Was Turkey ever during World War I.

Historical conflictThe strained relationship between Greece and Turkey

A restaurant in downtown Istanbul: a guest starts an old Turkish folk song. After a while, a Greek tourist joins the group and joins in - in Greek. Both men grab each other's hands at the end.

This video sequence has been shared on social media for a few weeks now - especially by those Turks and Greeks who, in view of the current tensions between the two states, have not given up hope of good neighborly relations.

How can it be that two peoples who sing the same songs can still be connected to one another in a so-called "hereditary enmity"? As is so often the case, the reason for this lies in history: today's Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years. After the war of liberation and the establishment of the first Hellenistic republic in 1827, the conflicts continued. After the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, Greek troops marched into Anatolia. Greek nationalism saw the chance to realize its old dream of reestablishing the Byzantine Empire. But the Greeks were repulsed by Kemal Ataturk's troops.

(picture alliance / NurPhoto / Achilleas Chiras)Background to the escalation on the Greek-Turkish border
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Population exchange after the world war

The Lausanne Peace Treaty stipulates the limits that are still valid today: Greece was allowed to keep almost all of the islands in the Aegean Sea - some, like the island of Lesbos, within sight of the Turkish coast. The contractually agreed population exchange was particularly serious for the relationship between the two countries: over a million Greeks were expelled from Turkey to Greece, and around 400,000 Muslims from Greece to Turkey. Only the Greek minority in Istanbul was excluded from this contractually sanctioned ethnic cleansing.

Today only about 2,000 Greeks live in the former Constantinople. They especially suffered from the tensions that flared up again and again between the two states. For example, as a result of the violent clashes between Turks and Greeks in Cyprus, which finally led to the Turkish occupation of the north of the island in 1974.

Although both countries joined NATO in 1952, animosity between them continued to smolder. The alliance had to repeatedly prevent the two adversaries from a direct military confrontation. For example, in 1996, when in the dispute over the occupation of an uninhabited, tiny rocky island in the Aegean Sea by Turkish soldiers, the Greek army command had already put its troops into combat.

Change of course in Ankara

Recep Tayyip Erdogan had sought a compromise with the Greeks at the beginning of his reign in 2002. For his goal of EU membership he needed the support of his neighbor. But the more Turkey and Europe became estranged, the more openly Erdogan attacked Greece. In a speech in autumn 2016, he indirectly questioned the demarcation of the Aegean Sea:

"These islands, which are within our call range, we gave away in the Treaty of Lausanne. We were sold as a negotiating success. And they belonged to us! Our mosques are still there today! But we still have to fight for our rights in the Aegean ! "

In the dispute over the raw materials in the Mediterranean, Erdogan is now taking action: In areas that belong to Cyprus and Crete under maritime law, he is drilling for oil and gas.

Turks and Greeks are still getting closer

But despite all the nationalistic tones, the Greeks and Turks have grown closer in recent years. During the financial crisis, it was not least Turkish tourists who saved the Greek islands near the border from crashing through their massive visits. And Greece, for its part, offers tens of thousands of politically persecuted people from Turkey asylum. In such encounters, Turks and Greeks discover that they have more in common than just the same songs.