In the past few years, Turkey’s foreign policy has been defined by resets. Ankara has buried the hatchet and re-engaged with several countries it has long been at odds with, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel. A rapprochement with the government of Syria is also on the table, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying he would consider meeting his Syrian counterpart to “foster peace and stability in the region”.
Now, the deadly February 6 earthquakes appear to have paved the way for Turkey to mend its ties with yet more of its neighbours.
Take Greece. Before the earthquakes, which claimed tens of thousands of lives and flattened entire cities across Turkey’s southeast, the country’s relations with Greece were on the verge of collapse. With both nations gearing up for elections, there were widespread fears that ever-increasing tensions in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean could escalate into a full-on military confrontation. But everything changed after the earthquakes hit and the scale of devastation Turkey is facing became apparent.
The government of Greece sent tens of thousands of tents, beds and blankets to the disaster zone to help survivors. It also deployed fully equipped teams of rescue professionals, doctors and paramedics to the region. On February 12, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias paid a visit to the earthquake-stricken Hatay province, becoming the first high-ranking official from a European Union member state to do so. Private Greek citizens have also been eager to support their neighbours through this crisis, donating what they can to charities working in affected areas and sharing messages of solidarity on social media. Turkey responded with genuine gratitude, leading Dendias to say he welcomes “the shift in Ankara’s tone”.
This dramatic improvement in relations in the face of a humanitarian crisis was not particularly surprising for long-term observers of Turkey-Greece relations, as the two countries had successfully engaged in so-called “earthquake diplomacy” for the first time in 1999. Following a deadly quake in Turkey’s northwestern Marmara region in August that year, then-Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem and his Greek counterpart George Papandreou embarked on a journey to improve the neighbouring nations’ relations. The consequent rapprochement paved the way for the EU’s December 1999 decision to grant Turkey official candidate status.
The earthquakes also led to an ease in Turkey-Armenia tensions.