Turkey “welcomed” the launch of Confidence Building Measures talks with Greece with air space violations and a provocative statement by the Foreign Minister who calls the “Muslim minority of Greece” as “Turkish.”
The armed forces of Greece and Turkey began meeting in Athens on Monday in the framework of military talks on the Confidence Building Measures (CBM).
Officially the talks focus on selecting activities related to confidence building between the two countries in order to prevent tension and to reduce the risk of accidents.
Unofficially, the reality is quite different and grim.
While the two delegations sat around a table to discuss easing tension, Turkish fighter jets F-16 were conducting Greek airspace and Athens Flight Information Region (FIR).
The F-16 violated Greek airspace 34 times and the FIR 6 times.
They flew in several regions of the Aegean Sea, mainly between the islands of Lesvos and Limnos and Rhodes.
In all cases, the Turkish jets were recognized and intercepted by Greek fighter jets.
At the same time, the talks were accompanied by provocative statements with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, to claim that the Muslim Minority* in Western Thrace “is and remains Turkish.”
Demokrasi’nin beşiği olduğu söylenen bir ülkenin Cumhurbaşkanı yine Müslüman Türk azınlığa Yunan Müslüman azınlık demiş. Avrupa İnsan Hakları Mahkeme’sinin onca kararına rağmen. Siz ne derseniz deyin; Batı Trakya Türk Azınlığı yüzyıllardır Türk’tü, Türk kalacak..!
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) February 18, 2020
“The president of a country that is said to be the cradle of democracy has again called the Muslim Turkish minority a Greek Muslim minority. Despite the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. Whatever you say the Turkish minority of Western Thrace has been Turkish for centuries and will remain Turkish,” Cavusoglu tweeted.
During a visit in the area mid-January, President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos spoke of “Greek Christians and Greek Muslims.”
The CBM talks will continue until February 21.
*The Muslim minority of Greece is the only explicitly recognized minority in Greece. It numbered 97,605 (0.91% of the population) according to the 1991 census.
The Muslim minority of mainly Western Thrace in North-Eastern Greece consists of several ethnic groups, some being Turkish and some Bulgarian-speaking Pomaks, with smaller numbers descended from Ottoman-era Greek converts to Islam and Muslim Romas. The precise identity of these groups is in contention with Turkey insisting that most Muslims in Western Thrace are ethnically Turkish, and Greece claiming many are Pomak and others of local origin who converted to Islam and adopted the Turkish language and identity in the Ottoman period. These arguments have territorial overtones, since the self-identity of the Muslims in Western Thrace could conceivably support territorial claims to the region by Turkey. Mor eon the issue here.