Turkey’s Speaker Wants De-escalation of Tensions with Greece

Greek coast guard vessel. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Sotiris Dimitropoulos)

As Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras prepared for a two-day visit to Turkey beginning Feb. 5, Binali Yildirim, Speaker of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly said his country wants to simmer down the tensions between them and to “boost friendship” and “limit hostility.”

Speaking to reporters in Constantinople during a ceremony marking the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey after World War One, Yildirim noted that the two countries have a common history and culture despite their differences, particularly in the Aegean, said Kathimerini.

“Greece and Turkey are two neighboring countries,” he said. “And if we have certain differences in the Aegean Sea, we also share the same sea, the same climate,” he said, without mentioning Turkey had increased provocations, sending fighter jets into Greek airspace and claiming parts of the Continental Shelf Greece eyes for energy research.

Tsipras is scheduled to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara before traveling to Constantinople on Feb. 6 to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios and is expected to be the first Greek leader since 1933 to visit the closed Halki Orthodox Seminary near the city that Greece has been pushing to be reopened for decades.

Yildirim said Tsipras would be welcomed with “Turkish hospitality.” He added: “Mr. Tsipras is most welcome, it is good that he is coming … We will do whatever is necessary to offer good Turkish hospitality,” he said.

The welcoming words were at odds with what some Turkish officials have said, including that Greece would be destroyed if a conflict resulted and as Erdogan has been stepping up Turkish claims in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean.