Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Greece Thursday and urged a review of a border treaty — in what became a tense exchange with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
Erdogan’s visit was the first of a Turkish head of state to neighboring Greece in 65 years.
During his meeting with Pavlopoulos, Erdogan said the treaty — which guarantees the religious freedoms for Greece’s Muslim minority — was not not being applied properly.
“There are outstanding issues with the Treaty of Lausanne and matters that have not been addressed correctly,” the Turkish leader said in Athens, adding it should be “updated.”
“How can we say Lausanne is in effect? Lausanne is not in effect. We need to prove Lausanne’s applicability by doing this,” Erdogan added.
Pavlopoulos countered that the treaty won’t be changed.
“The Treaty of Lausanne defines the territory and the sovereignty of Greece and of the European Union and this treaty is for us non-negotiable,” he said. “It has no flaws, it does not need to be reviewed, or to be updated.”
Later, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told Erdogan that he was eager to “build bridges, not raise walls.”
“We should focus on common ground rather than disputes between us,” Tsipras said.
Erdogan told reporters before his closed-door meeting with Tsipras, “We, as Turkey, don’t have an eye on the territorial integrity of any neighboring country.” He did not specifically mention Greece.
“There are many common traits between our people, as long as we put aside those who have ideological obsessions,” Erdogan said. “We are countries that have lived in each other’s pockets in the past. If we can establish a common discourse and wisdom, we can get rid of our problems.”
Erdogan said he was concerned about the rights of ethnic Turks within Greece’s borders.
“I demanded that improvements should be made regarding the situation of the Muslim minority,” he said. “It is the Greek government’s responsibility to protect the legal rights of the Muslims in Western Thrace.”
He added that Muslims should be able to elect their own religious leaders in Greece rather than being appointed by the government.
Erodgan also demanded the return of eight members of the Turkish armed forces who fled to Greece in a military helicopter after a failed Turkish coup last year. Greece’s Supreme Court blocked the extradition in January.
The two countries remain divided on Cyprus, which Ankara invaded in 1974 after a military coup backed by Athens. The island then was divided into a Turkish Cypriot state in the north and a Greek Cypriot administration in the south.
“Our aim is to find a permanent and fair solution on Cyprus, and find the same in the Aegean,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan visited Greece as prime minister before becoming president, and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim went there in June.
The last time a Turkish president visited Greece was Celal Bayar in 1952.
During his two-day visit, security was tight in Athens with more than 2,800 police officers on duty. Erdogan was traveling with some 200 security guards and special agents.
By Allen Cone