Greek and Turkish officials continue to exchange verbal barbs
Tensions between Greece and Turkey remain, with the islets of Imia (Kardak) being the current focal point. And with the current tone of the back and forth exchanges between Greek and Turkish officials the Imia focal point, or some other, could easily turn into a flash point in the future.
Lets start with what Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias recently had to say. In the context of Turkey’s incursions in Imia and an incident on February 17 in which a Turkish military vessel entered Greek waters near Farmakonisi and began conducting live ammunition drills (!),1 Kotzias cautioned “we must be ready at all times, militarily, diplomatically, in our morale for any kind of incident.”2 He also warned that “Turkey would making a grave error if it believes that because we are in an economic crisis we are weak regarding the defence of our security and sovereignty.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu responded to his Greek counterpart as follows (emphasis mine):3
“Basically, we have many similar sides [with Greece] but ultimately, Greece should not allow one spoiled child [Kotzias] to overshadow all of these. … We do not need a show of strength. They are the ones who know best what a Turkish soldier can do when appropriate. The government knows it best. Let them tell it to that spoiled child precisely. They should not try our patience.
Kotzias is unfortunately talking provocatively. He said ‘The Turkish Chief of Staff could not step on Kardak even if he wanted.’ If his duty required him to, he would have done it. Let’s not forget that we set foot in places we have to. Our stance on the Kardak issue is clear.”
So Çavuşoğlu thinks Kotzias to be a spoiled child who is provoking Turkey, yet he seems oblivious or indifference to the numerous provocations conducted by Turkey against Greece in the Aegean. Furthermore Çavuşoğlu is also intimating that the Turkish Chief of Staff could set foot on Imia any time he deems it necessary.
To this Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos responded “They can get on Imia alright, but will they get out the island? I’d like to see how will they get out afterwards.”4 He also downplayed and mocked Turkey’s recent behavior saying “The staged provocations by the Turks produce hilarity.”
To further stir up the pot, on February 20 two wanted Turkish special forces officers applied for asylum in the Greek town of Orestiada, which is near to the border with Turkey.5 Greek officials expect Turkey to request the extradition of the two officers, which, based on the Greek High Court rejection of an Turkish extradition request for 8 other soldiers, will undoubtedly be another source tensions between the two countries.
Finally on February 24 Turkish media were complaining about a Greek ‘provocation’ in which General Alcibiades Stefanis visited the island of Oinousses, which is adjacent to Chios, and raised a Greek flag.6 I guess it is a reckless provocation for a general to visit an island that belongs to his country, just because another country makes a frivolous claim to that territory.
Regardless of who is in the right or the wrong, relations between Greece and Turkey are not improving. While it seems unlikely that neither country will do any thing that will precipitate outright conflict between them in the near future, one should expect more provocations to occur.
It is interesting that CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu warned that the Turkish military, in a gambit to attract nationalist votes in the upcoming referendum, could launch a military operation against the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq, a bastion of the PKK.7 Now maybe Kılıçdaroğlu is being overly cynical, but I suspect his concerns are well founded, and if Erdoğan is thinking of staging something in northern Iraq, maybe he is also considering staging something in the Aegean to drum up nationalistic fervor in Turkey.
Regardless of what Erdoğan is planning, expect tensions to continue, and possibly worsen, between Greece and Turkey.