Turkey condemns Greek deputy foreign minister’s ‘SofaGate’ comments

Turkish Foreign Ministry strongly condemned “immoral comments” by Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiodis on bilateral relations and controversy surrounding a meeting between EU leaders and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday. 

Speaking to Greek radio station Parapolitika earlier in the day, Varvitsiodis said Ankara’s increasingly assertive stance on regional issues was impacting relations with Athens. 

“Turkey’s restlessness and erratic moves could spill over into Greek-Turkish issues. It has become involved in all the conflicts in its neighbourhood, bringing more friction than benefits to Turkey’s politics,” Varvitsiodis said.

Varvitsiodis also commented on the controversy over Erdoğan’s meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel in Ankara on Tuesday.

Von der Leyen was left standing without a seat, visibly perplexed as Erdoğan and Michel sat in two gilded Ottoman-style chairs at the presidential palace in Ankara. After an awkward moment of silence, von der Leyen was offered a seat on a beige sofa four metres away.

“The awkward position von der Leyen found herself in – with nowhere to sit during the talks – was a dramatic scene for Europe following Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention,” Varvitsiodis said.

Last month, Erdoğan withdrew Turkey from the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe charter that includes measures to counter violence against women.

“We think it is intentional that the Greek authorities are persistently continuing their provocative and escalating statements and actions against our country and putting Varvitsiodis forward for that purpose,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a written statement.

“We invite the Greek political leadership to act responsibly, with prudence and sincerity in their statements regarding Turkey so that the dialogue channels between the two countries function again,” the ministry added.

Relations between Turkey and Greece have deteriorated in recent years over a range of issues including overlapping territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean and access to recently discovered hydrocarbons in the region.

The two countries re-started the exploratory talks in January, ending a five-year hiatus. The agenda of the talks, which are meant to precede official negotiations, has, however, also become a cause of dispute.