ATHENS – Only weeks after Greece sent humanitarian aid to help Turkey deal with the aftermath of a deadly earthquake – which ratcheted down strain between them – Turkey has returned condolences over Greece’s deadly collision between two trains.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reined in his usual belligerence in sending his sympathies to Greece’s largely symbolic President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The country’s leaders are facing election challenges and Mitsotakis was just about to give the date for snap polls that had been seen coming as soon as April 9, a week before Easter, before the tragedy struck.
According to the Turkish Presidency, Erdogan — in his message to Sakellaropoulou and Mitsotakis — said he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of lives and wished a speedy recovery to those injured in the collision, said Al-Monitor.
At least 46 people were killed in the fiery crash and scores were injured or missing as recovery crews were looking through the wreckage and a stationmaster was arrested after reportedly admitting an error in having the trains on the same track but that he said systems weren’t working.
Tensions between the NATO allies were near conflict level at times after Erdogan threatened an invasion and demanded that Greece remove troops from Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast.
He also said Turkey would explore for oil and gas in waters near Greek islands under a deal with Libya dividing the seas between them that no other country recognizes and that it would be a cause for war if Greece doubled maritime boundaries to 12 miles.
The earthquake in Turkey that killed more than 50,000 people brought a rapprochement for now with Greece and saw Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visit the scene and meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“We share their pain,” Cavusoglu tweeted about the Greek tragedy as the two had, if only temporarily, put harsh words aside in the wake of the disaster, and now with Greece mourning.
Greece also sent rescue and recovery crews to Turkey, which earned praise from Turks who welcomed them and posted social media praise for the help that came in the midst of grief.
Some Turkish social media users lauded Greek Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis’ resignation after the crash, complaining that Erdogan’s government took no real blame or responsibility.
Prominent journalist Fatih Portakal said that no one even apologized in Turkey after the earthquakes let alone resigned with reports of alleged corruption in building construction and the government ignoring it.
Movie producer and comedian Sahan Gokbakar, in a bitter irony, said that, “The Greek Minister of Transport resigned out of respect for the dead. I don’t understand what kind of government there is in Greece?” he wrote.
Karamanlis said he was resigning out of “respect for the memory of the people who perished so unfairly,” and admitted the rail system was neglected for decades and that he was trying to improve it before tragedy struck.