By Tom Degun

Turkey Greece agreementMarch 5 - Istanbul's bid for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics has received a hugely significant boost after Greece pledged its full support to Turkey in its efforts to secure the Games.

The two countries have had an acrimonious relationship for almost two centuries ever since Greece - the spiritual home of the Olympic Games - won its independence from the Ottoman Empire back in 1821.

But in an historic agreement, signed by both the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (pictured top, right) and the Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic Antonis Samaras (pictured top, left) Greece promised to back Istanbul's efforts to secure the 2020 Games.

The agreement was signed at the second High Level Cooperation Council in Istanbul where it was one of more than 20 signed between Greece and Turkey at the summit aimed at boosting bilateral relations across sectors like tourism, energy and telecommunications.

The Istanbul 2020 joint declaration committed both countries to "engage in cooperation with regard to the technical and related aspects in the organisation of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games" and "explore ways of enhancing the benefits of the Olympics for the two countries" and the entire region if the Turkish city is awarded the Games.

Former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou had previously promised the country's support for the Istanbul 2020 bid back in January 2011, but the official joint declaration shows an unprecedented level of commitment from Greece.

"The ties between Turkey and Greece have been strengthened thanks to the power of the Olympic Movement to build bridges," said Istanbul 2020 bid leader Hasan Arat, who attended the signing ceremony in Istanbul along with a number of senior ministers and business leaders from both Turkey and Greece.

"The closer cooperation between our countries will be a valuable and lasting legacy of our bid."

Since 1821, when Greece split from the former Ottoman Empire also historically referred to as the Turkish Empire, the two countries have faced each other in four major wars.

They were the Greco-Turkish War in 1897, the First Balkan War from 1912 to 1913, the First World War from 1914 to 1918 and the Greco-Turkish War from 1919 to 1922.

Alternating periods of mutual hostility have existed ever since but relations have gradually improved in the last decade and the latest agreement could be one of the most significant signs of cooperation between the two countries to date.

hasan-aratIstanbul 2020 bid leader Hasan Arat says ties between Turkey and Greece have been strengthened thanks to the power of the Olympic Movement to build bridges

Turkish National Olympic Committee President Uğur Erdener, who is also an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, said the importance of the agreement cannot be overstated.

"This is a very symbolic agreement for Turkey as we look to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games to our country for the very first time," said Erdener.

"Greece is the spiritual home of the Olympic Movement and I hope this connection will continue to grow the huge passion for hosting the Games.

"Exactly 94 per cent of the people of Istanbul are behind Istanbul 2020.

"We have had very close relations with Greece on sport for many years.

"I believe that this agreement will create even more opportunities."

As well as the historic significance, the agreement could prove a major economic boost for Greece going forwards.

While Greece is struggling dramatically in the worldwide economic crisis, Turkey has been largely unaffected and now has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Therefore, should Istanbul win the 2020 bid, the economic impact to the region could be vitally important in helping stabilise the Greek economy.

Istanbul are bidding against Madrid and Tokyo to host the 2020 Games, while the agreement comes as the Turkish city prepares for the visit of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Evaluation Commission later this month.

The commission, chaired by Britain's IOC vice-president Sir Craig Reedie, is currently in Tokyo before heading to Madrid on March 18-21 before concluding the inspection in Istanbul on March 24-27.

A final decision on the host of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics will be made on September 7 at the IOC Session in Buenos Aires.

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January 2011: Greece Prime Minister promises support for Istanbul 2020 Olympic bid