Antonis Pasvantis / Reuters A Frontex helicopter patrols over a Syrian child that has just arrived at a beach at the Greek island of Lesbos, August 10, 2015.

The Gulf in the Aegean

How to Set the Boundaries Between Greece and Turkey

The Greek island of Kos lies just 2.5 miles across a narrow channel from the popular Turkish coastal resort of Bodrum. For years a nearly forgotten dot on a map, this sometimes treacherous crossing has become all too familiar, as thousands of migrants, mainly refugees from Syria and beyond, risk their lives each day trying to make their way over the chilly waters. 

Under a deal struck in early March between the European Union, the migrants’ target destination, and Turkey, their chief transit country, the flow of people may ease. Something else that the deal might ease: tensions between two historically hostile NATO members, Greece and Turkey.

Signs of rapprochement are everywhere. Since late March, Turkish monitors have been based in some of the Greek islands to observe the transfer of refugees and migrants back to Turkey as part of the recent migrant deal. Their presence seems to mark another positive step in a long-running process that began in earnest back in 1999. That was when successive earthquakes hit Istanbul and then Athens, prompting a wave of sympathy and contact between the two countries.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutogluand his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras buy simit, traditional sesame bread, during a sightseeing tour in the Aegean port city of Izmir, western Turkey, March 8, 2016.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras buy simit, traditional sesame bread, during a sightseeing tour in the Aegean port city of Izmir, western Turkey, March 8, 2016.

Since then, bilateral trade has jumped, professional exchanges have soared, and the country’s respective prime ministers have handed out roses on the waterfront at Izmir, which was formerly the largely Greek inhabited city of Smyrna and is still a touchstone for Greek nationalist sentiment.

Yet, just around Bodrum’s corner, a few miles offshore, a tiny islet known as Imia in Greece and Kardak in Turkish comes into view. A few months ago, this nondescript lump covered in wiry brushwood and maquis was the scene of an angry confrontation between Greek and Turkish coast guards over who had the right to rescue refugees shipwrecked on its shores. The Greeks reportedly took them in the end.

In early 2015, too, a Turkish submarine surfaced between the islet and two Greek fishing boats to keep them away, and in 2014, a standoff between Greek coast guards and another Turkish sub brought angry

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