Five weeks into being held in Turkey – after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ office said they would have been swiftly returned – two Greek soldiers facing charges after accidentally crossing the border were to have a visit by an envoy from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, whose office is in Constantinople.
The Metropolitan of Adrianoupolis Amphilochios was dispatched for the meeting, Bartholomew said, after delivering his message for Orthodox Easter.
Bartholomew, who is the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, said Amphilochios will express the Church’s support and its wish for their swift return to their families and duties, said Kathimerini.
The Church received permission from the the Turkish authorities after several days of efforts, he said. “We have been waiting for this response from Ankara for many days and we are delighted it came with the Resurrection. We express our joy and our emotion,” he said.
The soldiers are being held in a prison in Edirne and so far have been charged with illegal entry but there are fears that espionage counts could be added to up the pressure on Greece to return eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum after fleeing a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July, 2016 in which they said they took no part.
The anti-nationalist Tsipras, head of the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA party, had tried being delicate over the issue but with Erdogan also provoking tensions in the Aegean, called him a a “sultan,” as did Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who said the Greek soldiers are being held as hostages and bargaining chips to force the return of the Turkish soldiers.
Major rival New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke of the Greek soldiers and said that, “I urge them to find strength in their faith and in the support they have from all of us. They will soon be with us again,” speaking from the island of Tinos where was spending the Easter holiday.
The families of Angelos Mitretodis and Dimitris Kouklatzis were allowed to visit the soldiers at the prison in Edirne where they are being held, while their parents also met with officials and lawyers at the Greek Consulate to be briefed on the latest developments regarding the case, the paper said.
Apart from hoping for the best, Tsipras and Alternate Defense Minister Fotis Kouvelis, who has no experience in the field, said efforts were being made for their return but would not say what they were amid reports the men could face 15 years in jail.
“unacceptable”, adding that they cannot possibly be “traded” with Greek justice decisions.
In an interview with the Ethnos newspaper, Kouvelis said that “having a firm position that the unacceptable holding of our two military officials is neither offset or traded with the decisions of the independent Greek justice, we seek their return to Greece.”
He added that, “Greece is a country of peace and this is what it wants to be promoted in the region,” but also “at the same time it can with sufficiency and preventive force protect its sovereign national rights.”
In another interview in the same newspaper, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, who promised the men would be returned within a couple of days after they were taken into custody on March 1 said that “the Greek government is applying political and diplomatic pressure for the quickest possible settlement of the issue,” but didn’t say what it was.