Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a veteran politician and constitutional expert by training, said treaties neither need revision or updating, in reply to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's opening statements at the presidential mansion in Athens on Thursday. The latter more-or-less surprised the Greek side, and the ceremonial non-executive Greek president, by delving directly into a handful of issues complicating bilateral relations for decades, and with TV cameras running.
"There are methods to interpret the law, so that the legal precedent within the (Lausanne) treaty is adapted to existing facts. If we avoid certain conditions that don't actually apply, in a legal sense, certain misunderstandings would have ended at an earlier time."
Moments earlier, Pavlopoulos, who served as an interior minister in a previous Costas Karamanlis government, said bilateral relations must be supported by sincere friendship and the resolution of any issue with peaceful means.
Initially, Erdogan said protection of the rights of "our compatriots" in western Thrace is a top priority for Ankara, whereas another goal is a "fair and viable solution" for the long-standing Cyprus issue.
In response to Pavlopoulos' statement, Erdogan replied that "...what you (Pavlopoulos) said was fine, but I must give an answer or else it would be disrespectful to myself. I am not a legal professor but I know about political law. There is a reference there to updating (a treaty), as long as there is agreement between two states on this issue. I referred to these issues because you referred to them. Otherwise I would have discussed them with Mr. Tsipras (the Greek prime minister).
Among others, the 1923 Lausanne Treaty refers to a "Muslim minority" in western Thrace - the Greek prefectures of Xanthi, Rhodope and Evros - and to the Greek Orthodox community of the greater Istanbul area and the northeast Aegean islands of Imvros and Tenedos.
Although the Muslim community in Thrace numbers in the hundreds of thousands, and is comprised of self-described ethnic Turks, Pomaks and Muslim gypsies, the once vibrant and millennia-long ethnic Greek community in Istanbul numbers below 5,000 today. Mass land appropriations by the Turkish state in the 1960s - oftentimes to construct open prisons - and legal obstacles to primary education on Imvros and Tenedos have left the predominately ethnic Greek populated isles, prior to 1923, with only a handful of non-Muslims today, mostly elderly people.