NATO allies Turkey and Greece have locked horns twice over the past two weeks – first after Turkey converted the 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque, and then over who gets to explore hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Relations between the two nations have seen a marked downturn this year. In February, Turkey had allowed thousands of migrants to cross the border into Greece and the European Union.
- For centuries, Turkey and Greece have shared a chequered history. Greece won independence from modern Turkey’s precursor, the Ottoman Empire, in 1830.
- The two nations continue to oppose each other on the decades-old Cyprus conflict, and on two occasions have almost gone to war over exploration rights in the Aegean Sea.
- Both countries are part of the 30-member NATO alliance, and Turkey is officially a candidate for full membership of the European Union, of which Greece is a member.
- The centuries-old Hagia Sophia, listed as a UNICCO World Heritage site, was originally a cathedral in the Byzantine Empire before it was turned into a mosque in 1453, when Constantinople fell to Sultan Mehmet II’s Ottoman forces.
- In the 1930s, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, shut down the mosque and turned it into a museum in an attempt to make the country more secular.
- For 40 years, Turkey and Greece have disagreed over rights to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, which covers significant oil and gas deposits.
- Turkey announced that a drilling ship would be exploring a disputed part of the sea for oil and gas. Greece responded by placing its air force, navy and coastguard on high alert.
- French President Emmanuel Macron expressed support for Greece, and said that Turkey should be “sanctioned” for its violations in the Aegean.