Erdogan Visit to Athens

Turkish President Recep Erdogan, arrived on a one-day visit to Athens on Thursday morning 7th December 2023 in the context of the 5th Greece-Turkey High Cooperation Council (HCC) meeting.  On his early arrival at Athens Airport, he first met Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou at the Presidential Mansion, then Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the Maximos Mansion, after which they made joint statements to the press.  This was followed by a working lunch of the plenary session of the High Cooperation Council.  The meeting's primary goal is consolidating calm in the Aegean.  Then the 5th HHC convened, during which some fifteen symbolic rather than substantive agreements were signed.  Despite past disagreements, it was important that both sides were in a phase of dialogue.  

Before his arrival, President Erdogan said that Ankara was seeking to improve relations with countries in the region, starting with Greece.  "We have disagreements with Greece, and we will continue to have them tomorrow.  This does not mean that we cannot find common ground as two countries that share the same seas.  Out goal is to improve our relations and cooperation with the countries of the region, starting with our neigbours to respect our mutual interests."

Relations between the two countries improved in February 2023 following the deadly Mw7.8 earthquakes that hit southern & central Turkey, where over 50,000 people were killed.  Greece were the first country to send assistance in the international rescue effort. 

The improved and more acceptable climate in recent Greek-Turkish relations is expected to be reflected in the 'Declaration of Friendly and Good Neighbourly Relations' that the two leaders will announce during their joint statements.  It will be a text in the form of a joint communique for the Supreme Cooperation Council, which will describe the progress achieved in bilateral relations and the positive prospects foreseen if the good climate continues.  At the same time, the granting of seven-day visas to Turkish citizens for visits to 10 Eastern Aegean Greek islands, including Rhodes, Kos, Samos, Lesvos and Symi, will also be announced.

No major issues were resolved during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Athens, but a new beginning was made.  Many people wonder how long it will last, due to past history with Turkey, but it was a good step forward.  The Athens Declaration may not be binding, but it exists and we can invoke it everywhere, if the Turkish president turns things around.  The main thing is that a sense of relief was created in the two peoples on either side of the Aegean, which is extremely valuable in an age when we only hear about wars and bloodshed, particularly when during his visit, Recep Erdogan described Greeks and Turks as "brothers."  Exactly the same description that President Vladimir Putin used for describing Ukrainians and Russians in his invasion of Ukraine.

It's important to remember that longstanding disputes have led Athens and Ankara to the brink of war many times in the past fifty years.  The latest events occurred in 2020, when Greek and Turkish navy ships shadowed each other in the eastern Mediterranean over a dispute about maritime boundaries and exploration rights for resources.  In 2022, 2,296 aerial interceptions (dog fights) were made by the Hellenic Air Force in violation of Greek air space, at a cost of €23 million, each one could have easily sparked a war.  Not too long ago, Erdogan warned Greece that Turkey could "come all of a sudden one night" in response to Greece arming its far-flung islands, suggesting a Turkish attack on its NATO neighbour cannot be ruled out. We know what happened to Cyprus in 1974.  Examples like Turkey's existing 'casus belli' for Greece exercising its legal right, the Turkish-Libyan Memorandum, Ankara's stance on the Cyprus issue, the entirely unsupportable theory of the 'Blue Homeland' and the fantasy of creating a new Ottoman Empire. 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan described his visit to Athens after six years, and his contacts there, as successful in a conversation with Turkish journalists on his return plane to Ankara.  The Turkish president spoke about the prospects for cooperation with Greece in the energy sector, mentioned the defence industry and emphasised again that he wishes for calm, without dogfights, in the Aegean.  "During our meeting, agreement texts were signed in various fields, from education to agriculture, tourism to trade.  The two countries have the knowledge, experience and the will to resolve their problems peacefully without third-party intervention.  To insure this, I believe that our continued dialogue at a high level is of great importance.  I have invited my friend Mitsotakis to Ankara for the next meeting of the Council."