TENSIONS have once again risen between neighbours Turkey and Greece over the Aegean islets of Kardak (Imia in Greek), on which both countries lay claim. On Jan. 29, Turkey’s Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, accompanied by commanders, visited the islets. This was followed by a visit to Kardak on Feb. 1 by Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who called Turkey’s acts “cowboy antics.” This was the start of a war of words between the countries. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned Kammenos to “come to his senses,” saying Greece was using Kardak issue to increase tensions. Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik said Ankara will not be one that escalates tensions, but will not bow to “any fait accompli.”
Turkey and Greece almost went to war over the islets in 1996, after each side landed their soldiers on one islet. The crisis was solved by US mediation. After 21 years, the issue is once again on the agenda amid fears that the neighbors may go to war. But war is not an option. What both sides have done in Kardak recently relates more to politics than the military. Turkey’s message in Kardak was political, showing its discontent with recent Greek moves. This is not the first time tensions have increased due to Kardak, but the timing is highly significant. Tensions rose particularly after the Greek High Court’s decision not to extradite eight Turkish officers who flew a military helicopter to Greece on the night of the failed coup attempt in July and requested political asylum. Ankara demands their extradition.
The Greek judiciary refused to hand them over, with the excuse that the soldiers face the risk of mistreatment in Turkey. Needless to say, the decision has nothing to do with law, human rights or democracy. It is purely political. According to the law, the soldiers should be extradited without hesitation. Greece is not only neglecting a legal agreement with Turkey, but also harming bilateral ties. In light of the Greek decision, Ankara said relations with Athens will be revised and bilateral agreements scrutinized. There is the issue of cooperation on terrorism between Turkey and Greece for years, and this is not the first time Athens refuses to hand over suspects that Ankara accuses of terrorism. Despite the fact that both countries have a deal to return criminals, Greece is quite generous in providing political asylum to those Turkey seeks to extradite.
Ankara has several times complained that Athens is not taking concrete steps to extradite members of terrorist organizations such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C). Greece continues to provide asylum, allowing them to freely live in Greece, carry out rallies against Turkey, engage in propaganda and recruit members. During my stay in Greece as a reporter for a year, it was unfortunate to see how comfortable those PKK and DHKP/C terrorists were on Greek streets, receiving all kinds of logistical and financial support.
After Syria, Greece is where these organizations receive the most support. Rather than being extradited, those members are hosted and receive special training in Greece’s Lavrion refugee camp, which operates under UN auspices. There were several reports that after US pressure, Greece decided to extradite those suspects, but they were not handed to Turkey. They made their way to Syria’s Latakia province, where they received training from Syrian forces. Despite improving relations between Turkey and Greece in the past few years, unfortunately there is still no significant progress in cracking down on terrorist cells sheltered in Greece, which continues to turn a blind eye to Turkish concerns.
When taking into consideration Greece’s weak record of being a friendly neighbour, the latest decision to refuse to extradite the coup officers lacks credible grounds. Athens is definitely wrong in this respect, as no side has the luxury of neglecting an existing agreement. Turkey and Greece are NATO allies, and party to a resolution of the Cyprus issue, the recent migrant deal and several others. Moreover, they are neighbours and are concerned with security on their doorsteps.
The escalation of recent tensions could have serious consequences for the Cyprus talks, the migrant deal and the situation on the Aegean Sea. Moreover, if Greece is aiming to take advantage of the disputed islets at a time when Turkey is going through critical days due to the war with the PKK and Daesh, and a possible referendum, this could result in a serious blow to Turkish-Greek ties.
— The writer is a Turkish political analyst who specializes mainly in issues regarding Turkey’s relations with the Middle East.
Courtesy: Arab News