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Turkish-Greek relations have always been tense and open to conflict and military escalation though there had been smooth times in the past. We should not forget that two countries are historical rivals to each other due to their nation-creation process. Thus, as Babacan points out, some labelled “tension as ordinary and stability an exception” in Turkish-Greek relations.[1] However, after Turkey’s victory against invading Greek powers in 1923, two visionary statesmen Atatürk and Venizelos were able to establish friendly relations. Two countries were both acted as United States (U.S.) allies against the expansionism of communism and Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, this did not prevent two countries to engage in a political/diplomatic clash in 1974 when Turkey rightfully intervened into the island of Cyprus as a guarantor state following a military coup organized by Greek Cypriots aiming to annex the island to Greece (an idea known shortly as “enosis”).

Starting from the late 1990s, as Turkey began to make progress for becoming a full member of the European Union (EU), two countries improved their relations in every aspect. For instance, discovery talks (istikşafi görüşmeler) and High Level Cooperation Council (Yüksek Düzeyli İş Birliği Konseyi-YDİK) meetings were initiated.[2] However, after the take-over of a new and assertive right-wing government in Greece in 2019 by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, two countries’ relations were quickly deteriorated. Mitsotakis’ take-over in Greece coincided with Turkey’s authoritarian transformation and created a reverse magnetization in bilateral relations. Nowadays, experts in both countries even talk of a possibility of a war between two NATO allies.

In this paper, I am going to analyze Turkish-Greek relations in short for those who are not familiar with the topic. In order to do that, I will first take a glance at the history of Turkish-Greek relations. Secondly, I am going to analyze the rapprochement process between two countries that took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s during Turkey’s EU integration process. Thirdly, I will focus on 7 major problems in Turkish-Greek relations, namely; the Cyprus Problem, Greek support to terror-related groups, demilitarization of the Aegean Islands, continental shelf dispute, territorial waters dispute, airspace and the Flight Information Regions (FIR) dispute, and the minorities issue in both countries. Lastly, I am going to focus on recent developments taking place in the Aegean and East Mediterranean in order to understand the current trends in bilateral as well as regional and global relations.

Turkish-Greek Relations: A Short History

After the Conquest of Istanbul in 1453, in 1460, with the seizure of the Morea, the Byzantine Empire was fully collapsed and Greeks began to live as part of the Ottoman Empire. Greeks, similar to other non-Muslim groups, were subjected to “millet system” and considered as equal subjects of the Empire. Greek descendants were also given chance to rise within the Ottoman bureaucracy thanks to the “devshirmeh system”. In fact, many Ottoman Pashas had Greek origins. More importantly, two societies had gone through a process of acculturation due to long decades of living together. However, due to the failure of the Ottoman Empire to modernize and renew the system as a modern multi-ethnic empire as well as rising nationalist waves after the French Revolution of 1789, Greeks began to concentrate their efforts in establishing their independent state.

Almost four centuries later after Ottoman capture of Greek lands, in 1821, Greeks started their War of Independence (1821-1832) against Ottoman Turks, which resulted in the formation of independent Kingdom of Greece. The independence movement did not solve all problems as millions of Orthodox Christian Greeks continued to live under Ottoman rule in Anatolia. During the fall of the Ottoman State, Greece -with the aim of “Megali Idea[3]– engaged in an imperial struggle together with Britain, France, and Italy to capture Ottoman lands. However, Greek military campaign turned into the “Asia Minor Catastrophe” or “Asia Minor Disaster” as Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922) resulted in the formation of a modern Republic of Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Two countries made population exchanges in 1923-1924 and 1930 and tried to strengthen their nation-state. However, Turkish minority in Greece and Greek minority in Turkey continued to exist. Although they were on the battlefront against each other, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his Greek counterpart Eleftherios Venizelos showed great skills in establishing peaceful relations between their countries following the Lausanne Peace Treaty. Venizelos even nominated Atatürk for Nobel Peace Prize in January 1934.[4] In addition, in 1934, both countries engaged together in the Balkan Pact with Yugoslavia and Romania. During the Second World War, Turkey even helped Greek people during the great famine in Athens by forgetting the bad memories of the past. In 1947, with the Paris Peace Treaty, Dodecanese Islands were given to Greece by Italy, an event which complicated the bilateral relations in terms of the Aegean Dispute.

Venizelos and Atatürk[5]

During the Cold War, Turkey and Greece both became earlier members (not founding members) of the Council of Europe in 1949 and 1950. Moreover, both countries became members of NATO in 1952. In addition, in 1953, Greece, Turkey, and Yugoslavia formed a new Balkan Pact for mutual defense against the Soviet Union. Thus, two countries were aligned as allies in the early Cold War period. However, starting from the 1950s, especially after the formation of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960, Turkish-Greek ethnic clashes in the island began to overshadow Turkey-Greece relations as well. Attacks organized by ultranationalist Greek Cypriots (EOKA-B) towards Turkish Cypriots disturbed Turkey whereas in Turkey as well, events such as 6-7 September 1955 showed the dangerous consequences of ethnic nationalism towards non-Muslim minorities. Eventually, Turkish-Greek relations evolved into a conflictual relationship although two countries continued to keep their NATO membership.

After Turkey’s intervention into Cyprus in 1974 (Cyprus Peace Operation), Greece temporarily withdrew from NATO’s military command. This could have been a great chance for Turkey to direct Greece and other states to recognize the de-facto state of Turkish Cypriots on the northern part of Cyprus. However, as the military rule in Turkey allowed Greek return to NATO’s military command for increasing its own legitimacy in the Western world, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (1983) is so far recognized only by Turkey. Moreover, Turkish military presence in the island became a matter of controversy due to several United Nations (UN) Security Council decisions. In addition, after the Cyprus Peace Operation, Greece began to openly support ASALA and afterwards PKK terrorism against Turkey. Two countries signed the Bern Agreement on November 11, 1976 to prevent a potential crisis arising from the dispute related to the continental shelf issue in the Aegean Sea. In the meanwhile, Greek accession to EU in 1981 strengthened Athens’ position against Ankara.

