ANKARA – Stepping up his rhetoric to near-conflict levels, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Greece must demilitarize Aegean Islands near his country’s coast or face the consequences – without specifying what they would be.
“We will not be quiet about the military activities takin place in violation of (international) treaties on islands with a demilitarized status,” Erdogan told reporters on the Presidential airplane on his way back from a visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said Kathimerini.
“It is an issue we have already brought up with the United Nations and we will keep bringing it up. Our minister has already warned them,” Erdogan said, referring to comments earlier by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“If Greece continues along these lines, we will naturally issue this warning at the highest level; whatever it takes,” he added.
“The issue of the islands is always controversial. They may force us to bring it to the fore, to address these controversial issues. This is why our minister warned them at a lower level, so as not to force us to open a discussion on these issues,” he added.
That was part of Turkey stepping up claims to Greek territory and piling on more pressure in a bid to make Greece take troops off the islands, with Turkey likely to reach out internationally in a persuasion campaign.
Turkey said that Greece can’t have troops on those islands – which would leave them defenseless – and cited the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne which Erdogan doesn’t recognize unless invoking to his advantage.
Cavusoglu also said that Turkey will ask the countries who signed the Treaty of Paris and the Lausanne document to side with Turkey and push Greece to take off the troops.
That comes as Turkey keeps violating Greek airspace and waters by sending in fighter jets and warships, with Erdogan saying he will again send an energy research vessel and warships – to hunt for oil and gas off Greek islands, including Crete.
Turkey has also complained to the United Nations and blamed Greece for provocations while disputing Greek waters and territory and earlier warning it would be a cause for war if Greece moves to extend its maritime boundaries from six to 12 miles.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Turkey’s actions raise questions about its standing in NATO, the defense alliance to which both belong and which has refused to intervene over Turkish provocations.
NO BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS
“I am saddened that Turkey has elected to maintain its stance. At a time when NATO must demonstrate its unity in defending the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Turkey has decided to threaten Greece and question its very presence and commitment to NATO and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Dendias from Oslo, where the minister met with Norwegian counterpart Anniken Huitfeldt, the paper said.
Dendias criticized Turkey for disputing the legal right of the Greek islands to have a continental shelf and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and denying the validity of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
That came during a lecture at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) which led Turkish Ambassador to Norway Fazli Corman to quickly respond that “all of these actions are in response to something you have been doing.”
During the lecture, Dendias also said that Turkey has been threatening Greece with war with a casus belli declaration since 1995 if Greece extends its territorial waters from six to 12 miles in the Aegean and East Mediterranean.
Dendias said that threat violates fundamental principles of the UN Charter although the UN has stayed far away from the dancing duel of words between the countries that has been continuing.
Corman said that, “The casus belli declaration by the Turkish Grand National Assembly was also a consequence that Greece was telling that they will go ahead unilaterally declaring the continental waters as 12 miles. And this would practically ‘lock’ Turkish waters, Turkey’s ability to reach international waters, and Turkey will be locked into its own territorial waters. That is what you are imposing, or you are trying to tell Turkey.”
He said that during negotiations over the UNCLOS Law of the Sea that Turkey always objected to the notion of islands having extensions of sea boundaries, with Turkey pointing out many Greek islands are within shouting distance of its coast.
“Because on the Aegean case, it is impossible for us to accept this. The Aegean Sea is a very specific case, and as you were telling, one side of the sea should be able to look at the other side,” he said.
Dendias responded that Turkey has subscribed to the UN Charter which prohibits the use of force and the threat of the use of force, the paper reported about the debate.
“Isn’t a casus belli exactly what is prohibited by the UN Charter? … is that really an invitation to a dialogue? Or is it a pure threat -and I could use much harder words than ‘pure threat?’” the Greek foreign chief said.
He added: “The truth is that the difference between Greece and Turkey are solvable. Under one precondition: that Turkey comes to the 21st Century. If Turkey stays in the 19th Century, if Turkey stays in the way that Suleiman the Magnificent was conducting affairs by having the armadas around the Mediterranean, then this is a no-go.’”