Turkey’s Earthquake Brings Disaster Diplomacy With Greece: Will it Last?

February 12, 2023

ATHENS – A 1999 earthquake that hit Turkey – and later Greece – brought now-President Tayyip Erdogan to open and the 2023 catastrophe that took more than 25,000 lives has his election bid in peril and got him to talk again to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who sent rescue teams and help.

In a report, the site Insider noted how the earthquake tragedies brought the countries together again in setting aside political differences, this time even Erdogan’s previous threats to invade.


Besides experienced teams, Greece sent 80 tons of equipment including thousands of tents, beds and blankets, as well as rescuers to help the efforts and Greeks began collection drives for other necessities after Turks complained of a slow response by Erdogan’s government.

Erdogan hadn’t spoken to Mitsotakis since May of 2022, angry that the Greek leader in an address to the US Congress asked the lawmakers to veto President Joe Biden’s plan to sell Turkey more F-16 fighter jets and upgrade Turkey’s force, which would put Greece in jeopardy.

“From now on there is no one called Mitsotakis in my book” and “I will never accept meeting him,” Erdogan said at the time changed his mind in a call in which he thanked Mitsotakis for Greece’s support.

Mitsotakis told CNN: “What is important to understand is that at the end of the day, we are neighbors and we need to help each other through difficult times,” offering grace too.

The two countries have been on the brink of war three times in the past 50 years, The Associated Press reported. In December, 2022, Greece’s Foreign Ministry said that Turkey was making “repeated threats of war,” as Turkey responded angrily to what it said was Greece militarizing the Aegean islands.

Mitsotakis said hostilities are off the table in the face of such a great loss of life and people being left homeless and in need of everything from clothing and food to shelter, the 1999 earthquakes seeing them help each other.

Nicholas Burns, the then-United States Ambassador to Greece, described what happened as “earthquake diplomacy” to The New York Times and said that images on TV, which included Turkish rescuers recovering a Greek child, “had tremendous political symbolism.”

But Greek media noted that the notoriously volatile and often belligerent Erdogan could turn again in Greece if he slips in the polls and wants a scapegoat for his country’s faltering economy and earthquake response.

He had scheduled elections for May 14 as he seeks to extend his 20 years I power and Mitsotakis, also facing a challenge in elections, said Greek polls were coming in the spring, most likely early April ahead of Easter.


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