In 1987, two countries engaged in a serious political crisis in the Aegean[6], which was later solved upon the efforts of the U.S. and then-NATO Secretary General Lord Carrington. The crisis emerged when Turkey learned that Greece was starting to drill for oil in the Aegean Sea in the vicinity of Thasos (Taşoz), a Greek territory. In response, the Turkish survey ship Piri Reis was sent to the area with an escort of Turkish warships. Then-Greece Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou gave the orders to sink the ship if it was found in Greek waters. Then-Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Özal on the other hand said that “If Greece interferes with our vessel in any way, and this is what Papandreou is saying, we will act in the same way against him. As a result, it could be cause for war.”, but he also added that “We are waiting for the first move from them”.[7] Eventually two sides were calmed down upon the diplomatic efforts of the U.S. and NATO.

Rapprochement in the late 1990s and early 2000s during Turkey’s EU Integration Process

Turkish-Greek rapprochement in the late 1990s took place after a very conflictual period. In 1996, two countries engaged in a military escalation due to the ownership dispute of small Aegean islands (rocks) called “Kardak Kayalıkları” (Imia or Kardak Rocks). For sure, Kardak Crisis was part of a larger Aegean Dispute that also includes disputes over the continental shelf, the territorial waters, the airspace, the Flight Information Regions (FIR), and the demilitarization of the Aegean Islands. In January 1996, two NATO allies -years after the 1987 Aegean Crisis- once again had tense times in their relationship. When a few Greek citizens put their flag on uninhabited Kardak or Imia, the issue became sensational in the Turkish media. Then, two countries sent their Special Forces to these rocks (islets) and came very close to a military conflict.[8] Later on, after a phone call from then-U.S. President Bill Clinton and efforts of NATO’s then-Secretary General Javier Solana, tension got lower between two sides and the crisis ended without a military clash.

Furthermore, in 1997, Republic of Cyprus bought Russian-made S-300 air missile defense system (event known as Cypriot S-300 crisis), which led to harsh Turkish reaction. Eventually, upon Turkish reaction, in December 1998, Greek Cypriots had to hand over their S-300 system to Greece. Making the bilateral relations even worse, PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was captured by Turkish Special Forces in Greek Embassy in Kenya. This was perceived as Athens’ open political support provided to PKK, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, by Ankara. At those days, Turkey was also having domestic political problems due to the ongoing 28 February Process, during which the Turkish Armed Forces forced Islamist Necmetttin Erbakan’s government to resign.

George Papandreou and İsmail Cem became architects of Turkish-Greek rapprochement in the late 1990s[9]

In this complicated picture, after successive earthquakes hit both countries in the summer of 1999, two countries’ Foreign Ministers İsmail Cem and George Papandreou initiated the so-called “earthquake diplomacy[10] to provide help to their neighbors, which completely changed the public perception about the other side.[11] Also called by some as “disaster diplomacy[12], Cem and Papandreou picked up the historically hostile relationships initially starting with some confidence-building measures. In the coming days, with reciprocal visits, two statesmen opened the way for a rapid and positive change in the image of their countries. Moreover, Greece welcomed Turkey’s gaining of EU full membership candidacy status at the 1999 Helsinki Summit and stopped supporting terrorist groups against Ankara. Remembering these days, George Papandreou years after said: “I decided that there was no meaning of being the Minister of Foreign Affairs if I do not dare to challenge our security rules. I was lucky; my counterpart in Turkey was İsmail Cem. He was a charismatic and courageous politician. Our relationship was built on trust. İsmail and I, we tried to establish a new local cooperation rhetoric.[13] It should be added that the Clinton administration in the U.S. also helped the fixing of relations between Turkey and Greece during this period.

As Turkish Foreign Ministry states, starting from 1999, thanks to the efforts of Cem and Papandreou, Turkish-Greek relations entered into a new period based on cooperation and dialogue.[14] Starting from this period, many people hoped that this could lead to a political solution in Cyprus as Turkey will be gone through EU harmonization process. However, Greek Cypriots blocked a political solution by rejecting the referendum of Annan Plan in 2004 although Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the plan and Turkey did not interfere. To summarize, Turkish-Greek rapprochement of the late 1990s was materialized on two main issues: (1) Greek support and encouragement for Turkish accession to EU, (2) Search for a political solution to decades-old Cyprus Problem.

Despite of the continuity of the Cyprus Problem, two countries continued to improve their bilateral relations during the AK Parti (Justice and Development Party) rule as well. State visits became more frequent and new mechanisms were established. For instance, discovery talks were initiated between two sides. So far, 61 rounds of discovery talks were made, the last one organized in 2021.[15] Moreover, High Level Cooperation Council meetings took place in order to improve political and economic relations. The first of these meetings took place in 2010 in Athens, second in 2013 in Istanbul, third in 2014 in Athens, and the fourth in 2016 in Izmir.[16] Thanks to these mechanisms, bilateral trade volume reached a record of 5.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2014.[17] In 2020, due to negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, bilateral trade volume was only around 3.12 billion U.S. dollars.[18] Moreover, in the 2010s, Aegean neighbors improved trade and Greece allowed Turkish citizens to visit its eastern Aegean islands visa-free.[19] These facts were concrete proofs of the continuing rapprochement process between two countries in the 2000s.

