Solidarity with earthquake-hit Turkey could reconcile historic enemies, expert says

ANKARA, TURKEY—Relations between Ankara and Greece and Armenia have long been marked by mutual animosity. But her two quakes that hit Turkey and Syria on February 6 killed tens of thousands and caused widespread destruction. Voices of solidarity are pouring out of both Athens and Yerevan.

According to Turkish political analyst Talha Kose, the demonstration of solidarity, including aid shipments and volunteer rescue teams, could pave the way for a diplomatic breakthrough with two of Turkey’s historic enemies.

“The high level of solidarity seen from both Greece and Armenia could have a positive impact on diplomatic lines with both countries,” Kose, who specializes in regional conflicts, told the Epoch Times.

“This has been a painful experience for Turkey, but it may help foster a new era of more positive atmosphere and understanding.”

Epoch Times photo
A 150-year-old Catholic church in Hatay’s Iskenderun district was partially destroyed by two earthquakes in Turkey on February 6, 2023. (Ercan Koc for The Epoch Times)

greeks giving gifts

Despite being fellow NATO members, Turkey and Greece have long been at odds over a range of issues, including maritime rights to the ethnically divided islands of Cyprus and the Aegean Sea.

In recent months, Athens and Ankara have accused each other of violating maritime treaties and committing various “provocative” acts.

But that didn’t stop Greece from sending humanitarian aid to an earthquake in southern Turkey that killed more than 36,000 people in the February 6 disaster.

Greece was one of the first countries to send planes loaded with relief supplies to the affected areas, just one day after two quakes of 7.7 and 7.6 on the Richter scale struck.

Over the weekend, a team of 35 Greek volunteers arrived in Turkey’s Kahramanmaras province, the epicenter of two earthquakes, to support ongoing search and rescue efforts.

On February 12, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visited Hatay province in Turkey to express condolences and survey the damage. He was the first European dignitary to visit Turkey after the earthquake.

At a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavushoglu, Dendias described the destruction he witnessed in Hatay as “devastating”. Cavusoglu said Athens and Ankara “should not wait for another earthquake before mending relations”.

According to Kose, a professor of political science and international relations at Istanbul’s Ibn Khaldun University, “tensions have risen” between longtime Aegean rivals in recent months.

“However, since the earthquake, we have seen high levels of support from Greece that have been widely covered in the Turkish media,” Kose said.

“The Greek media have also shown considerable sympathy for Turkey’s coverage of the disaster,” he added. “This is very important in terms of changing the way the public thinks.”

Kose believes that an expression of solidarity emanating from Athens could bring about a “major change” in bilateral relations “not only between political leaders, but also between the peoples of both countries.”

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Rescue workers stand on top of a collapsed building in Adiyaman, southern Turkey, on February 13, 2023. (The Canadian Press/AP-Emrah Gurel)

“Tectonics” in Turkish-Armenian relations

Armenia also sent aid and rescue workers to earthquake-affected areas in southern Turkey, despite historic animosity between the two neighbors dating back to the Ottoman Empire.

Formal relations between Ankara and Yerevan have been frozen since 1993. Nevertheless, Armenia quickly dispatched her 28-member team to assist with rescue efforts in Turkey’s earthquake-hit Adiyaman province.

“Stand shoulder to shoulder with AFAD [Turkey’s disaster management agency]an Armenian relief team rescued an 8-year-old girl alive in Adiyaman,” Garo Peylan, a Turkish parliamentarian of Armenian descent, posted on Twitter on February 11.

He added, “Solidarity saves lives!”

Additionally, shortly after the earthquake, the border between Turkey and Armenia opened for the first time in 35 years, allowing Armenian relief teams to bring vital aid to earthquake survivors.

In 1988, the same border crossing was used to send aid in the opposite direction after Armenia, still a Soviet republic, was hit by a magnitude 6.8 earthquake.

“Turkey has sent aid to Armenia despite ongoing tensions between the two countries after the 1988 earthquake.

Epoch Times photo
A view showing settlements in the Nagorno-Karabakh region on November 10, 2020. (Francesco Brembati/Reuters)

Relations between Turkey and Armenia have been hampered for decades by Ankara’s firm support for Azerbaijan, Armenia’s longtime enemy in the Caucasus region. In 2020, Turkey aided Azerbaijan in its six-week war with Armenia over the hotspot Nagorno-Karabakh region.

However, since then, Ankara and Yerevan have taken interim steps to normalize relations.

Last March, Cavusoglu met his Armenian counterpart in the Turkish city of Antalya. It was the first visit to Turkey by an Armenian official in over a decade.

“Turkey and Armenia’s normalization process has already begun,” Kose explained. “However, Armenia and Azerbaijan have yet to achieve a sustainable ceasefire, and this has slowed efforts to normalize Turkey and Armenia.”

Nonetheless, Kose expressed hope that the goodwill seen after the earthquake will give new impetus to reconciliation prospects.

“I don’t know if it will lead to a great deal or end long-standing strife, but it certainly created new diplomatic language and encouraged greater engagement between the two countries,” Kose said.

He added, “This kind of tectonic shift can also lead to changes in the diplomatic field.”

On February 11, Ankara’s special envoy for the normalization process, Serdar Kilic, posted on Twitter: