In a visit marred by tense exchanges and rebukes, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the rights of Turkish-speaking Muslim minority in Western Thrace to be respected.
The Turkish leader’s trip to northeastern Greece, home to a Turkish population, aroused a spirited fervor among the region’s Turks.
“We (Turkey) continue to work hard to improve the quality of life of our Greek origin citizens, like our citizens. And we believe it is our right to expect the same approach from Greece,” Mr. Erdogan said during a speech in the town of Komotini.
Nearly 1,000 members of the minority group — which numbers between 120,000 and 150,000 in total — warmly welcomed the Turkish president to the region which borders Turkey.
Mr. Erdogan’s official visit to Greece on Thursday was the first by a Turkish president in 65 years.
He denounced the “discrimination” of the Muslim minority during talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, citing terms in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty which he said had not been “respected.”
The treaty, which defined the borders of the Turkish state at the end of the Ottoman Empire, includes a Greco-Turkish chapter devoted to minority rights.
Contrary to its terms, Athens appoints religious jurists known as muftis instead of allowing the local community to do so, the Turkish president said in Athens.
“You are the bridge between Turkey and Greece, we see you like this,” Mr. Erdogan told the crowd as he called for “unity” and “solidarity.”
“Right now, in the Greek parliament, four MPs represent you. These lawmakers must work hard.”
Mr. Tsipras on Thursday countered President Erdogan’s claims by urging him to speed up social reforms in Turkey, where many are still imprisoned after a crackdown by his government that followed the attempted army coup last year.
President Erdogan’s remarks for revising borders between the two countries sent a chilling echo, aired unexpected feeling of shock among the hosts during the press conference broadcasted live on TVs.
The Turkish leader’s call for revisiting Lausanne Treaty stumbled into a swift rebuke from his Greek counterpart who reminded that the treaty could not be updated without the consent of all international powers involved in peace talks in 1923, including Japan.
For Greek leaders, the treaty has been a sensitive issue and any irredentist move to revisit it could upset the delicate balance in the region and in relations between two countries.