President Erdoğan had several meetings with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (2019-) and Alexis Tsipras (2015-2019)

However, in time, as Turkey lost its hopes and incentives for the EU membership, Turkish-Greek and Turkish-EU relations began to be shaped mainly by cooperation and sometimes confrontation vis-a-vis the refugee crisis. The Turkey-EU refugee deal in 2016 downgraded the relations into transactionalism and EU membership perspective for Turkey was weakened. European countries including France and the Republic of Cyprus that blocked Turkish accession to EU due to Cyprus Problem also strengthened this trend. In addition, although the refugee deal was intended to realize the visa-free travel for Turks to EU countries, so far it is not materialized. In fact, since 2016, Turkey’s accession talks have stalled. Brussels since then has become increasingly critical of Turkey’s status of democracy and rule of law. In 2019, a European Parliament committee even voted in favor of the suspension of accession talks.[20] However, in the last few years, in order to create a positive agenda, issues such as the renewing the Customs Union and visa-free travel for Europe are also discussed between two sides.

Main Problems in Turkish-Greek Relations

Turkey and Greece are not two haphazard countries; their history is full of antagonistic and conflictual themes and events. For instance, Turkish Independence War (1919-1922) and the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) were referred as events that are “very painful for the Hellenism in Turkey” by the Greek Foreign Ministry[21], which shows the historical barriers between two states. So, fixing Turkish-Greek relations is not an easy task. However, we can categorize Turkish-Greek disagreements in 7 subheadings in order to solve these problems or to find middle ground in these disputes:

I. Cyprus Problem and the Eastern Mediterranean Question: Cyprus Problem[22] is still the most important barrier in bilateral relations. Greece and Turkey, together with the United Kingdom (UK), are three guarantor states of the Republic of Cyprus (1960). However, as Greek nationalists pursued a policy favoring the annexation of the island by Greece, Turkey also began to support Turkish Cypriots as a guarantor state. Eventually, upon the military coup organized by EOKA-B members, Turkey rightfully intervened militarily into the island. Turkey then tried to create two separate zones in order to prevent further clashes between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. However, although the first Turkish intervention was not criticized by other powers, the second intervention aiming to divide the island into two zones was not welcomed by the UN Security Council members. Accordingly, UN Security Council resolutions favored Greek Cypriot position in terms of territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus.[23] Today, Greece, Greek Cypriots, and most of the EU member states approach to Turkish military presence in the island as “Turkish invasion”. Although Ankara never accepts such accusations and underline that there is a formal agreement between the TRNC government and Turkish government about the presence of military units, Turkish military presence is not welcomed by Western powers. Cyprus Problem has also become a headache for Turkish accession to EU in the 2000s as Turkish failure to open its harbors to Greek Cypriot ships led to the suspension of 8 chapters as well as the non-closure of all other chapters.

In recent years, Cyprus Problem gained another dimension with the recent natural gas discoveries made around the island by Greek Cypriots and energy companies that were licensed by Nicosia. So, energy dimension could lead to a new type of cooperation between two communities of the island as well as Turkey and Greece in case all sides act with the “win-win” mentality. Although Cyprus Problem is in fact the biggest issue in bilateral relations, the problem is largely seen as a frozen conflict. However, the situation of seismic vessels sent to the disputed areas by Turkey and Cyprus could still create military escalation between Turkey and Cyprus as well as Turkey and Greece. In the meantime, TRNC leadership’s decision (TRNC President Ersin Tatar) not to carry on any further negotiations after the failure of Crans-Montana meeting in 2017 until the acceptance of sovereign equality of TRNC[24] might not be the best option for easing the tension.

Another problem related to Cyprus Problem is the lack of an agreement between two parties about the maritime delimitation in the Eastern Mediterranean and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of small Greek islands in the region. One particular island is Meis, a small island very close to Turkey. Two countries have very opposing visions in relation to this issue as Greece defends “Sevilla Map”, whereas Turkey defends “Blue Homeland” (Mavi Vatan). International Court of Justice’s decision of the case between Nicaragua and Columbia shows that the international law does not recognize or recognize with its limits the EEZ claims of the small islands.[25] Examples can be multiplied, as in the case of the various islands between Tunisia and Italy. In that sense, Greek claims in the Eastern Mediterranean seem maximalist and two countries should have a negotiation process to determine their EEZ zones.

Two countries’ opposing EEZ claims: Seville Map vs. Blue Homeland

II. Greek Support to Terror-Related Groups: Greece in the past openly supported ASALA and PKK terrorists. Especially the Lavrion Camp became the center of anti-Turkish activities. However, starting from Turkish-Greek rapprochement of 1999, Greece ceased its activities encouraging terrorist groups. However, Turkish media claims that in recent years Greece began to support groups that Turkey considers terrorists once again. These groups primarily include PKK, DHKP-C, and FETÖ. Turkish media claims that Lavrion Camp is operational again and hosts PKK and DHKP-C terrorists.[26] Moreover, Turkish authorities claim that there are around 10,000 FETÖ members in Greece.[27] Although Greece formally condemned the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 and expressed its support to the democratically elected government[28], due to so-called human right issues, it continues to host FETÖ members. These issues create huge reactions against Greece in Turkey especially among the security bureaucracy and nationalist circles. Greece on the other hand claims that Lavrion is basically a refugee camp.[29]

III. Demilitarization of the Aegean Islands: Turkey claims that, in accordance with the 1923 Lausanne Treaty and 1947 Paris Peace Treaty, Aegean Island that were previously agreed as demilitarized zones should stay as the same. According to Article 13 of the Lausanne Treaty, “With a view to ensuring the maintenance of peace, the Greek Government undertakes to observe the following restrictions in the islands of Mytilene, Chios, Samos and Nikaria: (1) No naval base and no fortification will be established in the said islands; (2) Greek military aircraft will be forbidden to fly over the territory of the Anatolian coast. Reciprocally, the Turkish Government will forbid their military aircraft to fly over the said islands; (3) The Greek military forces in the said islands will be limited to the normal contingent called up for military service, which can be trained on the spot, as well as to a force of gendarmerie and police in proportion to the force of gendarmerie and police existing in the whole of the Greek territory.[30]

