Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and others that he welcomes the return of Istanbulite Greeks back to their ancestral homes.
According to Turkish media, Erdogan hosted a Ramadan dinner on Wednesday in Istanbul in honor of religious minority leaders, where he reportedly issued an invitation to Greeks who left Turkey in past decades to return to their country and protect it.
The story broke after a front-page story was featured in Turkish daily Sabah, titled “Erdogan appeals to Greeks: return to your homes.”
Bartholomew, who was accompanied by Elder Metropolitan Emmanouel of Chalcedon, expressed wishes to Erdogan and Muslims on the occasion of Ramadan, while also thanking the Turkish president for his warm wishes to Christians in Turkey on the occasion of Orthodox Easter.
The Cyprus News Agency reported that the chief executive of Balikli Greek Hospital, Constantinos Ioannides, was also present at the Iftar dinner.
Bartholomew expressed wishes to Erdogan and Muslims on the occasion of Ramadan, while also thanking the Turkish president for his warm wishes to Christians in Turkey on the occasion of Orthodox Easter
“This was the best situation to date, it was nice, very nice,” Ioannides said, adding that Erdogan spoke to each and every person in the room.
The Turkish president emphasized that minorities were important values in the country, according to Ioannides, who added that Erdogan said people there lived in unity, equality, and peace, without discrimination.
“Just one look at his face was enough to appreciate his respect, love, and honesty,” the hospital chief said.
CNA also reported that the Turkish president touched on the Armenian issue during the event. Erdogan described US President Biden’s recent remarks as “unfortunate,” saying “claims of genocide had no bearing on us” and suggesting that Biden acted based on what he had heard from others.
Last month Biden used the weighty word “genocide” in a statement after giving a heads up to Erdogan, with the US commander in chief saying the move was meant to honor “"all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today."
Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One. But Ankara contests the figures and further denies killings were either systematically orchestrated or constituted a genocide.
After the Greco-Turkish war in the early part of the century, a period marred by conflict and nationalist sentiment, population exchanges took place between Greece and Turkey concerning their respective religious minority populations, Greek Christians in Turkey and Turkish Muslims in Greece.
Based on the Lausanne Peace Treaty, about half a million Turks left their ancestral home in Greece and over twice as many Greeks left Turkey, with roughly over a hundred thousand on each side remaining in Istanbul and Western Thrace respectively.
The governments of two countries and NATO allies have criticized each other over the treatment of minorities.