Marking the 98th anniversary on Aug. 30 of Turkey booting Greece from Asia Minor, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used the occasion to step up warnings he will take what he wants in the Aegean and East Mediterranean where Greece is trying to stop his ships from hunting for oil and gas.
With the European Union fiddling about what to do and NATO staying out of the prospect of a conflict between two of its members, Erdogan said in a message
“Turkey’s struggle for independence and future continues today as well. It is absolutely not a coincidence that those who seek to exclude us from the Eastern Mediterranean are the same invaders as the ones who attempted to invade our homeland a century ago,” he said.
Turkey has the energy research vessel the Oruc Reis near the Greek island of Kastellorizo, accompanied by 10 warships, shadowed and monitored by ships from the Greek Navy amid fears shooting could start.
Greek, along with France, Italy and the United Arab Emirates, carried out military exercises in the region as a show of strength against growing Turkish aggressions, activities denounced by Erdogan who has become more combative.
Turkey made its move under a maritime deal signed with Libya dividing the seas between them, claiming waters in Greece's Continental Shelf and also planning to drill off Crete where the US Navy has a base on Souda Bay.
The US supports both sides, giving Greece tweets and press releases of support but also saying the waters are “disputed,” giving an edge to Erdogan, whom US President Donald Trump says is a friend and “a hell of a leader,” for being tough.
The EU condemned Turkey's “illegal actitivies” but has refused Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis' call for sanctions, reluctant to confront Erdogan in fear he will unleash more refugees and migrants on the bloc through Greek islands.
Greece counted the Turkey-Libya deal with an agreement with Egypt setting seas boundaries, infuriating Erdogan, who canceled planned talks in Ankara and sent his ships back toward Kastellorizo after earlier withdrawing them on the request of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who doesn't want Turkey sanctioned.
On Aug. 29, Turkey began its own maneuvers until Sept. 11 off its south coast. Turkey’s Defense Ministry also released cockpit footage of what it said were Turkish jets in mock dogfights with Greek F-16s between Crete and Cyprus.
“No one should have any doubts about our resolve in this matter and our unshakeable belief in victory," Erdogan said.
Erdogan was due to visit the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey who led the 1922 victory, although Erdogan overturned a 1934 edict by Ataturk that made the ancient church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople a museum, turned into a mosque again now.
In other commemorations, Turkish warships will visit 20 ports around Turkey and the northern third of Cyprus it has occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion for sunset flag ceremonies.
Events to mark the 1922 battle of Dumlupinar, which saw Turkish forces overwhelm Greek troops in western Anatolia, have been muted due to coronavirus measures.
This led to claims that Erdogan’s Islamic-orientated government is attempting to downplay the achievements of Ataturk’s secular regime with critis saying Erdogan is using the so-called Blue Homeland exercises in a bid to bring back military glory.
He doesn't recognize the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that set boundaries beween the countries and openly admitted he covets return of some Greek islands near Turkey's coast that were ceded away in the agreement.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)