Moreover, Article 14 of the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 states that “1. Italy hereby cedes to Greece in full sovereignty the Dodecanese Islands indicated hereafter, namely Stampalia (Astropalia), Rhodes (Rhodos), Calki (Kharki), Scarpanto, Casos (Casso), Piscopis (Tilos), Misiros (Nisyros), Calimnos (Kalymnos), Leros, Patmos, Lipsos (Lipso), Simi (Symi), Cos (Kos), and Castellorizo, as well as the adjacent islands; 2. These islands shall be and shall remain demilitarized; 3. The procedure and the technical conditions governing the transfer of these islands to Greece will be determined by agreement between the of the United Kingdom and Greece and arrangements shall be made for the withdrawal of foreign troops not later than 90 days from the coming into force of the present Treaty.”[31] These are clear proofs of Greek violation concerning the demilitarized status of these islands.

Unfortunately, Greece, starting from the 1960s began to remilitarize these islands.[32] This militarization effort was accelerated after the Cyprus Peace Operation of 1974 and more recently with the U.S. military settlement into Greece. Turkey on the other hand, as a reaction to this, recently began to question the sovereignty of these islands. For instance, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stated that the armament of these islands is a “violation” and “if this violation is not remedied, the sovereignty of the islands will be discussed”.[33]

The demilitarization of the Aegean Islands has become in the recent months the riskiest issue having a potential to bring two countries into a war or limited armed clash. The reason for this is Greek insistence on the rearmament of the islands as well as Turkey’s reaction to consider the sovereignty of these islands. Considering the fact that in both countries right-wing governments lose popularity due to different reasons (in case of Mitsotakis it is the wiretap scandal whereas in case of Erdoğan it is the economic failures of the government), 2022 and 2023 would be very dangerous years for keeping the peace in the region. Greece expert Professor Zuhal Mert Uzuner also believes that Mitsotakis’ election as the new Greek Prime Minister accelerated the spoiling of bilateral relations since Mitsotakis and his party New Democracy (Néa Dimokratía) represents Greek nationalism.[34] International Relations scholar Professor Serhat Güvenç on the other hand underlines that none of these states will be likely to become the side that starts the war.[35] On the other hand, he also points out that Greek provocations in the last weeks could be part of a deliberate strategy to force Ankara to activate the S-400 air missile defense system in order to spoil Turkish-American relations completely.[36]

In addition to this problem, we should also state that there are also uninhabited small islets and rocks in the Aegean Sea whose ownerships are not determined yet between Turkey and Greece. As in the case of Kardak, these small islands’ ownership could turn into a political clash and even a military confrontation when there are no friendly relations and mutual trust between these states.

IV. Continental Shelf Dispute: Turkey and Greece are two littoral states that have legitimate and legal rights and concerns about the Aegean Sea. There is no specific arrangement or previous agreement between the parties about delimitation of the continental shelf in the Aegean Sea. The UN Security Council, in its resolution 395, adopted in 25 August 1976, called upon Turkey and Greece to do everything in their power to reduce tensions in the Aegean and asked them to resume direct negotiations over their differences and appealed to them to ensure that these negotiations result in mutually acceptable solutions.[37] The International Court of Justice in its ruling on September 11, 1976, determined the Aegean continental shelf beyond the territorial waters of the two littoral states as “areas in dispute” with respect to which both Turkey and Greece claim rights of exploration and exploitation.[38] Furthermore, the International Court of Justice, in a decision taken in 1982, stated that “delimitation is to be effected by agreement in accordance with equitable principles and taking into account all relevant circumstances”.[39] Subsequent to the International Court of Justice ruling and the Security Council Resolution, Turkey and Greece signed the 1976 Bern Agreement.[40]

V. Territorial Waters Dispute: According to Lausanne Treaty, the territorial waters of both countries were set as 3 miles.[41] However, both countries enjoy 6 miles of territorial waters in the Aegean for several decades. On the other hand, the clear boundaries between two states are not determined yet.[42] In the mid-1990s, ties were strained after Greece ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982[43] -which Turkey is not a part of it-, under which it claimed the right to extend its territorial waters in the Aegean from 6 to 12 nautical miles. Turkey said it would view Greek exercise of this option as an act of war (casus belli) and Turkish Parliament (TBMM) ratified a specific law on this issue.[44] From Turkey’s perspective, since the Aegean is a common sea between Turkey and Greece, the threat of extending Greek territorial waters beyond their present width of 6 miles (Greece extended her territorial waters from 3 miles to 6 miles in 1936, Turkey followed suit in 1964[45]) will have negative implications for Turkish-Greek relations.[46] In short, any increase beyond 6 miles is totally unacceptable to Turkey.

VI. Airspace and the Flight Information Regions (FIR) Dispute: The FIR arrangement on the Aegean airspace devised in 1952 within the framework of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), is a technical responsibility. Greece, however, is using it to further its claims of de-facto sovereignty over the Aegean airspace by demanding flight plans from Turkish state aircraft and allegations of “infringements of the Athens FIR”.[47] Moreover, Athens claims that it has a right to 10 miles “national air space” over territorial waters of 6 miles that was perceived as an abuse by Ankara.

