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Foreign Minister Kotzias’ interview on MEGA channel’s “MEGA Weekend,” with journalists D. Takis and I. Chasapopoulos (Athens, 12 June 2016)
JOURNALIST: Let’s say good morning to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias. Mr. Minister, good morning, we thank you very much.
N. KOTZIAS: Good morning to you, to your viewers, women and men, young and old. It’s just that, because I am a realist in foreign policy, I know that this is a beautiful day without my wishes, but let’s add some positive energy with the greetings.
JOURNALIST: That’s true. You are well aware that we want you here with us. We understand that your obligations don’t allow for it.
N. KOTZIAS: I have a very busy schedule.
JOURNALIST: Yes, yes, we understand that. We won’t waste any more of your time.
We invited you, Mr. Minister – and we thank you very much – regarding the two major issues that have opened up. First, let’s start with what happened yesterday, with a banner raised by some Albanians at the game with Switzerland, and they tried to create the impression that we have committed genocide. Madness!
N. KOTZIAS: The Chams of Epirus, during the Second World War, according to the data that existed, were some 18,000. Consequently, even if we were as evil as the banner said, 100,000 doesn’t exist as a number. The second thing is, there certainly wasn’t a genocide of the Chams. In fact, the leaders of the Chams in Greece collaborated with the German conqueror, founded the commissariats in the prefectures of Epirus and tried to take the place of the Greek state. They operated as collaborators and war criminals, and that is why they left on their own, because the Courts would have condemned them to death.
JOURNALIST: And there were such rulings from the Ioannina Courts for the collaborators. That is common knowledge.
N. KOTZIAS: Quite correct. What is of great political significance is that these Chams who are talking about Chameria, that is, that the borders need to change because Thesprotia belongs to Albania, are isolated even in Albania. During my trip, the Foreign Minister of Albania reiterated four times that Albania is faithful to the Helsinki agreement and recognizes the borders set down in this agreement, and that the claims regarding Chameria are illegal. And the second thing I want to say with regard to this is that it is of great importance for one not to let the Albanians, and not even the Cham Albanians, identify with this issue. Because there are 200,000 Cham Albanians who always lived in Albania, have never been to Greece, did not enter Greece during the Second World War, and there are some who say that the convictions and the fleeing of the war criminals from Greek Epirus also concerns them. They are trying to identify the two groups with one another, that is.
JOURNALIST: However, I want to ask you something. These phenomena, yesterday’s banner and when you were visiting Albania, why are we seeing the resurgence of this climate of intolerance?
N. KOTZIAS: This isn’t the first time. I think it plays a role that there are specific forces in Albania and forces that are trying to influence the Albanian political stage; forces that are not at all happy that, for some time now, we have been in a dialogue with Albania, and they are trying to undermine that dialogue.
JOURNALIST: So you are saying that the relations between the two countries are going well, and these minorities don’t want this and are trying to ruin this good climate.
N. KOTZIAS: They are trying to avert the shaping of a good climate. There are efforts towards creating a good climate, and I want to underscore here that Turkey’s influence in Albania has subsided for some time now, and particularly because the religious leaders of the Muslim Albanians are in major disagreement with the Turkish leadership, which wants to manipulate them. I think we are doing very well by not becoming part of this problem between these two leaderships.
JOURNALIST: In this jumpstarting of the Cham issue, is a role perhaps played by the fact that those who are jumpstarting it are also adding an issue of compensation, and, as they are talking about some millions of dollars, might the issue, in the end, also be economic, and they want to get money, and that’s what’s behind this whole story?
N. KOTZIAS: In Greece there are two different issues – I want you to pay attention to this. There are the so-called ‘escrows’ between the First and Second World Wars, in the 1920s and early 1930s, where there was temporary – I underscore, temporary – legal seizure of the property of Albanians and of the Albanian state, which is very, very limited, and we have told everyone that, whenever they want to and think they can, they can go to the Greek Courts and pursue their claim. This is a very limited amount of property, the so-called ‘escrows’, and it is completely different from the Cham matter. On the Cham issue we already have court rulings from right after the Second World War; rulings that allowed or imposed the seizure of property from the war criminals. This is, besides, something that happened throughout Europe.
What I want to say is, it is surprising how this banner, with the measures in place at this time, got into the stadium, and I want to stress to you that UEFA, to be fair, took it down immediately and didn’t allow it to appear on television, which was what the ones who put it up wanted.
JOURNALIST: Yes, and there are just photographs.
N. KOTZIAS: I want to say that, yesterday, our Ambassador …
JOURNALIST: That’s what I want to ask – what actions we took.
N. KOTZIAS: Our Ambassador in Bern took immediate actions to prevent repetition of the incident. We made representations to the French Republic, also for reasons of the security of the games. We made a demarche to the Albanian government, calling on it to condemn – as it did during my visit – these chauvinistic circles of the Chams, and, additionally, the Ambassadors here in Athens have been summoned to the Foreign Ministry. In this case we used all the available tools of diplomacy.
JOURNALIST: The second issue, which also concerns the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is in the news, has to do with Hagia Sophia, the reading of the Koran, etc. I read today in “Real News” a very stern statement from Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Turkey. He says that “the Turkish provocation is not directed only against Greece, but directly against European and western culture in general. Let us consider that Hagia Sophia is a monument protected by UNESCO.” Based on this statement, I also add the criticism aimed at you by the opposition: that your reaction wasn’t very acute, very strong.
