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Turkey, Greece and the era of Cold # & # 39; | News from Turkey

When Celar Bayar arrived in Athens on November 28, 1952, he could not foresee that he would be the first and only Turkish president to visit neighboring Greece.

Sixty-five years later, the name of another leader will be added this week to that exclusive list.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was not even born at the time of Bayar's trip, will land in the Greek capital on Thursday for a historic two-day visit aimed at keeping the dialogue open between two countries. "Without a doubt, the visit of President Erdogan is historic, "said Alexandra Voudouri, a foreign policy expert at MacroPolis, a political and economic analysis website based in Athens.

19659004] "It's significant, mainly because of its symbolism … and it comes at an extremely crucial time for developments in the wider region," he told Al Jazeera.

Troubled Background

The two NATO allies have long shared a tumultuous relationship, fueled by historical rivalries and mutual distrust that goes back centuries.

The Greeks lived under Ottoman rule for some 400 years, before fighting and gaining independence in the 1820s and 30s. Approximately 100 years later, the Republic of Turkey was founded by Kemal Ataturk after the defeat and expulsion of the Greek forces of Anatolia on the part of their troops.

Since then, the two neighbors have staggered for decades surrounded by militarized disputes and bitter prejudices. as well as the occasional approach.

In the worst case, they have been close to the war, as happened in 1996 due to contradictory demands on the ownership of unpopulated islets in the Aegean Sea.

At best, they have sought warmer ties, as occurred in 1999 after successive deadly tremors in both countries that provoked a torrent of mutual sympathy and a political will to address the differences in the so-called seismic diplomacy that followed .

An aerial view of the damage caused by a powerful earthquake that shook Turkey's Izmit in August 1999 [File:US Navy/Getty Images]

Commercial and cultural ties have been strengthened and communication channels remained open, with an increase in the number of meetings in a minister of foreign relations and prime minister in recent years.

Erdogan visited Greece for the last time in 2010, when he was prime minister.

"The relationship between Greece and Turkey has always been marked by ups and downs," said Emmanuel Karagiannis, senior lecturer at King & # 39; s College London, to Al Jazeera.

"The current phase can be characterized as 'cold-blooded'. The two countries have maintained high-level exchanges, but the tensions remain high."

Erdogan speaks with the then Greek prime minister George Papandreou during his last visit to Athens in 2010 [File: Kostas Tsironis/Reuters]

Island of Split

At the heart of close ties, beyond disputes over maritime and air space rights in the Aegean, is found in Cyprus.

The Mediterranean island has been effectively divided from a coup backed by Athens in 1974 and a subsequent Turkish invasion.

Since then, his and the Turkish Cypriot communities have lived on both sides of a 180-km-long UN-monitored ceasefire line that crosses the island, while diplomatic efforts to end the partition are repeated, ] that also involves Greece and Turkey as guarantor powers, have failed.

The most recent reunification offer, described as the best chance to negotiate an agreement over generations, collapsed dramatically last summer, and analysts believe that nothing substantial will come out of the upco "No one should expect a miraculous effect in the business of Cyprus, "Sinem Akgul Acikmese, professor of international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University, told Al Jazeera.

Analysts in Greece agreed, noting that nothing will change before the Greek Cypriot presidential elections in early 2018.

"I think there could be an attempt at some kind of informal understanding to lay the foundations that , in the case of any future favorable conditions for the resumption of the talks, the mistakes and omissions of the past will not be repeated, "said Aggelos Athanasopoulos, senior diplomat and editor of European Union affairs in the Greek newspaper To Vima, to Al Jazeera

Keeping the dialogue open

During his time in Athens, Erdogan will meet with Prokopis Pavlopoulos, his Greek counterpart in a mostly ceremonial position, before having high-level talks with Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece.

Erdogan will also head to Thrace, a region in northwest Greece where there is a Muslim minority. There he will attend Friday prayers at a mosque in the city of Komotini.

Before the talks, diplomats from both countries praised the "positive development of relations through dialogue at the highest level".

At its meeting, Tsipras, 43, and Erdogan, 63 are expected to discuss issues of mutual interest, including ways to promote trade and economic relations, as well as cooperate in transportation, culture and tourism.

However, there is no expected breakthrough in any of the long-standing contentious issues.

