ATHENS – With tensions rising again, two Turkish warships reportedly tried on Sunday to keep provocative Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos from reaching the rocky islet of Imia, which both countries claim, to throw a wreath marking a 1996 incident there that almost brought them to war.
Kammenos, leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition headed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Radical Left SYRIZA, has been the one to mostly go after Turkey.
He has been out of sight after waffling on whether he would oppose the use of the word Macedonia in a new composite name for Greece’s northern neighbor the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that Tsipras wants to give away.
Kammenos succeeded in tossing the wreath into the waters off the uninhabited islet where three members of the Greek military died under still disputed circumstances with critics saying it was covered up to prevent war between the countries.
He was taken there on a Greek gunboat with media and official reports saying the Turkish Coast Guard surveilled and tried to keep him from reaching it. The Turks sent patrol boats and a helicopter to monitor the ceremony, a sore spot for Ankara as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he doesn’t recognize the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that set borders between the countries and that he covets return of some islands to Turkey.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry claimed in an announcement that its “Coast Guard prevented the Greek defense minister from approaching a pair of Turkish islets in the Aegean,” according to Anadolu news agency.
Turkey calls Imia by the name of Kardak and a Greek Defense Ministry statement said the gunboat with Kammenos reached exact spot where a frigate-launched maritime support helicopter went down in inclement weather in late January 1996 during the standoff.
The same report said the Turkish vessels tried to block the Greek frigate, identified as the Nikiforos, but were unsuccessful.
Turkey disputes Greece’s sovereignty over a number of Greek islands in eastern Aegean, including some so close to Turkey that Erdogan said he shout to them and be heard, a further irritant for him as he has taken near-dictatorial powers after narrowly surviving a July 2016 attempted coup.