Greece–Turkey relations

Greek–Turkish relations



The relations between the Greek and the Turkish states have been marked by alternating periods of mutual hostility and reconciliation ever since Greece won its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. Since then the two countries have faced each other in four major wars—the Greco-Turkish War (1897), the First Balkan War of 1912 to 1913, the First World War (1914 to 1918) and finally the Turkish War of Independence.

Diplomatic missions

Ottoman era

The Greek state declared its independence in 1821. Its initial borders were recognized in 1828. 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. On July 9, 1821 Küçük Mehmet had the Venetian gates to the walled city of Nicosia closed and executed, by beheading or hanging, 470 important Greek Cypriots amongst them Chrysanthos (bishop of Paphos), Meletios (bishop of Kition) and Lavrentios of (bishop of Kyrenia). Archbishop Kyprianos was publicly hanged from a tree opposite the former palace of the Lusignan Kings of Cyprus.

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 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 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, 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. The ongoing genocide of Pontic Greeks in the Ottoman Empire also played a factor in this decision. 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 but never went into force, not having been ratified by Parliament.

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.[1] Horton's account remains as controversial as the fire itself[2][3]

Between conflicts

The post-war leaders of Turkey and Greece, Kemal Atatürk and Eleftherios Venizelos respectively, 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 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.[4]

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. Foodstuff was 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 vessel 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.[5] The following year, 1942, Turkey imposed the Varlık Vergisi, a special tax, which taxed the wealthy Greek minority.

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.

Istanbul Pogrom

Main article: Istanbul Pogrom

Internally, the Turkish policy of diminishing the economic presence of the Greeks in Turkey was continued after the war. In September 1955, riots broke out against the Greek minority in Istanbul. The events, also known as Istanbul pogrom, were triggered by the circulation of false rumours that the house in Thessaloniki where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born, had allegedly been destroyed by Greeks.

Mobs 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 confrontation as a result of lynching and arson. Many Greeks were severely wounded. 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 2,500 in 2010. The Greek government did not react greatly to the events.

Cyprus crisis, Turkish invasion and the collapse of the Greek military junta

A serious matter of conflict in Turkish-Greek relations since the 1950s has been Cyprus; at the time, it was a British colony with a Greek-Cypriot population share of 82% of the island's total. Some of the Greek Cypriots wanted unity (enosis) with Greece and, as early as 1931, there were nationalist riots in Nicosia. The Greek government was, due to its financial and diplomatic dependence on Britain, forced to disavow any aims 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 launched 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, angered by the discrimination against the Turkish Cypriots in Greece, became inflamed at the idea that Cyprus would be ceded to Greece. This led to the Greek community of Istanbul becoming the target in the Istanbul Pogrom of 1955. In response, Greece withdrew from all co-operation with Turkey, which caused the Balkan Pact to collapse.

In 1960, a compromise solution to the Cyprus issue was agreed on: Britain granted independence to Cyprus, and a constitution was hammered out. Greek and Turkish troops were stationed on the island to protect their respective communities. Greek Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis was the main architect of this plan, which led to an immediate improvement in relations with Turkey, particularly once Adnan Menderes was removed from power in Turkey.

During the period of inter-communal strife in 1963 and 1964, Greek and Turkish Cypriots were displaced and many were massacred on both sides.

On 30 December 1964, Makarios declared his proposal for a constitutional amendment that included 13 articles. Turkey, however, 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, causing many Greeks to flee the country, and there were even threats to expel the Ecumenical Patriarch. Eventually, intervention by the United Nations led to another compromise solution.

The Cyprus dispute weakened the Greek government of George Papandreou and triggered, in April 1967, a military coup in Greece. Under the diplomacy of the military regime, there were periodic crises with Turkey, which suspected that the Greek regime was planning a pro-unification coup in Cyprus.

On July 15, 1974, a band of Greek Cypriot nationalists formed EOKA B, advocating Enosis (Union) with Greece and, backed by the Greek military junta in Athens, staged a coup against the Cypriot President and Archbishop Makarios. An ex-EOKA man, Nikos Sampson was appointed President. On July 20, Turkey -- using its guarantor status arising from the trilateral accords of the 1959-1960 Zürich and London Agreement-- invaded Cyprus without any resistance from the British forces based on the island, occupied 37% of the northern part and expelled the Greek population. Once again, war between Greece and Turkey seemed imminent, but actual war was averted when Sampson's coup collapsed a few days later and Makarios returned to power. Also, the Greek military junta in Athens, which failed to confront the Turkish invasion, fell from power on 24 July. 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 Helsinki Watch support the reopening of Halki.

Aegean Sea

Main article: Aegean dispute

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 II 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.


  • On 18 June 1992, a Greek Mirage F1CG crashed near the island of Saint Eustratius in the Northern Aegean, during a low-altitude dogfight with two Turkish F-16's. Greek pilot Nikolaos Sialmas was killed in the crash.
  • On 8 October 1996, a pair of Greek Mirage 2000's intercepted a pair of Turkish F-16's over the Aegean. One of the Turkish F-16's was shot down by a Greek Mirage 2000 piloted by Thanos Grivas.[6] Turkish pilot Nail Erdoğan was killed whereas back seater pilot Osman Cicekli bailed out and was rescued by a Greek helicopter.
  • On 23 May 2006, a Greek F-16 and a Turkish F-16 collided approximately 35 nautical miles south off the island of Rhodes, near the island of Karpathos during a Turkish reconnaissance flight.[7][8] Greek pilot Kostas Iliakis was killed, and the Turkish pilot Halil İbrahim Özdemir bailed out and was rescued by a cargo ship.

