President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today begins the first visit by a Turkish head of state to Greece in 65 years, seeking progress on disputes that still bedevil ties that have proved relatively robust over the past two decades. With Turkey's bid to join the EU at a standstill and relations with much of the West frigid, Erdogan's trip will be only his second visit to an EU member since last year's failed coup, after talks in Poland this October. Turkey's president Celal Bayar visited Greece in 1952, the same year the two countries simultaneously joined NATO with strong American backing. Erdogan visited Greece twice -- as prime minister in 2004 and 2010 -- building on a rapprochement between Ankara and Athens that truly began in earnest in 1999 when destructive earthquakes struck both countries within weeks. The two countries have uneasy relations dating back to the creation of the modern Turkish Republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. But Erdogan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), which came to power in 2002, sought a more pragmatic relationship based on trade and tourism, and Greece became a key backer of the Turkish bid to join the EU. "Erdogan's visit can be seen as part of the long phase of rapprochement between the two countries that began in 1999," Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, director of the Centre for International and European Studies at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, told AFP. But he added that while Greek-Turkish relations can be seen as "relatively robust", none of a whole range of outstanding issues between the two sides have been resolved. "Beyond the pragmatism, a wide divide exists between the two countries," he said. Athens is unhappy over Turkey's upkeep of Byzantine heritage in Istanbul, the former Constantinople, including the Hagia Sophia, which is officially a museum but has seen an uptick in Muslim worship in the last years. Greece has also been rattled by Erdogan's sometimes angry tirades against the post World War I treaties that set the countries' modern borders and meant almost all the Aegean Sea islands are Greek territory.
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