Hailing the prisoners swap between Russia and Ukraine, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara will continue its efforts to ensure peace between the two countries.
"Our efforts to establish peace between Russia and Ukraine continue. I thank (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelenskyy for enabling the prisoner exchange...This development made us very happy," Erdogan told reporters on Wednesday at the Turkevi Center in New York.
Erdogan's remarks came right after Russia and Ukraine exchanged 200 prisoners of war as a result of Türkiye's mediation and diplomatic efforts conducted with the leaders of the two countries.
"Türkiye has now received the result of its belief in the power of dialogue and diplomacy with this prisoners exchange," he added.
Erdogan said he will hold phone calls with Putin and Zelenskyy as soon he returned from New York, where the Turkish president addressed the UN General Assembly.
He added that the UN should take initiative and make more efforts to resolve the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
"Unfortunately, the UN could not end the war, could not stop the bloodshed, nor could it find a solution to the energy and food crises that emerged as a result of the war. The efforts of UN Secretary-General (Antonio Guterres) to establish the grain corridor on this issue have somewhat reassured the UN, but there is no doubt that more efforts should be made to end the war," Erdogan said.
Türkiye, the UN, Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement in Istanbul on July 22 to restart grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports, which were paused after the Russia-Ukraine war began in February.
Ankara's "only aim" is to end bloodshed and to establish peace since the Russia-Ukraine war began in February, Erdogan said, adding: "We have always expressed our commitment to Ukraine's territorial integrity, sovereignty and political unity since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Since the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia war, we have emphasized that the steps taken by Russia at this point are unfair and unacceptable."
Erdogan said Türkiye is in favor of diplomacy to resolve crisis and outstanding issues.
'Lesson in humanity'
Erdogan said he had the opportunity to support his speech at the UN General Assembly with various visuals.
"One of the photographs I showed was the dead body of baby Asim, who was 9 months old, and 4-year-old Abdulvahab, who lost their lives after Greek coast guards sunk their boats," he added.
During his address on Tuesday, Erdogan called out Greece for its “persecution” of migrants in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, saying: "Greece is turning the Aegean Sea into a graveyard for refugees with its unlawful and reckless pushbacks."
Erdogan said it is impossible to not be moved after seeing those painful photos.
"We wanted to teach the world a lesson in humanity by showing the photos of the dead bodies of these babies, and I believe we have taught this lesson in humanity."
Ankara and global rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece’s illegal practice of pushing asylum seekers back into Turkish waters and denying them entry, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.
Need for change of UN structure
Turning to reform of the UN Security Council amid ongoing deadlocks on key issues, Erdogan said US President Joe Biden's statement about the UN Security Council revealed Türkiye's rightness.
Biden voiced support for expanding the body's membership, saying permanent seats should be granted to nations in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
"They say: 'Let's both increase the permanent members and increase the temporary members'. But of course I am not at the same point. I say it should not be 'permanent and temporary'...and it is necessary to introduce a fully rotating membership system," Erdogan said.
Erdogan said the "hands up, hands up" system of the UN must end to generate solutions for a fairer world order, where all the member countries have a say.
The president always states Türkiye will continue to reiterate at every platform that "the world is bigger than five" and "a fairer world is possible."
F-16 sale talks 'going on positively'
Regarding the US sale of F-16 jets to Ankara, Erdogan said the talks are "going on positively."
"We hope that this positive atmosphere will continue. I think we will get a result from this as soon as possible. Of course, we did not have the opportunity to discuss the issue in detail with Biden at the reception. Later, we may have the opportunity to discuss these issues over telephone diplomacy," he added.
Ankara requested the F-16s and modernization kits last October. The $6 billion deal would include the sale of 40 F-16 jets and modernization kits for 79 warplanes that the Turkish Air Force has in its inventory.
In July, however, the US House of Representatives approved legislation creating a new hurdle for the sale.
It prohibits the sale unless President Joe Biden certifies that the transfer is in US national interests and guarantees to Congress that in the 120 days prior to the transfer, the Turkish government has not "violated the sovereignty of Greece, including through territorial overflights."
Türkiye, for its part, has made it clear that Greece-related conditions are not "binding" and expressed hope that the US would not fall for such “games.”
Erdogan could meet with Armenia's premier in Prague
Erdogan said US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's remarks in Armenia cannot ax developments in Caucasus.
Pelosi on Sunday condemned Azerbaijan for what she described as "illegal" border attacks on Armenia, and pledged US support for Armenia's sovereignty.
The president hinted at a possible meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in the Czech capital Prague, where the European Political Community Summit will be held on Oct 6-7.
"There is the European Political Community Summit in Prague. We are currently evaluating whether to attend the summit or not. If we attend the summit, Pashinyan might come there. I guess he had a thought, 'Can we meet there?'. Maybe we can have a conversation about these issues with him there," Erdogan said.
He added Türkiye will take steps in the Caucasus with Azerbaijan.
Greece continues with 'oppressive policies' against Muslim Turkish minority
About a question regarding the remarks of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias who "called on Türkiye to answer why the Greek minority in Istanbul once numbered 100,000 decreased to less than 5,000 people," Erdogan said: "I don't have much to say about the Greek foreign minister, he is not my interlocutor. If he is going to talk, let him to talk with (Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut) Cavusoglu."
Ankara did not expel any Greek from Türkiye during our tenure, Erdogan said, adding that his government does not want reduction of the Greek population in the country.
"For example, when I traveled to Bozcaada or Gokceada, I always asked our very few Greek citizens living there; 'Where are your children?' They said: In America. I said: Bring them to live here. They said: I can't bring my child from America'. What does this show? It means that s/he has no desire to live in Türkiye. Our door is always open.
"We would give citizenship to that child if he did not have citizenship. In fact, once a family did not allow someone to marry a Turkish girl. I said: 'If you ask me for help, I will try'," he added.
Erdogan said Greece continues to pursue "oppressive policies” against the Muslim Turkish minority.
'Türkiye would be pleased if direct flights from Russia to Northern Cyprus begin'
During his speech at the UN, Erdogan urged the international community to make efforts to end the oppression of Turkish Cypriots, and to officially recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) as soon as possible.
Erdogan said he discussed the Northern Cyprus issue with Putin, saying: "We reiterated our rightful struggle in Cyprus and the just and lasting resolution of the issue to all the leaders we hosted in our country or visited."
Russia newly appointed Murat Zyazikov as its ambassador to Southern Cyprus, a move which was seen as a sign of Putin’s goodwill towards Erdogan and TRNC's President Ersin Tatar.
"Of course, we would be pleased if direct flights from Russia to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus begin. Another very important aspect of this is: As you know, the tourist potential of Russia is very high," Erdogan said.
Cyprus has been mired in a decades-long dispute between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, despite a series of diplomatic efforts by the UN to achieve a comprehensive settlement.
Separately, Erdogan was asked whether Türkiye's companies and some banks are under close scrutiny, including the use of credit cards, after the EU and the US, both expanded embargo and sanctions on Russia.
"The most important point is Mir card. This was a step between us and Russia. We are evaluating the steps to be taken on this issue with our related friends. I hope we will take our steps accordingly. Of course we have an alternative, that's different.
"However, the whole problem is that there are different versions of these sanctions. These, of course, do not really suit friendship, they do not suit the regulation of our economic relations," he said.
Two private Turkish banks, Denizbank and Isbank, suspended use of Mir card, a Russian payment system for electronic fund transfers, this week after the US expanded its sanctions on Russia.
Erdogan said he will convene on Friday a top tier economy-focused meeting where Mir and possible Western sanctions will be discussed.