When Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was arrested in February 1999, it marked a turning point in relations between Greece and Turkey. As the country's most wanted man, his arrest was greeted with jubilation throughout most of Turkey. However, it also led to a public outcry when it emerged that he had been captured leaving the Greek Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. This was seen as definitive proof that the Greek Government had been aiding and abetting the PKK. In the days and weeks that followed the arrest, relations between the Aegean neighbours sank to their lowest level since the summer of 1974, when Athens and Ankara had come to the brink of war over Cyprus. However, by the end of the year, the picture could not have been more different. An improbable series of events that included a regional conflict, two major disasters and the death of a senior Greek politician had led to a complete transformation in the relations between the two countries. The crowning moment of this change came in December when Greece dropped its long-standing opposition to Turkish candidacy for EU membership. How did this remarkable change come about? Who should take the credit?
And what did it mean for diplomatic relations in the Eastern Mediterranean? This is the story of how two countries started down a path to peace after decades of tension and hostility and how, over the course of one monumental year, relations between Greece and Turkey went from the brink of conflict to an unprecedented affirmation of friendship and solidarity.
James Ker-Lindsay is Senior Research Fellow at Kingston University, specialising on Greek-Turkish Relations and the Cyprus Issue. Prior to this, he served as the Co-ordinator of the Greek-Turkish Forum at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies. In addition to speaking on Greek-Turkish issues at numerous conferences, he is also a regular commentator for the international media, including the BBC, CNN and Reuters and is Co-Editor of the Cyprus Review. From 2000-2005, he covered Greek and Cypriot politics for the Economist Intelligence Unit.