Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Thursday he made an agreement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to focus on reducing geopolitical hostility in the Aegean — the broad region where a long stretch of Turkish land meets Greek sea.
Tsipras’ statements came the day after a Wednesday meeting at a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, where the prime minister said he offered the proposal to his Turkish counterpart.
“I put to the Turkish president this increase in Turkish violations in the Aegean,” the prime minister said during a summit news conference. “And we finally agreed to give emphasis to our efforts to reduce tensions.”
Although both Greece and Turkey are NATO members, the two have had a long history of geopolitical tensions due to various issues such as the 1974 Turkish invasion and subsequent ethnic splitting of Cyprus, as well as Turkish airspace violations in Greek territory.
Moreover, instances involving the two neighboring countries in recent months have at times strained their diplomatic relations.
For example, Turkish authorities in March arrested two Greek soldiers who had crossed the border during poor weather conditions; both remain in custody yet to be charged, but Turkish courts said the duo could face up to five years in prison for illegal entry.
The situation has heightened military tensions, and in April the Greek government sent 7,000 troops to the country’s borders with Turkey.
Greek citizens have also voiced outrage, as a group identifying itself as “Greek Mothers” protested the soldiers’ captivity Monday outside the Turkish Consulate General in Thessaloniki.
Faced with pleas for the soldiers’ release, Ankara has responded by demanding Athens to send back eight Turkish servicemen whom the government wants to face trial for their alleged role in the July 2016 coup attempt.
The eight commandos fled Turkey by helicopter after the failed coup against Erdogan, thereafter seeking asylum in Greece and becoming a talking point for recent tense exchanges between Athens and Ankara.
Discussion regarding both affairs came up during the Tsipras-Erdogan meeting, which the Greek prime minister told journalists was “not the easiest.”
Tsipras said he raised the issue of releasing the two arrested Greek soldiers and faced prompt pushback from Erdogan about extraditing Turkey’s own servicemen.
“I stressed, once more — I made clear — that in Greece, the Greek judiciary is totally independent,” he said, referring to the Turkish soldiers’ asylum application process.
He said he also re-emphasized the point that the Greek government does not approve of “coupists” or “anyone who attempts the breakdown of democratic order” regardless of country of origin.
Since you’re here… I have a small favor to ask.
More and more people than ever before are reading The Pappas Post and despite increasing costs to maintain the site and provide you with the quality content that you deserve, I will never “force” you to pay for our website or add a paywall. I believe in the democracy of the internet and want to keep this site and its enriching content free for everyone. But at the same time I’m asking those who frequent the site to chip in and help keep it both high quality— and free. We’ve implemented a “free-will” annual subscription for those who want to support our efforts. I guess it’s fair to call it a philotimo subscription… because you don’t have to do it but it’s really the right thing to do if you love the site and the content we publish. So if you like The Pappas Post and want to help, please consider becoming a “philotimo subscriber”. Click here to subscribe. If you’d rather make a one time donation, we will gladly accept any amount, with appreciation. Click here to donate any amount.