Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments have sparked controversy and drawn a rebuke from Greek diplomatic sources.

At an Iftar dinner with Turkish military personnel for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan the Turkish president justified the invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

He suggested that if Turkish forces had advanced further south Cyprus could be entirely under Turkish control today.

“In fact, perhaps if we had pushed south, and I say this as a child of the present, there would be no more south and north, and Cyprus would be completely ours,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan also suggested that the Turkish Cypriots were saved from “genocide” by the intervention.

“Half a century ago, the Turkish Cypriots came back from the brink of genocide,” he said.

“In the ‘peace operation’ of 1974, 498 of our soldiers from all corners of the country, officers, non-commissioned officers, and civilians, were martyred.

“Despite all the pressures, if it were not for Turkey’s intervention, neither the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus nor the Turkish Cypriots would exist today,” said the Turkish president.

Greek diplomats said Erdogan’s remarks were “a distortion of historical truth and an insult to the memory of the invasion’s victims”.

They criticised the timing of Erdogan’s comments as efforts are underway to resume talks on the Cyprus issue under the auspices of the United Nations.

SYRIZA, Greece’s main left-wing opposition party condemned Turkish President Erdogan’s statements and called them “provocative” and “unconscionable.”

“President Erdogan’s unconscionable statements undermine the ‘positive climate’ in Greek-Turkish relations, which the [Kyriakos] Mitsotakis government complacently insists on.

“Just three months after the signing of the Athens Declaration, Turkey is once more violating its spirit and letter,” SYRIZA said.

The Athens Declaration is a non-binding agreement signed between Greek prime minister Mitsotakis and Erdogan in December. It seeks to resolve longstanding tensions between Greece and Turkey over migration, energy, and maritime borders.

Erdogan’s comments cast doubt on Turkey’s commitment to improving relations.

Despite the tensions, Mitsotakis announced plans to visit Ankara in May. It may be a sign of moderation in response and an ongoing effort to reduce tensions between the two neighbours and NATO allies.