(Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused Turkey’s leadership of undermining peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean region at time of war but assured Turkish people that Greece is not a threat to their country.
The two countries – North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies but historic foes – have been at odds for decades over a range of issues including where their continental shelves start and end, energy resources, overflights in the Aegean Sea, the status of demilitarised islands and divided Cyprus.
“Turkey’s leadership seems to have a strange fixation with my country. … They threaten that Turkey will come at night, if it so decides. This is the language of an aggressor,” Mitsotakis said, during his address to the United Nations General Assembly.
“From the UN I would like to address … the Turkish people directly: Greece poses no threat to your country. We are not your enemies, we are neighbours,” he said. “Let us move forward.”
Long-existing tensions between the two countries have flared up recently. Greece complained to NATO and the United Nations this month over what it called “inflammatory” statements by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan accused Greece this week of “crimes against humanity”, referring to its treatment of migrants, and earlier this month of occupying islands in the Aegean Sea that have a demilitarised status.
Greece says Turkey is challenging the Greek sovereignty of the islands and is exploiting the migration issue.
“Greece will not be bullied by anyone,” Mitsotakis said on Friday, adding that Ukraine is not the only country in postwar Europe to have been attacked and that Cypriots have lived since 1974 on a split island as result of an illegal Turkish invasion.
During his speech, Mitsotakis also referred to Greece’s standing demand for the permanent return from the British Museum in London of the Parthenon marbles.
The sculptures were removed from the Parthenon temple, a 5th-century BC architectural masterpiece, in Athens in the early 19th century by British diplomat Lord Elgin at a time when the country was under Ottoman rule.
“No matter how long it will take, the Parthenon marbles will eventually be coming home,” the conservative premier said.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; editing by Jonathan Oatis)