Athens — Relations between Greece and Turkey -- historically stormy -- are the best they have been for 20 years, according to both Greek and Turkish officials. High-level meetings among government leaders within the next few months are predicted by sources on both sides.
However, a period of testing still lies ahead, they caution.
With Greek elections due by next November, old worries and prejudices again are surfacing, helped along by the ambitions of Greek opposition leader Andreas Papandreou. These are problems rooted in 100 years of Greek-Turkish struggle at the end of the Ottoman Empire and a series of 20th-century understandings and estrangements.
"Technical problems between us are not hard to solve," a Turkish diplomat active in the Greek-Turkish dialogue told the Monitor. "But the emotional ones, the lack of trust between our two peoples, are."
Threads of mutual agreement on technical matters can be traced throughout 1980. In the spring, some progress was made on the problem of military airspace rights over the eastern Aegean. In October, Turkey gave its approval to Greek reentry into the military structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, from which Greece resigned in 1974 to protest Turkey's intervention in Cyprus.
For its part, Greece, which on Jan. 1 became the 10th full member of the European Community, says it will not block the eventual entry of Turkey into that organization (although many EC analysts believe Turkey could not join until 2000 at the earliest).
Greek involvement in the EC also is thought to offer the possibility of new regional relations between Athens, Ankara, and the Balkan states.
Greek-Turkish detente likewise is helping facilitate talks in Cyprus between the ethnically Greek and ethnically Turkish communities. Negotiations are to resume Jan. 7, and many diplomats are optimistic about the prospects.
A Turkish official admits that Turkish relations with Greece are a benchmark for Turkish relations with the West in general. "Problems with Greece are a barrier, a handicap, and tend to obscure Turkey's more important problems, such as stability and development," he said.
"We see no problem as such with Greek-Turkish relations at present," Greek Foreign Minister Constantine Mitsotakis said in a recent interview. He said the generals now ruling Turkey have "thus far shown they have good intentions."
But the capitals of Athens and Ankara still face major differences that could upset eastern Mediterranean stability. In Athens, these differences are being exploited primarily by Andreas Papandreou, head of the opposition to the administration of Greek President Constantine Caramanlis. Mr. Papandreou, for example, last week reported that the Caramanlis government has accepted gradual demilitarization of the eastern Aegean islands as part of the deal allowing Greece to return to NATO.
Greek forces are stationed very near the Anatolian mainland on the isles of Mytiline (Lesbos), Khios, Samos, Rhodes, and the Dodecanese. The military buildup began in 1960 after Cyprus became independent and was acknowledged by the Greek military junta in 1974.
Mr. Papandreou says any demilitarization of the islands which "are under the immediate threat of Turkish armed forces, would be a nationally unacceptable act." Mr. Mitsotakis denies there is such an agreement, defends Greece's right to defend its territory, and maintains: "Consolidation of mutual trust, which will come from settlement of all problems that caused disagreements between the two countries, would by itself settle this question."
Observers of the Greek political scene say Mr. Papandreou, leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, is playing on fears of Turkey for political gain. He appears to be recalling the supernationalistic "grand idea" of Greek expansion into territories once held by Alexander the Great.
A Turkish official claims his colleagues are concerned that Greek nationalists could begin another of the periodic episodes of Greek territorial expansion. He admits that some Greeks "still seem to fear that Turkey wants to resuscitate the Ottoman Empire," an idea he dismisses as "baseless."
Compounding the eastern Aegean problem is the fact that Turkey garrisons 250, 000 soldiers in Thrace, near the Greek frontier, and in the past year created an Aegean Army with headquarters in Izmir. But Wester analysts maintain these bases are meant by Turkey to bolster defense of Istanbul and the Bosporus strait to the Black Sea from Soviet attack.