“Along with any sense of measure, Turkey has lost its common sense. Apart from violating international law, it demonstrates lack of knowledge on geography”. This was the latest of a series of harsh statements being exchanged between Greece and Turkey, in the past few days. Issued by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Alexandros Yennimatas, the statement came as a response to Turkey’s reaction on a dangerous incident that took place in the south east Aegean, when a Turkish coast guard boat rammed a Greek patrol vessel in the coastal area surrounding the Imia islets. No injuries or severe damage were reported, despite the Greek boat having to harbour in Leros for minor repairs – the Turkish vessel departed the area immediately after the incident. This was the latest among a series of episodes of intensiveied military activity by the Turkish maritime forces in the specific maritime region, which includes the two rocky outcrops, which Turkey has called “Kardak” since early 1996, when a heated incident between Greece and Turkey nearly led to war – and resulted to the deaths of two Greek soldiers.
This turn of events led to the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Dimitrios Paraskevopoulos, making a strong demarche to his Turkish counterpart and summoning Turkey’s Ambassador in Athens to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”Dangerous incidents such as these, which place human lives at risk, are the result of the escalating and provocative conduct that Turkey has increasingly exhibited in recent days,” read the Greek Foreign Ministry statement. “Turkey must stop violating international law and refrain from acts that do not contribute to the development of relations between the two countries. Such acts undermine regional security and stability, which Greece upholds and will continue to do so.”
From its part, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an equally harsh statement. “Unfortunately, the Greek side has both misled its public opinion as we are accustomed to, and has distorted the facts, as is always the case,” said the Ministry Spokesperson, Hami Akso. “In fact, the Undersecretary of our Ministry has called the Secretary General of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning the incidents caused last night by the Greek Coast Guard boats through their dangerous maneuvers in the vicinity of the Kardak rocks, which are under Turkish sovereignty. The Undersecretary has clearly stated that the hostile actions of the Greek military forces are continuing in air and at sea, of which we will not tolerate, and that increasing tension in the Aegean Sea does not serve to the interests of the two countries. He further stated that the Greek side should end these dangerous actions.”
Following that statement, Greek Prime Minister addressed the issue, speaking with his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim on Tuesday evening. According to reports, Alexis Tsipras underlined the need for an immediate end to ever-increasing and “provocative Turkish violations in Greek islands’ territorial waters and airspace in the Aegean, and for a de-escalation to take place,” stressing that such incidents directly undermine Turkey’s relations with Greece and the European Union and contravene international law. The two men agreed to intensify discussions regarding confidence-building measures.
Turkey’s recent military activity in the Aegean came to be added on the country’s hard stance towards Cyprus, where Turkish warships have been blocking a rig vessel to conduct research for offshore hydrocarbons. At the same time Turkey has been conducting a military operation on foreign soil, in northwest Syria, which has caused alarm among many countries in the broader region of the Middle East and Mediterranean, and even the United States. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is currently on a trip to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and Turkey, where where he will meet with senior Turkish officials to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues.