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Greece And Turkey Seek To Work Together


Greece and Turkey were once sworn enemies. Now they're working on a cautious friendship. This week, Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the first Turkish head of state to visit Greece in 65 years. But even as Erdogan praised this newfound detente with Greece, he also brought up some old grudges. Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The grumbling began even before Erdogan showed up. In an interview earlier this week in Istanbul with Greek journalist Alexis Papahelas, Erdogan talked about a touchy subject - the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne which defines modern Turkey's borders.


PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) The Treaty of Lausanne doesn't just concern Greece but all of the region. Treaties need to be updated. And considering all that's changed in the world, Lausanne needs updating, too.

KAKISSIS: Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years. Greeks and Turks fought bloody wars as it fell. And even as relations improved over the years, territorial disputes remain. As recently as 1996, the countries almost went to war over an uninhabited islet in the Aegean Sea. In a tense press conference with Erdogan, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said the Lausanne Treaty defines the sovereignty of Greece and the European Union.


PRESIDENT PROKOPIS PAVLOPOULOS: (Through interpreter) It is non-negotiable. It has no flaws. It does not need to be reviewed, and it does not need to be updated.

KAKISSIS: It was left to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to smooth things over.



KAKISSIS: "Your visit is an opportunity to build bridges, not walls,'' he told Erdogan. "We hope you feel the same way."

Many Greeks don't trust Erdogan. Athenian Danae Parissi says she does not understand why her government is backing Erdogan's bid to make Turkey part of the European Union.

DANAE PARISSI: The truth is that he has no place in the European Union coming to visit the European Union because he is not a democratic leader. He's actually a dictator. And we shouldn't be open to a visit from him.


KAKISSIS: Turkish journalist Cevheri Guven had gone to jail for challenging Erdogan in the past. After last year's failed military coup, Erdogan cracked down on those he saw as enemies. And journalists were one of his targets.

CEVHERI GUVEN: (Through interpreter) My wife and I were listed as enemies of the state. We hid out in Turkey for a while and then decided we had to get out. We fled to Greece.

KAKISSIS: The couple claimed asylum in Greece last year along with more than a thousand other Turks. They include eight military officers who fled after the coup. Erdogan wants Greece to hand them over. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.