VII. Minorities Issue: Both countries approach to the minorities issue from the perspective of reciprocity. For instance, in case Greece increases pressure over Turkish minority in their territory, Turkey would also do the same to Greek minority living in Turkey. Turkey put the election of Muftis by the Muslim Turkish minority in Western Thrace (Batı Trakya) as a precondition for opening the Halki Seminary which was closed in 1971. Greece, in 1972 as a reaction, closed the Turkish school in Rhodes. Although Turkey in recent years engaged in efforts to restore some cultural sites such as the Sumela Monastery, the situation of migrants still poses a problem in bilateral relations. Moreover, Turkey took criticism from Greece and Western world upon the transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque in 2020.[48] The situation of Fener Greek Patriarchate is also relevant here as the historical church claims ecumenical rights although it does not have such authority under Turkish law according to the Lausanne Treaty.[49]

Recent Developments

Turkish-Greek bilateral relations have transformed into a risky relationship starting from the year 2020. The first crisis took place in relation to Kastellorizo Island or Meis in Turkish. On July 21, 2020, Turkey announced plans to prospect for gas in disputed waters south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo, roughly 2 kilometers (1 mile) off the south coast of Turkey. As a reaction, Greece put its naval forces on alert, sparking the full deployment of the Greek and Turkish fleets across the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean seas.[50] Then, on August, 12, 2020, one of the two Turkish warships escorting the Oruç Reis, a seismic research vessel, collided with a Greek frigate shadowing it. The bump so noticeably rattled Ankara and Athens that a half-day’s silence ensued. The scare helped pull them back from the brink of a larger confrontation, but tensions simmered for weeks before the warships steamed back to port. Greek diplomacy and military settlements that create Turkish anger continued throughout the year 2020.[51]

In 2021, with the efforts of the EU and the restart of the discovery talks, tension was eased, and more cooperative relations were established between Athens and Ankara. However, the year 2022 was particularly problematic in terms of Turkish-Greek relations. Turkish authorities and media blamed Greece for its frequent hostile acts against Turkish jets. According to Demirören News Agency, Greece has committed 1,123 violations and harassment against Turkish airspace and territorial waters in the first eight months of this year.[52] Greece and Greek media on the other hand made the same accusation against Turkey. Especially the activation of S-300 radar system based in Crete Island against Turkish jets conducting a NATO mission created anger among Turkish authorities and people. Turkish authorities claimed that on August 23, 2022, Turkish jets carrying out a reconnaissance mission over the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean were put under the radar lock of the Greek owned S-300 air defense systems.[53] Although Turkey submitted its complaint to NATO with alleged proofs[54] and former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza praised Turkey’s responsible behavior[55], so far no statement condemning Greece came from NATO sources. Greece on the other hand blamed Turkey for airspace violation and not informing about the flight plans beforehand. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar replied to Athens’ version of the incidents, informing that all the flight plans have already been shared with all the NATO countries since early July.[56] Akar also added that “Greek harassment of the Turkish jets by the S-300 air defense system over the Aegean is unacceptable” and “It’s unfortunate that this bad neighboring country is continuing its harassment in different ways. Let me clarify once again: Our forces will never retreat when they are harassed.”[57] In the coming days, Akar also warned Greece to keep peaceful relations with Turkey instead of militarizing attempts.[58]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also warned Greece that it would pay a “heavy price” if it continued to “harass” Turkish planes over the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.[59] Although Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis recently said that he is open to a meeting with Erdoğan[60], the negative trend in relations that commenced after Mitsotakis’ speech at the U.S. Congress in May 2022[61] continues with a rapid pace. After this speech during which Mitsotakis accused Turkey, Erdoğan said that “he will not meet Mitsotakis once again[62]. Erdoğan warned Athens with the popular slogan of the 1960s related to the Cyprus events; “We May Come Suddenly One Night” (Bir Gece Ansızın Gelebiliriz).[63] Erdoğan also did not refrain to remind Greeks their historic defeat 100 years ago; “Hey Greece, take a look at history. If you go further, you will pay a heavy price. We have only one thing to tell Greece: Do not forget Izmir.” he said.[64] Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also accused Greece of provocation.[65] Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias on the other hand said that “Greece ‘deconstructs Turkey’s unfounded claims’ with arguments” and “We are facing an unprecedented escalation of Turkish provocations and at the same time an occasional escalation in the field, where the neo-Ottoman revisionism is projected upon”.[66]

U.S. Military Bases in Greece[67]

Greek provocations continued with the announcement of the opening of a Pontic Hellenism Genocide Monument in Kos Island (İstanköy), just 7 miles from Muğla’s Bodrum district.[68] Moreover, on September 10, 2022, wo Greek coast guard boats opened fire on the Comoros-flagged Ro-Ro ship “Anatolian”, sailing in international waters off the Bozcaada district of Çanakkale.[69] The event was largely spoken in the Turkish media in the subsequent days and it was perceived as an act of aggression to provoke Turkey. The official in charge of the Turkish ship attacked by Greek officers has said that “Greeks threw rope at the ship’s screw to stop them and then fired more than 30 times”.[70] More recently, the deployment of U.S.-made armored military vehicles on two Aegean Islands (Lesbos and Samos) created further anger in Turkey and Ankara protested Washington and Athens for violating the demilitarized status of these islands.[71] The event became known after Turkish drones were able to photograph the military vehicles during their deployment into these islands. Although Greek provocations were documented by Turkey, EU continued to support its member state Greece. This led to a harsh reaction in Ankara towards Brussels as well.[72],

Greece, in recent years, showed a great diplomatic success in developing close security ties with the United States. For instance, with the ratification of the U.S.-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) in 2022, U.S. military gained access to Georgula Barracks in Greece’s central province of Volos, Litochoro Training Ground, and army barracks in the northeastern port city of Alexandroupoli apart from the naval base in Souda Bay in Crete which the U.S. has operated since 1969.[73] The MDCA agreement was first signed between Washington and Athens in 1990 and was renewed every year. The new arrangement allows the government to review and renew the agreement in every five years and if none of the parties do not lodge an objection, the agreement is renewed automatically. Greek media reports that U.S. aims to transform the Alexandroupoli (Dedeağaç) Port, which it has used for the shipment of weapons and personnel to the Balkans and Europe in recent years, into a military naval base.[74] Although American officials underline that these bases are built for containing Russia, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not believe in this pretext and claims that these bases’ target is Turkey.[75]

