Exploiting a 500-year residue of Greek-Turkish animosity, Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou has embarked on a path of diplomatic brinkmanship over Cyprus.
His aim: to deliver on his overall election campaign pledge last year to get the West to stop taking Greece for granted.
Visiting Cyprus at the end of February, Mr. Papandreou said in an address to an applauding Greek Cypriot audience: ''Hellenism is determined to put an end to its continuing retrenchment and do battle to honor its history.''
Those were provocative words -- particularly to the Turks. ''Hellenism'' means Greek culture and nationalism at its most assertive.
Since Mr. Papandreou's Cyprus speech, there have been Greek and Turkish charges and countercharges about the activities of each country in the Aegean. This prompted Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ulusu to accuse Greece of trying to establish ''faits accompliw.'' He said Turkey ''will not hesitate to retaliate.''
Whether supporters of the Socialist Mr. Papandreou or not, most Greeks feel that they do not get the consideration due them because of their contribution to Western civilization. Modern Greeks see themselves as the heirs of a splendid tradition that began 2,500 years ago with ancient Athens.
During the election campaign that brought him to the premiership last October , Mr. Papandreou identified four areas of grievance on which he would seek redress:
* The NATO terms under which the United States was allowed to maintain naval and air facilities in Greece. There were suggestions that if Greek sensitivities were not respected, Greece might withdraw from the alliance -- and deny the US continued use of defense facilities on Greek territory.
* The terms under which Greece had been admitted to the European Community (EC). Again, the possibility of Greek withdrawal was mooted.
* The generally recognized line between Greek and Turkish territorial waters, including minerals underneath the Aegean.
* Cyprus, where since 1974 the Turkish Army has occupied roughly half the island.
Having won the premiership last October, Mr. Papandreou must satisfy the electorate on some of these issues. Signs point to his putting the NATO and EC questions on the back burner, bringing forward Cyprus. But he can hardly do this without raising the other dispute with Turkey -- the Aegean.
To act on the Cyprus issue, Mr. Papan-dreou knows that he must somehow lift the dispute from the bilateral to the international level. This, in turn, almost certainly means provoking a crisis with Turkey that would demand international action. At a news conference in Cyprus, he spoke of an international conference on Cyprus -- or of United Nations Security Council or General Assembly debates. Greece's ''allies - European and others,'' he added, ''must put an end to Turkish expansionism.''
Mr. Papandreou's apparent aims could backfire.
Take first his proposed route via the UN. So far there has been no breakdown of the UN-sponsored talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities despite years of disappointed hopes. The new UN Secretary-General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, is a former ''Cyprus man'' - once a chief mediator in the talks. Mr. Perez is known to want to breathe fresh life into them.
Take next Mr. Papandreou's hope of rallying the support of Greece's allies for its case over Cyprus. The only ally that really matters is the US, and the Reagan administration has made it clear that it sees Turkey as having a special role in security planning for defense of the Gulf and its oil. In the end, Turkey is more important than Greece in terms of geography and military potential. This is a disadvantage Mr. Papandreou will find hard to outweigh -- particularly with today's ''realpolitik'' approach to defense in Washington.
Finally, there are the Turks themselves, governed for the moment by military men who are trying to return their country to civilian rule next year.
In recent decades, military governments in Turkey have sometimes been more willing than civilian governments to be conciliatory in disputes with Greece. Military governments were less at the mergy of nationalistic sentiment than politicians needing to face the electorate.
But this is not the case at the moment. The Turkish military are extremely suspicious of Mr. Papandreou, of his flirtatious references to neutralism, and of what he might get up to with the Russians. Turkey also resents European pressures and criticism about its domestic policies. Thus, Turkey appears likely to have little patience with what it sees as Mr. Papandreou's ''nonsense.''