by Aggelos Skordas
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s official two-day visit to Athens, the first of a Turkish President in 65 years, on Thursday was tense, while usual diplomatic niceties were set aside. What was seen as a historic chance for the two countries to find common ground on a number of open issues and decade-long disputes played out to be yet another display of Erdogan’s ambitions, which were not left unanswered by his Greek counterpart Prokopis Pavlopoulos during his on-camera welcoming at the Presidential Mansion.
Erdogan’s aircraft landed at Athens’ International Airport “Eleftherios Venizelos”, at 10.42am local time and the Turkish numerous delegation was welcomed to the Greek capital by Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. After the standard wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Syntagma Square, where both national hymns of Greece and Turkey were played, the Turkish President was welcomed by his counterpart at the Presidential Mansion on downtown Herodes Atticus Street.
Pavlopoulos: Treaty of Lausanne is non-negotiable
After Erdogan’s claims -during an interview to Greek TV network SKAI and Alexis Papahelas- regarding the reassessment of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne -that defined modern-day borders between the two neighbouring countries following decades of war- Greek President ruled out any possibility of changes to the treaty. On his behalf Erdogan insisted there were details of the Treaty that need to be clarified. “For this visit to be historic, complete respect for international law and the European acquis is essential”, Pavlopoulos said, adding that “the Treaty of Lausanne had laid the foundations for the friendship between the two countries and it was what should support that friendship”. “For us, the Treaty of Lausanne is non-negotiable and does not need to be revised”, Pavlopoulos underlined during their first on-camera tete-a-tete. “There are some details in the Treaty of Lausanne that are not clear. You have expressed some truths, openly and straightforwardly.
“There are some details in the Treaty of Lausanne, which are not properly understood. This is an agreement signed 94 years ago and not just between Greece and Turkey”, Erdogan replied while naming Japan as one of these countries, with Pavlopoulos stressing the importance of respect to international law. Moreover, Erdogan referred to the 100,000 members of the Muslim minority living in Thrace as “Turkish” and said they are being subjected to discriminations as they are not provided with the necessary support. He also said that the European Court of Human Rights supported defining members of the minority as “Turkish” rather than solely “Muslims. The Turkish President is scheduled to hold a private visit to the region, before leaving Greece, on Friday.
Tsipras: Understanding and dialogue key to good-neighbourly
After the tense meeting with his Greek counterpart the Turkish President was received by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at his Maximos Mansion office. After welcoming Erdogan, Tsipras stressed: “You are well aware that my wish is the relations of the two countries to be in a framework of cooperation and good-neighbourly relations and I strongly believe in the Greek-Turkish friendship of the two countries, as I have proven as Prime Minister. Especially during these difficult times for our region, with tensions and challenges, such as the refugee crisis, the crisis in Syria and the tension in the relationship between Turkey and Europe. And I believe it is our responsibility to establish understanding and dialogue in order to find solution to complex problems and challenges. This was the reason that I urged the President to invite you as it is not a historic event only your visit but also the invitation aiming at building bridges and not to raise walls. I want to believe that this is your aim as well, but allow me to say that, because I am an engineer, I know that in order to build bridges we need solid foundation. And this means that they must be based on mutual respect, international law, respect for international treaties and the territorial integrity of the two countries. Differences between the two countries have always been present, your views are known as well as our views are known and clear. The most important is beyond the differences to try and find convergences and express our disagreement in a constructive manner, without provocation, but with mutual respect.”
On his behalf Erdogan, among others, said that it is an honor for him to be the second President to visit Greece, after the official visit by the late President Celal Bayar: “As I said during the meeting with the President of the Hellenic Republic, I believe that both Turkey and Greece must believe in something. They must believe that they must focus on the part of the glass that is full and not the empty part. We need to build our discussions on this idea. Our peoples have very much common. But we need to set aside those with ideological obstinacy. We never, as a country, the Turkey Republic, covet another country’s territory. We are two countries, two peoples that used to live very close with each other. Therefore, there are many expatriates living in your country. As well as many Greek expatriates living in Turkey. I wish that the mistakes had not made by previous policies that led to the departure of citizens who were members of the minority in Turkey and that we had not been in the situation we are today. But I believe that the mistakes made are part of History and we must build the future based on what you have said on strong foundation. And I believe there are many things that can be done to lay strong foundation. If we could agree based on certain principles of mutual reason, common ground, if we can form a common rhetoric, I think we can solve many of the problems.”
