Greek politicians of the 19th century were determined to include all these territories within a greatly enlarged Greek state, based on the Byzantine model and with Constantinople (Istanbul) as its capital. This policy was called the Great Idea (Megali Idea). Constantinople had been the capital of the Eastern (ie Greek) half of the Roman Empire until its fall to the Turks in 1453. The Ottomans naturally opposed these plans. The Empire was considered by the European powers as the 'the sick man of Europe', but since these powers were irreconcilably divided over the fate of the Ottoman lands, their intrigues both reduced its territorial hold but also kept delaying its collapse. Such policies aggravated relations between Greece and the Ottoman state.
During the Crimean War (1854 to 1856), Britain and France restrained Greece from attacking the Ottomans, by occupying Piraeus. Again during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 the Greeks were keen to join in with the objective of territorial expansion, but Greece was unable to take any effective part in the war. Nevertheless, after the Congress of Berlin, in 1881 Greece was given most of Thessaly and part of Epirus.
In 1897, a new revolt in Crete led to the first Greco-Turkish War. An unprepared Greek army was unable to dislodge the Ottoman troops from their fortifications along the northern border, and with the resulting Ottoman counter-attack, the war had a humiliating end for Greece, also resulting in some minor losses of territory for her.
The Young Turks, who seized power in the Ottoman Empire in 1908, were Turkish nationalists whose objective was to create a strong, centrally governed state. The Christian minorities, the Greeks and Armenians, saw their position in the Empire deteriorate. Crete was once again the flashpoint of Greek and Turkish aspirations. The Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 was a direct consequence of the mounting tension, as a result of which Greece seized Crete, the islands, the rest of Thessaly and Epirus, and coastal Macedonia from the Ottomans, in alliance with Serbia and Bulgaria.
Greece occupied Smyrna/İzmir on 15 May 1919, while Mustafa Kemal Pasha (later Atatürk), who was to become the leader of the Turkish opposition to the Treaty of Sèvres, landed in Samsun on May 19, 1919, an action that is regarded as the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence. He united the protesting voices in Anatolia and set in motion a nationalist movement to repel the armies that had occupied Turkey (including Italy, France and Britain) and establish new borders for a sovereign Turkish nation. Having created a separate government in Ankara, Kemal's government did not recognise the abortive Treaty of Sèvres and fought to have it revoked. The Greek advances into Anatolia were eventually checked and the Greek army was forced into retreat.
The Turkish army entered Smyrna/İzmir on 9 September 1922, effectively ending the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) in the field. The Greek army and administration had already left by sea. The war was put to an end by the Armistice of Mudanya, and the Treaty of Lausanne replaced previous treaties to constitute modern Turkey.
The Treaty of Lausanne also provided for a Population exchange between Greece and Turkey that had begun before the final signature of the treaty in July 1923. About one and a half million Greeks had to leave Turkey for Greece and about half a million Turks had to leave Greece for Turkey (note that the population exchange was on religious grounds, thus the exchange was officially that of Christians for Muslims). The exceptions to the population exchange were Istanbul (Constantinople) and the islands of Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos), where the Greek minority (including the Ecumenical Patriarch) was allowed to stay, and Western Thrace, whose Muslim minority was also allowed to stay.
Due to the failure of the invasion and the heavy loss of life that terminated 3,000 years of Greek presence in Anatolia, Greece refers to the events following World War I as the Asia Minor Catastrophe/Disaster. The alleged atrocities committed by the Greek army during the Greek occupation of Western Anatolia (1919-1922) left a lasting impression on the Turkish mind. Greek accusations, on the other hand, were focused on the Great Fire of Smyrna, especially in view of the account provided by George Horton, the U.S. Consul General in the city from 1919 to 1922. Horton's account remains as controversial as the fire itself
In 1941 Turkey was the first country to send humanitarian aid to Greece to relieve the great famine in Athens during the Axis occupation. Turkish president İsmet İnönü signed a decision to help the people whose army he had personally fought during the Turkish War of Independence 19 years earlier. Foodstuffs were collected by a nationwide campaign of Kızılay (Turkish Red Crescent), and were sent to the port of İstanbul to be shipped to Greece. The aid was shipped on board the ship SS Kurtuluş with big symbols of the Red Crescent painted on both sides. (See SS Kurtuluş for more information.)
