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Turkish President

Greco-Turkish relations

Greece-Turkey relations have been marked by alternating periods of mutual hostility and reconciliation ever since Greece won its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832. Since then the two countries have faced each other in four major wars - the Greco-Turkish War (1897), the Balkan Wars of 1912 to 1913, the First World War (1914 to 1918) and the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922).

Ottoman era

The Greek state declared its independence in 1821. Its initial borders were recognised in 1832. These consisted of the Greek mainland south of a line from Arta to Volos plus Euboea and the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. The rest of the Greek-speaking lands, including Crete, Cyprus and the rest of the Aegean islands, Epirus, Thessaly, Macedonia and Thrace, remained under Ottoman rule. More than a million Greeks also lived in what is now Turkey, mainly in the Aegean region around İzmir (Smyrna) and in the Pontic region on the Black Sea coast.

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.

The First World War and after

Greece entered the First World War in 1917 with the intention of seizing Constantinople (Istanbul) and Smyrna (İzmir) from the Ottomans, with the encouragement of Britain and France, who also promised the Greeks Cyprus at a certain stage. Although there was little direct fighting between Greeks and Turks, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1918 the Greeks were quick to claim the lands the Allies had promised them. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres gave Greece eastern Thrace and an area of about 17,000 km² in western Anatolia around Smyrna. This Treaty was signed by the Ottoman government.

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

Between conflicts

The postwar leaders of Turkey and Greece, Kemal Atatürk and Eleftherios Venizelos, were determined to establish normal relations between the two states. After years of negotiations, a treaty was concluded in 1930, and Venizelos made a successful visit to Istanbul and Ankara. Greece renounced all its claims over Turkish territory. This was followed by the Balkan Pact of 1934, in which Greece and Turkey joined Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Romania in a treaty of mutual assistance and settled outstanding issues (Bulgaria refused to join). Both leaders recognising the need for peace resulted in more friendly relations, with Venizelos even nominating Atatürk for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934.

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.

The early cold war brought closer the international policies of the two countries and in 1954 Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia formed a new Balkan Pact for mutual defence against the Soviet Union.

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.

Cyprus crisis

The main irritant to Turkish-Greek relations after the 1950s was Cyprus; at the time it was a British protectorate with Greek-Cypriots who made up 82% of the island's population. The Greek Cypriots desired unity (enosis) with Greece, and in 1931 there were nationalist riots in Nicosia. The Greek government was forced by its financial and diplomatic dependence on Britain to disavow any desire for unification with Cyprus.

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.

Closure of the Halki Theological School

In 1971 the Turkish government closed down the Halki Theological School which was founded in the 19th century on the grounds of the Patriarchal Monastery of the Holy Trinity, which had occupied the site for over a thousand years. The Seminary, located on the island of Halki (Heybeliada) was closed in conformity with a Turkish law that forbids private universities, despite Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution which guarantees religious freedom and education. In 1998, Halki's board of trustees were ordered to disband until international pressure persuaded the Turkish authorities to reverse their decision. In October 1998, both houses of the US Congress passed resolutions that supported the reopening of Halki In addition, human rights groups including Helsinki Watch support the reopening of Halki.

Aegean Sea

Since the 1970s further issues arose between the two countries over sovereignty rights in the Aegean Sea. The Balkan Wars of 1913 had given Greece all the Aegean islands except Imbros and Tenedos, some of them only a few kilometres (barely more than 3 nautical miles) off the Turkish coast. Since the end of World War 2 Turkish officials insisted that this led to questions regarding the delimitation of territorial waters, air space and other related zones of control. The conflict was motivated both by considerations of military tactical advantages and by questions of economic exploitation of the Aegean. The latter issue became particularly significant as after 1970 there were expectations of finding oil in the Aegean. This was highlighted during the Sismik incident in 1987, when a Turkish ship was about to enter Greek waters to conduct an oil survey. The Greek Prime Minister of the time, Andreas Papandreou, ordered the ship to be sunk if found within Greek waters. Consultations about this issue were held in Davos between the Greek and Turkish Prime Ministers.

Issues unresolved to this day concern the mutual delimitation of several zones of control:

  • The width of the territorial waters. Both sides currently possess 6 nautical miles (11 km) off their shores in the Aegean Sea. Greece claims a right to unilateral expansion to 12 nautical miles, based on the International Law of the Sea. Turkey, which already has expanded its own territorial waters to 12 miles on its other coasts, denies the applicability of the 12-miles rule in the Aegean and has threatened Greece with war in the case it should try to apply it unilaterally.
  • The width of the national airspace. Greece currently claims 10 miles, while Turkey only acknowledges 6 miles.
  • The future delimitation of the continental shelf zone in the international parts of the Aegean, which would give the states exclusive rights to economic exploitation.
  • The right of Greece to exercise flight control over Turkish military flight activities within the international parts of the Aegean, based on conflicting interpretations of the rules about Flight Information Regions (FIR) set by the ICAO.
  • Since 1996, the sovereignty over some small uninhabited islets, most notably Imia/Kardak.

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.

Current events

Earthquake Diplomacy

In recent years relations between Greece and Turkey have improved, mainly due to Greece's supportive attitude towards Turkey's efforts to join the EU, although various issues have never been fully resolved and remain constant sources of potential conflict. An attempt at rapprochement, dubbed the Davos process, was made in 1988. The retirement of the staunch socialist Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou contributed to this improvement. His son, foreign minister George Papandreou, made considerable progress in improving relations. He found a willing partner in Ismail Cem and later in the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

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.

Illegal immigration

Turkey is a favored transit point for illegal immigrants trying to reach Europe (as well as being a destination itself; see Immigration to Turkey for details). As a result of bilateral negotiations, a readmission agreement was signed between Turkey and Greece in November 2001 and went into effect in April 2002. For third country nationals, this protocol gives the parties 14 days to inform each other of the number of persons to be returned after the date of illegal entry. For nationals of the two countries the authorities can make use of simplified procedures. But the strict application of the agreement is reported to have retrograded as of 2003. Once in July 2004 and a second time in May 2006, Hellenic Coast Guard ships were caught on film cruising as near as a few hundred meters off the Turkish coast and abandoning clandestines to the sea. This practice resulted in the drowning of six people between Chios and Karaburun on 26 September 2006 while three others disappeared and 31 could be saved by Turkish gendarmes and fishermen.

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.

Timeline

  • July 20, 1974 to July 24, 1974: Cyprus Crisis (as mentioned above)
  • 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 (Kurdish rebel leader) and the role of Greek Embassy in Nairobi International Airport Kenya when he captured in an operation by MİT (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 12nm as the recent international treaty on the Law of the Sea and the international law allow. Turkey expanded its territorial waters to 12nm 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.

Further reading

  • Brewer, David (2003). The Greek War of Independence: The Struggle for Freedom from the Ottoman Oppression and the Birth of the Modern Greek Nation. Overlook Press. ISBN 1-58567-395-1.
  • Keridis, Dimitris et al (2001). Greek-Turkish Relations: In the Era of Globalization (The Ifpa-Kokkalis Series on Southeast European Policy, V. 1). Brassey's Inc. ISBN 1-57488-312-7.
  • Kinross, Patrick (2003). Atatürk: The Rebirth of a Nation. Phoenix Press. ISBN 1-84212-599-0.
  • Smith, Michael L.(1999). Ionian Vision: Greece in Asia Minor, 1919-1922. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08569-7.

See also

References

External links

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