NEWS

Erdogan visits W. Thrace

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ended his three-day groundbreaking visit to Greece on Saturday with a private visit to the northeastern border town of Komotini, where he met with members of Greece’s Muslim minority. Although the visit was fraught with political risk for the Greek government – as Athens rejects the demand by many members of the minority to call the minority Turkish – Erdogan pulled off the visit with great diplomatic tact. «I believe wholeheartedly that a strong Greece will provide you with greater benefits,» he told minority members. At 10.10 p.m. he left Kavala airport for Istanbul. «My visit to Greece contributed to the development of friendship and peace between the two countries,» Erdogan said on his return to Turkey. «I had the opportunity to discuss developments in Greek-Turkish relations and (Turkey’s) procedure toward EU accession. The Greeks repeatedly stressed that they will not back down in providing support to Turkey in the process of EU accession,» he said. «The most important issue concerns the Aegean, but we are on a good path. Officials from both sides are continuing their work. Later, together, we will discuss the thorny issues,» Erdogan said. Referring to his visit to Western Thrace, he said: «What matters in politics is not to make enemies but to make friends. We are developing our policy in this direction.» Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis gave the government’s position on the first visit to Western Thrace by a Turkish leader since 1952. «We broke down a taboo in Thrace. After 52 years we hosted – and in a very pleasant atmosphere – a Turkish prime minister, showing that with self-confidence we look to the future together, that we are not governed by insecurity and past suspicions,» Stylianides told NET state television. In Komotini, Erdogan visited Turkey’s general consulate, where he met with the Supreme Advisory Council of the Turkish Minority of Western Thrace. He avoided visits to the offices of organizations that have not been recognized by the Greek State, such as the Turkish Youth of Western Thrace and Union of Turkish Teachers of Western Thrace. Greece says that according to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the minority is religious in nature and not ethnic. Officials say about half the minority’s members are ethnically Turkish. Addressing members of the minority, Erdogan said, «Difficulties and problems do exist. But don’t forget that these things happen in all parts of the world. Our minorities too have problems.» Although the Muslim minority was isolated and subject to administrative discrimination in the past, in recent years Greece has worked to assimilate it into the general population. This has been helped by the general improvement in Greek-Turkish relations.