The first thing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will do after arriving in Athens tomorrow morning will be to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Arranging this was not as simple as it seems for Turkish diplomatic protocol, as the inscriptions on the tomb memorisalise, among others, battles of the Greek Army in the Balkan Wars, the Asia Minor expedition, WW I, WWII, and Korea.
The inscriptions of Asia Minor place names were an annoyance for Ankara, but even more so Cyprus, which was added to the monument by then prime ministerAndreas Papandreou and defense minister Gerasimos Arsenis.
Still, the Turkish president cannot circumvent the protocol, as he received the invitation for the official visit – the first since Celal Bayar came in the 1952 – from the office of Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos .
The agenda for Erdogan’s talks with Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras include the migration crisis, energy issues, economic cooperation, EU-Turkey relations, regional developments, and security issues.
The presidential protocol provides for the playing of both national anthems, an honour guard of Evzones, and a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Though there was an effort on the Turkish side to avoid the wreath-laying by characterizing the trip as a working visit, the Greek Presidency’s protocol would not permit that.
Security blockades in central Athens
The security measures for Erdogan’s two-day visit are identical to those during then US president Barak Obama’s last visit to Greece. The Turkish president will have armoured cars for his movements, a system that de-activates cell phones, helicopter surveillance, and an army of secret agents for protection.
An army of 3,000 Greek policemen will patrol the streets of central Athens, where extraordinary traffic measures will cut off much of the city centre for protracted periods.
The security measures will be a bit lighter on Friday, as Erdogan will be paying a visit to Komotini, to visit with the Muslim minority in Western Thrace.
Turkish press plays up visit
The Turkish press is describing the trip as historic, as it is the first official visit of a sitting Turkish President to Athens since Celal Bayar’s 1952 visit.
Sources say that Erdogan himself has described the visit as “very important” as he believes it will be a “turning point” in bilateral relations.
The Turkish press reports that Erdogan is coming to Greece with a mind to raising certain demands and offering certain gifts.
The pro-government daily Aksam cites Greek diplomatic sources in reporting that Athens intends to extradite six Turkish military men who are supposedly implicated in the abortive coup against the Turkish president.
The same paper reported that Erdogan will offer funding to build a mosque in Athens.
The first ladies’ programme
The Turkish president will be accompanied by his wife, Emine Gulbaran Erdogan, who is of Arab descent. She will have her own separate programme, accompanied by the Greek president’s wife, Sissy Pavlopoulou, and the partner of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Betty Baziana.
The first lady of Turkey is expected to visit the Acropolis Museum and the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre.
Greek merchants may be interested to know if Mrs. Erdogan, who has built a reputation as a shopaholic, will take her stroll through the city centre, as French First Lady Brigitte Macron had done.
Many in Belgium remember Emine Erdogan’s October, 2015, visit to Brussels, when she went shopping on the fashionable Louise Avenue, stirring protests as the entire area had been cordoned off to allow her to shop in peace.
On a trip to Warsaw, Mrs. Erdogan is said to have spend 44,000 euros at an antiques bazaar.
Dinner at presidential mansion
President Prokopis Pavlopopoulos will fete the Erdogans and their entourage at an official dinner, where they will be accorded honours similar to those offered to Obama and Macron.
The 120 guests will include the Lyceum of Greek Women, the prime minister and his partner, Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis and his wife, and main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his wife. In the event that Mitsotakis cannot attend, he will be represented MP Yorgos Koumoutsakos, a former diplomat and Greek foreign ministry spokesman.