At the same time, Turkey signed a "Treaty of Friendship and cooperation" with Nazi Germany in June 1941. Soon afterwards, it selectively mobilized young men of Greek, Armenian and Jewish descent between the ages of 25 and 40. These "conscripts", many of whom suffered a tragic death, were sent to forced labour camps in the depths of Turkey’s eastern provinces. The following year, 1942, Turkey imposed the Varlık Vergisi, a special tax, which ruined the Greek minority's economy.
Internally though, the Turkish policy of diminishing the economic presence of the Greeks in Turkey was continued after the war. Within this context were also the riots known as the Istanbul Pogrom, directed at Istanbul's Greek minority in September 1955. These riots were orchestrated by the government of Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes. The events were triggered by the circulation of false rumour that the house in Thessaloniki where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born had been destroyed by Greek terrorists.
The Turkish mob, most of which were government supporters transported into the city in advance, assaulted Istanbul’s Greek community for nine hours. Although the orchestrators of the pogrom did not explicitly call for Greeks to be killed, between 13 and 16 Greeks and at least one Armenian died during or after the pogrom as a result of lynching and arson. Many Greeks were severely wounded. Reportedly, dozens of Greek women were raped, and a number of men were forcibly circumcised by the mob. Thousands of Greek-owned businesses along schools, churches and over a thousand Greek-owned homes were badly damaged or destroyed, uprooting the already restricted Greek community. This pogrom greatly accelerated the emigration of ethnic Greeks excluded from the population exchange of 1924, reducing the 200,000-strong Greek minority to just over 5,000 in 2005. The Greek government did not react greatly to the events, trying to keep the fragile peace between the two.
In the 1950s the Cyprus issue flared up again when the Greek Cypriots, under Archbishop Makarios, claimed union with Greece, and the EOKA group launching a paramilitary movement on the island - mainly against the British, but also inflicting collateral damage to other parties and civilians. Eventually, Greek Prime Minister Alexander Papagos took the Cyprus issue to the United Nations.
Turkish nationalist sentiment became inflamed at the idea that Cyprus would be ceded to Greece, and the Greek communities of Istanbul were targeted in the Istanbul Pogrom of 1955. In response Greece withdrew from all co-operation with Turkey and the Balkan Pact collapsed.
In 1960 a compromise solution to the Cyprus issue was agreed on. Cyprus became independent, and a constitution was hammered out. Greek and Turkish troops were stationed on the island to protect the respective communities. Greek Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis was the main architect of this plan, which led to an immediate improvement of relations with Turkey, particularly once Adnan Menderes was removed from power in Turkey.
Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots were displaced during the period of inter-communal strife in 1963 and 1964. Thousands were displaced and massacres from both sides took place.
On 30 December 1964, Makarios declared his proposal of Constitutional amendment which included 13 articles. However, Turkey restated that she was against this and threatened war if Cyprus tried to achieve unity with Greece. In August Turkish aircraft bombed Greek troops that surrounded a Turkish village (Erenkoy) and war seemed imminent. Once again the Greek minority in Turkey suffered from the crisis, many Greeks fled the country, and there were even threats to expel the Ecumenical Patriarch. Eventually intervention by the United Nations led to another compromise settlement.
The Cyprus dispute weakened the liberal Greek government of George Papandreou, and in April 1967 there was a military coup in Greece. Under the clumsy diplomacy of the military regime, there were periodic crises with Turkey. Turkey rightly suspected that the Greek regime was planning a pro-unification coup in Cyprus.
