ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey has complained to Athens about the passing of a decree accusing Turks of genocide against Greeks in the early 1920s–but Greece said the issue was historical and should have no bearing on current good relations.
The decree–accusing Turks of the massacre of Orthodox Greeks in Anatolia during Turkey’s War of Independence–was voted on by the Greek parliament two years ago. It has now been signed by ministers and is to go to the president for signing.
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said he hoped it would not be signed. “Nobody with the slightest bit of sense could ever take these claims seriously,” he told reporters in Ankara. “It is a historical fact known to all how much the Greeks used oppression and cruelty during their invasion of Anatolia.”
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry had summoned the Greek ambassador to discuss the issue on Friday. But Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said the timing of the final stages of the decree’s passage – at a time of improvement in traditionally strained bilateral relations – as coincidence. “It is a clearly historical issue–completely unrelated to bilateral relations between Greece and Turkey,” he said. “I don’t believe this will affect our good relations.”
Greece and Turkey nurture territorial disputes over several Aegean islands and are bitterly divided over Cyprus – and such issues still have the potential to be an irritant in relations.
Asked if Turkey planned to take action–Ecevit said: “It is nothing to be taken seriously. Probably some sensible people in Greece will take this bizarre thing off the agenda.” A Turkish diplomatic source added: “It’s absurd–it’s not a serious thing – except that it is serious in the sense that it doesn’t befit the climate of relations–or the climate which we’re trying to create in relations.”
The decree proposes to make September 14 a day of commemoration for the alleged genocide of Greeks in 1922.
Before World War One over a million Greeks lived in Anatolia–which they call Asia Minor–while many Muslims lived in Greece–which for several centuries until 1829 was part of the Ottoman empire. Most Greeks were driven out of Anatolia during and after Turkey’s War of Independence–which culminated in 1922. Each side accuses the other of atrocities as Orthodox Greeks fled–pursued by Muslim Turks.
Relations between the two NATO allies have thawed since major earthquakes in both countries in 1999 which sparked mutual outpourings of sympathy and aid.