In Depth

Erdogan shoots from hip on historic Greek trip

Long-held grievances surface during first visit by a Turkish president to Greece for 65 years

The first visit by a Turkish president to Greece in 65 years has exposed long-held grievances and highlighted the divide between the two countries on a host of issues.

 Beginning his historic two-day visit in Athens, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went on the offensive, attacking the border treaty between Greece and Turkey. He raised the contentious subjects of ethnically divided Cyprus, the rights of Muslim minority in north-eastern Greece and airspace violations.

Just hours earlier, Erdogan had accused Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of breaking a “personal promise” to extradite eight Turkish servicemen accused of involvement in the failed coup last year.

After giving verbal assurances the men would be sent to Turkey, the Greek government is in a bind. The servicemen have requested political asylum and “EU and Greek law forbids extradition to a country where an alleged offender would be at risk of torture”, says The Times.

Later, in what the BBC described as a “tense” opening exchange, Erdogan said the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which set the present-day borders between the two countries after the First World War, was not being applied fairly.

The Treaty is seen as a cornerstone of peace in the region, and Erdogan’s remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Tspiras and Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.

“The Treaty of Lausanne defines the territory and the sovereignty of Greece, and of the European Union, and this treaty is non-negotiable,” Pavlopoulos said, “it has no flaws, it does not need to be reviewed, or updated.”

The visit, which was meant to reset bilateral relations, has led to angry protests from left-wing Greeks and exiled Kurds, alarmed by Turkey’s growing bellicosity and a domestic crackdown on the oppostion since last year’s failed coup.

The two countries, nominally allies in Nato, have clashed on many occasions since Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. They almost went to war in 1996 over a group of uninhabited islands in the Aegean Sea and have been locked in an uneasy ceasefire in Cyprus since the 1970s.

Although relations have improved in recent years, Reuters says “many Greeks believe Turkey has territorial aspirations against their country”.

Yet despite their uneasy history “the Greeks are acutely aware that geography means they must coexist with Turkey and stand to benefit most if Ankara remains anchored to Europe”, says The Guardian.

Both governments hope the visit will mark a new chapter in bilateral relations, with joint infrastructure projects being signed off, the BBC’s Mark Lowen reports from Athens.

Konstantinos Filis, research director of the Athens-based Institute of International Relations, told DW that “economic and security issues will be the focus of the visit” and “controversial topics will be ignored.”

However, Thanos Dokos, director of the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy think tank, said he did not expect meaningful political progress between the two Mediterranean countries, dismissing the much-vaunted visit as “a public relations exercise and photo opportunity”.

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