Discord between Turkey and Greece over sovereign rights in the Aegean, which have serious implications for oil exploration, for rights of sea access for Turkey through the Aegean islands, and over the Cyprus issue has serious implications for settled peace in the Eastern Mediterranean. Greek hostility towards Turkey also negatively affects Turkey’s application for full membership of the European Union. Underlying current disputes, important though they are in themselves, is a long history of unease, and sometimes, open enmity between Turks and Greeks, which stretches back to Byzantium.
Greeks have been ruled by The Ottoman Turks for 400 years.
Greeks and Turks are in many ways very similar, there is a lot of common heritage; our attitudes are alike. There is an innate empathy and understand¬ing between these two societies as they are intertwined in numerous ways.
Greece and Turkey carried out a population exchange in 1924 in an attempt to reduce tensions between the two countries. It was not a complete exchange of minorities, as significant Greek communities remained in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) and muslim communities stayed in Western Thrace. Nevertheless, the strategy worked, and the two sides enjoyed good relations and cooperation in the 1930s. They began to deteriorate in the mid-1950s, however, mainly because of Cyprus.
Cronology for the relations with Greece:
- July 20, 1974 : Cyprus Crisis.
- March 27, 1987 to March 30, 1987: Sismik crisis brought both countries very close to war. Turkish ship Sismik I is about to perform oil-research in Aegean waters. The then Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou orders the ship to be sunk if found in Greek waters. Finally, Sismik I does not perform the research, the crisis gets resolved.
- 25 December 1995 to 31 January 1996: Imia (in Greek) / Kardak (in Turkish) crisis brought the two countries to the brink of war.
- 1999 Relations between Greek officials and Abdullah Öcalan (Leader of outlawed PKK) and the role of Greek Embassy in Nairobi International Airport Kenya when he captured in an operation by M?T (National Intelligence Organization) caused crisis in relations between two countries for a period of time.
- 2004 Turkey reconfirmed a “casus belli” if Greece expands its territorial waters to 12 nm as the recent international treaty on the Law of the Sea and the international law allow. Turkey expanded its territorial waters to 12 nm only in the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece hasn’t yet expanded its territorial waters in the Aegean, an act which according to some would exacerbate the Greco-Turkish problems in the Aegean (such as the continental shelf and airspace disputes).
- 12 April 2005 Greece and Turkey have agreed to establish direct communications between the headquarters of the Air Forces of the two countries in an effort to defuse tension over mutual allegations of air space violations over the Aegean.
Relations tween the two countries began to improve steadily following a devastating earthquake in Kocaeli/Turkey on August 17, 1999. Greece was among the first countries to send aid and rescue teams to the region, and Turkey returned the gesture when a smaller earthquake shook Athens later that year. Since then, Greece has come out in support of Turkey’s bid for EU membership, and there has been greatly increased co-operation between the two countries to resolve the Cyprus dispute.
On May 6, 2004, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an became the first Turkish premier to visit Greece in sixteen years. Two days later, he became the first PM in 52 years to visit the Greek Muslim minority in Western Thrace, a community which has been at the centre of rifts between Greece and Turkey for decades. He said, “I am especially addressing my brothers. You will, without doubt, protect your special identity. Nobody is telling you to lose or give up your Turkish identity. But don’t forget you are citizens of Greece.” His words were a clear indication of how much relations had improved, though the implications of the characterization of the Muslim minority as “Turkish” are potentially perplexing.