ANKARA - The specter of the rocky, inhabited islets of Imia, where Greece and Turkey nearly went to war in 1996, rose again when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece not to make a move toward them.
Turkey has been raising provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus and planning to do the same off Crete after not recognizing Greece's Continental Shelf and making a deal with Libya dividing the seas between them.
With fears there could be a conflict over the seas, Erdogan told journalists that he was confident however, that Imia, which Turkey calls Kardak, won't be a flashpoint for another confrontation between the countries.
“This year there was no crisis around Kardak,” Erdogan told journalists on Wednesday, using the Turkish name for the Imia. “Why? Because we kept a specific stance. We said that if [Greece makes] any move, of the sort it has made in the past, then we will respond differently; and you will see that if Greece makes no move around Imia, then there will be no move on our side either,” Erdogan said.
“My defense minister would most probably call the Greek defense minister to thank him and to continue this process in Imia and the other islands,” he added, said Kathimerini. Three Greek servicemen died in a helicopter crash off Imia in 1996 under mysterious circumstances still not explained, with some believing it was shot down and the incident covered up to prevent war.
Greek Defens Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos denied claims by Erdogan that Turkey sent Greece a message through Defence Minister Hulusi Akar not to make any “move” over Imia, however, he told Alpha TV. Panagiotopoulos said Greece was too busy dealing with the issue of the Turkish energy research vessel Oruc Reis that crossed into Greek waters, said to be off-course because of bad weather.
“Besides, these discussions would not be made by me. If they did, they would be held at a very high level, but they never were,” he added.
He said he spoke with Akar about the upcoming NATO Defence Ministers Meeting in Brussels on Feb.12-13, as well as the resumption of dialogue on Confidence Building Measures, with talks to be held in Athens from Feb. 12-17.