The upcoming meeting presents an indispensable opportunity for Türkiye and Greece to resume and normalize bilateral relations, provided that both sides are genuinely interested in engaging in meaningful and sustainable dialogue.
The author is a consultant and human rights trainer, specializing in negotiation, interethnic dialogue, and peacebuilding with international organizations. She holds a Ph.D. in intercultural studies, focusing on the Greek and Turkish cultural and ideological context.
The upcoming meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday, July 12, on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, presents an indispensable opportunity for Türkiye and Greece to resume and normalize bilateral relations, provided that both sides are genuinely interested in engaging in meaningful and sustainable dialogue.
The leaders of the two countries arrive at the summit with the confidence of having recently been re-elected triumphantly. Except for the obvious leverage involved with being at the beginning of one’s term and enjoying a strong popular mandate, what this recent victory entails for both political figures is having more flexibility and room for negotiation, as opposed to pressure that would come from a stronger opposition.
Athens and Ankara have expressed their willingness to invest in stronger regional cooperation, while there is also symbolism in the fact that the bilateral meeting was agreed and officially announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece on the day that President Erdogan called the Greek premier to congratulate him on his success.
From geopolitical disputes to solidarity
The last meeting held between Erdogan and Mitsotakis was in March 2022, in Istanbul. Although this had ended in a positive atmosphere, throughout the months that followed, the relations between the two countries had gone through fire and water. From the re-escalation of long-running conflicting interests in the Aegean to the controversy emerging from adopting different diplomatic stances on issues related to the Russia-Ukraine war, and from energy-related disputes involving the island of Cyprus and Libya to strong disagreements over the management of the refugee crisis, the heated rhetoric and continuous tensions had resulted in the two countries’ freezing their bilateral relations at multiple levels. Geopolitical disputes inevitably had negative implications on how the two societies also viewed each other, but also provided space for the rise of populist discourse and propaganda. 
This negative narrative changed dramatically last February, when the Greek government exhibited a swift response to the devastating earthquakes in Türkiye, by initiating an immense solidarity campaign together with Greek civil society and local trade unions.  As it has happened again in the two countries’ turbulent shared past,  Turkish-Greek relations were “rescued” by support exhibited during a tragedy. Uniting forces against this disaster was not only a priceless lesson on humanity and the importance of good neighbor relations, but also an opportunity for both nations to challenge persistent reciprocal stereotypes about each other that they had been preserving for years. The artificially created image of Greece’s EMAK rescue unit  soldier holding a wounded child amid the ruins of the city affected started as a symbol of Turkish-Greek solidarity, but soon spread globally as an ecumenical token of peace and humbleness, extending beyond political, historical or cultural differences.
Preserving the positive agenda
In view of the bilateral meeting, the Greek government emphasized the need to build on the positive momentum created through earthquake diplomacy and work on restoring reciprocal trust.  In this context, Athens is expected to navigate the Wednesday discussion in line with its so-called “positive agenda”: Redefining the context of bilateral relations and exploring constructive synergy with Ankara in the fields of economy, bilateral trade, security and civil protection, yet without negotiating issues identified by the Greek government as “red lines,” such as the demilitarization of the islands and the Blue Homeland doctrine. Addressing the Hellenic parliament on July 6, 2023,  the Greek prime minister had mentioned, among others, that Athens would be willing to discuss only one dispute with Ankara and in particular, the definition of the “continental shelf” and “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ). Mitsotakis has emphasized the importance of acknowledging the existence of disagreements on a number of issues, but at the same time, maintaining communication channels open for the sake of security and stability in the wider region.
An optimistic, yet, also, reserved approach is to a large extent reflected in the local media. The dominant news outlets in Greece see the upcoming meeting as an essential and positive step in the normalization of bilateral relations and an opportunity for rapprochement through dialogue after a long period of tensions. As one would expect, there are also voices of skepticism, drawing on a consolidated rivalry between Türkiye and Greece, which will remain for as long as there are unsolved, divergent, and ambiguous perspectives on history, memory, and ethos.