ANKARA - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s seeking of near-dictatorial powers in an April 16 referendum have rattled Greece as well, with fears the two countries could clash in the Aegean as Turkish politicians join him in demanding return of Greek islands.
Erdogan, enraged a Greek high court rejected the extradition of eight Turkish soldiers who fled a failed coup against him - they said they didn’t take part and were seeking asylum - has already sent more F-16 fighter jets into Greek airspace, increasing violations, and had warships go past Greek islands after he said he didn’t recognize the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that set borders between the countries although a number of Greek islands are off Turkey’s coast.
Erdogan has been upset by recent bans on visiting Turkish officials rallying “yes” supporters in Germany and the Netherlands and threatened to unleash more refugees and immigrants on Greek islands unless the EU steps up a suspended deal to give him six billion euros, visa-free travel for Turkish citizens, and fast-track entry into the bloc.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos has warned Turkish officials not to step onto Greek islands and said Greece would respond to provocations, upping the anxiety and unsettling EU leaders and diplomats.
“We have a referendum on 16 April. After that we may hold a Brexit-like referendum on the (EU)negotiations,” Erdogan told a Turkish-UK forum attended by the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson the British newspaper The Guardian reported.
“No matter what our nation decides we will obey it. It should be known that our patience, tested in the face of attitudes displayed by some European countries, has limits,” he said.
Erdogan said he would keep calling EU politicians “Nazis” if they continued calling him a dictator – and his comments came after Kammenos said Greek said armed forces were ready to respond in the event of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity being threatened.
“The Greek armed forces are ready to answer any provocation,” Panos Kammenos declared at a military parade marking the 196th anniversary of Greece’s war of liberation against Ottoman Turkish rule. “We are ready because that is how we defend peace.”
Greece and Turkey are NATO allies but the defense bloc has stayed out of their feud, as has the United Nations and the EU for the most part, even with tensions rising.
Cypriot President Nico Anastasiades, locked in collapsed talks with his Turkish counterpart Mustafa Akinci over hopes to reunify the island divided after a 1974 invasion by Turkey, which still occupies the northern third, said Erdogan’ volatility is dangerous.
“I fear the period from now until the referendum in Turkey, as well as the effort to create a climate of fanaticism within Turkish society,” he told CNN Greece.
“The concern on the Greek side is not so much of an intentional incident but of an accident that then spirals out of control,” Thanos Dokos, Director of the ELIAMEP thinktank, told the Guardian. “The whole nationalist mood in Turkey would make such a situation difficult to defuse.”
The Turkish nationalist opposition leader, Devlet Bahcel said several Greek islands are under occupation and reacting furiously when Kammenos visited the far-flung isle of Oinousses.
“Someone must explain to this spoiled brat not to try our patience,” he railed.
“If they [the Greeks] want to fall into the sea again, if they want to be hunted down, they are welcome, the Turkish army is ready. Someone must explain to the Greek government what happened in 1922. If there is no one to explain it to them, we can come like a bullet across the Aegean and teach them history all over again,” he said.