Greece rejects Turkish minister’s comments on Muslim minority
ATHENS – Greece reacted angrily on Sunday to a statement by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who described members of a Muslim minority in northern Greece as Turkish and said they did not enjoy full civic rights.
Cavusoglu’s statement, during a private visit to the Thrace region in northern Greece on Sunday, preceded his official talks Monday with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Athens.
The two foreign ministers clashed openly last month at a press conference in Ankara following a meeting aimed at easing months of tension between the two historic rivals.
“We want Greece to grant the same rights that we grant to the Greek Orthodox Church and the Greek minority to Turks in Western Thrace,” Cavusoglu said according to a video provided by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
A century after the two countries waged a war that displaced more than a million people on both sides of the border, Turkey says the region’s Muslim community of around 120,000 is a Turkish minority, a position rejected by Athens, who describes them as Greek Muslims.
“Turkey’s continued efforts to distort reality, as well as its allegations of lack of protection of the rights of these citizens or of discrimination, are unfounded and are rejected in their entirety,” said the spokesperson for the Greek ministry. of Foreign Affairs, Alexandros Papaioannou, in a press release.
The two countries, both members of the NATO alliance, disagree on issues ranging from competing maritime territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean to the status of Cyprus and the treatment of migrant ships.
They came close to armed conflict last year when warships on either side maneuvered close to each other in contested waters during a stalemate over energy exploration.
Tensions have eased slightly in recent months, and officials resumed exploratory talks on their differences earlier this year after a five-year hiatus.