Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was self-confident and determined when he went on board of the airplane for an official visit to Greece. The first visit of a Turkish president to Athens after 65 years was supposed to be historical and groundbreaking for the bilateral relations. But Erdogan got the whole visit wrong. In an interview to a Greek outlet a day before his visit he set aside diplomatic red lines and unfolded the agenda he had in mind with his Greek hosts: the Lausanne Treaty should be updated, he said, and asked for more rights for the Muslim Minority in Thrace which he considers as “our Turkish brothers”. He complained about “some islands in the Aegean Sea” and the air space Greek FIR and claimed there should also be revisions “in the measurements.”
He is invited to Greece and tells his hosts that he wants to change the borders between the two countries? A grave mistake.
A grave mistake because the Greek government had decided to not push this provocation under the red welcome carpet and immediately respond to him, right there, in front of Greek, Turkish and international cameras and journalists. An open and transparent tit for tat strategy, a bold move on the Greek side that stunned locals and foreigners who were following the meetings live.
Finally, Greeks had gotten rid of their decades-long defeatist approach to Turkey and told bylling Erdogan how the wind blows.
First, it was the President of the Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who put his fingers on the open wounds and told Erdogan right after the welcome ceremony that the Lausanne Treaty was non-negotiable.
The Turkish president felt obviously cornered to have to discuss issues with his Greek counterpart in front of the cameras. This does not happen during official visits, where state normally exchange diplomatic niceties and argued behind closed doors.
“Short reckonings make long friends,” Pavlopoulos told Erdogan and I must admit i thought I have never heard such a clear message in the long years of covering and folloing official visits.
What it looked as a faux pas by Pavlopoulos as he gave Erdogan the opportunity to speak out about the Turkish claims inside the Presidential Manor turned out to be the new Greek strategy: Talk about everything in front of the journalists and the people and clearly tell the choleric Turkish president that his demands are unacceptable.
The torture continued at the meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. At the joint press conference, Tsipras stressed the need to end Turkish airspace violations in the Aegean, adding that retaining Turkey’s casus belli threat against Greece (if the latter should choose to extend its territorial waters to 12 miles) is inconsistent with cultivating a good climate between the two countries.
On the issue of the Muslim minority and Erdogan’s claims, Tsipras made clear that the members of the minority are Greek citizens and their rights or needed reforms were “a domestic issue.”
The Greek Prime Minister spoke of “freedom of religion” in the country and said that in contrast to Turkey that holds Muslim prayers in Agia Sofia “we do not try to hold Greek Orthodox messes in mosques,”
Tsipras did not hesitate to speak about another issue that poisons the bilateral relations: Cyprus. “The Cyprus issue remains open because 43 years ago there was an illegal invasion and occupation of [northern] Cyprus” Tsipras said in front of a grimy looking Erdogan.
On the Lausanne Treaty revision, he urged Erdogan “Let’s go seek Japan!” as it was one of the 11 countries that signed the Treaty in 1923.
Tsipras told clearly Erdogan that Greece does not have expansion aspirations to other countries.
To Erdogan’s complain that “Muftis in Thrace are appointed and not elected as the members of the Patriarchate in Istanbul,” Athens explained to him that “muftis do not excersice religious duties only but they also function as judges.”
What Erdogan said to his Greek interlocutors is not of great significance. He has been saying the same things all the time.
Throughout the day, the atmosphere was frosty. Erdogan’s wife, Emine, unexpectedly cancelled a visit to the Acropolis Museum. A literally last minute cancellation due to a – diplomatic ? – sickness, while Tsipras’ partner Betty Baziana was already at the meeting point.
The two ladies shared a tea and exchanged present in the Grande Bretagne Hotel where the Turkish guests were staying.
Emine Erdogan was fit to attend the official dinner.
Frozen faces, while President Pavlopoulos speaks at the official dinner.
As I write this post it is not clear whether Emine Erdogan visited a charity together with Pavlopoulos’ wife scheduled for Friday morning or if she was ‘sick’ again. Or in a hurry to leave Athens together with her husband – and never return.
Friday morning Turkish President Erdogan, his wife and his huge entourage got on board of their airplane and left for Thrace. Half an hour earlier than scheduled. The Turkish guests are on a private visit to the Muslim Minority. Greek diplomacy has forbidden open gatherings and holding of Turkish flags during the President’s visit.
The Muslim minority in the North-East region of Greece consist to 1/3 of Turkish speaking folks who were exempted from the population exchange of Lausanne Treaty, to 1/3 of Pomaks, Slavic Muslims mainly from Bulgaria, and to 1/3 of Roma.
According to unconfirmed information, buses full with Turks were to travel from Bursa and other Turkish cities to Thrace in order to make it possible for Erdogan to turn his visit in the area into a nationalist show.
Let him do it. The next Turkish president to visit Greece will be in 1065 years.
And then this lol!
— Mark Lowen (@marklowen) December 7, 2017
But nothing compared to this!
— Omaira Gill (@OmairaGill) December 7, 2017
PS Erdogan could have used his visit to Athens to come closer to European Union that has broadly isolated him since beginning of the year. He did not. He felt much too self-confidence. A grave mistake.