Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated:
“Mr President, dear Nicos, I welcomed you to Athens today, as always in a climate of friendship and co-operation, just before the critical meeting of the European Council which, as you know, will focus on the Recovery Fund.
Namely, the new financing mechanism which will allow the economies of Member-States and of Europe as a whole to tackle the impact of COVID-19. This is of particular interest to both our countries which have been affected by the slowdown that the pandemic has brought on the critical tourist industry. I should say that, on this issue, we share the same positions, which also coincide with those of most of our partners.
We insist on the entire amount of aid proposed by the European Commission. We support the position that the main part should be grants rather than loans and, of course, we insist that no conditionalities be attached to such aid. Besides, the current European Union framework functions smoothly and is, indeed, rather strict, where necessary.
This is a wager for Europe regarding one of its fundamental values: Solidarity and balanced development. But it is also a challenge in terms of the way our European family reacts to current issues. As I personally explained to the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, with whom I spoke on the telephone again yesterday after the end of the Summit, we must not return to our countries without a commonly acceptable solution.
The markets have already welcomed this bold European response, at least, as proposed by the European Commission. They are now anticipating its implementation. We must, therefore, act quickly. The Commission’s proposal brings hope. It is complex. It requires fruitful compromise. I am certain that there will be compromise, since the second wave of the pandemic is lurking and the Recovery Fund’s procedures must not only be effective, but also very fast.
With President Anastasiades we also reviewed the overall developments in our broader region, which are, unfortunately, becoming increasingly tense by Ankara’s aggressive stance. Regrettably, its rhetoric and actions have been consistently outside the realm of International Law, provoking all its neighbours. They openly violate the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus and Greece alike. I would say that they turn against Europe as a whole, not just our two countries. There are numerous provocations which, as I said, are targeted not only to our two countries, but to the entire Europe, since they are launched by a state which, technically, is a candidate for accession to the European Union. Therefore, they call for a single European response.
Therefore, we, Greece and Cyprus, are coordinating our actions, as we have always done, and declare that the challenge our sovereign rights and international legality marks the time for a more vigorous response.
United in its resolve, Europe must now prepare a specific list of actions and sanctions against a country that seeks to play the role of a regional trouble-maker but is also becoming a threat to the stability throughout the south-eastern Mediterranean.
Greece and Cyprus, and I need to stress this, have never refused dialogue in good faith. However, such dialogue must be based on the principles of International Law, the principles of good neighbourly relations, and, most of all, the principles of respect for the sovereign rights of each country. Without extortionist practices and underlying threats for use of violence.
With my friend Nicos, we also discussed President Erdogan’s unprecedented decision on Hagia Sophia. A decision which, undoubtedly, hurts us deeply as Greek Orthodox Christians, but also as citizens of the world. This is not a Greek-Turkish matter, it is not even a Euro-Turkish matter, it is a global, a universal matter.
With this retrogressive move, Turkey has chosen to sever its ties with the West and its values. It has abandoned a centuries-old cultural acquis, and opted for introversion, wrapping an artificial mantle of power around what, in essence, is an act of weakness. Because reducing such matters to mere levers of domestic manipulation can only imply weakness.
Besides, throughout its history, Hagia Sophia, this masterpiece, has followed a universal path. It has been an Orthodox church, a Catholic church and a Muslim mosque, until it finally became a World Heritage Monument, which cannot be changed. And so, even those who desecrate it, are forced to call it by its Byzantine name: Hagia Sophia. Because history teaches us that the heritage of this world cannot be used as a tug-of-war between states, and that monuments cannot be humiliated; they rather humiliate those that disrespect them.
Hagia Sophia is bigger than all of us. So, it will continue to stand tall, radiating as it has since the 6th century, carrying its historic and artistic load intact. Its reach extends above and beyond countries and religions, and its magnitude is greater than that of any administrative decision.
After this insult to it, of course, the question rises whether Hagia Sophia will continue to enjoy the special privileges of a UNESCO World Heritage Monument, and whether it would be fair for UNESCO to offer its immense prestige, and everything that this entails, to the supposedly host-country.
Faced with this unnecessary, petty initiative on the part of Turkey, Greece is examining its response options on all levels. In any event, this symbol of peaceful co-existence, religious tolerance and civilisation cannot be held captive of political manipulations, nor can it be restricted to the narrow confines of the current circumstances. Besides, for centuries, Hagia Sophia has warned pilgrims and visitors with an inscription upon its water font: “Nipson anomēmata mē monan opsin”. Wash your sins, not only your face.
Dear Nicos, once again, welcome to Athens. You have the floor”.
The President of the Republic of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades, said:
“Prime Minister, my dear Kyriakos, it is truly a great pleasure to be visiting Athens, and I am also particularly satisfied with the outcome of our meetings. Meetings which were intended to address, as is usually the case when we face critical issues, either at the European level or at the level of the Hellenic Republic or the Republic of Cyprus, the three issues that my friend, the Prime Minister, has already mentioned.
Our positions on the first issue coincide with those of the majority of European countries, and this requires some sort of coordination, since we all know the room for manoeuvre we have in order to address the financial crisis and the problems that have ensued as a result of the pandemic.
The second issue that we discussed – as I said, our positions are fully aligned on the first issue, but also on the second and third ones – was how to address the challenges we are facing as a result of the violation of International Law and of the European values and principles, by a country that is still a candidate country.
What both our countries are seeking is dialogue, peace and stability in the region. We are not the ones provoking anyone. On the contrary, we are being provoked through unlawful acts. And it is not just Greece and Cyprus that are being provoked, it is Europe.
I would like to reassure you, to my great satisfaction, that our two governments have excellent coordination and a common resolve to address this aggression, not through similar provocations, but by seeking to have a substantial dialogue, a substantial intervention by the European Union in the essence of the matter, that will create the conditions for a substantial dialogue leading to peace, stability, and, of course, the respect of International Law and the European principles and values.
These are the beliefs of Europe, the beliefs of Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, and this is the direction in which we are working. And I am pleased to say that we have reached common conclusions following our talks. We will not allow Turkey’s pursuits to prevail. We will not succumb to its provocation to create an unnecessary crisis.
What we will jointly do is see how we can mobilise the European Union more effectively. We will invoke the sensitivities of our European partners, not only to the violations of International Law and the European principles and values, but also to what no one expected a secular state to do, namely convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
Hagia Sophia belongs to the Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants around the world who respect cultural heritage. Because Hagia Sophia is a legacy – if you will, a cultural heritage that does not discriminate based on religious identity but has symbolised a masterpiece of the 6th century.
Consequently, we will act together and will be joined by civilised people, politicians and citizens from around the world, to send a powerful message that it is inconceivable, at this day and age, to show such shameless contempt to cultural heritage monuments.
Kyriakos, thank you very much, and I feel the need to express the gratitude of Cypriot Greeks for the age-long active support of the rights of the Republic of Cyprus, covering not only Greek-Cypriots but my fellow-countrymen the Turkish-Cypriots as well. Thank you warmly for your hospitality and I wish the very best for Greece and for Cyprus”.