Erdogan’s Athens visit

Hellenic Leaders
3 min readDec 19, 2023
(Source: Greek Reporter)

Latest developments

On December 7, 2023, Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan made his first visit to Athens since 2017. He and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis focused the landmark visit on promoting a positive vision for the future of the bilateral relationship. Both parties signed the “Athens Declaration on Friendly Relations and Good-Neighborliness,” a non-binding document listing a cooperation agenda that ranges from encouraging mutual economic activity to minimizing military tension. This meeting stands in stark contrast to President Erdogan’s last visit to Greece in 2017, when he openly called for revising the Lausanne Treaty.

There is no issue between us that is unsolvable. So long as we focus on the big picture and don’t end up being like those who cross the sea and drown in the river.

President Erdogan after meeting with Greek PM Mitsotakis in Athens.


The six years since the last meeting between a Greek Prime Minister and President Erdogan have seen Ankara escalate tensions to historic levels, particularly in the Aegean Sea, where Turkey openly questions Greek sovereignty, and Turkish fighter jets engaged in an unprecedented number of violations of Greek airspace and overflights — many times armed — over inhabited Greek islands. In a ten month span in 2022, Turkey committed 8,880 Greek airspace violations. This is the culmination of a decades long policy whereby Turkey has tried to depict the Aegean as a disputed area. In doing so it has questioned the sovereignty of Greece’s islands in the Aegean, while maintaining a casus belli — threat of war — should Greece exercise its rights under international law and extend its maritime boundaries to 12 nautical miles as spelled out in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Other issues such as the status of religious minorities in both countries and Turkey’s disagreement with Greece over current international conflicts are also sources of tension, but the Aegean Sea remains at the heart of tensions between the two countries.

Expert analysis

At this meeting, the existence of [the maritime space] difficulty was acknowledged, and the leaders said we have agreed to disagree for now, and it is civilized and good for us to be able to stomach our disagreements without being acrimonious. And that’s a step — for Greece and Turkey, that’s a step forward.

John Psaropoulos, independent journalist and Al Jazeera Southeastern Europe correspondent

The Greek Current, “Mitsotakis and Erdogan commit to ‘calm waters’ in the Aegean,” Dec 8, 2023

The big picture

Whether Erdogan’s apparent change of heart is a good faith attempt at rapprochement remains to be seen. In the last decade alone he has gone from close US ally to having Congressmen suggest Turkey should be expelled from NATO. His swift and polar policy shifts on Russia, Israel, and Armenia suggest that he prioritizes short-term gains when it comes to foreign relations. However, to appear in Athens and agree not to discuss the tense issues, opting instead to focus on improving the relationship, is an overall positive. While Turkey has everything to gain from cooperation with neighbors and NATO allies, Greece and the international community should approach his olive branch with careful acceptance, implementing an approach reminiscent of that President Ronald Reagan took with the USSR: “Trust, but verify.”



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