Turkish PM’s historic visit to Greece

A series of agreements were signed during the visit which shows political will of both sides.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Athens was qualified as historic by the Turkish and Greek officials alike. 21 agreements in tourism, energy, the environment, trade and fighting illegal immigrants were signed in the course of the visit which made it possible for both sides to openly put forth their political will. It was also announced during the visit that special passport holders will be exempt from visa requirements in either country and regulations will also be eased for tourists by both countries.

Turkey and Greece have had an undulating relationship in history. There have also been periods when the two countries came to the brink of war. That is why the problems Turkey and Greece have occupy an important place in their foreign and defense policies. The Cyprus issue has been a major dispute since 1955 in Turkey-Greece relations. The Aegean dispute is also another headache between them. As is known, the Aegean dispute consists of 4 different but inter-related problems. Determining the borders of sea and continental shelf and the borders of territorial waters, air space control and Greece's militarization of its islands in the Aegean are the major issues the Aegean dispute is comprised of.
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There have been scores of initiatives aimed at Turkey-Greece rapprochement. However, the prejudices nurtured by both countries have always stood in the way of efforts to ensure the warming up of relations, making a negative impact on them. First of all, what is referred to as the Cyprus Syndrome dominated Greece , who feared that the likes of the peace operation Turkey carried out in the island in 1974 would be launched for the Turks living in western Thrace. The thing is that Turkey has long since proven that it is not a bellicose country having expansionist aspirations. On the other hand, as many Greek academics and politicians view the Aegean as an exclusively Greek sea, they tend to ignore the rights and interests of Turkey. That is why Ankara's claims regarding the Aegean Sea are a basis for them to direct the accusation that Turkey is pursuing policies to expand to the west. The developments surrounding the Cyprus issue are also feeding the prejudices against Turkey being kept alive in Greece.

Owing to the perception of threat Greece has regarding Turkey, Athens has lived through years with huge defense expenditures. Greece's defense spendings account for 5.6 percent of its gross domestic product. This is twice the average ratio in the NATO and EU countries.

Though of a smaller dosage, Turkey also has some prejudices about Greece. Greece who extended a helping hand to Turkey after its devastating earthquake in 1999 and came up with slogans of friendship, placing emphasis on the support it gives for Turkey's EU bid is not believed to be genuine. There is a strong belief in the Turkish public that Greece has been trying to resolve the Cyprus and Aegean questions in conformity with its own interests by abusing its membership of the EU.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as if bent on breaking the deep-rooted and entrenched prejudices in both countries, visited Athens accompanied by ten ministers and dozens of businessmen. The visit was covered in a very favorable manner by the Turkish media which abounded in slogans and commentaries in support of the two countries' rapprochement. However, this friendly attitude was not reciprocated by the Greek side. The Greek media, in general, qualified the 21 agreements signed by Turkey and Greece as trifle matters and harped on the fanatic view enjoyed by some Greek circles that Turkey's attitude on some major problems with Greece remains unchanged. The thing is that trying to tackle some bigger issues is not possible unless consensus is reached on small daily matters.

Although ultra rightists protested against Prime Minister Erdoğan's Athens visit, burning the Turkish flag on the streets of the capital, it is apparent that Erdoğan's visit provided an important opportunity to raise bilateral ties to even higher levels. Ankara revealed its intention that it wants to launch a fresh beginning in its relations with Athens. The Turkey-Greece High Level Cooperation Council translated into life, holding its first meeting in Athens is a major political platform presented to both countries. There has long been a need for such a platform of dialogue to settle the problems between the two countries and to break prejudices.