Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, famous for his U-turns in domestic and international issues, said before a visit to Athens on Thursday that his threatening rhetoric toward Greece in the past was not meant for the country itself but for “terrorist elements,” the Greek Kathimerini daily reported.
When Erdoğan was asked about his earlier threats against Greece and his specific statement about Turkish troops descending on Greece “suddenly one night,” he said it was about “terrorist elements that threaten the security of our country.” Erdoğan did not specify which terrorist elements he meant.
The Turkish president gave a written interview to Kathimerini prior to a visit to Athens on Thursday to attend to attend a meeting of the Greece-Turkey High-level Cooperation Council (HLCC), which will take place after a seven-year hiatus during which tensions in Greek-Turkish relations ran high.
Erdoğan, who had upped his rhetoric against Greece before the presidential and parliamentary elections in May, has recently softened his tone, telling Kathimerini that he wants “a new page” with the neighboring country on the basis of the “win-win principle.”
Erdoğan said that “there is no problem we cannot solve through dialogue on the basis of mutual goodwill,” and that he will tell “my friend [Prime Minister] Kyriakos [Mitsotakis] we won’t threaten you if you don’t threaten us.”
In a statement earlier this year, Erdoğan said the “crazy Turks” will take action if Mitsotakis “does anything wrong.”
“If you attempt to arm the islands [in the Aegean Sea], will we just sit with our hands tied? Look Mitsotakis … keep this in mind, if you do attempt to do wrong [to us], the crazy Turks will take action,” Erdoğan said in a speech in January.
The crazy Turks is a reference to the “These Crazy Turks,” a best-selling novel about the Turkish War of Independence, written by the late author Turgut Özakman.
Although both NATO members, Turkey and Greece have decades-old disputes over an array of issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and disagreements over the airspace there. The friction has brought them to the brink of war three times in the last half century.
Turkey claims Greece is violating international agreements by militarizing its islands in the Aegean Sea. Greece counters that the treaties allow for a limited military presence and notes that Turkey maintains a sizable troop presence on the Turkish mainland opposite the Greek islands.
When asked by Kathimerini whether it is possible to reach an agreement to refer the dispute over the continental shelf issue between Turkey and Greece to the International Court of Justice, Erdoğan said that more issues should be included in a possible appeal.
“There are many interrelated problems that need to be solved apart from the continental shelf. When we appeal to international justice, we must not leave any problem behind,” he noted.
Erdoğan said Turkey’s will to solve the Greek-Turkish problems is strong, calling for a “similar approach” and without “external interventions from the Greek side.”