Greece’s response to Turkey’s Imia incursion

by omouggos

Panos Kammenos visits the disputed island of Imia.

Panos Kammenos visits the disputed island of Imia.

Following Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar’s visit to the disputed waters off the Aegean island of Imia, Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos has made his own visit to the island. On Wednesday (Feb 1) Kammenos marked the 21 year anniversary of the deaths of three Greek airmen by dropping a commemorative wreath onto the island via a helicopter.1 During the 1996 Imia crisis, the three airmen died when their helicopter crashed in the area. Some believe that the helicopter was downed by Turkish forces.

Kammenos has justified his visit to Imia saying “It was my obligation to be there … I won’t ask for anyone’s permission.2 He also denounced Turkey’s “cowboy antics” warning “We want peace. We are not looking for a fight or for trouble in the Aegean. But there won’t be any aircraft that will not be intercepted.

The Turkish response has been rather predictable. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said:2

“We have not even mentioned many of [the violations of Imia by Greece]. They increase the tension by using the Kardak [Imia] issue. The defense minister [Kammenos] should come to his senses. … They should not abuse our attitude of good sense. We are acting maturely. The Greek defense minister should also act with maturity.”

Turkish Vice-President Veysi Kaynak responded “we [Turkey] would not allow Greece to pave new spaces in the Aegean.3 According to AKP deputy Hüseyin Kocabıyık (emphasis mine):4

“I am warning Greece: You were saved owing to a cowardly [Turkish] admiral in 1996. Do not play the Kardak [Imia] game with us. We will shoot you! … The Greek impertinence in the Aegean is continuing because the political order was not followed on that day. However, the Greeks should know that Turkey is not the country as it was in 1996.”

Defense Minister Fikri Işık was more conciliatory stating “The tension between the two countries should not escalate. Greece is our neighbor and our NATO ally. There are cooperation agreements between us.5 While he also criticized Greece for violating Turkey’s borders he continued, “we don’t want to be the party to escalate the tension, but we also will not bow to any fait accompli. We have to sort out the problems through dialogue. The tension should not escalate.

I find it odd that Turkish officials admonish Greece to act with maturity when it is Turkey that started this whole incident with Akar’s calculated visit to Imia. Furthermore, as Turkey complains about Greek violations of their territory, it is Turkey, in the midst of heightened tensions, that has increased their violations of Greek territory. On Wednesday the Greek Defense Ministry recorded 138 violations of Greek airspace by Turkish aircraft over a span of a few hours.6 At this point one should not be overly surprised by Turkey’s hypocrisy.

Ultimately I hope that levelheadedness prevails and the current spat over a small uninhabited rock in the Aegean between Greek and Turkey does not escalate into something far more serious. But in this situation if anyone needs to display more maturity it is Turkey, but with the strategy to inflame nationalistic sentiment for an upcoming referendum7 and the adherence to a neo-Ottoman ideology, this seems highly unlikely.8

O Mouggos


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[8] Surprise, surprise Turkish Prime Minister Benali Yildirim has just claimed that 130 Aegean (Greek) islands are disputed, while the Turkish Foreign Ministry claims that the Greek island of Kos is a demilitarized zone. ( ,