On 15 July 1974 Greek Cypriots, backed by the Greek military regime, staged a coup against Makarios. An ex-EOKA man, Nikos Sampson (who took part in the fighting against the Turkish Cypriots, during the Christmas of 1963 mentioned above) was appointed president. On 20 July Turkey, using the guaranteur status arising from the trilateral agreements, invaded without any resistance from the British forces in the island, occupying the northern 40% and expelling the Greek population. Once again war between Greece and Turkey seemed imminent. War was averted when Sampson's coup collapsed a few days later and Makarios returned to power, and the Greek military regime also fell from power on 24 July, but the damage to Turkish-Greek relations was done, and the occupation of Northern Cyprus by Turkish troops would be a sticking point in Greco-Turkish relations for decades to come.
Issues unresolved to this day concern the mutual delimitation of several zones of control:
The conflict over military flight activities has led to a practice of continuous tactical military provocations. Turkish aircraft regularly fly in the zones over which Greece claims control (i.e. the outer 4 miles of the claimed Greek airspace and the international parts of Athens FIR), while Greek aircraft constantly intercept them. Aircraft from both countries frequently engage in mock dog-fights. These operations often cause casualties and losses for both the Greek and Turkish Air Forces. Amongst the lost pilots are Nikolaos Sialmas, whose plane crashed near the island of Saint Eustratius in the Northern Aegean, the Turkish F-16 pilot Nail Erdoğan, who was possibly shot down by a Greek Mirage 2000 in 1996, and Kostas Iliakis, who crashed after a collision with a Turkish F-16 near the island of Karpathos while intercepting a Turkish reconnaissance flight.
Relations between Greece and neighboring Turkey improved after successive earthquakes hit both countries in the summer of 1999. The so called "earthquake diplomacy" generated an outpouring of sympathy and generous assistance provided by ordinary Greeks and Turks in both cases. These acts were encouraged from the top and took many foreigners by surprise, preparing the public for a breakthrough in bilateral relations, which had been marred by decades of hostility over anti-Greek pograms, territorial disputes and the situation in the divided island of Cyprus. Ten years later, Greece has become one of the key supporters of Turkey's struggle to enter the European Union. Yet, despite the confidence Greece and Cyprus have shown, voting YES for Turkey in order to begin its entry negotiations with the European Union in October 2005, certain key issues remain unresolved. Furthermore, Turkey still denies access to Cypriot vessels to its territory, an obligation towards the EU with a 2006 deadline. Turkey defends that this restriction regarding Cypriot vessels was taken after the trade embargo decision against the northern, Turkish occupied, TRNC. The issue remains as a deadlock that EU, Greece and Turkey must agree on a common ground giving equal trade rights to both nations in Cyprus. Other unfulfilled obligations include Christian minority rights, acknowledgement of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople and the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch.
In 2002, Turkey and Greece made an unsuccessful attempt to jointly host the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship. The bid was one of the four candidacies that was recommended to the UEFA Executive Committee, the joint Austria/Switzerland bid winning the right to host the tournament.
A sign of improved relations was visible in the response to a mid-air collision by Greek and Turkish fighter jets in the southern Aegean in May 2006. While the Turkish pilot ejected safely, the Greek pilot lost his life. However, both countries agreed that the event should not affect their bilateral relations. and made a strong effort to maintain them by agreeing to a set of confidence-building measures in the aftermath of the accident.
Incidents concerning illegal immigration are often in the border of the two countries. Turkey, which is a transit point for illegal immigrants trying to reach Europe, has been accused for not been able to secure its borders with Greece. Since 1996 40 illegal immigrants have been killed by mines, after entering Greek territory in Evros. In 2001, about 800 illegal immigrants were rescued by the Greek coastguards after a fire broke out on board in the Turkish-flagged Brelner, believed to had set sail from the Turkish port of İzmir, probably en route to Italy.