Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, on Sunday began his trip to Greece with an unofficial visit to the northeastern province of Thrace, where most of Greece’s Muslim minority resides.
The official part of Cavusoglu’s trip will take place Monday morning, when he will meet with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He and Dendias will also have an informal dinner later Sunday.
Cavusoglu arrived by official plane at the Greek city of Alexandroupolis on Sunday and proceeded to the city of Komotini, where a large part of the Muslim minority resides.
“In #Greece to meet members of Turkish Minority in #WesternThrace and discuss our bilateral relations,” Cavusoglu tweeted.
His mention of a “Turkish minority” is diplomatically sensitive, because Greece recognises the minority as a religious one, while Turkey refers to it as an ethnic Turkish minority. Greece has tried to promote the ethnic diversity of the minority, highlighting its Roma and Pomak components, in an effort to contain Turkish influence and possible secessionist sentiment.
Cavusoglu met with the two Turkish-approved muftis, of the cities of Komotini and Xanthi, whom Greece doesn’t recognise, having appointed its own. He also visited the grave of Dr. Sadik Ahmet, who was elected in the Greek parliament in 1989 as the head of the openly pro-Turkish Party of Friendship. Equality and Peace. It was Ahmet’s election that prompted Greece to change its electoral law to introduce a national vote threshold of 3% for parties to gain parliamentary seats.
Cavusoglu also visited Komotini’s Bayar Minority Gymnasium and Lyceum, a junior and senior high school named after a former Turkish president.
He told media after the school visit that when he meets with Greek officials, he will “bring up the subject of the rights of the Turkish minority in western Thrace.”
In response, the Greek Foreign Ministry issued a statement blasting Cavusoglu’s repeated ‘Turkish minority’ statements and calling on Turkey to stop “distorting reality.”
“The Muslim Minority in Thrace has about 120,000 Greek inhabitants. Turkey’s constant attempts to distort this reality, as well as the allegations of alleged non-protection of the rights of these citizens, or of alleged discrimination, are unfounded and are rejected in their entirety,” the statement reads.
“Greece would like to improve relations with Turkey. Respect for international law is a prerequisite.
“We call on Turkey to respect these fundamental rules, including the Treaty of Lausanne, which it has also signed and is obliged to implement.”