by Aggelos Skordas
After a tense day in Athens stigmatised by a verbal bras-de-fer with his Greek counterpart Prokopis Pavlopoulos over the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the Muslim community of Komotini, in Thrace, on Friday. Erdogan was greeted by the Greek Muslim crowd upon his arrival at the northeastern Greek city and attended the prayer at the Kir Mahalle Mosque before visiting a minority high school.
Amid tight security measures (including snipers of the Greek police and two helicopters), the Turkish President was received at the school’s entrance by Greece’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Amanatidis and three local SYRIZA MPs who escorted him throughout his visit. “It is my wish that both the President of the Republic [Pavlopoulos] and the Prime Minister [Tsipras] resolve your problems as soon as possible […] to further strengthen unity, coexistence and solidarity”, Erdogan said while addressing members of the Muslim minority.
Adapting a moderate language, that barely reminded his prior statements regarding the “review” of the Treaty of Lausanne, he underlined that his country is trying to strengthen co-operation with Greece, characterised the members of the Muslim minority “the bridge” that would bring the two countries closer. Despite admitting that the minority consists of several ethnic groups, though, he did not avoid referring to the crowd gathered during his visit as “expatriates” and “fellow citizens”. “You have strong faith. As Greek citizens, you have nothing to be afraid of […] Greece is a strong country and needs to find solutions for all its citizens. You have elected four MPs and you must have the courage to claim your rights”, he underlined. Referring to the Greek minority violently expelled by Turkey during the 1955 Istanbul pogrom, he reiterated that he has stressed to both the President of the Hellenic Republic and the Greek Prime Minister that compensations were paid to the Greeks of Constantinople for “past mistakes”.
The Turkish President concluded his two-day visit to Greece with a lunch at a mansion in Komotini and departed from the airport of Alexandroupolis in the afternoon. It should be noted that according to Greek government officials “there was no diplomatic incident in Thrace during Erdogan’s visit”, as several reports have claimed. According to Greek newspaper Kathimerini, when Erdogan asked for a microphone to speak to teenagers gathered at the minority school in Komotini, Deputy Foreign Minister Ioannis Amanatidis pointed out that there had been no such agreement between the two sides.
Under the Treaty of Lausanne, that Erdogan proposed to be “reviewed”, Greece and Turkey conducted a population exchange following years of conflict. All the Greek Orthodox Christians of Turkey would be resettled in Greece apart from the Greeks of Istanbul, Imbros and Tenedos, and all Turks of Greece would be resettled in Turkey apart from the Muslims of Thrace.