N. KOTZIAS: The statement of the President of the Republic is correct, though I am not competent to judge his actions. But I am a very lucky Foreign Minister, because, beyond the very good collaboration that is very natural with the Prime Minister, I also have extremely good cooperation with a thinking and deeply humanist President, Prokopis Pavlopoulos. Our latest statement, as the Foreign Ministry, was that Turkey has not reached the 21st century in these actions, and it is precisely the same thing, that such actions are not on the level of the culture of our time. Second, what we were trying to do, and what I have been trying to do since I became Minister, is bring to the attention of all of our partners that certain differences concern European culture, as well as the interests of American citizens, and Turkish conduct. Why do I say this: Seven million American citizens are Orthodox Christians and come under the Archdiocese of North America and, at the same time, through that, the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As a result, any insult to the Ecumenical Patriarchate also concerns American citizens, and I think this argument is correct and was also confirmed by the statement made by the Americans and the Germans.
JOURNALIST: But, Mr. Minister, can I say something? We saw the State Department, with the question from Michalis Ignatios, that the U.S. came out categorically and made a stern warning to Turkey.
N. KOTZIAS: That’s exactly what I’m saying.
JOURNALIST: We didn’t do that.
N. KOTZIAS: We too were very stern, but some people are …
JOURNALIST: How were we very stern?
N. KOTZIAS: Okay, if you think we should start a war with Turkey, let us know.
JOURNALIST: No, I’m not saying that.
N. KOTZIAS: What I am saying is that I use stern diplomatic measures, as I did with Albania. I inform our partners. The opposition, as always, mistakenly – because I never talk publicly about such things before the fact – came out and alleged that I didn’t inform our partners and they weren’t taking stances. We saw, thanks to the actions of Greek diplomacy, the stances of these …
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, the Americans took such a stance. Couldn’t you or someone from the government – okay, I’m not saying the prime minister, but you or some official – come out and send a clear message to Turkey, that what it is doing …
N. KOTZIAS: I did come out. For the first time, in recent days, I have given so many interviews, precisely for this reason. While as Foreign Minister I don’t speak very often, as you know – I speak very rarely, because I have to measure my words and speak responsibly and soberly …
N. KOTZIAS: On the Hagia Sophia issue, from the day I returned from Tirana, I have made a statement every day.
JOURNALIST: Question: As you say that the position of Greece and of the Foreign Ministry was stern and correct, was it perhaps unfortunate …
N. KOTZIAS: And the statement of the President of the Republic.
JOURNALIST: And of the President – was Mr. Xydakis’ statement that “it’s not a big deal that the Koran was read in Hagia Sophia” perhaps unfortunate?
N. KOTZIAS: He didn’t say it exactly like that, and I believe that the Foreign Ministry’s announcements were correct.
JOURNALIST: That’s exactly how he said it, so I accept what you are saying. Implicitly, you are saying that he could have said something other than what was said, so that this whole image wouldn’t be created.
JOURNALIST: He could have avoided it.
N. KOTZIAS: Mr. Xydakis also made a second statement – I was still in Tirana – a clarifying statement, and there was no problem with it.
JOURNALIST: With the second statement. The problem was in the first. Mr. Minister, are we facing a change in stance on the part of Turkey, and will we see other such provocations?
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, let’s make the following distinction: Turkey is – I say this very politely and in very diplomatic language – uneasy, on edge. This uneasiness derives from two causes. The first, which is obvious, is that it’s foreign policy plans didn’t work out. It has poor relations at this time with Egypt – they aren’t even talking – it is in negotiations with poor relations with Israel, it is in a war with Syria and it is participating in the war in Iraq. It has historical differences, which also surfaced in the German Parliament’s resolution, with Armenia …
JOURNALIST: Yes, but once again we are paying for it.
N. KOTZIAS: Excuse me, we haven’t paid for anything, excuse me. Turkey has Russia on a collision course, it has the Cyprus issue pending, on which it is responsible for the illegal occupation of northern Cyprus, and it has a revanchist tendency against Greece.
These pending problems led it – together with domestic problems, especially the Kurdish issue and the front President Erdogan opened against the Gulen supporters – to have four open military fronts: the fronts with Syria and Iraq, externally, and the battle against the Kurdish Turk portion of its population and the Gulen supporters. This upgrades the army in Turkey, making it more uneasy, on edge. We believe that we cannot influence or intervene in Turkey’s domestic political life, which is moving from a prime minister-based system to presidential.
We point out our red lines, we hold them and we do not back down even a single step. We inform the international community and the European Union of every provocative move, whatever its origin, and at the same time we are obliged – and this is good – as the Foreign Ministry to have open channels of communication and discussion with the Turkish side. And, in fact, beyond the meetings I will have in international fora with the Turkish Foreign Minister, I have invited him to come to Iraklio, Crete, where I will take him to the cave of the birth of Zeus and the abduction of Europa.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, when your obligations allow, you know we would be happy to have you here in the studio so we can talk at greater length.
N. KOTZIAS: I would like that too, because our conversation is important. A thousand thanks.
JOURNALIST: We, too, thank you very much.
N. KOTZIAS: Take care.