Our Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu put Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in his place during Thursday’s press conference, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday, adding: "Çavuşoğlu could not be expected to remain silent."
"Greece still appoints mufti of Western Thrace Turks as if it is a public official; whereas the (Greek Orthodox) Patriarchate chooses its own administrators via Holy Synod," Erdoğan continued during a speech with reporters following Friday prayers.
Following a meeting in Ankara, the foreign ministers of both countries got in front of the cameras for a joint press conference. The conference opened with conciliatory remarks from Çavuşoğlu in which he praised "the very positive dialogue" they just held in the Turkish capital.
But Dendias used his opening remarks to rattle off a series of longstanding complaints about Turkey – from its search for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean to its treatment of the Greek Orthodox minority and the sides' ongoing dispute about migrants.
"It is in our interests that minorities in both countries live in peace, it will have a positive impact on our relations," Çavuşoğlu said. He replied to his Greek counterpart's accusations with regard to alleged violations of sovereignty and remarks over minorities, saying: "Turkey does not violate Greek sovereignty, that is unacceptable."
"Besides, we recognize our Greek minority as 'Greek Orthodox' but Greece fails to recognize Turkish Muslims as Turkish Muslims," Çavuşoğlu added. Referring to the Turkish minority in Western Thrace, Çavuşoğlu further stressed, "If they say they are Turkish, they are Turkish. You have to accept it."
"Turkey has implemented many inclusive practices with regard to its minorities. Such a positive approach is what we expect from Greece concerning its Turkish Muslim minority in Western Thrace," he said. He noted that Ankara is capable of protecting the rights of both Turkey and Turkish Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean.
"Turkey has continued its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean according to the continental shelf map it has submitted to the (United Nations)," he said. "In addition, Greece keeps military forces on islands bound to be demilitarized by international law."
The two NATO allies have been at odds over decades-old issues including the extent of air and maritime boundaries in the Aegean Sea and the future of the divided island of Cyprus. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots ruled out discussing a federal system to reunify the island, insisting that a two-state accord is the only way forward. Turkey has also been irked by Greece’s militarization of islands close to the Turkish mainland.