When Celar Bayar arrived in Athens on November 28, 1952, he could not possibly envisage that he would be the first and only Turkish president to ever visit neighbouring Greece.
Sixty-five years later, another leader’s name will be added this week to that exclusive list.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was not even born at the time of Bayar’s trip, will land in the Greek capital on Thursday for a landmark two-day visit aimed at keeping dialogue open between two countries that have traditionally been at odds over a number of thorny issues.
“Without a doubt, President Erdogan’s visit is historic,” said Alexandra Voudouri, a foreign policy expert at MacroPolis, an Athens-based political and economic analysis website.
“It is significant, mainly for its symbolism … and comes at an extremely crucial time for the developments in the wider region,” she told Al Jazeera.
The two NATO allies have long shared a tumultuous relationship, fuelled by historical rivalries and mutual distrust stretching back centuries.
Greeks lived under Ottoman rule for some 400 years, before fighting and winning independence in the 1820s and 30s. About 100 years later, the republic of Turkey was founded by Kemal Ataturk following the defeat and expulsion of Greek forces from Anatolia by his troops.
Since then, the two neighbours have lurched through the decades surrounded by militarised disputes and bitter prejudices – as well as the occasional rapprochement.
At the worst of times, they have come close to war, as it happened in 1996 over conflicting claims to ownership of unpopulated islets in the Aegean Sea.
At the best of times, they have sought warmer ties, as it occurred in 1999 after successive deadly tremors in both countries sparked an outpouring of mutual sympathy and a political willingness to address differences in the so-called earthquake diplomacy that followed.