Deadly Disaster Restarts Greece-Türkiye Earthquake Diplomacy for Now

ATHENS – Greece’s rapid response to help Turkey after a deadly earthquake took more than 11,000 lives and left unknown other unaccounted for in the rubble has rekindled so-called Earthquake Diplomacy as it did in 1999 after an earthquake in Turkey.

Germany’s state broadcaster Deutsche Welle noted Turkey’s then-Ambassador to Greece, Burak Ozugergin, said at Christmas 2002  he hoped, “We won’t need fires, earthquakes, or other disasters to remind us that we are neighbors.”


Greece sent condolences and then rescue squads to help look for survivors in the rubble and the disaster even quieted some truculent Turkish politicians who had ramped up tensions and wanted Greece invaded.

The news site noted how there have been declarations of solidarity at every level in Greece despite looming spring elections that have again bitterly divided the political landscape and society – and with Turkey having elections in May.

Because of its experience in dealing with earthquakes – Greece was hit in 1999 too – a special Greek EMAK rescue unit was quickly sent to nearby Turkey as was a C130 military cargo plane carrying medical supplies, sniffer dogs, doctors and first-aid.

Seismologists and the president of Greece’s Earthquake Protection Agency, Efthymios Lekkas, were also on board said the German broadcaster, the scene bringing unusual harmony that came in the midst of tension.

The two countries have set aside their bitter divide over the disaster in southern Turkey that also hit bordering Syria. “So-called ‘earthquake diplomacy’ is taking effect – a phenomenon that brought about an unexpected rapprochement between Greece and Turkey once before,” in 1999, said the report.

In August that year, a major earthquake struck around the industrial city of Izmit, near Istanbul, burying at least 17,000 people in their collapsed buildings and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

The Greek Foreign Ministry immediately sent rescue workers and trained rescue dogs, doctors, and mobile hospitals and Greeks collected donations and organized thousands of tents, medicines, water, clothing, food, and blankets, noted the report.

A month later, it was Athens that was hit by the earthquake and this time it was Turkey sending help the other way.

“Compassion, solidarity, and concrete help eased the extremely strained relations between Ankara and Athens, and the term ‘earthquake diplomacy, was coined,” said the report, and it lasted a decade before troubles brewed again.

The German broadcaster said it’s hard to predict what will happen this time with elections in both countries just two to three months off depending on when Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis sets polls for Greece – Turkey’s election is May 14.

“In both countries, election campaigns are underway; both Greek and Turkish politicians like to use nationalist slogans, and so far they have shown little willingness to compromise,” said the report.

But there’s solidarity for for now, with unions in Piraeus and Thessaloniki collecting blankets, powdered milk, medicines, bandages, diapers, soap, and other toiletries to send to Turkey and non-governmental organizations also going there.


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