A fresh threat has been issued to Greece by Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan regarding its sovereignty over islands in the Aegean near the Turkish coastline, continuing their request that the areas be demilitarised.

Mr Fidan sent a letter to parliament on January 24 stating that the active military status of the relevant islands (which violates pre-existing treaties) “poses a serious threat to the security of Turkey and the region” and requested that appropriate action be taken to address this.

The islands in question include Mytilene, Chios, Samos, Icaria, Lemnos and Samothrace, with the 1923 Lausanne Treaty and the 1947 Paris Peace Treaties having established the status of the eastern Aegean Islands.

This letter came shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s December visit (his first in six years).

The visit saw the two sides sign the Athens Declaration on Friendly Relations and Good-Neighbourliness, stressing their commitment to fostering friendly relations, mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and understanding.

Mr Fidan added a warning that Greece cannot claim sovereign rights over these islands if Athens does not fulfill its obligations arising from the existing treaties.

“Turkey has objected to Greece’s militarization of the islands. The matter is raised on appropriate occasions at international platforms such as NATO and OSCE, urging Greece to adhere to its contractual obligations,” Mr Fidan’s letter said.

The Turkish Foreign Minister’s predecessor, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, had issued a similar threat in February 2022, stating many of the same points as were raised by Mr Fidan.

“These islands were ceded conditionally. If Greece does not stop, the sovereignty of these islands will be called into question. … If necessary, we will issue a final warning,” Çavuşoğlu stated in an interview with state broadcaster TRT.

Turkey had previously sent a letter to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on July 13, 2021, regarding this issue and they have made the claim that Greece has been guilty of violating the provisions of the treaties since 1960.

“Greece is in breach of basic provisions of the treaties under which it acquired sovereignty over the islands, which, from a legal point of view, means that Greece cannot, vis-à-vis Turkey, rely on its title under the same treaties for the purposes of a maritime boundary delimitation.”

Ankara believes Greece is in material breach of its demilitarization obligations through troop concentrations, establishing permanent military installations and conducting several military activities in the eastern Aegean islands.

Greece has argued that its sovereignty is not conditional on any obligation of any kind, with the Greek Ambassador to the UN, Maria Theofil, having sent a letter in response to the UNSC on July 28, 2021, challenging the Turkish claims.

“Greece rejects all the Turkish allegations contained in the aforementioned letter with regard to the purported ‘material breach of its demilitarization obligations’, as well as the allegations that Greece’s sovereignty over the Eastern Aegean islands is conditional on their demilitarization, as totally unsubstantiated, arbitrary and in bad faith,” she said in her letter.

Fidan’s letter surfaced following criticism from the opposition in December wherein the Turkish government was accused of remaining silent in response to what it deemed provocative statements made by Greek officials regarding an islet called Zourafa (Ladoxera) in the Aegean Sea, the status of which is disputed by both sides.

Both Greece and Turkey issued Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) warnings in the Aegean in October 2023 around this islet as each nation claimed sovereignty over it.

Athens claimed the Turkish NOTAM was null and void as it intruded into Greek airspace while Ankara responded by issuing a new NOTAM stating that the gun-firing area lies within Turkey’s sovereign territory and asserting that the initial NOTAM remains in effect.