"Keeping the dialogue broadly open through such a positive agenda has obvious meaning," Acikmese said. "However, it is too realistic to foresee a new chapter in bilateral relations with such channels of pragmatic dialogue, provided there is no political agreement on issues of conflict between the two parties."

Conditions within refugee camps in Greece, such as Moria in Lesbos, have been widely criticized [Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu]

Refugee Agreement, Turkish soldiers

The two leaders will also discuss regional security and "terrorism", but another priority issue on the agenda of both sides will be the refugee crisis. 19659004] In March 2016, the EU, of which Greece is a member, and Turkey signed a controversial agreement to stop the influx of refugees to Europe.

The agreement, which sees Greece and Turkey with almost all responsibility, has led to a sharp decline in arrivals compared to the peak of the crisis in 2015.

Erdogan has previously accused the bloc of not fulfill your part of the visa-free travel agreement for Turkish citizens.

Turkey is home to almost millions of Syrians, and Erdogan has also threatened to open the country's border gates with the EU so that refugees can pass freely.

With Greece still struggling to cope and arrivals lately improving, Voudouri said that the Greek side in the talks "will insist on the preservation of the deal to avoid a return to the situation of 2015 and early 2016", when more than One person crossed into the country.

"Greece wants to emphasize this and ensure Turkey's compliance with the agreement, because there is a big concern about the size of migratory flows by boat from Turkey," Athanasopoulos added. "The situation on the islands has reached a turning point."

Access points on the islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios host up to three times as many people as were designed to accommodate themselves. With winter approaching, human rights groups are sound warnings about deteriorating conditions in the overcrowded and dangerous fields of the islands.

For his part, Erdogan is expected to renew a Turkish request for the extradition of eight soldiers who fled to Greece in one military helicopter and applied for asylum as an attempted coup in July 2016.

Earlier this year Last year, Greece's highest court ruled against extraditing the officers, prompting an angry response from Ankara that it would review its ties with Athens. 19659004] Tsipras has maintained that the decision of the Greek justice system must be respected.

Under the EU-Turkey agreement, Ankara agreed to return undocumented migrants who leave their coasts to Greece in exchange for, among other things, the visa waiver. travel for Turks [File: Giorgos Moutafis/Reuters]

Turkey and the EU

While it is true that Erdogan's trip will dominate the discussions in Greece and Turkey, his statements in Athens will also be seen closely in the diploma The circle is further away, from Brussels , through Berlin, to Washington.

His visit comes at a time of worsening relations between Turkey and some of its Western allies, including the US. UU

In recent months, Turkish and EU officials have also been locked in an escalating war of words, with Ankara accusing some member states of supporting "terrorism" and leaders of the bloc claiming a deterioration of democratic rights and humans in Turkey after the failed coup attempt.

"Erdogan's visit to Athens is one of the few official trips to a member country of the EU in recent years on a bilateral basis, specifically at a time of almost lost hopes in Turkey's accession process. the EU, "said Acikmese.

Turkey applied for membership in 1987 and began accession talks in 2005.

However, negotiations have been frozen over the past decade, with no progress.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets Erdogan at the G20 summit in Hambu rg in July [File: John MacDougall/Reuters]

In the midst of stalemate, Erdogan recently said that Turkey "no longer needs the EU", while accusing the German and Dutch governments of "Nazi practices" after they prevented Turkish ministers from speaking to expatriate rallies before a referendum.

Acikmese said that "although some claim that this [visit to Athens] is a sign of a slight turn towards Europe (…) it would be too early and equally naive to make such comments".

Despite the increased tensions, Ankara says that cutting off EU membership negotiations would hurt both sides.

Erdogan is expected to continue to seek the support of Greece, which has traditionally maintained that it supports Turkey's ambitions in the EU.

In October, during a visit to the United States, Tsipras reiterated his long-declared foreign policy of "supporting the Turkish course towards Europe."

Athanasopoulos, the For the Vima journalist, argues that the support of Athens for the European perspective of Turkey is crucial to Greek interests, but note that its influence could be limited due to the indecision of the EU.

"Europeans are confused about how to approach Turkey," he said.

"On the one hand, they seek close relations because they are worried about the refugee crisis, but on the other [hand] they raise concerns about issues such as the rule of law and human rights that, together with rhetoric [heated]do not allow the development of such links "

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