Turkish relations sour
President provokes Greek hosts with demand for redefined borders
ATHENS, Greece — Turkey’s president made a landmark visit to Greece on Thursday, but any expectation for improved relations was quickly deflated by his call for changes to an international treaty that defines the borders between the countries.
The visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was not his first — he had visited Greece twice before as prime minister — but it was the first by a Turkish president in 65 years.
With Turkey’s relations with Europe and the United States deteriorating, there had been hopes that Erdogan’s visit might portend closer relations with Greece and greater stability in the region.
Instead, Erdogan provoked his hosts even before landing in Athens. In an interview published in the Greek daily
Kathimerini on Thursday, he suggested an “update” of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which defined Turkey’s borders with neighboring countries after World War I.
He repeated the demand at a tense, televised news conference with his Greek counterpart, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
“There are outstanding issues with the Treaty of Lausanne and matters that have not been addressed correctly,” Erdogan said. It should be “updated,” he added.
Pavlopoulos, clearly uncomfortable, countered that the treaty was “nonnegotiable.”
Greek news media condemned the Turkish leader’s stance as “provocative” and “unprecedented.”
Erdogan has been raising the issue of the Lausanne Treaty since last year’s failed coup, calling it unfair, a public stance that is considered provocative not only toward Greece, but even in Turkey because it questions the very legitimacy of the republic that was established on the foundations of the treaty.
He has insisted that the treaty is unfair because it handed islands close to Turkey’s shores to Greece. He also referred to Greece’s Muslim minority as a “Turkish minority,” a term regarded in Greece as suggesting territorial aspirations.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told him that he was eager to “build bridges, not raise walls,” and he stressed the need for “respect for international law, treaties and of the territorial integrity of countries.”