Treaty of Lausanne, airspace violations and Cyprus issue centered at Tsipras-Erdogan joint press conference
Later, during a joint press conference, the Greek Premier resumed on the Treaty of Lausanne characterizing it as the “keystone” of the relations between Athens and Ankara, while pointing out the importance of enhancing channels of communication. He also urged Turkey to put an end to airspace violations over the Aegean Sea and to repeal casus belli threat against Greece, in case the latter extend its territorial waters to 12 miles, in line with international maritime law. “We spoke openly with the Turkish President in our effort not to hide behind disagreements. We wanted to identify them but to discard misunderstandings and clarify what each of us means. We talked about tension in the Aegean. I have stressed that Turkish airspace violations must be terminated. The increased violations of Greek airspace and especially the dogfights in the Aegean Sea are a danger to our relations and, above all, a danger to our pilots”, he characteristically said. Referring to the Muslim minority of Thrace the Greek Premier said that it should be uniting the two countries rather than dividing them. On the longstanding Cyprus issue Tsipras underlined that it has not been solved for 43 years: “However, we must not forget that this issue remains open because 43 years ago there was an illegal invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus. This is why it remains open”, he underlined repeating Greece’s solid and timeless position for a united, federal Cyprus with no foreign troops presence, based on the United Nations framework.
Erdogan reiterated his view that the Lausanne Treaty needs to be “revised”. “The Lausanne Treaty was signed by 11 countries. Are there only provisions for the Aegean in the treaty? Isn’t there anything about the status of the two minorities? In western Thrace we have a Muslim minority and we believe there can be new thoughts on this issue», he stressed adding that despite the issues of the Aegean are tricky they can be resolved through dialogue. Answering to journalist’s on what is the meaning of those “revisions” he is suggesting for the Treaty of Lausanne he clarified that his country “does not covet the territorial integrity of any neighboring country”. Referring to Cyprus, he said Greece and Turkey are seen by Cypriots as “motherlands”. “We want a fair and viable solution. This is what the Greek side wants as well, but we have last-minute issues arising which could be considered as evasions, so that we do not reach any conclusion”, Erdogan said. Finally, he once again called Greece to extradite the eight Turkish army officers who fled Turkey after the failed coup in July 2016: “The coup plotters can be returned to Turkey which is a country that has abolished the death penalty, where there is no torture, and I hope Greek justice will listen to us on this issue.”
Emine Erdogan cancelled scheduled visit to the Acropolis Museum with Greek Premier’s wife
Among the rocky moments of Erdogan’s official visit to Athens, is his wife’s Emine cancellation of her planned joint visit to the Museum of Acropolis with Greek Premier’s wife Betty Baziana. The Turkish first lady said she was feeling malaise and asked to meet Baziana at the Athens central hotel where the Turkish delegation resides. Furthermore, according to unnamed Greek military sources, earlier when Turkish President’s jet was entering the Greek airspace the pilot refused to be escorted by Greek F-16 aircrafts.
During Erdogan’s Athens official visit and despite the ban imposed by the Greek Police members of the Kurdistan Cultural Center marched in central Athens, demanding the release of the militant PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) leader Abdullah Ocalan held in custody in Turkey since 1999. They also protested against the Turkish state’s violence targeting Kurdish people and characterised Erdogan as a “dictator”. “He is the person who has carried out slaughters in Kurdistan for years, and his visit to Greece, the birthplace of democracy, is unacceptable”, a statement issued by the Kurdish Cultural Center reads.