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Turkey Wants Greek Troops Off Islands: Greece Rethinks Sanctions

Ευρωκίνηση

A Greek soldier on Kastellorizo Island. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yorgos Kontarinis)

Repeating a demand Greece has repeatedly rejected, Turkey wants Greek troops taken off Greek islands near Turkey's coast, especially those that Turkey wants returned, refusing to accept the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that set borders.

But Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar then invoked that pact to insist that Greece must demilitarize the islands that Turkey cited, despite fears that it would leave them defenseless and easier to seize in a conflict or invasion.

“We (base our demand) on international law. What does the Treaty of Lausanne say? They cannot militarize the islands. As you can see, they have done so,” Akar said in an interview with Hurriyet newspaper.

“Where is the justice in this?,” Akar also said. “We are only defending our rights,” he said, basing those on treaties Turkey doesn't accept unless using to only its advantage, including the United Nations Law of the Sea being ignored as Turkey steps up claims to waters around Greek islands where it wants to hunt for energy.

That talk, a few days after the two countries foreign ministers talked nice at a meeting in Athens and said they wanted diplomacy and to ratchet down the tension, stepped up the anxiety again, with Greece warning it push for European Union sanctions.

There's no sign Greece will be backed by the EU beyond tweets of support because Germany, home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage and a major arms supplier to Turkey, has blocked any penalties for Turkish provocations.

Akar didn't mention that the same treaty gave those islands to Greece, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly admitting he covets their return because some are within shouting distance of Turkey's coastline.

Akar also criticized Greece for claiming a 6-mile area of territorial sea and a 10-mile column of airspace, both regularly violated by Turkish fighters jets and warships with no intervention from NATO, the defense alliance to which both belong.

Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis are due to meet on the sidelines of a June 14 NATO meeting in Brussels, the Turkish leader throwing oil the fire when he said Turkey was ready to defend territories once held by the Ottomans.

He added that recent military exercises in the Aegean had Greece... an "enemy" state as he put it …both scared and worried of Turkey’s capabilities to do so, The Voice of America said in a report.

That led to Greece denouncing what it called “hostile” and “provocative threats” and that it would consider again asking for sanctions, no idea what that would do to the Erdogan-Mitsotakis moment at NATO.

Akar later called on Greece to obey international laws that Turkey doesn't and to take troops and missiles off Greek islands, which would remove a critical line of defense if Turkey makes a move on them.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, who had talked sweetly with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavasoglu in Athens – after lashing out at him in and earlier meeting in Ankara- talked tough again after Erdogan's bluster.

Dendias said Greece has long supported Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, which is going backwards 16 years after it began with Erdogan purging civil society, the military, courts, education system and jailing journalists by the dozen after a failed coup attempt against him in July, 2016.

Dendias said if Turkey doesn't watch its language that Greece could again call for sanctions after withdrawing them in favor of diplomacy which keeps failing as Erdogan plays a kind of political yo-yo.

Mitsotakis said that, "What we are seeing in the last weeks in a sort of kinetic energy from both sides to talk to each other. So, they are prepared to talk to each other at the highest political level. But this does not mean that the talks will yield results,” said VOA.

“This is a completely different story because the differences are existing, they are diachronic and the demands from both sides are contradictory. So, while I am optimistic that both sides are prepared to defuse tensions, I don’t believe they are chances of solving the problems themselves,” he said,

Erdogan said Turkey was built by conquering other's lands, as he spoke about why he converted the ancient Orthodox church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople into a mosque despite international denunciation.

That came during the opening of a mosque in the city of Zonguldak, said Kathimerini, as he further reached out to his hardcore base of ultranationalists to which he turns to ratchet up jingoism.

“We maintained these lands and made them our homeland with our blood, our flag, and the sound of prayer from the mosques. This is why the re-opening of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque is important, as it is a legacy of conquest,” he said.

He also promised the construction of mosques all over Turkey. “I believe that every mosque we build is a cultural lighthouse to safeguard the future of our people and our homeland,” he said.