Greek foreign minister makes goodwill trip to earthquake-hit parts of Turkey

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Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias has visited the earthquake-stricken areas of Turkey on Sunday, accompanied by his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The visit was part of a new round of so-called “earthquake diplomacy” between the two uneasy allies, whose relations have often been frosty, if not downright hostile.

Something similar happened in 1999, three years after the two countries almost went to war over two uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea.

In August 1999, a 7.6 magnitude tremor had struck Turkey, resulting in about 18,000 dead; the following month, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Greek, capital, Athens, killing 143 people.

Greece Turkey Earthquake
Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, talks with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, in Adana, Turkey (Greek Foreign Ministry via AP)

Mr Cavusoglu recalled a letter that he, as a private citizen, had sent to Time magazine at the time.

“Back then, I said that we should not wait for another earthquake to improve our relations. I repeat this now, as Turkey’s foreign minister. We must make efforts to improve our relations,” Mr Cavusoglu said.

“I want to totally sign on on to what Mevlut said: that we should not wait for natural disasters to improve our relations,” Mr Dendias said later.

Turkey Syria Earthquake Refugees
Almost 30,000 people are believed to have died in the catastrophic earthquake which hit parts of Turkey and Syria (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

Turkey has also accused Greece of militarising some Aegean islands, in violation of international treaties, a charge Greece has strongly denied.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has often threatened Greece that Turkish troops will come “suddenly one night”, and has mentioned that Turkey’s new Tayfun missiles can reach Athens.

Such rhetoric has, at least for the moment, been put aside.

Erdogan has spoken on the phone with Greece’s president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, and prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with whom he had had declared he would not speak ever again.

The two Greek officials called Mr Erdogan to express their condolences for the earthquake’s victims and assure him of Greek support.

Publicly, and on social media, Greek people have expressed their support for Turkey, except for some on the far nationalist fringe.

Greek unions have taken the lead in collecting aid for the displaced. At all sports events held on Saturday, a minute of silence was observed for the victims.

Mr Cavusoglu and Mr Dendias visited the operations centre in Antakya, where they were briefed on the latest developments concerning the evacuation and rescue effort, as well as on the humanitarian needs that have arisen.

They also saw the extent of the devastation from the air, in a helicopter trip.

Mr Dendias and Mr Cavusoglu also visited the camp where Greek and other international units are based. Rescuers from EU countries have pulled a total of 205 survivors from the ruins, Mr Dendias said in a joint appearance with Mr Cavusoglu.

“The Greek effort will not stop here,” Mr Dendias said. “Greece will do everything to support Turkey, either bilaterally or as a member of the European Union.”

Mr Cavusoglu especially thanked the Greek rescuers for their “superhuman efforts, round the clock, for the past week”.

“We noted that all Greeks, and not just the rescuers, were elated after each rescue. Good neighbourly relations show in those difficult days,” he said.

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