American support to Greece is crucial for Turkish-Greek relations since the U.S. still dominates the Western bloc and has the capacity to punish its allies with some instruments such as the CAATSA that is implemented against Ankara for purchasing S-400 system from Moscow. Moreover, in case there is a war between Athens and Ankara, the presence of American troops in Greece could become a discouraging factor for Turkey. For instance, the U.S. military presence in Alexandroupoli (Dedeağaç) region directly poses a barrier to possible Turkish land-based military operation. Kozan Erkan, a senior defense and security expert, concludes that U.S. deployment in Greece intends to deter Turkey from responding to a possible assault by Greece.[76] An attack by Turkey on Greece could also lead to increasing skepticism and negative views about the presence of Ankara within NATO. At the same time, there are criticisms towards the Athenian government about the increasing American military presence in Greek soil and some even label Greece as a “garrison state“. Greek opposition led by Alexis Tsipras (Syriza party) is also critical of the government’s bold steps.

U.S. Military Presence in Greece[77]

In addition, Greece has also signed a defense agreement with France in 2021. So-called the Franco-Greek Defense Agreement was signed between France and Greece on September 27, 2021 and it includes a mutual defense clause (Article 2) should either be attacked by a third country.[78] At the signing ceremony in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron said the agreement is part of a deeper “strategic partnership” between the two countries.[79] In that sense, against increasing Turkish discontent for the violation of Lausanne and Paris treaties, Athens plays the card of its defense cooperation with Washington and Paris to counterbalance potential Turkish offensive. It should not be forgotten that Greece recently purchased Rafale jets and frigates from France and tries to seal the deal for purchasing F-35 fifth generation warrior jets from the U.S. while Turkey is removed from the F-35 programme and is not even allowed to acquire F-16 jets from Washington yet. In addition, Greece recently signed a recent historic defense agreement that is worth of 1.65 billion U.S. dollars with Israel.[80] Greece has also established close ties with Israel together with the Republic of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean. These developments show that Greece is increasing its military capacity especially in terms of aerial forces in addition to its diplomatic backings, while Turkey is tried to be punished and weakened by Washington and Brussels after acquiring S-400 air missile defense system from Russia.

Rıfat Öncel from Turkish think-tank SETA claims that increasing Greek provocations are part of a larger strategy he called as the “Athenian Trap” and Athens wants Turkey to become the aggressor in order to take American, French, and European support.[81] He also adds that in order to overcome this trap, Turkey should follow prudent diplomatic action and change its relations with the U.S. and France.[82] Retired Admiral Cihat Yaycı, as one of the creators of “Mavi Vatan” (Blue Homeland) doctrine (together with Ramazan Cem Gürdeniz)- also closely follows Turkish-Greek relations and warns Ankara of Western intention to kick Turkey out of NATO and to include Cyprus and Israel instead.[83] Professor Mesut Hakkı Caşın on the other hand points out Greece as the aggressor side and threatens Greece that a war between two states would result in the catastrophe for Athens.[84]


Solving political problems between Turkey and Greece is not impossible. However, both sides need to act reasonably and with a peaceful mentality. To analyze objectively, in relation to Aegean Dispute, Turkish foreign policy seems more in favor of status quo, whereas Greek foreign policy is more assertive, hawkish, and revisionist. That is why, for solving many of these problems related to the Aegean, Greek attitude should be changed. However, in case of Cyprus on the other hand, Turkey and Turkish Cypriots should act more in conformity with the international law.

Finally, as retired Turkish diplomat Özdem Sanberk claims, although two nations have a lot in common, the political institutions in two countries could not solve their problems and the main reason for this is Greece’s failure to recognize many problems.[85] Professor Hasan Ünal on the other hand advocates a new foreign policy for Turkey as Turkey’s hope for EU membership has faded in recent years.[86] Ünal even claims that Russia and Azerbaijan could formally recognize TRNC in case Turkey takes right steps.

Lastly, Ankara should be also aware of the fact that during the 1987 Aegean Crisis and 1996 Kardak Crisis it was mainly NATO and the U.S. that prevented a possible military clash between two sides but now Washington clearly supports Athens. Thus, Turkey should be cautious to take its steps. The reason for this is that, in case of a war between Greece and Turkey, U.S. could be involved militarily (French involvement is not expected) and more importantly, although Turkey might prevail militarily as in the case of Cyprus intervention in 1974, this might not be enough to solve the problem diplomatically/politically.

Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ



[1] Mehmet Babacan (2022), “Türkiye-Yunanistan Gerilimi: Yüksek Tansiyona Rasyonel Zeminde Çözüm Arayışları”, Uluslararası Politika Akademisi, 19.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[2] Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Dışişleri Bakanlığı, “Türkiye-Yunanistan İlişkileri”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[3] The goal of reviving the Byzantine Empire.

[4] Zafer Çakmak (2008), “The Nomination of Atatürk by Venizelos for the Nobel Peace Prize”, Erdem İnsan ve Toplum Bilimleri Dergisi, No: 52, pp. 91-110.

[5] Stelyo Berberakis (2020), “30 Ağustos Zafer Bayramı: Venizelos, Atatürk’ü Nobel Barış Ödülü’ne aday gösterirken ne demişti?”, BBC Türkçe, 30.08.2020, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[6] Alan Cowell (1987), “Greeks and Turks Ease Aegean Crisis”, The New York Times, 29.03.1987, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[7] Ibid.

