Visiting Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu clashed Thursday during an unusually frank and heated press conference in Ankara.
The full-blown confrontation, running the gamut of issues pervading Greek-Turkish relations, lasted more than half an hour, suggesting that despite the public statements about the bid to establish a positive agenda, both during Dendias’ meeting with Cavusoglu and the earlier one with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a wide chasm remains.
In both meetings, the Turkish side raised the issue of the Muslim minority in Thrace, but also the need to set up joint committees for the restoration of Ottoman monuments in Greece. Turkey also accused Greece of 18,000 migrant pushbacks, something that Athens rejected.
On the other hand, both men hailed the relaunch of exploratory talks between Athens and Ankara and called for a de-escalation of tension.
“Greece and Turkey are destined to live together in a region with many complex problems,” Dendias said, stressing that progress cannot be achieved unless there is a “de-escalation of incendiary actions and comments.”
Dendias also lashed out at “constant” Turkish violations of Greek airspace and the Law of Sea, warning Ankara that its actions in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean are undermining its aspirations to European Union membership.
“If this is what Turkey wants – and I certainly hope that it does – then it must start respecting the Law of the Sea,” Dendias said, adding that Turkey’s casus belli threat against Greece “is an attitude not in line with good-neighborly relations.”
“Turkey continues to reject the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, part of the European acquis. A typical example is the Turkish-Libyan memorandum that has been condemned by the European Council,” Dendias said.
“If you heavily accuse my country and people before the press, I have to be in a position to respond to that,” Cavusoglu replied, while stressing that Turkey’s seismic surveys in the East Med are “entirely legal.”
Cavusoglu also said the right of Muslims in Thrace to “call themselves Turks is a human right, regardless of what treaties [Lausanne] call them.”
He also dismissed Dendias’ comments on possible EU sanctions as “unacceptable.”
“You did not expect me to act as if nothing was going on in the Aegean and the East Mediterranean,” Dendias said in response.
“Turkey has made 400 overflights over Greek territory, Mevlut, above Greek territory. There is no provision in international law that allows flying over the ground itself. I’m not talking about the sea,” he added.
The Turkish foreign minister also reiterated calls for the demilitarization of several Greek islands in the Aegean, saying in response to comments by Dendias about violations of the Treaty of Lausanne that “you only bring up what suits you.”
Dendias retorted however that the islands are militarized for a reason as there are Turkish military forces on the opposite coast.