, albeit, far different from the ancient Athenian concept of democracy.
It is on the basis of our ancient ties in exchanging ideas, knowledge and philosophy that today’s relationship between Greece and India should be built upon. With India rising to Great Power status on the global stage and Greece having the most formidable military and exciting economic prospects in the East Mediterranean region, the time is ripe for Indian-Greek relations to flourish.
Setting aside diplomatic niceties, realism demands that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
Although Greece and India want a peaceful rise to achieve economic prosperity for the betterment of citizens, both countries face revisionist and aggressive neighbours who are increasingly adopting Turkic medieval conquering ideology that not only bloats their own military budget, but that of their neighbours.
Greece faces a Turkey that is bringing neo-Ottoman ambitions from the realm of theory to reality as its recent wars against Syria, Libya and the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh demonstrate.
Meanwhile, Pakistan and its expansionist ambitions to conquer Jammu and Kashmir, adopts the ideology of Neo-Mughalism, believing that they are the successors of Turkic conquerors rather than Islamified Indians.
It is of little wonder that both Pakistan and Turkey now have strong ties, and not based on economic cooperation and development to alleviate their permeating issues of poverty and economic crises, but to continue their goal of territorial expansionism at the expense of the indigenous peoples of Greece and India.
Greek diplomacy went into a massive retraction after the troika―the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund―imposed brutal economic austerity measures in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Greek political leaders under control of European and international financial institutions became subservient to the foreign policies of Washington and Brussels, and Greece’s relations with non-European Union/NATO countries went into decline.
However, with the financial crisis over and Turkey becoming more emboldened to act unilaterally at the expense of Greece’s security and sovereignty, Athens is finally becoming more assertive in pursuing its own interests and is once again building or rebuilding relations with countries to its east, rather than its west.
Western mythology alludes that the Greek civilization is Western, but rather this is to appropriate Greek contributions to world history as the West lacks its own ancient and historical legacy to build upon. Rather, the Greeks are a transcontinental people, the first Eurasian civilization that had flourishing cities in both Europe and West Asia, as well as on the North African coastline. It is an illusion to believe that Greeks are solely Western considering Greek colonies reached as far as the Indus Valley and had a profound influence on Buddhism and Indian philosophy.
By readjusting Greece’s focus towards the East, rather than solely to the West, India has become an important partner for Athens. In fact, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar recognized this reality in a statement made in September 2020, stressing that his country considers Greece a “strategic partner” with which it has a “long-term friendship”.
2020 was a big year in boosting Indian-Greek relations, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. And although a flurry of agreements and memorandums were signed or discussed to increase cooperation in the economy, culture, tourism and technology, the most critical component was is in the military field.
The boost in military ties between Greece and India, following the meeting between Panagiotopoulos and Lugun, comes at a time when Pakistan continues provocations in the East Mediterranean on behalf of Turkey, despite being located 5,000km from Greece. This has included Turkish jets being piloted by Pakistanis who violate Greek airspace.
It must also be recalled that Pakistan was the only country (along with Bangladesh) to recognize the self-styled illegal entity calling itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” Although Islamabad eventually withdrew recognition of Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus as an independent state after significant pressure from the international community, it does demonstrate that Pakistan is willing to antagonize Greece and Cyprus for the sake of serving Turkish interests.
Greek and Indian ties are far deeper, richer and historical to only be viewed as a friendship of convenience to counter the collective threats posed by the Turkish-Pakistani expansionist axis. But there is no hiding that this must be one of the immediate and more critical components of this expanding relationship.
There is no doubt that in any future war India has with Pakistan, Turkey will be involved one way or another. Ankara has shown how it can utilize jihadists to achieve outcomes it wants, just as it did in Syria, Libya and against the indigenous Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. With Pakistan being a hotbed for Islamic extremism, Turkish organization and knowhow can push jihadists in the region to unprecedented violence against India. This would be in addition to Turkish military advisers on the ground, as well as Turkish-assembled drones being used.
However, Greece’s intimate knowledge of the Turkish military apparatus would prove beneficial to India in neutralizing this additional threat to its sovereignty, and intelligence exchanges should be the pinnacle of Indian-Greek relations.
In addition, Greek seafaring has been unmatched for thousands of years, with the Greek Navy having never lost a battle since its modern formation in 1821. Greece also has the world’s largest mercantile shipping fleet in the world, far surpassing the Chinese. Greece can offer India knowhow into the shipping industry and building a competitive commercial fleet and port structures.
But more importantly, naval exercises, particularly in the East Mediterranean, must become a priority. This should not only be a show of unity and strength against a common adversary, but as an opportunity for the secrets of Greek seamanship to be shared with India. It must also be remembered that Greek pilots have won NATO’s “Best Warrior” awards in consecutive years.
Whereas Greece can improve Indian seamanship - military and commercial - as well as fighter jet pilot skills, India can offer Greece its own knowhow in the tech industry. In the past few months, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Microsoft, and a host of other foreign technological companies have decided to invest in Greece to take advantage of an economy waking up after more than a decade of austerity. Perhaps Indian companies like HCL should consider the brave move of expanding into Southeast European markets via Greece.
In fact, the opportunities for economic and technological cooperation are endless.
However, as emphasized, although the ties are deep and should not be merely a reaction to Turkish-Pakistani cooperation, this has to be the top priority. With reports that Ankara is recruiting foreign jihadists to fight in Kashmir and openly announcing it aims to annex Greek islands and maritime space, military cooperation needs to be prioritized.
Turkey through soft power initiatives, such as the production and broadcasting of serials like Ertuğrul that whip up viewers into a medieval Turkic conquering frenzy, has consolidated Pakistan’s Turkophilia. Although there is no reason why Turkey should be against India or Pakistan against Greece, the emergence of pan-Turkism has consumed Turkish and Pakistani society, thus creating the idea that they share common enemies and a common destiny to recreate a Turkic empire akin to the Ottomans or Mughals.
However, adopting backwards medieval ideas against modern and functioning states that have thousands of years of history and legacy is only bound to fail. Although the Ottomans and Mughals successfully cut the connections that Greek and Indian civilizations had with each other, the conveniences of modern technology and military might ensure that a disconnect can never happen again. This is to the detriment of those who want to territorially expand at the expense of Greek and Indian sovereignty.
Of the many virtues that the Greek people abide by, the most important is philotimo. Philotimo is loosely but not exactly translated as “love of honour.” Philotimo is essentially the Greek way of life and guides us on how to love our family and friends, and how to treat foreigners and strangers through respect, honourable behaviour and acts of kindness.
India, Greece is ready to share its philotimo with you, just as Alexander the Great had done over 2,300 years ago to become dear friends with King Porus and India.
Paul Antonopoulos is an editor at Greek City Times, and a geopolitical analyst