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Greece Ambivalent about Turkish President Visit

Greece doesn’t know what to expect from this week’s visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; which is to take place in Greece after an invitation from Greek President Pavlopoulos’.

The two men met in May at the 25th Anniversary of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and the Greek President of the Republic invited Erdogan to Athens.

In October, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias had visited Ankara for meetings with his Turkish counterpart. Kotzias repeated the invitation to the Turkish president and was told that Erdogan will indeed visit Athens, but at a yet unspecified time.

Finally, it was confirmed that the Turkish President will arrive to Greece on Thursday for a two-day visit. He will meet with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. However, neither side has issued an agenda of talks so far.

The truth is that there are several difficult issues to be discussed by the two neighbors, or not discussed, because they are sensitive issues that for diplomacy reasons, should not be raised.

Initially, Erdogan will visit the Muslim minority of Western Thrace. Even though Thrace Muslims are Greek citizens, Turkey refers to them as the “Turkish minority”. Furthermore officials are hinting that the “Turkish minority” is oppressed in Greece. In November, Turkish Deputy PM Hakan Cavusoglu who visited Western Thrace, addressed the Muslims as the “Turkish community”, something that Athens loudly objected to. Will the Turkish President speak to them as if he is their leader, after Cavusoglu’s promise that Turkey will never forget about them?

Then there is the issue of the eight Turkish military officers who fled to Greece in July 2016, right after the failed coup attempt against Erdogan. Greek courts have granted all of them political asylum, while Ankara has branded them as terrorists, who tried to overthrow Turkey’s democratic government, and demands their extradition.

Furthermore, the Turkish President has to answer for the repeated violations of Greek airspace by his fighter jets. At the same time, he often challenges Greece’s territorial sovereignty in the Aegean by disputing the Treaty of Lausanne, when addressing his constituents.

Furthermore, Ankara has not been so consistent in implementing the March 2016 agreement with the European Union in regards to migrant flows coming from Turkey and landing in Greece. After the deal was signed there was a lull, but over recent months there have been hundreds of migrants arriving on the shores of the Aegean islands, each week.

Another “difficult” issue is that recently the relations between Turkey and the United States and NATO have gone sour. Also, Europe has almost stopped all procedures for Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Greece, on the other hand, has shown a friendly turn towards the U.S..

Finally, there is the matter of the nine Kurds of the Revolutionary Front People’s Liberation Party (DHKP-C) who were arrested last week in Athens. Allegedly they were planning a bomb attack against Erdogan’s motorcade during his stay in Athens. This is an issue that has two sides: On the one hand Greece has arrested the Kurdish terrorists and Tsipras may claim that Greece is fighting terrorism against Turkey. But on the other hand their activities in Greece might be used as “proof” that the Greek government harbors terrorists, like Ankara has claimed in the case of the eight military officers who sought asylum in Greece.