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Can an earthquake once again improve relations between Turkey and Greece?

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An earthquake in Turkey in 1999 helped ease tensions with Greece. While some are optimistic this may happen again, others have their doubts.

The devastating earthquakes in Turkey in February have fuelled an improvement in relations between NATO allies Greece and Turkey after several years of high tensions in the Aegean region.

But before the disaster in Turkey, analysts were already predicting a period of calm before the Turkish and Greek elections.

”It is too soon to talk about a new page (in the relations betwen the two countries), because the positions of the two sides are too divergent to be able to be optimistic about a solution,” said Alexandros Diakopoulos, former national security adviser to the Prime Minister. “Improvement in relations doesn’t mean that the problems have disappeared, it just means that we are not in a situation that can lead to a crisis.”

In 1999, the earthquakes in Greece and Turkey brought the countries on two sides of the Aegean Sea closer together.

As a result of the so-called ‘earthquake diplomacy’ that followed, Greece adopted a new approach to the prospect of Turkey’s accession to the European Union and succeeded in uncoupling this move to the accession of Cyprus.

“I think it is a completely new page, I think that what I call earthquake diplomacy in Turkey has really made a difference, (for example) the tremendous amount of aid that Greece has flown in to Turkey,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It is not often that a Greek Prime Minister tweets in Turkish and gets tens of thousands of likes, I think Turkish citizens really appreciated the help that Greece has flown in, and this help has really changed the mood inside the country towards Greece,” he added.

It remains to be seen in the next months if this remarkable change in the relations between the two countries will last or if it was purely circumstantial. 

Mitsotakis hopes for better relations with Turkey if re-elected as Greek premier

Greece’s prime minister says he will extend “a hand of friendship” to the winner of upcoming elections in the country’s neighbour and long-time regional rival Turkey – but adds that he hopes the next government will “reconsider its approach toward the West.”

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, himself facing an election in just over a week, said he is willing to speak to whoever emerges victorious from Sunday’s polls in Turkey.

“But I’m not naïve,” he told agencies in a wide-ranging interview while on the campaign trail in central Greece on Thursday evening. “I know that foreign policies of countries don’t change from one day to the next.”

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