Türkiye and Greece have a long history of strained relations, rooted in territorial disputes, political disagreements, and cultural differences. Recent events have brought these tensions to the forefront once again, with both countries engaging in military maneuvers and diplomatic sparring. It is important to use a multi-disciplinary perspective on the current state of Turkish-Greek relations, drawing on several sources to present a comprehensive overview of the situation.
Problem of Aegean Islands
One of the primary sources of tension between Türkiye and Greece is the issue of territorial sovereignty in the Aegean Sea. Türkiye claims that a number of islands in the Aegean are rightfully Turkish, based on historical ties of Treaty of Lausanne. Greece, however, maintains that these islands are sovereign Greek territory and has established military bases on them to reinforce this claim. This dispute has led to several naval standoffs and near-misses between Turkish and Greek vessels, heightening tensions between the two countries. According to a report by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Türkiye has consistently advocated for a peaceful resolution to this dispute, based on international law and mutual respect. Türkiye has called for the demilitarization of the Aegean islands and the establishment of a joint commission to determine the status of disputed areas. However, Greece has rejected these proposals and instead escalated its military presence in the region. In response to Greece’s actions, Türkiye has also increased its military presence in the Aegean, leading to a series of dangerous encounters between Turkish and Greek forces. This has led to concerns that the situation could escalate into a full-blown conflict. In an interview with Hurriyet Daily News, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar stated that Türkiye would “not hesitate to use its full military power” to defend its territorial sovereignty.
One island, Two Nations: Cyprus
Another source of tension between Türkiye and Greece is the issue of Cyprus. Türkiye has long supported establishing a separate Turkish Cypriot state on the island, in contrast, Greece has backed the Republic of Cyprus which has only territories by Southern Greek Cypriots. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called on the international community to support a fair and lasting solution to the Cyprus problem, based on the equal representation of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. Türkiye has also proposed the establishment of a joint committee to oversee the management of hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, to prevent unilateral actions by any one party. However, Greek Cypriots refused to go back to “United Cyprus” by saying no to the Annan Plan. The Annan Plan was a United Nations-sponsored peace plan for Cyprus in 2004. It proposed a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with a rotating presidency and significant territorial concessions by both sides.
The Greek Cypriot administration has carried out unilateral drilling activities in the region, which Türkiye and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus argue is a violation of the legitimate rights of Turkish Cypriots. The situation has become complicated due to the competing claims of territorial sovereignty and Exclusive Economic Zone rights by both sides. Both Türkiye and Greece have advocated for their respective positions and the international community has called for a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the issue.
Close Neighbors vs Far Politicians
Despite the current political tensions, Türkiye and Greece share a long and intertwined history. The cultural similarities and shared traditions between the two nations have helped to foster strong social bonds and a mutual appreciation for each other’s customs. Turkish and Greek cuisines, music, and lifestyles, for example, are all influenced by each other’s cultures. Furthermore, many families have members who reside on both sides of the Aegean Sea, and travel between the two countries is common. It is evident that the current difficulties in the relationship are largely driven by political disagreements, but there remains a deep-rooted affection and respect between the peoples of the two nations.
Greece has expressed a desire for dialogue, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stating in a recent speech that Greece is “ready for dialogue with Türkiye, but not under threats or blackmail“. Türkiye has also consistently called for dialogue and cooperation to resolve the issues between the two countries. In a recent interview with Anadolu Agency, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that Türkiye is ready to engage in dialogue with Greece “without preconditions“. He also emphasized the importance of respecting each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as finding a fair and lasting solution to the Cyprus issue.
A hell of a lot better than a war
As Kennedy said when the Berlin Wall was built “A hell of a lot better than a war”, to achieve a more positive relationship, both Türkiye and Greece need to engage in constructive dialogue and find mutually acceptable solutions to their differences. This could involve establishing joint committees to manage issues such as hydrocarbon resources and territorial sovereignty, as well as pursuing diplomatic initiatives to ease tensions and build trust.
“Cavusoglu: Türkiye ready for talks with Greece ‘without preconditions’.” Anadolu Agency. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/Türkiye/cavusoglu-Türkiye-ready-for-talks-with-greece-without- preconditions/2381601.
Loizides, Neophytos. “The UN’s Role in the Annan Plan: A Critical Perspective.” Journal ofPeace Research 42, no. 2 (2005): 211-28. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343305048655.
“Foreign Policy Overview – Greece.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Türkiye. https://www.mfa.gov.tr/foreign-policy-overview-greece.en.mfa. “The Cyprus Issue.”
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Türkiye. https://www.mfa.gov.tr/the-cyprus-issue.en.mfa.
“Treaty of Lausanne”. https://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/unts/lon/volume%2028/v28.pdf
Tsarouhas, Dimitris. “Why Greece and Turkey Are Fighting Over Underwater Rocks.” ForeignPolicy, August 17, 2020. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/08/17/greece-turkey-underwater- rocks-mediterranean/