Capture of Öcalan and the resignation of Greek ministers

In 1999, Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, was captured by the Turkish Intelligence Service agents in Nairobi, Kenya, while leaving the Greek Embassy. Öcalan was carrying both Greek and Cypriot passports.[9] Fearing a hostile Turkish reaction, three Greek ministers resigned (Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos, in charge of the attempt to hide Öcalan at the Greek Ambassador's residence in Kenya and to find him asylum; Interior Minister Alekos Papadopoulos, in charge of the Greek Intelligence Service involved in the operation; and Public Order Minister Philippos Petsalnikos, in charge of the Greek security forces which failed to stop the smuggling of Öcalan into Greece in January 1999).[10]

Current events

Recent events

In recent years official relations between Greece and Turkey have improved, mainly due to the Greek government's supportive attitude towards Turkey's efforts to join the EU, although various issues have never been fully resolved and remain constant sources of 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. However, opinion polls suggest only 25% of the Greek public believe Turkey has a place in the European Union.[11]

Earthquake diplomacy

Relations between Greece and neighbouring 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 pogroms, 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, many key issues remain unresolved. Furthermore, Turkey still denies access to Cypriot vessels to its territory, an obligation towards the EU with a 2006 deadline. The Turkish government counters that this restriction regarding Cypriot vessels was taken after the trade embargo decision against the portion of Cyprus illegally occupied by Turkey. The issue remains deadlocked, despite UN and EU attempts to mediate. 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.[12] 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 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. Incidents concerning illegal immigration are frequent on the border of the two countries. Turkey, which is a transit point for illegal immigrants trying to reach Europe, has been accused of not being able to secure its borders with Greece. Since 1996 40 illegal immigrants have been killed by mines, after entering Greek territory in Evros.[13] In 2001, about 800 illegal immigrants were rescued by the Greek coast guard after a fire broke out on board the Turkish-flagged Brelner, believed to have set sail from the Turkish port of İzmir, probably en route to Italy.[14] According to Greek sources the Turkish authorities are tolerant of smugglers trafficking illegal immigrants into Greece; a notable such incident is the one of a trafficking boat, filmed in September 14, 2009 by the Latvian helicopter crew of Frontex patrolling near Farmakonisi island, during which "it is clear that the Turkish coastguard, at best, does not prevent the "slavetrade" vessels to sail from its shores. At worst, it accompanies them into Greek territorial waters".[15][16] The human trafficking into Greece through the Aegean Sea has been a documented, widespread phaenomenon while "the failure, reported by Frontex, of Turkish officials to stop suspicious vessels as they leave, ensure that a steady stream of migrants reaches Lesbos and other islands in the Aegean".[17]


Year Date Event
1923 30 January Turkey and Greece sign the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations agreement
24 July Turkey and Greece sign the Treaty of Lausanne
23 August Turkey ratifies the Treaty of Lausanne
25 August Greece ratifies the Treaty of Lausanne
1926 17 February The Turkish Government revokes article 14 of the Lausanne treaty, removing the "special administrative organisation" rights for the Greek majority islands of Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos).
1930 30 October Greece and Turkey sign "Convention of Establishment, Commerce and Navigation, with Annexes and Protocol of Signature".
1933 14 September Greece and Turkey sign Pact of Cordial Friendship.
1934 9 February Greece and Turkey, as well as Romania and Yugoslavia sign the Balkan Pact, a mutual defense treaty.
1938 27 April Greece and Turkey sign the "Additional Treaty to the Treaty of Friendship, Neutrality, Conciliation and Arbitration of October 30th, 1930, and to the Pact of Cordial Friendship of September 14th, 1933"
1940 28 October Italy invades Greece
2 November Turkey pledges that it would prevent an attack from Bulgaria.
1941 6 April Nazi Germany invades Greece.
1942 11 November Turkey enacts discriminatory wealth tax or "Varlik Vergisi" targeting the non-Muslim minorities. Firms belonging to the Greek minority were forced to pay a 159% levy on the value of its assets. Muslim majority firms were only to pay 4.9%.
1945 23 February Turkey declares war on Germany.
1947 10 February Despite Turkish objections, the victorious powers of WWII transfer the Dodecanese islands to Greece, through the Treaty of Peace with Italy.
15 September Greece takes over sovereignty of the Dodecanese islands.
1952 18 February Greece and Turkey both join NATO.
1971 The Halki Seminary, the only school where the Greek minority in Turkey used to educate its clergymen, is closed by Turkish authorities.
1974 20 July Greek Junta sponsored coup overthrows Makarios in Cyprus.
1987 27 March Sismik crisis brought both countries very close to war. Turkish ship Sismik I is about to perform oil-research in Aegean waters. The then Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou orders the ship to be sunk if found in Greek waters. Finally, Sismik I does not perform the research, the crisis gets resolved.
30 March End of Sismik crisis.
1994 7 March Greek Government declares May 19 as a day of remembrance of the (1914–1923) Genocide of Pontic Greeks.[18]
1995 25 December Imia (in Greek) / Kardak (in Turkish) crisis brought the two countries to the brink of war.
1996 31 January End of Imia crisis.
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.
2001 21 September Greek Government declares September 14 as a "day of remembrance of the Genocide of the Hellenes of Asia Minor by the Turkish state".[18]
2004 Turkey reconfirmed a "casus belli" if Greece expands its territorial waters to 12 nm as the recent international treaty on the Law of the Sea and the international law allow. Turkey expanded its territorial waters to 12 nm 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).
2005 12 April 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

See also

Greece portal
Turkey portal
International relations portal


External links

  • Turkish PM on landmark Greek trip
  • Greece-Turkey boundary study by Florida State University, College of Law
  • Greece's Shifting Position on Turkish Accession to the EU Before and After Helsinki (1999)
  • Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the relations with Greece
  • Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the relations with Turkey
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