For the first time in nearly 50 years a Greek leader has made an official visit to Turkey. The arrival of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis in the Turkish capital Ankara is being feted as an important step in restoring damaged relations between the two countries. While economic ties have improved in recent years, long-standing political problems remain.
Among the thorniest of these issues is Cyprus. Turkey has had troops stationed there since it invaded in 1974. The invasion was in response to a coup backed by the military junta ruling Greece at the time.
The troops were based in the north of the island, prompting up to 200,000 Greek Cypriots to flee south. Likewise, Turkish Cypriots living in the south moved north. Cyprus still remains divided despite UN efforts to reunify the two parts.
In 1983, Turkish Cypriots unilaterally declared independence. Turkey is the only country to recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The continued Turkish military presence is a major source of tension between Ankara and Athens. Another is the Aegean Sea.
The vast majority of the sea’s islands are Greek territory, even those close to the Turkish coast. That means that the waters around these islands, and the airspace above them, is also controlled by Greece.
A dispute over the tiny uninhabited islet of Imia, or Kardak to the Turks, brought the two countries to the brink of war 12 years ago. Tensions have calmed since then, but Karamanlis’ three-day official visit is unlikely to solve the problems that remain.