Lausanne Treaty binding but ‘issues’ with Thrace minority exist, Erdogan says in ‘Vima’ interview

The Lausanne Treaty is binding for Turkey, which fully respects it, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview with the Greek Sunday newspaper “Vima”. At the same time, he referred to “issues” relating to the Muslim minority living in the region of Thrace, in northeastern Greece, and noted that delineating sea zones was not the only problem in the Aegean.

“The Lausanne Treaty is the basic agreement that regulates our relations with Greece and certain other countries. Turkey is bound by and respects the Lausanne [Treaty], as it does all its other treaties and obligations,” Erdogan said.

“Starting with the minorities, it has until now implemented the Treaty with sensitivity. On the other hand, at times it happens that we face difficulties, problems or mistaken application, either on a bilateral level or in other issues,” he added.

He referred to what he called a “Turkish minority” in Western Thrace that he said “faced problems in areas such as the recognition of its ethnic identity, education and religious freedoms.” Greece does not recognise a ‘Turkish’ minority in Thrace but a broader ‘Muslim’ minority, in line with the terms used in the Lausanne Treaty.

Regarding his visit to Greece, Erdogan said that to not carry out visits on a presidential level “would not be in accord with the level of relations we would like to see between the two neighbouring countries” and stressed that dialogue was the only way for relations to develop. During his talks with Greece’s leadership, he added, they had reaffirmed a desire to strengthen ties in trade, transport and tourism.

“As two countries sharing the same geographical space we place emphasis on transport projects that will bring our peoples closer,” he said, citing plans for a high-speed rail link between Istanbul and Thessaloniki, a Thessaloniki-Izmir ferry line and a second bridge over at the Kipi border crossing.

On the Aegean, he noted that delineating sea zones was not the only problem and that many, interlinked issues needed to be resolved in ways “that take into accounts the rights and interests of both sides”.
With regard to the Cyprus issue, meanwhile, Erdogan was unrelenting in his message to the Greek Cypriot side: “they still see Cyprus as a Greek island…I would like to say clearly that this dream of the Greek Cypriots will never come to be.”

On relations with Europe, Erdogan said that full EU accession remains Turkey’s strategic goal and, in this context, “the scenario of a ‘special partnership’ has no validity for us.”