As of November 2, earthquakes in the Aegean Sea off the island of Samos in western Turkey and eastern Greece have killed at least 81 people.
After the earthquake on October 30, Greek Prime Minister Mizotakis and Turkish President Erdogan both expressed their willingness to provide assistance if the other country needed it.
Some public opinion believes that “earthquake diplomacy” is expected to become an opportunity to improve the tension between Turkey and Greece.
“At this moment we need to stand together”
When the magnitude 6.6 earthquake occurred, both Istanbul, Turkey and Athens, the capital of Greece, felt the earthquake. After the main shock, hundreds of aftershocks occurred, and the earthquake also triggered a small-scale tsunami.
As of November 2, the earthquake has caused at least 81 deaths in both countries. Among them, at least 79 people died and more than 900 were injured in Turkey.
Greek Prime Minister Mizotakis called Turkish President Erdogan about the earthquake and wrote on social media: “No matter what the differences, at this moment our nationals (of the two countries) need to stand together.”
Erdogan tweeted back: “Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. Two neighboring countries have shown mutual support in difficult times, which is more precious than many things in life.”
Contrary to the style in which the leaders of the two countries expressed mutual support in the face of natural disasters, in recent months, the two sides have had constant disputes over the delimitation of the Eastern Mediterranean and the development of oil and gas resources.
Turkey sent the “Oruchi Reis” exploration ship to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on August 10 and sent warships to escort it. The exploration ship was withdrawn in mid-September. As the earth-moving vessel operation area is located in the disputed waters between Turkey and Greece, the earth-moving exploration activities are strongly opposed by Greece.
The differences between Greece and Turkey on the development of oil and gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean have a long history. In the past month, the conflicts between Turkey and Greece have been escalating. On October 12, Turkey once again dispatched the “Oruchi Reis” exploration ship to the Eastern Mediterranean, triggering a new round of diplomatic friction between the two sides. Greece requested the Turkish side to withdraw the ship, and Turkey continued to extend the operation period of the exploration ship.
Prior to this, the two countries had separately held maritime military exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean, which caused the regional situation to heat up.
“Earthquake Diplomacy” Makes Headlines
Following the active interaction between the leaders of the two countries, the term “earthquake diplomacy” has dominated the headlines in many mainstream media in Turkey and Greece. Public opinion generally hopes that the Aegean earthquake will become an opportunity to improve the tension between Turkey and Greece.
The Turkish newspaper “Freedom” pointed out that the bilateral relations between the two countries showed new trends in the earthquake; the article in Turkey’s “New Dawn” pointed out that this “earthquake diplomacy” is of great significance.
The mainstream Greek newspaper “Novi” commented that the leaders of the two countries “communicated with unity rather than harsh language”. This earthquake tragedy may prompt the two sides to take the first step towards “relaxation” in the recent oil and gas dispute.
However, this is not the first time “earthquake diplomacy” has occurred between the two countries. Turkey is located in an earthquake-prone zone. In 1999, two consecutive earthquakes of magnitude 7 or higher occurred in northwestern Turkey, killing about 18,000 people. At that time, Greece was one of the countries that provided assistance to Turkey.
After the Aegean earthquake, the memories of the people of the two countries about the great earthquake in 1999 were awakened, and the “earthquake diplomacy” formed at that time resurfaced.
Hand in hand to fight against disasters is the current major event
A natural disaster caused innocent people in Turkey and Greece to suffer. In the face of the disaster, the two countries released goodwill to each other and jointly rescued the disaster from a humanitarian perspective, showing civilized warmth.
In addition to natural disasters, the two countries are currently facing multiple pressures such as Coronavirus pandemic and regional conflicts. At this time, working together to fight against disasters and overcome difficulties is the current major event.
In November 2019, Turkey and the Libyan Government of National Unity signed a memorandum of understanding on “maritime jurisdiction” in the Mediterranean, seeking to obtain a larger exclusive economic zone in the Eastern Mediterranean, but it was strongly opposed by Greece, Cyprus and Egypt.
Earlier this year, Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed an agreement to lay a natural gas pipeline in the Eastern Mediterranean. In August, Greece and Egypt signed a maritime boundary agreement, and the two sides announced that they would establish a maritime exclusive economic zone. Turkey is strongly dissatisfied with this and believes that the area covered by the agreement is located within the Turkish continental shelf.
Since then, Turkey has restarted natural gas exploration activities in the disputed waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, which was opposed by Greece and Cyprus.