[8] Stavros Atlamazoglou (2022), “How the US defused a deadly showdown between 2 NATO allies’ special-operations forces”, Business Insider, 08.05.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[9] Faruk Bildirici – Medya Ombudsmanı (2020), “Nefret söylemi ve savaş çığırtkanlığı aldı başını gidiyor”, 28.08.2020, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[10] Stephen Kinzer (1999), “Earthquakes Help Warm Greek-Turkish Relations”, The New York Times, 13.09.1999, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[11] For details, see; Ozan Örmeci (2020), A Turkish Social Democrat: İsmail Cem, İstanbul: Libra Books.

[12] N. Emel Ganapati & Ilan Kelman & Theodore Koukis (2010), “Analysing Greek–Turkish disaster related cooperation: A disaster diplomacy perspective”, Cooperation and Conflict, Vol. 45, No: 2 (June 2010), pp. 162-185.

[13] Fikriye Susam Uyar (2016), “’Cem-Papandreu Uluslararası Barış Ödülü’ ilk sahiplerini buldu”, Anadolu Ajansı, 16.04.2016, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[14] Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Dışişleri Bakanlığı, “Türkiye-Yunanistan İlişkileri”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[15] Behlül Çetinkaya & Mümin Altaş (2021), “Türkiye ve Yunanistan arasındaki istikşafi görüşmelerin 61. turu yapıldı”, Anadolu Ajansı, 25.01.2021, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[16] Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Dışişleri Bakanlığı, “Türkiye-Yunanistan İlişkileri”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from; Hellenic Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Turkey”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[17] Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Dışişleri Bakanlığı, “Türkiye-Yunanistan İlişkileri”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[18] Ibid.

[19] International Crisis Group (2021), “Turkey-Greece: From Maritime Brinkmanship to Dialogue”, Report no: 263, 31.05.2021, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[20] European Parliament (2019), “Parliament wants to suspend EU accession negotiations with Turkey”, 13.03.2019, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[21] Hellenic Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Turkey”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[22] For a research on the history of this problem, see; Örmeci, Ozan & Kısacık, Sina (2020), “Cutting the Gordian Knot: Turkish Foreign Policy Towards Cyprus During AK Party Era (2002-2020)”, Studia i Analizy Nauk Polityce, no: 1 (2020), pp. 21-64

[23] For instance, resolution no 353 mentioned about “all States to respect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Cyprus”. See; In addition, resolution no 541 of 1983 underlined that the declaration of TRNC is “incompatible with the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee”. See;

[24] Voice Kıbrıs Haber (2022), “Tatar “Negotiations will not start without acceptance of sovereign equality””, 16.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[25] See;

[26] TRT Haber (2022), “Yunanistan’da mülteci değil, terör kampı: Lavrion”, 05.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[27] Hürriyet Daily News (2022), “Greece hosts some 10,000 FETÖ members: Official”, 14.08.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[28] Hellenic Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Turkey”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[29] TRT Haber (2022), “Yunan medyası, Lavrion Kampı’nda aklamaya çalıştığı PKK’nın varlığını ifşa etti”, 06.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[30] Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Lausanne Peace Treaty”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[31] “Treaty: Treaty of Peace with Italy, signed at Paris, on 10 February 1947”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[32] Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Lausanne Peace Treaty”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[33] Sedat Ergin (2022), “President Erdoğan’s new rhetoric towards Greece”, Hürriyet Daily News, 08.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[34] CNNTürk (2022), “Miçotakis’in son açıklamaları Türk-Yunan ilişkilerini nasıl etkiler? Zuhal Mert Uzuner anlattı”, 17.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[35] Serhat Güvenç (2022), “Serhat Güvenç yazdı: Yunanistan’ın acelesi ne?”, Medyascope, 04.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[36] Ibid.

[37] See;

[38] Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Background Note on Aegean Dispute”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[39] Ibid.

[40] These are 10 principles of the agreement:

  1. The two parties agree that the negotiations shall be frank, thoroughgoing and pursued in good faith, with a view to reaching an agreement based on their mutual consent with regard to the delimitation of the continental shelf as between themselves.
  2. The two parties agree that these negotiations shall by their very nature be strictly confidential.
  3. The two parties reserve their respective positions with regard to the delimitation of the continental shelf.
  4. The two parties undertake not in any circumstances to make use of the provisions of this document, or such proposals as may be made by either side during these negotiations, outside the context of the negotiations themselves.
  5. The two parties agree that there shall be no statements or leaks to the press on the contents of the negotiations, unless they decide otherwise by common accord.
  6. The two parties undertake to refrain from any initiative or act concerning the Aegean continental shelf that might trouble the negotiations.
  7. The two parties each undertake, so far as their bilateral relations are concerned, to refrain from any initiative or act likely to throw discredit on the other.
  8. The two parties have agreed to study the practice of States and the international rules on the subject, with a view to eliciting such principles and practical criteria as might be of use in the case of the delimitation of the continental shelf between the two countries.
  9. To that end, a mixed commission will be set up to be composed of national representatives.
  10. The two parties agree to adopt a gradual rhythm in the negotiating process to be followed, after mutual consultation.

See; Türk – Yunan İlişkileri, “Bern Agreement between Turkey and Greece (11 November 1976)”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[41] BBC News Türkçe (2022), “Ege sorunu: Yunanistan ve Türkiye hangi konularda anlaşamıyor?”, 26.07.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[42] Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Dışişleri Bakanlığı, “Başlıca Ege Denizi Sorunları”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[43] It is available here;

[44] Yeni Şafak (2018), “Yunanistan’ın 12 mil kararı savaş sebebi sayılır”, 27.10.2018, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[45] Ibid.

