Turkey and Greece

By Rachel Rochford (’23)

No one likes it when allies argue, but this does not change the fact that conflicts happen. One such example is that of current tensions between Greece and Turkey, both of whom are meant to be on friendly terms as NATO members. Unfortunately, several key issues have had a long impact on relations between these nations. These issues include disputes over the island of Cyprus, the boundaries of each nation’s territorial waters, and the exclusive economic zones of the Mediterranean. 

The issue of Cyprus is certainly divisive. The majority of Cypriots have either Turkish or Greek heritage and a strong connection to one of the nations. In the northern portion of the island exists an area that Turkey recognizes as independent. Greece does not. The recognition of the area has impacts on both the ethnically Greek and ethnically Turkish citizens of Cyprus. Thus, the island is a bit of a touchy subject between Greece and Turkey.

This is not a new conflict by any means. In 1960, the island was granted freedom from its status as a British colony after both Greek and Turkish Cypriots came to an agreement on a constitution. This new freedom came with the following stipulations: Britain, Greece, and Turkey all had the right to intervene and Britain would retain two military bases on the island. In 1963 though, the idea of ethnically Greek and Turkish Cypriots banded together against the British had fallen away, it was that year that then-President Makarios incited fear from the island’s Turkish population by suggesting Constitutional changes that would overturn current power-sharing agreements.

By 1964, UN peacekeeping forces were stationed on the island and Turkish Cypriots began moving to defended areas. This uneasy situation extended up to 1974 when the long-simmering tension finally bubbled over. That year, the military junta in Greece backed a coup against President Makarios who would go on to flee the island. Turkish troops soon arrived in northern Cyprus. When all was said and done, the coup had collapsed, Turkish forces occupied approximately one-third of the island, and an enforced partition between the northern and southern or Turkish-majority and Greek-majority areas of Cyprus existed.

Since then, the island has experienced years of peace talks, UN mediations, and attempts for a more unified Cyprus. As of today, some progress has been made but reunification is a far cry away. The process began looking even more unlikely in 2020 when anti-reunification nationalist Ersin Tatar became the president of Turkish Cyprus. Tensions on the island exist as something of an extension of tensions between Greece and Turkey and one can hope that if tensions were to ease on one end, the other would follow suit.

Another major issue between Turkey and Greece is the Aegean dispute. The name itself sounds much smaller than the issues it encompasses. One of the main causes of this dispute is the nature of accepted maritime law. Greece follows the Convention on the Continental Shelf and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Contrastingly, Turkey does not associate with either of these and thus has a different interpretation of maritime law than Greece does. This is problematic as it results in differing ideas of what is lawful and what is not.

As Turkey was in the process of joining the European Union (EU) several years ago, it looked as though the two nations may be nearing an agreement on the issue. Unfortunately, a consensus was not reached before Turkey became an EU member, and tensions over the issue still remain. 

Until a solution is found regarding these issues, problems will continue to arise. Recently, the two nations have disputed over the conversion of Turkey’s Hagia Sofia back into a mosque, a maritime deal that Greece signed with Egypt, and Turkish plans to drill in the Mediterranean. These issues have been occurring with less and less time between and many fear that a larger conflict is on the horizon. Ideally, a comprehensive solution for both the different territorial understandings and the status of Cyprus will be found before things escalate any further. 

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