ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu began his trip to Greece on Sunday with an unofficial visit to the northeastern province of Thrace, where most of the Greek Muslim minority resides.
The official part of Cavusoglu’s trip will take place on Monday morning, when he meets his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He and Dendias will also have an informal dinner later on Sunday.
Cavusoglu arrived on Sunday by official plane in the Greek city of Alexandroupolis and traveled to the town of Komotini, where a large part of the Muslim minority resides.
“In # Greece to meet members of the Turkish minority in #WesternThrace and discuss our bilateral relationship,” Cavusoglu tweeted.
Its mention of a “Turkish minority” is diplomatically delicate, as Greece recognizes the minority as a religious minority, while Turkey designates it as a Turkish ethnic minority. Greece has attempted to promote the ethnic diversity of the minority, by highlighting its Roma and Pomak components, in an effort to contain Turkish influence and possible secessionist sentiment.
Cavusoglu met the two muftis approved by Turkey, from the towns of Komotini and Xanthi, which Greece does not recognize, having appointed his own. He also visited the grave of Dr Sadik Ahmet, who was elected to the Greek parliament in 1989 as head of the openly pro-Turkish Friendship Party. Equality and peace. It was Ahmet’s elections that prompted Greece to change its electoral law to introduce a 3% national voting threshold for parties to win parliamentary seats.
Cavusoglu also visited the Bayar Minority Gymnasium and Lyceum in Komotini, a junior and senior high school named after a former Turkish president.
He told the media after the school visit that when he meets with Greek officials, he “will address the subject of the rights of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace”.
Despite Cavusoglu’s statements about the minority, both countries expect the visit to be relatively low-key and avoid the tensions generated during Dendias’ visit to Ankara in April.) The two ministers exchanged beards and listed them. grievances of their respective countries against each other in a rare public exchange of accusations.
Greek officials see the visit as preparation for a meeting between Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in mid-June, on the sidelines of a NATO summit. The hope is that this summer will be less tense between the two allied but antagonistic neighbors than the last, when clashes over the delimitation of maritime zones and the search for oil and natural gas dominate.
The Greek and Turkish deputy foreign ministers also held talks last week on lower-level cooperation issues, such as tourism, the environment and improving transport links between the two countries.
Ayse Wieting contributed to this report from Istanbul.
Demetris Nellas, The Associated Press