Greece and Turkey squared up to each other over old disputes on Thursday during a state visit by Tayyip Erdogan to Athens, the first such by a Turkish head of state in 65 years and one which quickly exposed long-held historical grievances.
Uneasy allies in NATO and at odds over a host of issues from ethnically split Cyprus to air space, diplomatic niceties were set aside after early remarks by Erdogan to Greek media that a treaty defining their borders may need reviewing.
The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne defined the borders of modern-day Turkey, and by extension, Greece.
In an unusually blunt exchange during a welcoming ceremony, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos ruled out any change to the treaty while a stern-looking Erdogan, seated beside him, said there were details in the treaty which required clarity.
The visit earlier got off to a rocky start when Turkish F-16s accompanying Erdogan’s aircraft were headed off by Greek jets when they entered Greek airspace. The pilot of the Turkish presidential aircraft had refused to be escorted by Greek aircraft, Greek military sources said.
“This is the bedrock of our friendship,” said Pavlopoulos, referring to the treaty and pointedly telling his VIP guest he was a Professor of Law. “This is the basis which supports our friendship… this is not negotiable.”
Erdogan responded by saying it was a treaty signed 94 years ago and did not apply only to Greece or Turkey but also included countries such as Japan. It was also supposed to protect the Turkish minority in northern Greece.
In Northern Greece, he said, Greece insisted on calling the 100,000 Turkish community there Muslim rather than using the term “Turkish”.
“The necessary support is not being provided to them in terms of investments … and there is discrimination going on,” Erdogan said.
“They can’t accept the word ‘Turk’ being written outside a school,” Erdogan, who was to visit the region on Friday, said.
The two NATO partners teetered on the verge of war in 1974, 1987 and 1996 over long-running disputes on ethnically divided Cyprus, mineral rights in the Aegean Sea and sovereignty over uninhabited islets in that sea.
Although relations have improved, many Greeks believe Turkey has territorial aspirations against their country. Turkey has also accused Greece of harboring individuals involved in the coup attempt against Erdogan in July 2016.