Alexis Tsipras’ visit to Turkey was upgraded with the sudden change in the program. While all the preparations had been made for the Greek Prime Minister’s visit to Istanbul on February 5, and the General Secretariat of Information had sent letters for the accreditation of journalists, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said the visit would take place in Ankara. Consultations between the two sides were preceded and until the last minute those who had been involved in the organization of the visit did not know the intentions of Erdogan and Tsipras.
With this change, the Greek Prime Minister’s visit is upgraded at a political level as the two leaders’ meeting will take place in the Turkish capital and of course in the AkSaray presidential palace. According to information from ET, the intention of the Turkish side is to organize an impressive welcome and hospitality to Alexis Tsipras.
The two men may perhaps have the same views on developments in Venezuela, but have their differences in Greek-Turkish issues, to which however they want to lower tensions at the level of statements and actions.
Imia and low tensions
An indicative example of what can be done from now on is what was not done this year at Imia. On January 31, which is the anniversary of the 1996 events at Imia, no ship of any country appeared. In previous years, former Defence Minister Panos Kammenos had opted to fly to the area by helicopter or by ship and lay a wreath in memory of the three men who lost their lives at the night of the Imia incident, triggering the mobilization of Turkey, which also sent forces to the area. Two years ago, Hulusi Akar, head of the Turkish Armed Forces at the time, had been photographed along with the other Heads of the Armed Forces, with Imia on the background.
The Turkish Agenda
Erdogan is expected to raise the issue of the rights of the Muslim minority in Thrace. The Turkish side argues that muftis must be elected by members of the minority, while Greece recognizes those nominated by the Greek state. However, the removal of the two appointed mufti and the appointment of surrogates in their place could perhaps be considered from the Turkish side a small step in the right direction, but will certainly wait for more steps.
In the Aegean, both sides are aware of their disagreements, but the Turkish side is watching and waiting to listen to Alexis Tsipras’ intentions and some clarifications on the extension of territorial waters to 12 miles announced by former Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias. Turkey has spoken of “casus belli” and Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Tsavusoglu and Defence Minister Hulusi Akar have recalled the decision of the Turkish parliament in case of the expansion of the territorial waters to 12 miles by Greece.
With regard to the Cyprus problem, the Turkish side’s intention, as the Turkish Foreign Minister has said, is to hold initial talks before negotiations begin to resolve the issue. But the Turkish side has proposed ways to share the potential revenue from the gas of Cyprus between the two communities. Cavusoglu has proposed revenue distribution formulas through a company or through the EU.
Erdogan is also expected to remind Alexis Tsipras of the issue of the 8 Turkish officers who, following the coup attempt, escaped to Greece and have been granted asylum. He demands for them to be delivered to Turkey, as according to the Turkish side these 8 are the only soldiers who participated in each phase of the attempt to overthrow Erdogan on the night of the coup and managed to escape abroad. The rest that Turkey asks for their extradition from EU countries are accused as members of the terrorist organization FETO (Gullenists), which Turkey considers to be behind the attempted coup. The Greek side has made clear that Greek justice is independent. However, in Turkey they would find it a serious problem if these 8 flee to another foreign country after the approval of their asylum request.
However, in the positive agenda there will also be raise issues of energy, tourist and trade cooperation, to which both sides believe there is room for growth.
On March 31, there are municipal elections in Turkey, while in Greece as well there are planned elections, and it is believed that Tsipras and Erdogan will try to find ways for a new kick start in the Greek-Turkish relations.
The visit of Alexis Tsipras to the Ecumenical Patriarch
The Prime Minister’s visit to Istanbul will take place on February 6th to meet the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. On that day, the Patriarch has planned a divine liturgy at the Theological School of Halki on the occasion of the celebration of Saint Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th century AD.
Thus, it is considered possible that the two men will meet at the Theological School, making Alexis Tsipras the first prime minister of Greece to visit the Theological School of Halki. Eleftherios Venizelos had also visited Halki in 1933, but was no longer prime minister at the time./IBNA