[46] Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Background Note on Aegean Dispute”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[47] Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Background Note on Aegean Dispute”, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[48] See; Ozan Örmeci (2020), “Hagia Sophia Controversy: The Changing Status of the Historical Sanctuary”, Uluslararası Politika Akademisi, 18.07.2020, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[49] CNNTürk (2022), “Fatih Kaymakamlığı’ndan ‘ekümeniklik’ açıklaması”, 15.08.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[50] International Crisis Group (2021), “Turkey-Greece: From Maritime Brinkmanship to Dialogue”, Report no: 263, 31.05.2021, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[51] For an analysis on these moves, see; Alper Gülbay (2022), “2020 Yılı Özelinde Yunanistan-Güney Kıbrıs Rum Yönetimi İkilisinin Ege Denizi ve Doğu Akdeniz’de Gerginliği Artırıcı Faaliyetleri”, UPA Strategic Affairs, Vol. 3, No: 1, pp. 168-199.

[52] Hürriyet Daily News (2022), “‘Greece violated Türkiye’s airspace, waters 1,123 times this year’”, 05.09.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[53] Hürriyet Daily News (2022), “Greece activates S-300s against Turkish F-16s over Aegean”, 28.08.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[54] Hürriyet (2022), “Son dakika: Türkiye S-300 tacizini NATO’ya taşıyor!”, 31.08.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[55] Hürriyet (2022), “ABD eski büyükelçisi Bryza’dan ‘Yunanistan’ yorumu: ‘Türkiye sağduyulu davrandı ve NATO’ya gitti’”, 21.09.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[56] Hürriyet Daily News (2022), “Ankara to send radar traces of S-300 harassment of Turkish jets to NATO”, 31.08.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[57] Hürriyet Daily News (2022), “Greek harassment of Turkish jets by S-300s not acceptable: Akar”, 29.09.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[58] Hürriyet Daily News (2022), “Defense Minister urges Greece to refrain from hostile acts”, 02.09.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[59] Hürriyet Daily News (2022), “Erdoğan warns Greece over Aegean airspace violations”, 04.09.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[60] Hürriyet Daily News (2022), “Greek PM says he is open to meeting Erdoğan”, 12.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[61] This speech can be seen from here;

[62] Cumhuriyet (2022), “Erdoğan: Artık benim için Miçotakis diye birisi yok”, 23.05.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[63] Tasos Kokkinidis (2022), “Erdogan Threatens Greece: “We May Come Suddenly One Night””, Greek Reporter, 03.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[64] Sedat Ergin (2022), “President Erdoğan’s new rhetoric towards Greece”, Hürriyet Daily News, 08.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[65] Hürriyet Daily News (2022), “Turkish FM warns Greece against provocation”, 12.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[66] Ekathimerini (2022), “Dendias: Greece ‘deconstructs Turkey’s unfounded claims’ with arguments”, 18.06.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[67] Ahmet Gençtürk (2022), “Growing US military presence in Greece can lead to undesired scenarios in Aegean, experts warn”, Anadolu Ajansı, 25.05.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[68] Yaşar Anter (2022), “Yunanistan tahrikte sınır tanımıyor! Sözde ‘soykırım anıtı’ dikecekler”, Sözcü, 25.08.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[69] Hürriyet Daily News (2022), “Greek coast guard boats leave area after Turkish retaliation”, 11.09.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[70] Yorgo Kırbaki (2022), “‘Greek forces fired more than 30 times at Turkish boat’”, Hürriyet Daily News, 13.09.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[71] Al-Monitor (2022), Turkey protests US, Greece over ‘violating non-military status’ of Aegean Greek islands”, 26.09.2022, Date of Accession 27.09.2022 from

[72] Hürriyet Daily News (2022), “Türkiye dismisses EU’s criticism of Erdoğan’s Greece remarks”, 06.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[73] Derya Gulnaz Ozcan (2022), “US military gains access to more bases in Greece”, Anadolu Ajansı, 13.05.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[74] Yorgo Kırbaki (2022), “Alexandroupoli to become US naval base: Greek media”, Hürriyet Daily News, 20.09.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[75] TeleSUR (2022), “Türkiye: US Military Bases in Greece Don’t Target Russia”, 08.06.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[76] Ahmet Gençtürk (2022), “Growing US military presence in Greece can lead to undesired scenarios in Aegean, experts warn”, Anadolu Ajansı, 25.05.2022, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[77] Ensonhaber (2021), “Yunanistan’daki Amerikan üslerini gösteren harita”, 03.04.2021, Date of Accession: 26.09.2022 from

[78] Anna Wichman (202), “The Entire France-Greece Defense and Security Agreement”, Greek Reporter, 28.09.2021, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[79] Ibid.

[80] Alexandros Fotiadis (2021), “Greece, Israel sign historic $1.65 billion defense agreement”, Euractive, 19.04.2021, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[81] Rıfat Öncel (2022), “Greece’s game plan: ‘The Athenian Trap’”, SETA, September 2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[82] Ibid.

[83] Son Dakika Haber (2022), “Cihat Yaycı: Türkiye’yi Nato’dan atıp Güney Kıbrıs ve İsrail’i dahil edecekler | yunan medyası”, 13.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[84] CNNTürk (2022), “Türkiye ile Yunanistan arasındaki kriz savaşa döner mi? M. Hakkı Caşın’dan çok sert açıklamalar”, 10.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

[85] Özdem Sanberk (2022), “Türk-Yunan ilişkileri neden bir türlü rayına oturmuyor?”, T24, 19.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from,36770.

[86] Hasan Ünal (2022), “Yeni bir Yunanistan politikasına ihtiyaç var”, Milliyet, Düşünenlerin Düşüncesi, 25.09.2022, Date of Accession: 27.09.2022 from

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